It felt strange queuing in WH Smiths, holding in my hand a copy of Ghost Light, the latest BBC DVD Doctor Who release while being surrounded by mobs of people, keen to get their hands on the Star Wars DVD Trilogy. Mainly because as well as loving Doctor Who, my love for George Lucas’s saga is second to none, and because of the irony of how the tables had turned some fifteen years on. There I was buying a story I remember watching as a 14 year old and not liking or understanding while at the time being a proud owner of Star Wars on video and now, with the opportunity to own Lucas’s butchered versions of the movies on dvd – turning them down in favour of this BBC offering.
I had to revisit this story, mainly to cure my own curiosity of trying to understand the concept, as I had never bothered on the video release of this title and to be quite frank had never wanted to. Ghost Light as I remember, just plainly confused me, I think I watched the first episode and during the second one the next week, switched off. I mean it was really far too complex for a fourteen year old who just wanted some action, so it was with pleasure that after watching this on DVD, I found the story quite enjoyable however still just as confusing.
Set in 1889, in a stately home called Gabriel Chase, we are introduced to some panicking house maids and servants, keen to leave the premises before evening, because apparently you dont want to be around after evening falls. The Doctor and Ace arrive in the house and set about exploring the rooms and while examining a small snuffbox, they meet Redvers, a hunter, who has gone slightly mad. Now one thing i must mention before i carry on, this serial is entirely studio bound and all the better for it. As with most of the BBC’s period pieces the sets are superb, as well as the costumes and the lighting, giving it a real victorian flavour only the BBC are capable of.
Anyway back to the story, apparently a spaceship has landed and is under the house -actually im cheating now as i am now flicking through the pages of The Seventh Doctor Handbook, for some insight. This story is a fantastic to watch but i still dont get 30-40% of it (JUST 40% of it i hear you say?!!). For instance the Doctor brings Ace to this house as a surprise, knowing she has been here before but if thats the case, why does he feel the need to find out why she visited the house 100 years later in 1989 before she met the Doctor? Why does Josiah Smith need Redvers to assasinate Queen Victoria? Why does assasinating Queen Victoria put him in charge of the BritishEmpire?
Pieced together with all the sub plots and character development apparently Light (John Hallam the glowing being who appears at the end of episode 2) is into research and is cataloging the species of this planet along with Control (Sharon Duce) and Josiah (Ian Hogg). Apparently there was a mutiny on board and Josiah deciding he wants to stay on Earth and conquer it, brings the ship to 1889 under the house and takes possesion of the house from the original owners, by brainwashing Mrs Pritchard (Sylvia Sims) and her daughter Gwendoline (Katharine Schlesinger). He has also managed to lock away both Control and Light and is using Nimrod (Carl Forgione), a kidnapped Neanderthal man from their last survey of the planet, as a butler.
Are you still with me? Good.
Adding to the confusion is this whole evolution concept, in which Josiah is evolving into the main species of the particular planet, in this case he is evolving into a victorian gentleman. In the basement in the UFO, Josiah has left behind two former husks of himself to guard as apparently he must have been a lizard at some point(!) and he keeps shedding skins and evolving. So the Doctor and Ace have turned up, announced themselves – oh and has met busybody Reverend Earnest Matthews (John Nettleton) who has come to question Josiah’s scientififc beliefs and really only adds even more confusion to the plot as he doesnt really have a role to play in the developing story. After hearing Redvers torturous screams having been exposed to a maddening light from the snuffbox (why?), things take a turn for the worst when Control releases Light, somehow controlling the husks which used to be Josiah(!) and the Doctor reveals to Ace that this is the same house she burnt down in 1989 because of an evil presence, so she runs off.
Light arrives and reveals that his cataloging is unfinished as everything has changed since he was last on earth and so starts to get annoyed as he realises his work can never be completed. Having enlisted the help of a Police officer from Scotland Yard, InspectorMackenzie played by Frank Windsor (who had been in suspended animation after investigating the missing owners of GabrielChase three years ago, in a draw) the Doctor goes about trying to solve all of the stately homes’s problems. Mackenzie becomes soup and MrsPritchard and Gwendoline (having become de-hypnotised by the Doctor and re-uniting properly) are turned to stone when Light decides everything must be destroyed. Josiah reveals he has an invitation to Buckingham Palace as his trump card for getting a shot at QueenVictoria, stupidly showing it to Control who throws it on the fire to stop the plot (phew!). We find Control is evolving too into a victorian stuntwoman and im afraid i was lost at that point, enjoyable as the show was.
But wait…theres more.
Light finally destroys himself because the Doctor tells him he is evolving and changing too and he cant take it, thus he disperses. Control locks away Josiah and she, Nimrod and Redvers decide to travel the galaxy in the ship to finish the catalogue. TheDoctor reveals to Ace the reason the house was evil was because of the events they had just witnessed.
Which kind of leaves things there, theres so much that is left unexplained i just cannot even attempt to try and come to terms with it, my psychiatrist has warned me. Not that this is a bad story mind, even if you don’t fully follow the plot, its thoroughly entertaining to watch and along with the fine cast and high production values this is well worth adding to your dvd collection.
I will say this though. For me this story would have definetely benefited from a fourth episode as it was transmitted as three, just to flesh out the concepts more and to explain away some of the confusing sub-plots. TheDoctor as always seems to know whats going on, which i dont think always works, it worked in Remembrance and Fenric and to a certain degree in Nemesis, but to put him in control too much takes away his vulnerability, and the Doctor is a fallible being which at times was used excellently in for example, Davison’s reign. However McCoy is good as is Sophie Aldred, whose character Ace is given much more scope and intelligence in this season which really adds to the series.
On the DVD
Picture & Sound.
The sound is presented in Dolby digital stereo, which give MarkAyres score a nice platform, however some of the dubbing is lost due to the heavy score. The picture is not perfect either, and for DVD is pretty poor, but this is in no way a fault, the original tapes they remastered from were poor quality due to the lighting of the studio and the equipment used at the time.
Some nice extras on here, as well as the regular photo gallery and production subtitles theres a good little documentary on the making of Ghost Light with cast and crew, attempting to explain away the confusion of the story, theres a question and answer session from MarcPlatt, the author of the story, who gives an insight to his ideas behind it. Theres deleted scenes and a programme on shooting in the studio, a music only option and a great commentary from SophieAldred (Ace), AndrewCartmel (Script- Editor ), Marc Platt (Writer) and MarkAyres (composer)
A confusing but very watchable story due to its fine cast, high production values and special effects, if you can cope with the sub-plots you will find a very enjoyable experience awaiting you on this dvd. You also wont find Greedo shooting at HanSolo first, which has just got to be good. 8/10