Doctor Who: Ghost Light by Marc Platt (DVD review).

With only three stories to go in the McCoy era, I suppose it was inevitable that we would finally have a ghost story of sorts with ‘Doctor Who’ and another personal hate for Ace, as she doesn’t like ghosts or ghosthouses.

The TARDIS deposits the Doctor (actor Sylvester McCoy) and Ace (actress Sophie Aldred) in an old lab/nursery and they slowly meet the various guests and hosts there in the rest of the house. The first is Redvers Fenn-Cooper (actor Michael Cochrane), a hunter who is also a member of the Geographic Society and assumes the Doctor is as well. Ace’s clothes don’t match the time period but at least she left her jacket in the TARDIS.

Keeping track of so many people in this house needs a rollcall. We have Mrs. Pritchard (actress Sylvia Syms), Gwendoline (actress Katherine Schlesinger) and a butler, looking very much like a Neanderthal, Nimod (actor Carl Forgione) and four maids. Another guest is the Reverend Ernest Matthews (actor John Nettleton) who doesn’t believe in this evolution/evilution stuff and finally the head of the house, Josiah Samuel Smith (actor Ian Hogg).

It is Ace who finally figures out she has been here before, but in 1983, 100 years into the future when she was a teenager and burnt the place down. The Doctor asks what she really feels now and declares aliens. More so as there’s a comatose police detective, McKenzie (actor Frank Windsor) stowed away in a drawer.

Smith offers the Doctor £5000 to rid the house of its horrors, but they all fear the light. Alone, Ace, goes down in the lift and finds there is a hidden spaceship and although Nimrod attempts to rescue her from two alien creatures. There, they also have a discovery that these are the husks of Smith, who is the actual alien.

The spaceship finally awakens first with its physical Control (actress Sharon Duce) and its physical-although-ghostly captain, Light (actor John Hallam), and, I have to confess, more confusing. Too many people have too many different agendas. Gwendoline wants to send Ace to Java, even if we don’t see how and then realise it’s a metaphor for death. Control wants to become human. Light’s original job was to catalogue the Earth’s species but is centuries out of date and kills a couple maids and McKenzie along the way. Mrs. Pritchard is Gwendoline’s mother and, after that discovery, both turned to stone. The Doctor is left to sort things out so you can watch the ending for yourself. Matthews is turned into an ape and I still haven’t figured out where he went.

I’ve criticised the latest batch of ‘Doctor Who’ as being too brightly lit. This time the balance is just right for a haunted house and lit appropriately. The real problem is way too many characters and agendas. For those learning writing techniques, the main reason writers tend not to have too many characters, especially in scenes, is because many of them are just waiting around and not contributing to the plot. In films and TV, talking is reserved for the lead characters but the secondary characters are pretty much wasted here which is a shame.

The audio commentary is between composer Mark Ayers, actress Sophie Aldred, writer Marc Platt and script editor Andrew Cartmel. Ayers points out that he ended up creating two scores, mostly because full orchestrion wouldn’t work and he was given the assignment 3 days from end of filming. The scenery people hadn’t done costume dramas for some time so were happy to create this one for ‘Doctor Who’. There were two raised sets and both staircase and lift were functioning. Oh, ‘The Curse Of Fenric’ was filmed before ‘Ghost Light’. Sophie Aldred’s final dress was originally designed for ‘The Onedin Line’ but was never used there.

When it comes to plot, Marc Platt does explain its intricacies and more of Josiah Smith’s background, although I have to confess that if he’s the alien naturalist, how does Light’s purpose play into this. It comes out that Josiah goes out into the planet and mimics its sentient life. The fact that Platt has to go into more detail into the evolution (sic) of Light, not to mention changes in his appearance does tend to underplay a lot of problems in my opinion. Oh, the Mrs Prichard/Gwendolyn scene in the bedroom was the last scene filmed in the McCoy tenure although I suspect most of you know as it must be a regular answer in Who quizzes although I wonder how often as to why is this is Sylvester McCoy’s favourite story.

The start of the extras is an 18 minute ‘Deleted And Extended Scenes’ which is given a Victorian feel but not much wiser at the end.

‘Writer’s Question Time’ is a 12 minute interview with scriptwriter Marc Platt from one of the conventions although as the questions are on board you would have to wonder where the audience was. Considering the length of time he has to explain detail from ‘Ghost Light’ does explain some of the fan confusion and even he thinks the story doesn’t explain enough which I agree.

The 38 minute ‘Light In Dark Places’ has Andrew Cartmel and Mark Ayers and various cast members going over the background to the story and its confusion. Sharon Duce sums up one aspect is doing not feeling. Even so, it does come out that it was originally going to be 4 not 3 episodes and Cartmel taking sections out which might explain the confusion. For once, a ‘Doctor Who’ story that really needed its 4 episodes and didn’t get them. Cartmel also points out that Ace was made too smart this time, knowing the answers, and perhaps other characters should have had the information explained to them.

Running at 19 minutes, ‘Shooting Ghosts’ is seeing scenes being rehearsed on set for positioning and then filmed and corrected as they go with many of the cast corpsing, giggling that is.

The ‘Photo Gallery’ runs at 5½ minutes and, oddly, the scenes are shown under normal light.

Having watched it again after so many years, I think I’ve got what the plot is all about this time but still think it should have been polished properly a few times before filming but now is just an odd curio.

GF Willmetts

May 2021

(region 2 DVD: pub: BBC. 1 DVD 71 minutes 3 * 25 minute episodes with extras. Price: I pulled my copy for £ 5.50 (UK). ASIN: BBCDVD1352)

cast: Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, Ian Hogg, Sylvia Syms, Michael Cochrane, Sharon Duce, Katherine Schlesinger, John Hallam, John Nettleton, Carl Forgione, Frank Windsor and Brena Kempner

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