THIS STORY MIGHT TAKE
PLACE BETWEEN THE BIG
FINISH AUDIO DRAMA
"THE GIRL WHO NEVER
WAS" AND THE TELOS
NOVELLA "RIP TIDE."
OFFICIAL TELOS DELUXE
HARDBACK (ISBN 1-903
889-19-7) RELEASED IN
Where is the Doctor?
Everyone is hunting
Honorè Lechasseur, a
time sensitive "fixer",
is hired to find him.
that the Doctor is, in
fact, a semi-mythical
figure who has
appeared off and on
history. But what is
his connection with
London in 1949? And
why is a mysterious
group seeking "the
cabinet of light" -
a device somehow
connected with the
Lechasseur is about
to discover that
following in the
can be a difficult
The Cabinet of Light
The Cabinet of Light is perhaps the strongest of the Telos novellas that I’ve so
far read. It’s certainly the most intriguing. It’s certainly not as opaque as Citadel of Dreams, or as wantonly fantastical as Nightdreamers, but it is infused with a sense of mystery and of the grotesque, written with a panache that gives it a real feeling of significance, in spite of the events portrayed being, by Doctor Who standards, very low key. O’Mahony’s prose is sumptuous and powerfully descriptive, giving his depiction of a noirish 1949 London a rich, oily texture. The story is written consciously in the style of a 1940s film noir, but with a touch of the Victorian supernatural penny dreadful thrown in. For much of the book, I found myself imagining events in black and white.
The story doesn’t follow the Doctor, but Honoré Lechasseur, the man who is sent to find him. A black ex-serviceman from New Orleans, who finds himself working as a fixer in London after having miraculously recovered from severe injuries in the War. Honoré is a fascinating character, one who carries the book perfectly well in the Time Lord’s absence. A cynical yet compassionate man, his exotic appearance allows him to remain hidden in plain sight, aid-ing his shady line of work. He’s also a time sensitive, although he doesn’t learn this term until he eventually meets the Doctor in the book’s final third. Gifted, or cursed, with glimpses of possible futures and forgotten pasts, he’s similar enough to the Doctor to both fill the gap in the story left by him and, at one point, be mistaken for him, yet different enough to remain an interesting character in his own right.
There are two mysteries at the centre of this story. One is that of the Doctor. Lechasseur is set the task of discovering his whereabouts by a woman claiming to be his wife. However, she’s not the only one looking for the mysterious time traveller. Also on his trail are Walken,
a seedy stage magician with a creepy stage presence and unpleasant hypnotic talents, and Mestizer, a dangerous, sadistic femme fatale. Both are after the equally mysterious Cabinet of the book’s title – the TARDIS, naturally – although Walken’s obsession lies more with the Doctor himself, to extent that he is desperate to become the Doctor, to take his place as the traveller in time. Mestizer, on the other hand, simply lusts for power howsoever it is gained. She is assisted by Abraxas, a wonderfully named and described creation, a sort of hulking, greasy, steelworks Cyberman, all oily leather and wheezing joints. An almost unstoppable force, the poor man trapped inside the exoskeleton remains a tragic figure.
When the Doctor eventually finds Lechasseur – as opposed to the other way around – we find it was him pulling his strings all along. Which incarnation we’re dealing with here isn’t made clear. His physical description sounds most like the Richard E Grant version, though that is unlikely to be deliberate, given the book’s publication date. In character, the Doctor is presented a dangerous, untrustworthy, yet beguiling figure, capable of manipulating others
to clean up his own mess without compunction or guilt, and an almost mythical figure who has left footprints throughout the history of the Earth. Lechasseur doesn’t quite believe in
him until they meet, and is suitably impressed when they do, even if the time traveller can’t make a cup of tea to save his life.
The second mystery involves Emily
Blandish, “the girl in the pink pyjamas”
who appears out of the London fig
one night in said outfit, her memories
lost. Inevitably causing a stir in the
local press, she eventually falls under
the wing of an unscrupulous landlady.
She’s an engaging, vulnerable, tragic figure; effectively, we’re left to imagine for ourselves what sort of horrors she’s been left to face since her discovery. She’s somehow linked to the Doctor, which inevitably brings her to the attention of the unsavoury types mentioned above. Although she’s said to have simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time, it’s strongly,
if subtly, implied that she’s the Doctor’s companion. If that’s true, then this incarnation of the Time Lord, capable of simply abandoning her to her fate, is one I’d prefer not to get to know too well.
Come the resolution of the plot, following several distressingly graphic moments of violence and a final showdown between Abraxas and Lechasseur over the fate of Emily – the last ‘loose end’ of the Doctor’s visit – our time sensitive hero and his new friend – no, we have
to say companion – have been set up as an intriguing double act. Although, as I have said, no mere Doctor stand in, Lechasseur makes for a perfect substitute in a Doctorless world – the one he now finds himself in, and the one which Telos where shortly to be left in. There’s
a moment earlier in the narrative which seems to be setting up his future role, but one which could almost be describing the Doctor himself: “He would have to change again. He’d been a soldier, then a black marketer, why shouldn’t he shuck off his skin once more, remake himself as a new man?” If that’s not an overt reference to regeneration, then I’m a monkey’s uncle. Suffice it to say that by the end of the book, O’Mahony has slyly set up a new leading man and sidekick for Telos’ spin-off series, Time Hunter. Somehow, after over five years, I’ve entirely failed to read any of this series, but having reread The Cabinet of Light, I find myself committed to, simply to learn more about these fascinating characters.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2009
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
A seditious fusion of mood and cliché, Daniel O’Mahony’s slick and sumptuous tale has long since been lauded as the very pinnacle of Doctor Who literature; literature being the operative word. This isn’t a cheap tie-in, conceived with a view to sating the hunger of
a few easily-pleased fans. This isn’t even a progressive, avant-garde variation on a theme. This is a text. Not something to be read once and then discarded, but lived and breathed, cut-up and studied.
And broached on such terms, The Cabinet of Light may indeed represent a zenith that the series’ multifarious spin-offs will never surpass, but it is important to remember that isn’t a representative one. If you’re looking for something close to what you’ve seen on television - new series or old - then you’re going to be disappointed; otherwise, you’re in for the literary treat of your life.
Of all the Doctor Who prose writers out there, if I could write like one of them, I’d choose Daniel O’Mahony in an instant. Years ago, when I first read his novel for Virgin, Falls the Shadow, I was utterly enamoured by the man’s dark and detached prose. I don’t think I’ve read anything like it or since; at least, not until now. The same, inimitable turn of phrase that once turned a fairly run of the mill New Adventure into a bloody good one is employed to devastating effect here - the film noir world of post-War London Town is painted like a
Frank Miller graphic novel; a colourless world occasionally illuminated by a flash of colour, and, indeed, light.
O’Mahony’s plot is ostensibly straightforward, but to say that it is thematically rich would be understating things quite considerably. In a nutshell, The Cabinet of Light is about Honoré Lechasseur, an expatriate American GI now living the life of a spiv cum private eye, and the most unusual case of his life – the case of the missing Doctor...
“I like being a gangster. I like being an American in London.”
Prima facie, Honoré is a wonderfully engrossing
character. O’Mahony gifts the black detective
with an intriguing back story and a hard-nosed
sense of pragmatism that make his exploits
absolutely irresistible to read about. However,
what makes him an absolute revelation is his
apparent “time sensitivity” – a gift (or affliction)
that forces the reader to reassess everything
that they experience through his eyes. When
Lechasseur looks at somebody he doesn’t just
see them in the here and now, but glimpses of
their possible futures and possible pasts. And
so you can imagine the profound mystification
that ensues when he finally locates his quarry in
an old toy shop and tries to “read” him…
O’Mahony’s Doctor is a fascinating enigma.
Since 1963 the anonymity of the Doctor has
inevitably been despoiled considerably, and
though numerous attempts have been made to
re-instil that initial mystery of the years, I don’t
think that any could be considered as effective
as this one.
“More subtly, more darkly, the private-eye novel is
really more concerned with the identity of its hero…”
- Chaz Brenchley
For starters, O’Mahony doesn’t present us with a Doctor that we can easily identify, begging the obvious question as to which incarnation it is we are reading about. Yes, the description could well be Paul McGann (or perhaps even Matt Smith, with hindsight), but it is every bit as likely a future Doctor, a non-canonical Doctor, or perhaps something even more enthralling still – the Doctor seen stretching back and forward across time through the eyes of a unique, “time-sensitive” individual; a distillation of everything that sits at the core of the character. It’s a beautiful and thought-provoking portrayal; perhaps even a little disturbing as the Doctor’s relationship to “the girl in the pink pyjamas” is implied and his manipulation of Lechasseur becomes clear.
With two such strong characters
driving events - one at the heart
of events and the other behind
them, largely unseen – it’s a real
testament to the author’s skill that
the rest of his characters stand
up and stand out. The pages of
The Cabinet of Light are carried by two Emily Blandishes, each one as inscrutable as the other; Mestizer, an alien femme fatale with her eye on the titular “cabinet”; and Walken, an unhinged magician who seeks not only the Doctor’s cabinet, but his very identity.
Best of all though is Abraxas, a gas-mask wearing cyborg created from the remnants of a near-dead soldier. O’Mahony’s prose conjures up nightmarish images of a Gerald Scarfe-drawn, greasy Darth Vader; painstakingly malevolent and sadistic in the present, but his past touched by tragedy. It’s not very often that a prose Doctor Who villain haunts my dreams, but this oily monstrosity has had me looking over my shoulder every time I pay a visit in the night.
I’m not able to offer much insight into this novella’s plot though, for one thing because this is a story that really shouldn’t be spoiled, and for another because at this stage I still don’t quite fathom it. The blinding conclusion is a unique feast of economy and spectacle, but it is one that I think I’ll need to re-read a good few times before I can fully wrap my head round it.
To sum up then, everything that they say about this one really is true. A world apart from the preponderance of Doctor Who literature, The Cabinet of Light is a novella that deliberately stands apart from the rest of the canon, as bold and as subversive a take on the series as I’ve ever come across (and as I’m ever likely to, now that the show is back on television).
But whatever I write in this review, I couldn’t hope to compete with the eloquence to be found in Chaz Brenchley’s tantalising foreword (which you can read by clicking ), and so I shall just leave you with my favourite excerpt from it:
“Perhaps it’s not too flippant to suggest that all Dr Who fiction
is about what it means to be a Time Lord. With the subtext
understood that it is written by humans, and actually we haven’t
yet figured out quite what it means to be us…”
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.
This story could take place at any point in the Doctor’s life (if indeed it forms part of mainstream continuity at all). For ease of reference, and mostly because he was the reigning Doctor on the date of publication, we have arbitrarily placed this story in the eighth Doctor’s timeline during a period in which he is travelling alone.
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