Please feel free to comment on my review.
Gabriel Chase with the Seventh Doctor and Ace
After what seemed to be a decent start to Season 26 of ‘Doctor Who‘ in ‘Battlefield’, I’m afraid we come to what I consider to be the low point in the season. Yeah! Like it or not, I’m not a fan of ‘Ghost Light’. There’s no point lying about it. I don’t like ‘Ghost Light’. But that doesn’t mean I hate it.
When I first did my review for ‘Ghost Light’ back in 2018 based on the DVD release of it, I found it really hard to write. There were times where I wanted to like the story, but there were other times where I felt like giving up. The story was all over the place and it just ended up being very lost on me.
The first time I reviewed ‘Ghost Light’, it was based on three viewings. The first time I saw it on DVD was back in early 2010, I hadn’t a clue what was going on. I saw it a second time and still didn’t know what it was about. Then I saw it a third time and…guess what…I still didn’t know what it was about.
I felt really bad about this during my initial review of the story. I was trying my best to understand what the plot was, but even after many viewings, it just swept me by and I couldn’t invest myself into it. The story did feel pretty incoherent and so much got in the way of my enjoyment of the tale.
Thankfully with ‘Ghost Light’ now re-released in the Season 26 Blu-ray box set, there are two versions of the story to enjoy. There’s the original four-part version shown on TV and there’s the extended workprint. The extended version of this story is better with the deleted scenes reinserted.
With that said however, I still don’t like ‘Ghost Light’ overall. That comes from the sour taste I had from watching it the first time as well as things being very convoluted, despite the addition of extra scenes in the extended workprint. I’m not alone in this either. Other people feel the same way too.
It was amusing to watch the ‘Behind the Sofa’ item on ‘Ghost Light’ and hear Sarah Sutton share with Janet Fielding and Anneke Wills that she wasn’t getting into the story watching it. You and me both, Sarah! 😀 Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, Pete McTighe and Joy Wilkinson praise it though. 😀
And look! I know people have a different perspective on how they see ‘Ghost Light’ and maybe they regard it highly more than I do. That’s fine. Clearly people are seeing something in ‘Ghost Light’ that I can’t. I can only speak from my personal experience in that I feel discomfort from watching the TV story.
To justify why I don’t like ‘Ghost Light’ very much, I should give some background information on this story. As I said, ‘Ghost Light’ is a three-part adventure by Marc Platt. It was the second TV adventure shown in Season 26 of ‘Doctor Who’ with Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace. 🙂
It was also the last story to be made in terms of production order. Yeah! The last story to be made in the classic series of ‘Doctor Who’…was ‘Ghost Light’. I’m glad it wasn’t shown as the season finale of Season 26 instead of ‘Survival’. I find ‘Survival’ better than ‘Ghost Light’ since I find it more coherent.
But yeah, Marc Platt is the writer of this ‘Doctor Who’ story, making it his first contribution to the series. It’s currently his only contribution to the TV series so far, but he went on to write many Big Finish audios of ‘Doctor Who’. I’ve enjoyed Marc Platt’s audio stories a lot compared to ‘Ghost Light’.
Marc Platt pitched to the ‘Doctor Who’ production office many times before he worked on the TV series. Just like when Douglas Adams and Andrew Smith pitched scripts. Marc had his scripts rejected by the production office, as stated in the ‘Writer’s Question Time’ convention panel interview.
This was before he was recognised by script editor Andrew Cartmel. Clearly Andrew saw the imagination in Marc Platt’s writing and it’s good that he took him on. A shame that Marc Platt’s first entry to ‘Doctor Who’ was shabbily handled in terms of the way it was directed and edited in output.
Anyway, Andrew Cartmel liked the ideas pitched by Marc Platt and decided to commission him to write a story for Season 26. This ended up as ‘Ghost Light’, which is supposed to be an alien invasion story in the style of a ghost tale at a Victorian mansion. Sadly it didn’t come across that way for me. 😦
It really pains me to write about Marc Platt’s first contribution to ‘Doctor Who’ in the TV series. He’s written many write wonderful audio stories for Big Finish including ‘Spare Parts’. And to be fair, it’s not Marc Platt’s fault that this story ended the way it did as I’m certain it’s a pretty decent adventure.
What frustrates me about this story is how it all feels rushed and there isn’t time given for the characters to explain things. The audience isn’t allowed to absorb what’s happening since there’s a lot going on with the characters. I found myself scratching my head a lot as I kept watching the story.
It would’ve been better if ‘Ghost Light’ was a four-part story instead of a three-part story. In fact, I believe it was considered to make ‘Ghost Light’ a four-parter instead of a three-parter. I’m not sure what occurred, but the BBC probably overruled the decision when it came to the final version. Most likely.
As I said in my ‘Battlefield’ review; Season 26 was made at a time when ‘Doctor Who’ was unloved by the BBC with the classic series coming to an end in 1989. It’s a shame the season was limited in how it could tell its stories. Season 26 was able to do 2 four-parters and 2 three-parters in 14 episodes.
Maybe they could have stretched it with having more two-parters in each season, but that might’ve made the stories even less coherent. It would’ve been better to make ‘Ghost Light’ a four-parter in order to appreciate all the plot threads happening as well as to allow the story to breathe very clearly.
The extended workprint, despite it still being three episodes, is better with the deleted and extended scenes reinserted as I was able to appreciate additional details to scenes such as additional dialogue; additional frames and less music. At least, I’m sure there’s less music in the extended workprint here.
I can give you a general idea of what the plot’s about from watching the ‘Light in Dark Places’ DVD documentary. Apparently, the story has this alien spaceship underneath a Victorian mansion called Gabriel Chase. Three characters come from that ship. They’re Light, Control and Josiah Samuel Smith.
Light is in command of the alien ship and he sent Josiah out as his scout to look around the Victorian area. Apparently something went wrong; Josiah became power-crazed and soon became the master of the mansion. Pretty soon, Control starts to lose ‘control’ too. The Doctor said it himself. 😀
Control, who is a woman, rebels against the authority of her master Light as well as Josiah. This causes trouble and evil in the house. The Doctor and Ace have to stop this before it goes too far. To be fair, these are good concepts for a tale conceived by Marc Platt as he wrote them in the TV story.
But like I said, I couldn’t tell that was the case when I first saw it, because things were convoluted in watching it. The story felt truncated in its original form with the deleted and extended scenes excised. The additional scenes should’ve been kept in. I’m happy the extended workprint is clearer. 🙂
In the original edit, everything seemed to be moving at a pretty fast pace for me. Even for a three-parter, I felt things were rushing to get to the very end without slowing down at points. I couldn’t help but want this story to be over with as I couldn’t stand having so many plot points thrown at me.
Also, and here’s the big issue I have, there’s too much music by composer Mark Ayres in the original edit. This story is meant to be a creepy, gothic adventure. Now this would be great if the music would just shut up! There were times I couldn’t hear what the characters were saying as the music was played.
Many of the actors’ lines were drowned out by the music. I should’ve put subtitles on for the story in order to get an idea what it was all supposed to be about with the characters letting me know what was occurring. This was an issue in late 1980s ‘Doctor Who’ stories with louder music soundtracks. 😀
It’s sad this story didn’t impress me as it should’ve done first time, because…the set designs and the costume designs for the interior of the Victorian mansion are superb. One of the things that the BBC does very well is provide set pieces and costumes for classical period drama productions. It’s superb!
It would’ve been nice if we went outside the mansion though. The story is mostly confined to the interior. Sadly, the period costumes and set designs of the Victorian mansion don’t save it for me, as the tale’s frustrating plot structure and the overuse of incidental music ruined it as I was watching it.
According to the ‘Light In Dark Places’ DVD documentary, Sylvester McCoy claims ‘Ghost Light’ to be one of his favourite stories in the TV series. He enjoyed doing the studio recordings as he felt the set designs for the Victorian house were convincing compared to a set design of a spaceship or a planet.
I appreciate Sylvester’s preferences and I can’t deny him enjoying the making of this story. He does deliver a decent performance as the Doctor overall. Something I forgot to mention in my ‘Battlefield’ review is that Sylvester’s Doctor is now wearing the brown coat now over his question-mark pullover.
He’s still got the panama hat and the question mark umbrella of course. Sylvester didn’t like his question mark pullover and I have to agree with him. It’s too much with the question marks on his pullover. The question mark umbrella’s better. The Doctor’s brown attire reflects his dark side here.
Yeah, ‘Ghost Light’ highlights the Seventh Doctor’s manipulative and dark nature by this point in the series. It’s something I’m sort of able to get into. He seems to know what’s going on as he guides his companion Ace on a certain journey and test. I’m afraid the tale couldn’t help me enjoy that aspect.
Sophie Aldred is lovely as Ace in this adventure. I like the costumes she wears as Ace in the story, especially the first modern one she wears when she comes out of the TARDIS and the period dress she wears ‘befitting a lady’. But I’m afraid I have an issue with Ace’s character as I watched this tale.
Ace came across as being a moaner and over-rebellious than she should be. There were times when I thought she was becoming annoying and not blending in with the Victorian period setting they’ve visited. She mentions ‘takeaways’ and ‘fancy a curry’ at some point. She even tells Light to ‘bog off’!
Yikes! I know Ace is supposed to be a street-cred kid from the 1980s, but you’d think she would be a seasoned traveller by this point and that she’s learned how to behave in travelling in the TARDIS with the Doctor. Again, I know this is supposed to be part of Ace’s character, but it did seem rather too much.
An interesting aspect to the story is Ace’s journey in facing her fears as would be the case in the upcoming two TV stories of Season 26. In this story, Ace faces her past fears since she burned Gabriel Chase to the ground in an hundred years’ time. A shame this aspect of the story isn’t explored much.
Don’t get me wrong, I know this gets repeated as the Doctor keeps asking Ace questions about it. But at the same time, I didn’t feel this was strongly signified enough and we should’ve had a scene where we actually saw Ace burning the house down. The rest of this TV tale kept getting in the way.
Another issue I have to raise about this story is the supporting cast. Whilst the actors playing them give good performances, I just felt I couldn’t connect to these characters on an emotional level. All of these characters seem to be mad and they didn’t seem to have clear motives I could identify with. 😦
Ian Hogg guest stars as Josiah Samuel Smith. I assume he’s supposed to be the main villain of the story. Josiah has an allergy to bright light when we first meet him, since he wears shades and commands for the light to dim down. He has these insect-like husk bodies and utilises people as his ‘toys’.
The story also features Michael Cochrane as Redvers Fenn-Cooper, who I believe is a game-hunter that loses his mind. I was delighted to see Michael Cochrane, having seeing him in ‘Black Orchid’. Unfortunately, like with many of the characters, I could not get what Fenn-Cooper was about in this.
There’s also Carl Forgione as Nimrod. Oh no! Nimrod from the Forge is here! 😮 No, of course not! Actually, Nimrod is this intelligent-speaking Neanderthal who works at the mansion for Josiah Smith. (sighs) Yeah, that’s another thing that put me off this tale regarding the Darwinian evolution theme.
It echoes throughout this story, which diluted it into making ‘Ghost Light’ a proper ghost adventure. It didn’t agree with me. If ‘Ghost Light’ was a proper haunted mansion story that the Doctor and Ace walk into with fewer characters and less music, maybe this would’ve been a better TV adventure for me.
The story also features Sharon Duce as Control, who I think is just mad anyway. 😀 I saw Sharon Duce once on a panel talk at the ‘Acceptable In The 80s’ event back in October 2011. Control is an unusual character that demands freedom; wants the Doctor to grant it and get to connect with Fenn-Cooper.
There’s also John Nettleton as Rev. Ernest Matthews. I’ve seen John Nettleton in ‘Yes Minister’ and ‘Yes, Prime Minister’ with my parents. It was very disturbing to see Rev. Matthews becoming ape-like with his hands getting fur once he ate that banana. That’s going to put me off eating my bananas. 😀
The story features Katharine Schlesinger as Gwendoline, Josiah Smith’s ward and eventually revealed as Mrs. Pritchard’s daughter. I discovered from my first review that Katherine Schlesinger was in the 1986 BBC version of ‘Northanger Abbey’. She’s very good here. She enjoyed jumping on Ace in this. 😀
Frank Windsor guest stars as Inspector Mackenzie in the story. He was also in ‘The King’s Demons’ with Peter Davison. I enjoyed Inspector Mackenzie as this bumbling policeman who ate a lot of food. He must’ve been in suspended animation a long time. 😀 A shame about what happened to him at the end.
There’s also film actress Sylvia Syms as Mrs. Pritchard in the story. Mrs. Pritchard started off being a creepy character, obeying Josiah Smith’s will with those zombie-like maidservants behind her. It was intriguing how it’s revealed she’s Gwendoline’s mother and gets to reunite with her later on in the story.
And there’s John Hallam as Light. I’ve seen John Hallam in ‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’ from the ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ BBC TV series. I’ve seen him in ‘Flash Gordon’ too. I did find his performance Light quite over-the-top, especially in switching from high-pitched voice to a low voice.
By the time the story came to an end with some of the characters going off in a spaceship, I felt very unsatisfied, especially in re-watching it on Blu-ray. The Doctor’s “Wicked!” didn’t help much. Even Anneke, Janet and Sarah were frustrated. I sympathise since I hadn’t an idea what I’d been watching.
The original DVD special features were as follows. There were the deleted and extended scenes to enjoy as well as an info-text commentary option to enjoy. There was also the ‘Writer’s Question Time’ convention panel interview with Marc Platt and the ‘Light in Dark Places’ making-of documentary with behind-the-scenes cast and crew interviews. There was ‘Shooting Ghosts’ featuring behind-the-scenes studio recordings of the story and a photo gallery of the story.
There were also four audio options. There was a mono sound audio mix option for the story; a 5.1 surround sound audio mix option for the story and a DVD audio commentary with Sophie Aldred, script editor Andrew Cartmel, writer Marc Platt and composer Mark Ayres. There was also an isolated music option by Mark Ayres to enjoy. There were two Easter Eggs including BBC trailers and continuity announcements of the story and the complete performance of ‘That’s The Way To The Zoo’ performed by Katharine Schlesinger.
On Disc 3 of the ‘Doctor Who – The Collection – Season 26’ Blu-ray, the deleted and extended scenes; the ‘Writer’s Question Time’ convention panel interview with Marc Platt; the ‘Light in Dark Places’ making-of documentary; the mono sound audio mix option for the story and the DVD audio commentary can be found on there. The info-text commentary option; the photo gallery; the 5.1 surround sound audio mix option for the story; the isolated music option and the BBC trailers and continuity announcements have been updated for 2020 on the Blu-ray. The ‘Shooting Ghosts’ behind-the-scenes studio recordings and the complete performance of ‘That’s The Way To The Zoo’ have been combined together and updated as studio footage.
The new special features on Blu-ray include the extended workprint of ‘Ghost Light’. This has both the mono sound audio mix option and the 5.1 surround sound audio mix option as with the original three-part TV version of the story. There’s also the ‘Behind the Sofa’ feature on ‘Ghost Light’ with Sylvester McCoy (the Seventh Doctor) and Sophie Aldred (Ace) as well as Anneke Wills (Polly); Janet Fielding (Tegan) and Sarah Sutton (Nyssa) as well as new series writer Joy Wilkinson and new series writer Pete McTighe. There’s also the ‘Little Girl Lost’ documentary about Ace (taken from the ‘Survival’ DVD).
On the PDF front, there are production documents; scripts; the ‘Radio Times Listings’ of the story; Ken Trew’s costume designs; VFX design drawings and cellar set drawings. You need a special Blu-ray computer drive for that.
Despite it decently directed by Alan Wareing, ‘Ghost Light’ isn’t my cup of tea. This story was so convoluted in its truncated form and it doesn’t help matters to have so much music in it. It’s better in the extended workprint, but Marc Platt’s first contribution to ‘Doctor Who’ was not a hit for me. 😦
I’m sure there are ‘Doctor Who’ fans out there who like ‘Ghost Light’. I’m happy for them if they do. Hopefully one day I’ll get around to revisiting this story in its Target novelization/audiobook by Marc Platt. But I’m afraid ‘Ghost Light’ was and still is a let-down, despite the cast being good throughout.
‘Ghost Light’ rating – 4/10
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