THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
NOVELS "HISTORY 101"
AND "TIME ZERO."
OFFICIAL BBC 'EIGHTH
RELEASED IN AUGUST
The Doctor's second
heart was TAKEN FROM
his body - for his own
good, he was told.
Now, as a new danger
menaces reality, the
Doctor finds himself
working with THE MAN
WHO TOOK IT.
From a séance to a
wild pursuit ACROSS
Dartmoor, the Doctor
and his companions
work frantically to
unravel the mystery
of this latest threat
to Time... Before Time
I’m not in the least bit surprised that Camera Obscura is such a revered novel in Doctor Who circles. It borrows elements from televised stories the calibre of The Evil of the Daleks, The Talons of Weng-Chiang and especially City of Death, fuses them with one of the most alluring and incisive portrayals of the eighth Doctor that you will find anywhere, and then wraps them in textured, silky prose and presents them as a sequel to one of the finest Who novels ever written, The Adventuress of Henrietta Street.
“The Doctor sat alone and listened to the beat of his remaining heart.
He had never got used to it. He never would. The single sound where a double should be. What was this new code hammering through his body? What did it mean? Mortal.
No, he’d always known he could die. Not mortal. Damaged. Crippled.
Through his shirt, his fingers sought the thick ridge of his scar. Human...”
It speaks volumes about BBC Books’ confidence in author Lloyd Rose that the novel’s blurb is dominated by excerpts from an early passage. Rose doesn’t need to draw in the reader with the promise of bangs and flashes; her writing is enticement enough. Her debut effort, The City of the Dead, showed us that she could string a sentence together like no-one else, but I can’t claim to have been mesmerised by the story that she told there. Here, however, Rose had me hooked from the very start as she shared her illicitly intimate insight into the Doctor’s hopes, fears and broad-spectrum musings.
When Sabbath removed the Doctor’s second heart in The Adventuress of Henrietta Street, the last thing that I expected him to do with it was insert it into his own chest, assuming not only the Doctor’s former mantle of “Time’s Champion”, but his biodata too. Camera Obscura explores how this heart binds the two time travellers together, both physically and spiritually, and the unexpected consequences that follow. This allows Rose to explore aspects of the Doctor’s character that we seldom get the opportunity to see, and even those that are often rehearsed have the volume turned up here. Each line of dialogue is vested with smouldering angst, the passion of Paul McGann’s performances bottled and set ablaze with a macabre twist.
In fairness though, Rose’s portrayal of Sabbath is almost as beguiling. Rose nails both his witty, urbane dialogue and his infuriatingly unflappable, inscrutable manner, whilst allowing
us to see traces of the insecurity that lies beneath. His appearances between Adventuress and this novel were limited to just a smattering of cameos, and even in Adventuress he was only ever seen through the conflicting accounts of those that he encountered who lived to tell the tale. Here, however, he’s the beating hearts of the story; forced into an unlikely alliance with the man whose heart he stole - the man who he’s unwittingly made immortal.
The Doctor’s companions are not neglected either. Anji is particularly beautifully portrayed as the character finds herself alone in an England without any apparent Asian community. Rose skilfully avoids cliché, however: Anji isn’t the subject of racial prejudice, for instance; quite the opposite. Wrapped in a sari she’s an exotic element, the looks that she attracts anything but disparaging. Most impressively of all though, Camera Obscura is something
of a watershed story for Anji as by witnessing her reactions to the Doctor brutally testing his newfound invincibility, we finally see how much she cares for him, and for Fitz too. For his part, Fitz offers us some typically Fitz observations on the olden days. Having assumed the mantle of a gentleman, his dilemmas range from whether to bed an ambitious servant or endure a chaperoned toff, to how he’s going to stop his best friend trying to crush his one remaining heart in increasingly horrific ways.
As I’ve already intimated above,
the narrative incorporates many
of the best elements from many
of the best Doctor Who stories.
Rose captures the foggy period
feel of Robert Holmes’ Talons of
Weng-Chiang in prose, whilst Dr
Chiltern’s time machine reeks of
Theodore Maxtible’s lash-up in
David Whitaker’s seminal Evil
of the Daleks. Best of all though,
Rose borrows Douglas Adams’
barmy premise for City of Death
and uses it to explore multiple
personalities and aspects of spirit, and in doing so highlights those parts of the Doctor that have been lost, both physical and mental. Old coats, long gone; time like music.
But is this poll-topping tome really the greatest to be released until Doctor Who’s auspices? It’s brilliant, certainly, and without doubt one of the finest Who novels ever written, but it isn’t amongst my top few favourites. Whilst I admire how Rose dynamically explores some really quite profound philosophical themes without ever losing sight of her mandate to entertain,
for me Camera Obscura’s menace is a little too nebulous for it to steal the top spot. But, if you’re looking to read about much-loved characters being shone through a darkened hole, reproduced upside-down and then projected onto paper, then Camera Obscura is going to be right up your street.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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