Camera Obscura.

Books  Find above one of my favourite web finds, not that I can remember where I found it, and to this day I’m not sure if it’s a fake or not.  Oh, I’m sure you could analyse the lighting on the book, seek artefacts, be a bit Snopes, but isn’t it more pleasurable to assume that during the shooting of the Come Into My World video, Kylie would retreat to her trailer between naps spend time with Camera Obscura, Lloyd Rose’s ode to Victoriana (perhaps lent by her stylist Will Baker who is a fan) and it was her appreciation of the spin-off range which led to her agreeing to appear in Voyage of the Damned a few years later as well as the Dance of the Cybermen bit in her Showgirl tour.

The book opens with the inscription “To Paul Cornell” but it might as well have been “To Mark Gatiss” since as the title might indicate, Rose’s book is replete with just the sort of influences which have infused Gatiss’s work before and after its 2002 publication date from The League of Gentlemen, through Big Finish’s Phantasmagoria, The Unquiet Dead and a dozen radio and television documentaries, not to mention Sherlock.  It’s all here, the séances, orientalism, drug-induced hallucinations, hallucinations without stimulants, lunatic asylums, Holmes references, carnivals, steampunk machinery, magicians, illusionists and smoking.

But I wouldn’t insult Rose by suggesting her appealing novel has anything to do with Gatiss’s approach to the material.  For all of this period detail, the novel is really about elucidating the relationship between the Doctor and Sabbath, defining their belief systems and modus operandi in what’s sure to be a titanic struggle across upcoming novels.  As in some previous novels, both are drawn to Victorian Britain by time disturbances which have the capacity to implode the cosmos, but this time, for various reasons, they’re forced to work together and each becomes increasingly appalled by their rival’s working methods.

So the actual A-story, such as it is, the effects of a time machine made of mirrors on the local population, the monsters and monstrosity it creates, mostly provide a backbone to a three hundred page discussion between the Doctor and Sabbath on the nature of time, who its champion should be and how best to approach that.  As the baddy, Sabbath’s is of course murder and that the overall web of time should be protected at any cost, that there are acceptable losses in the face of the death of billions.  The Doctor on the other hand thinks a single life is as important as any other.

The brilliant twist, and hey spoiler, is that after he pulled the Doctor’s dying heart from the Time Lord’s chest, Sabbath installed it in his own body as protection against the rigours of time travel, which has left them both genetically connected, the wounds effecting one, effecting the other.  So when the Doctor is at various points savagely attacked, he has a bit of the Captain Jack about him (stop it), his body reconstituted and made whole.  He spends most of the book in a zombie like state on the edge of death, but continues to keep ticking along, safe in the knowledge that his current arch-enemy won’t simply try and kill him.

The writing is vibrant, bright.  But Rose also includes some of the longest dialogue scenes these novels have ever seen, whole glorious passages between the Doctor, Anji and Fitz or the Doctor and Sabbath discussing things, each other, the plot, stuff without the usual tendency of these novels to paraphrase what’s been said.  True, without them his companions wouldn’t have much to do, they’re mainly a sounding board or sit around being concerned about their friend's well being physically and mentally, but for once, we’ve a genuine sense of what it must be like for them together between adventures.

The story does meander.  There are many shifts in location and perhaps intentionally we’re not always entirely clear about the passage of time.  There is one exciting moment when the Doctor says he’s visiting Liverpool, but the most we “see” is the interior of an anonymous theatre, a hospital and Lime Street station and none are much described, though it is pretty thrilling to imagine the Doctor, Fitz and Anji dashing about the 1893 version of my city (even if Paul McGann himself was born in Surrey which was a huge surprise when I found out) (more recently than I care to admit) (well ok, while I was writing this review) (sorry).

I finished reading the book last night after the council’s firework display and despite the distracting bangs from amateur rockets, I was entirely riveted.  Contemporary reviews were overwhelmingly positive (TV Zone gave it 8/10 apparently) and I can see why, it’s an amazing book, but it’s also a book which is best read than written about which is presumably why I’m struggling to find anything to write about.  Even the supporting characters are vividly drawn, from the members of the carnival to the aristocrats in charge of the machine especially at the climax when those plans are demonstrated to have gone horribly wrong.

The one controversial element is a moment when the Doctor purposefully enters “the land of the dead” or some such in search of information from a character who’s been murdered.  As with The City of the Dead, this is Rose taking another detour away from Who’s usually rational universe into the metaphysical and it’s not entirely explained exactly where the Doctor is, the afterlife we’re meant to presume, but I was more intrigued than appalled.  Perhaps Torchwood’s experimentation with this material via the gauntlet and The Satan Pit’s discussions have just made it seem less alien to the franchise than it might have been at time of this novel’s writing.

Now that Sabbath’s a more vital presence in the books, it’s worth discussing what he’s supposed to be like.  Guessing myself and having received some confirmation on Twitter, the idea was, at least publicly, that he’s played by Orson Welles in the The Third Man or Touch of Evil era.  It’s surprising how, once I’d realised this, thanks to a few hints in Rose’s book, the character leapt from the page, the speech patterns all there, the bulk, the facial expressions.  Part of me wants to go back and reread his previous appearances with that in mind but I’ve another dozen or so to go now and I’m trying to get them finished before Christmas.

It’s worth also noting that for the first time in reading these novels I had a physical reaction of the kind which is usually generated by the television series, just before the end.  I won’t give away the reason, but people who have read the book and will know what I’m talking about, and it’s a testament to how dimensional the novel’s version of the Eighth Doctor is as character, a creation, that my mouth opened and I let out a whimper of satisfaction and pleasure.  I used to go on and on about how the Big Finish Eighth Doctor series was crucial listening for all fans.  Perhaps just as many of these novels are also essential.

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