Camera Obscura by Lloyd Rose
So, Camera Obscura, a book situated slap bang in the middle of a huge arc in the EDAs. First off, how well does it function as a book in its own right? Could I, being someone who's only dipped in and out of the range, understand what's going on without having to have read X amount of novels beforehand?
Absolutely, although it does continue the Eighth Doctor's story arc it is made clear from the first page where the character is at and what his situation is. I think if somebody read an arc book of this quality it would certainly tempt them to go back and read the books that led to this point, especially Adventuress of Henrietta Street which introduced Sabbath and featured the dramatic removal of the Doctor's heart.
Sabbath being the series new recurring villain, how does he fare in this outing? In comparison to other villains of the same nature - the Master especially springs to mind - how well-rounded is he as a character? Is there a something unique about his usage here which expands upon his personality and previous actions?
Despite a couple of fleeting appearances in other novels since Adventuress this is the first novel that directly handles the Doctor's relationship with Sabbath and it is a wonderful partnership. Sabbath is portrayed as the Master should have been, he's refined, cultured, witty but he's also very dangerous and will ruthlessly take any risk to achieve his (so far undisclosed) goals. Sabbath removed the Doctor’s heart because his link with Gallifrey had been poisoned but the last thing you would imagine him to do would be to put that heart within in his own chest, thinking that is the secret of penetrating Deep Time. Its a truly macabre twist which comes into play brilliantly when the Doctor is brutally murdered, a sand bag forcing his ribcage to crack and pierce through his back into a wooden stage - the Doctor should have died but one of his hearts is still beating and it doesn't take the Doctor long to figure out where...
Sounds brutal and quite ingenious! The EDAs seem to be pushing the envelope in ways that the NAs attempted with the Seventh Doctor. Since there was far less to go on, how does the Eighth Doctor fare here? Are there any noticeable defining character traits here, or developments that are built on from previous novels? In short, how is the character defined?
There is a sense of desperation to his character which is riveting, you really think he will go to any lengths to find the time machine which could potentially destabilise time. He springs from the page, feeling crippled and human but determined to live the life he is used to. He's very funny too, putting a whoopee cushion on Sabbath's desk chair and leaving an 'I have walked into a trap please rescue me' note for Fitz and Anji. As an example of how far this almost insanely driven Doctor will go he allows his heart to be stabbed (literally taking what would be a wounding blow and making it a killing one) in order to descend into the Underworld and make a deal with Death. There's a glorious sequence where Sabbath takes the Doctor through all the ways that his life ensures that the odds collapse - weapons jamming, evil masterminds making foolish errors, no one ever shoots him in the head, etc. Plus the story ends with a punch the air sequence where the Doctor is forced into the 8-sided mirrored time machine and sees seven other people staring at him in the different panels... In short, you would be hard pressed to find a novel that deals with the Doctor with this much interest.
Just what a good Doctor Who story needs. So I take it there's plenty of action, twists and turns and the like to hook the reader?
The Doctor dying twice is a pair of pretty good twists! Plus when he realises that Sabbath has been 'wearing' his heart he wakes up from his deathbed with Fitz and Anji grieving him and screams 'That sonofabitch!' Chapter seventeen is a glorious chase over Dartmoor’s moor land that sees the Doctor pursued by a cloaked, rustling creature and contains some truly vivid prose. The actual plot itself is quite thin - it is basically a protracted chase after the time machine - but all the gold lies in the strength of the characters and the stimulating prose.
Speaking of characters, who do Fitz and Anji fare on this occasion? Sometimes they can be underwritten, but do they get a good outing this time?
Both characters are used to show how harrowing it is to travel with a Doctor who is quite this reckless. This is the story where Anji decides that she definitely going home because she cannot bear to sit by his deathbed one more time sick with worry and Fitz decides he is going to have to do something with his life, deciding to go on an expedition to Siberia with George Williamson. There is an early sequence, which sees Fitz and Anji enjoying the delights of Crystal Palace and really accentuates the warmth between the characters these days and offers you a dazzling twirl around the exhibits. They are my personal favourite book companions so it is great to see the development they have been given, both in their own friendship and in trying to move on with their lives.
Are there any unresolved issues at the end of this one, or does it bring things to a satisfactory conclusion?
The plot of this book is resolved well with the time machine destroyed but this is one of a series of linked stories that has seen how the time vortex has been abused since the Time Lords were destroyed and Sabbath's masters are trying to put a stop to that...and we still don't know who they are. In the next book Anji is returned to her life in the city and Fitz goes on his expedition but that was the joy of the books at this point - they were practically serialised and if you followed the range you got a great deal of satisfaction in taking the journey with the characters.
Could this be seen as a negative to people who didn't have the time - or money - to invest in a series so closely linked?
Possibly but no more so than say not following every episode of the new series now and missing out on important developments. I think with any series, be it books or on the television, if you miss out on certain pieces then you aren't going to get quite as much out of it as those that experience the whole thing. The new books have taken on a far more standalone approach and the popularity of them has waned in the extreme.
Do you think it would benefit the new novels to have more of an arc? Surely it would be tricky since the TV series itself is very closely tied together now.
At the time the books were the flagship for continuing storytelling but since the series returned they have definitely had to take much more of a backseat. All this talk of arc plots takes something away from Camera Obscura itself which, whilst being a piece of an overall puzzle is a beautifully written book. This is the sort of prose that comes around once every couple of years, Rose captures you both emotionally and sensually and never shies away from the horrors of her plot. There are only two other writers of Doctor Who fiction whose writing technique would come anywhere near as close as Rose and they are Paul Cornell and Kate Orman who both a similar style, brewing up some heady emotions whilst dazzling you with sights, smells and tastes to actually plant you in the story.