(Originally posted to the Doctor Who Ratings Guide on September 1, 2003.)
Camera Obscura isn't so much a book as a piece of confectionary -- Lloyd Rose's second book is light, sweet, and fluffy, leaving a pleasant taste in your mouth as it melts delightfully into the memory. It's not a calorie-heavy work; the plot, which revolves around a dangerously malfunctioning time machine, is a light run-around that never distracts from the important part. This is a book that entirely deals with the repercussions of The Adventuress of Henrietta Street, and provides us plenty of Sabbath/Doctor conflicts and confrontations to bring a grin to our faces. Sabbath more or less winds up being the straight man to the Doctor's "Bugs Bunny"-esque revenge for the events of the last several books, and we love every minute of it.
I do recall saying in my review of The Adventuress of Henrietta Street that had the Doctor been in full possession of his faculties at the time, he would never have allowed Sabbath to do what he did -- and furthermore, that once his faculties had returned, he'd reverse it. In fact, he goes one better than that. Upon finding out that his second heart now beats in Sabbath's chest, he finds method after method of making use of the fact to make Sabbath regret every possible moment of his double-hearted-ness. From invading Sabbath's brains to stabbing himself in the chest just for fun, we finally see a bit of a return to form for the Doctor. He's no congenital idiot in this book... instead, he's the one pulling the strings, and Sabbath dances for him.
Mainly, I think, this is because Lloyd Rose is writing a thinly-disguised Seventh Doctor. In fact, I think that Lloyd Rose is writing a thinly-disguised Virgin NA, complete with an appearance by Death and as many other continuity references as she can get away with. Not that I think this is a bad thing by any stretch, naturally. I geek out on the NAs with the best of them, and anyone trying for a conscious evocation of my favorite era of the series gets my vote.
This is, for the most part, a "mythos" book, and as such it really lives or dies on the strengths of the regulars. The plot isn't much cod, another "oh, look, with the Time Lords gone time machines are common and that's BAD", with some clever little curlicues. But it's not about the plot -- it's about finding out what Sabbath's been up to, and getting the first real confrontation between the two and the setting down of their respective philosophies... and in that sense, it shines. Sabbath comes off well, the Doctor comes off better, and the companions get some good moments too (although Anji still doesn't drive me wild.)
The prose is just delightful, too... every scene between the Doctor and Sabbath crackles with energy, and there's just some wonderful lines and wonderful scenes. It does subscribe to the Kate Orman School of Torturing the Doctor, in some very gruesome ways...but unlike some of the other novels that went in for this, the Doctor gets sequences that show that he can take the pain and still save the day, which I love. Recommended.