Sunday, 13 March 2011

Camera Obscura by Lloyd Rose

Plot: There is a time machine causing dangerous instabilities, fracturing people both mentally and physically. Worse, its continued use might see the time continuum chewed up and spat out. The Doctor turns to his sometime ally, sometime enemy Sabbath for help tracking down the machine and along the way discovers some very disturbing things about where his heart is in the matter…

Top Doc: He springs from the page, vivid and electrifying, it’s another astonishing example of why the eighth Doctor is such an amazing character these days. He has never gotten used to his single heart and he never will. He feels it makes him damaged, crippled and worse, human. His memory and heart have both been taken from him but thinking about them is a waste of the time he has too much of. He remembers once being shorter, and taller too! His profile is dramatic rather than beautiful. He gets annoyed at his lack of ability to die but he soon realises Sabbath is ‘using’ his second heart and wakes up screaming, “You son of a bitch!” He is furious at Sabbath’s homicidal tactics and enjoys winding him up, attacking him in his mind with a giant squid simply because he is a ‘jerk’. He takes things far too personally. The Doctor hates his weaknesses, he feels he know longer deserves his heart and wonders if he was responsible for whatever infected and blackened it. He is bored with the ‘empty pockets’ routine, not giving a toss how many yo yos he has (tee hee). He is asked if he ever shuts up. He ponders on why he is so great at saving himself but less successful with others. A sly animal, you never know what he is about. He beautifully sums up what he is about, “Injustice is the rule, but I want justice. Suffering is the rule but I want to end it. Despair accords with reality but I insist on hope. I don’t accept it because it is unacceptable. I say no.” Proving how close to the edge he can be, he is willing to risk a confrontation with Death to stop the time machine being used again. He discovers from her that he has cheated death many times before. Described as a monstrous egotist, insane risk taker, a manipulator and trickster, someone who is radically and completely other. When it comes to women, the Doctor is practically a monk. Heartless, no matter how many beat in his chest. In the exciting climax he suicidally attempts to trick the Chiltern monster into throwing him into the machine and destroy it and despite Sabbath’s attempts to retain it, the Doctor succeeds. He is treated to a stunning array of strange man staring back at him in the mirrors, previous incarnations that he does not recognise. Catalytic, the bringer of fate. Sabbath has destroyed his integrity; he’s neither complete nor incomplete.

Scruffy Git: It is interesting to get to see the reaction of the Doctor’s companions existing on the periphery of the story, kept in the dark about much of what is going on and left to sit by the Doctor’s bedside as he throws himself into one near death experience after another. Fitz is far more sombre than we have seen before and is cut deeply when Jane calls him a loser, forcing him to re-evaluate his life and discover that he is not entirely satisfied trailing after the Doctor. As a result he signs himself up for an expedition to Siberia to search for fossils. Usually pretending to be someone else is relaxing and liberating for him but he finds Victorian London depressing and can’t find any way of picking up girls without visiting a whore house and that is bit a raw even for him. He celebrated his 33rd birthday in Spain (History 101) and is terrified of never reaching 40. His love for the Doctor is proven when he stays by the guy’s side, even when he threatens to break every bone in his body.

Career Nazi: The Doctor’s weakness in this story affects Anji greatly, getting cross with him for being so blasé about his near death experiences. She is tired and tries to stress to the Doctor how hard it is to sit at his side and wonder if he is going to die. She admits how much she cares about him, being with him has made her very protective of him. She is appalled at her own rage towards the Angel Maker for stabbing the Doctor, calling her a bitch and dragging her by her hair. She decides if he survives, she is going home. Anji feels absurd in a sari and doesn’t like being stared at because she is different. She trusts the Doctor’s intentions but sometimes feels he stumbles around in the dark.

Ham Fists: Finally Sabbath gets a book where he is centre stage and it more than lives up to Adventuress. Described as a housekeeper tidying up the universe. He needed to ‘use’ the Doctor’s heart to penetrate Deep Time and is now physically tied to the Doctor. Every time he has been in mortal danger, Sabbath has felt the effects. Brilliant in his own way and used to the finer things in life, he appropriates a mansion and sets about giving a time sensitive an education. Sinister, mysterious and something of a posturing ham. Sabbath feels the Doctor is dangerous, visiting time zones and branching off a new timeline each time he does. The Doctor states he must be stopped by any means. He loves clocks because they translate time into sounds and make it so apprehensible to human senses. In the climax Sabbath tears out the Doctor’s heart, grieving for the loss of the Angel Maker and tells the Doctor that it is not a human heart. It is shocking, the most emotional moment the fella has had yet.

Foreboding: Anji is going home, Fitz is going to Siberia and Sabbath is companionless…all this segues into the next book, Time Zero. Sabbath’s employers want to keep the Doctor from themselves.

Twists: There is a scene from Anji’s POV of Victorian London, which is awesome truly comes alive. Dealing with Miss Jane and her fractured personalities is really creepy. Anji and Fitz’s wandering around Crystal Palace is bedazzling. Octave is revealed to be the same man split into eight parts by the time machine. The eight parts attack the Doctor viciously, smashing a sandbag down on his chest and driving his ribcage through his back into the floorboards. Sabbath is revealed to have stolen the Doctor’s heart and actually implanted into his body, thus saving the Doctor from death at the hands of Octave. He slaughters Octave, thinking it will be the end of the problem. The time machine is revealed as being supremely dangerous, capable of bringing the time period to you and allowing you to step into it. It is designed to be used by many civilisations, user friendly and adapted to in this new universe where time is unregulated. Even with all its parts it could distort time and destroy the universe. The dragging, limping rustling creature that attacks the Doctor in his darkened cell is absolutely terrifying. Chapter Seventeen is fantastic, the pinnacle of Doctor Who prose, frightening, atmospheric and intoxicatingly good. The Doctor thinks Sabbath is trying to strangle reality, pairing down its possibilities. He tricks the Angel Maker into stabbing him through his remaining heart and descends into hell in a truly nightmarish sequence. Sabbath discovers him impaled on a meat hook, part of a clocks mechanism! Chiltern monster is horrific, revealed to be made of eight parts, including a toaster, a rose bush and a rats mouth snapping away instead of an eye. In a shocking climax, Chiltern kills the Angel Maker and Sabbath viciously snaps his neck, killing both him and Nathaniel. Sabbath, disgusted by the Doctor’s otherness, rips the heart from his chest and frees the link between them.

Funny bits: The Doctor cannot resist leaving a whoopee cushion down for Sabbath to sit on. His attempts to pretend to be knocked out and dragged away by Scale are hilarious. The hate-hate relationship between Anji and Sabbath leads to her unkindly suggesting his name is really Melvin. “You know Doctor, even allowing for the, ah, unique circumstances of your last near death experience, it’s extraordinary how often you’re plucked out of trouble at the last minute. Rescuers turn up. Weapons jam. Your companions, who, if you’ll forgive me, don’t strike me as more than usually competent, save the day. Buildings explode immediately after you find the way out. Cities fall just after the TARDIS materialises. Electrical currents short circuit. Evil masterminds make foolish errors. If you fall out of a window, there is someone to catch you. If you’re drowning, a spar floats by. You find your way unsigned out of burning houses. You survive alien mind probes that would boil the average brain in its skull. You are dug unharmed beneath fallen rubble. No one ever shoots you in the head. Deadly drugs turn out not to affect you. Villains tie you up too loosely, and hidebound tyrants’ convictions falter at your rhetoric. In short, in your presence, the odds collapse.”

Result: A magnificent novel, one of the best Doctor Who books published and a really tasty historical with so many memorable passages I would be recounting much of the book to list them all. After you have finished it you realise that the plot is actually quite thin, nothing more than a protracted chase after a time machine but how the book works its way into the running arc of the EDAs turns it into so much more. This book succeeds on the astonishing strength of characterisation and brutally thoughtful moments. The Doctor and Sabbath are explored in considerable depth and any scene featuring the pair is instantly classic, bouncing off each other beautifully. The prose is stimulating, the sheer beauty of the writing results in an effortless read. It the pinnacle of a great run of books, matching Rose’s debut step for step and being the all round best achiever of the ranger since Adventuress. Powerful and involving, read this now: 10/10


  1. Beautiful review for an incredible book. I agree with you that every single scene with Sabbath and the Doctor are just absolutely marvelous! I found myself going back and rereading them more than once.

    And Fitz's character growth here is perfect, isn't it? He's just so loyal to the Doctor, so caring, even when the Doctor pushes him away, and even threatens him! I find Fitz's reasons for leaving the Doctor at the end of the book absolutely believable, and in the next book his cheerful insistence that they'll see each other soon is so touching.

    I've just finished the EDAs in their entirety, and I've really appreciated your reviews. As soon as I finished a book, I would go straight to your blog for your thoughts, and they so often matched my own.

  2. Thank you for saying such lovely things - its really flattering to hear that you have read the reviews as you have been tackling the range. I hope you found the EDAs as rewarding as I did. I will posted the remainder of the reviews over the next few months so stay tuned. And its ironic that you should write about Camera Obscura as tomorrow I will be posting a special Matter of Perspective on this book over at my other should check it out in issue three posted tomorrow night -