I really enjoyed Transmissions — possibly the best Short Trips volume I’ve read (apart perhaps from the two I’ve been involved with directly, which I like a lot but where my opinion is obviously biased).
The thematic connection (in its proper sense) between the seventeen stories allows them each to stand as their own entity (which doesn’t happen easily when there are more constricting narrative connections), while emphasising the sense that this volume (unlike those with vaguer connections based on setting or numerology) is actually saying something as a whole.
Most of the stories here would have been standouts in many of the Short Trips volumes. Without wanting to go through them all one-by-one, I particularly liked . . . well, a good half of them, actually. Ian Mond’s “Policy to Invade” and Richard Wright’s “Lonely” both tell their stories through imaginatively non-standard formats, which I always enjoy and which worked splendidly in both cases. Mond’s story wrings a surprising amount of depth from its collection of bureaucratic documents, and I never supposed that a story written in the highly constrictive form of a chatroom transcript could be as moving as Wright’s “Lonely” turns out to be in the end.
Two of the best stories feature the fifth Doctor, which may or may not be a coincidence (he is the best, after all). Dan Abnett’s “Tweaker” is a lovely vignette about the Doctor and Nyssa trying to persuade an obsessive record-collector to give up a valuable but horribly dangerous acquisition, and eventually having to make a comparable sacrifice themselves. Mags L Halliday’s “Gudok” is a Tegan and Turlough story in which the Doctor makes a miniature cameo, set aboard the trans-Siberia railway from Vladivostok to St Petersburg in 1904. Halliday’s usual thorough research and love of period detail forms an elegant backdrop to what’s essentially a dual character study of two people with little in common and the relationship of respect which develops when they’re forced into one another’s protracted company. Where Abnett’s story seemed at times to be showing the Doctor and Nyssa as a comfortably married couple, Halliday’s hints at depths of passion in the Tegan-Turlough dynamic which would come as a surprise to all concerned.
Dale Smith’s “Driftwood” is a thoughtful story of first contact which acts as a prelude to the various seventh Doctor novels featuring dolphins. It makes strong and sympathetic use of Mel, which is always a difficult trick to pull off, and ends with a clever cameo tying into the New Adventures. It also showcases some of the best prose in the book. The same’s true of Kelly Hale’s “Nettles”, a complex and emotionally difficult tale of the eighth Doctor’s borderline-exploitative relationship with a genetic engineer living under the shadow of occupation. Like Andy Lane’s “Only Connect” (which also features the pleasantly surreal idea of the Doctor as one of a group of time-travellers who drive taxis for research purposes), “Nettles” subverts the saccharine “the Doctor changes someone’s life for the better” cliche which has become a substitute for an actual story in some anthology pieces.
The other story I particularly liked was Dave Hoskins’ “iNtRUsioNs”, a rather horrific fable of the first Doctor on the hunt for a murderous meme, rendered all the more compellingly awful by showing it through the subjective view of the man whom it’s infected. Given his recent notability in the wider Doctor Who world, I should probably also mention James Moran’s “Breadcrumbs” — a cleverly constructed and witty story making good use of the fourth Doctor’s fond yet rivalrous relationship with Romana.
Admittedly a couple of stories are weaker — Graeme Burke’s “Doctor Who and the Adaptation of Death” is an idea which has been done numerous times in fanfic (my favourite version still being Jon DeBurgh Miller’s “Doctor Crypptic” in Walking in Eternity), while “See No Evil” felt like Steve Lyons on autopilot, revisiting the ground he covered in Time of Your Life and The Stealers of Dreams (although it was at least funny). It’s notable, though, that these stand out from the general excellence of the other stories, whereas in most of the other Short Trips collections I’ve read they’d barely have been notable.
Editor Richard Salter’s final “Transmission Ends” ties the other stories together in a solid bundle whilst managing to be about something itself. Perhaps inevitably, the weight of its obligations (incorporating memories relating to the sixteen other stories in ways which are currently relevant to the Doctor) meansthat it feels a little lightweight compared with some of its bedfellows. It’s very clever, though, as is the whole volume — it’s obvious that Salter as editor put an awful lot of work into the planning, and it pays off.
Transmissions is a very fine read — a collection of excellent Doctor Who stories by some very fine writers, which add up to a very significant whole. It’s well worth buying.
Philip Purser-Hallard, doctorwhoforum.