THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
TV STORIES "BATTLEFIELD" AND
"THE CURSE OF FENRIC."
THE BESTIARY &
'GHOST LIGHT' DVD
RELEASED IN SEPTEMBER
London, 1983: an old
burns to the ground.
One hundred years
earlier, the Doctor
and Ace arrive at a
sinister mansion in
the rural hamlet of
old and new await
the Doctor amongst
residents of Gabriel
Chase... but it is Ace
who must confront
her own worst
nightmares when she
discovers that her
past and the house’s
4TH OCTOBER 1989 - 18TH OCTOBER 1989
Ghost Light has always been a curious beast. It is a story highly regarded by many, though few seem to fully fathom it. It also has the dubious distinction of being the last Doctor Who serial produced by the BBC in its original twenty-six year run. Ghost Light therefore has a certain notoriety, but at the end of the day is it actually any good?
Prior to this DVD release, I’d always enjoyed the story on a certain level but couldn’t quite get my head around certain aspects of the plot. On the DVD, the brilliant documentary Light in Dark Places sheds some light on the narrative, which when explained by both script editor Andrew Cartmel and writer Marc Platt makes perfect sense. The problem is that whilst the script may have made sense, and whilst what they shot in the studio may have even made sense, after cutting and cutting and cutting away at it to try and condense everything into just three episodes, a lot of the meat is missing and there is absolutely zilch by way of exposition.
Nevertheless, the dark mood and the fascinating characters (played by an remarkably star-studded cast) make the story entertaining despite the flurry of question-marks hanging over it, and Platt handles with the two regulars with real aplomb. I’ve always had a fondness for these last two seasons of Doctor Who, not only because they were the principal years that I watched the show in my childhood but also because of the whole drive to darken the Doctor’s character and develop Ace. On both fronts, this story achieves its goals.
Gone is the Doctor who doesn’t know where he’s going to land or what trouble he’s going to get into – here to stay is a Doctor who knows exactly where he’s going, who has a plan, and who thinks a million steps ahead. McCoy’s Doctor is a Doctor you don’t quite know where you are with, which after twenty-six years has to count for something. And Ace, with the possible exception of The Curse of Fenric, enjoys her strongest television outing here. Her reaction when she realises that she’s in the House that she will burn down is performed brilliantly by Aldred, and having Ace angry with the Doctor for most of the story makes their reconciliation at the end all the more satisfying, particularly the Doctor’s poignant final word to her – “Wicked.”
“I hate bus stations. All lost luggage and lost souls…”
The DVD boasts a large selection of deleted and extended scenes, but these can only be enjoyed in isolation. It’s such a pity that a special edition couldn’t have been cobbled together as was the case with The Curse of Fenric last year; it certainly would’ve lifted Ghost Light up from being an average story to a great one as many of these deleted scenes really help to make sense of the perplexing narrative. Unfortunately, the deleted scenes are all time-coded so that wasn’t ever on the cards. Nevertheless, despite no special edition being possible, a 5.1 surround mix for the story has been painstakingly crafted which enhances the viewing experience no end.
The disc also contains a commentary with Sophie Aldred (Ace), Andrew Cartmel, Marc Platt, and the Restoration Team’s own Mark Ayres (also the composer of this serial’s incidental music), which basically covers everything that is in the documentary but in a much more informal fashion. Conspicuous by his absence is Sylvester McCoy, who recorded commentaries for both his previous DVD releases, and even features in the documentary on this DVD.
Aside from the usual bonus features like the photo gallery, information text, and isolated score, we also have Shooting Ghosts which is an interesting (and somewhat amusing, I thought) insight into the last historic recording block of the series. What particularly caught my interest though was the Writer’s Question Time with Marc Platt, filmed at a convention in 1990. Bearing in mind that this was a pre-New Adventures interview, Platt talks us through the plot for Ghost Light point by point, highlighting how it departed from his original pitch, which would eventually become the seventh Doctor’s final New Adventures novel, Lungbarrow. The number of parallels between the two is astounding, right down to the mutual housekeepers and policeman in stasis! I also found part of Platt’s inspiration for the character of Light amusing – Platt himself had recently worked compiling a list of BBC radio programmes, and became frustrated when he realised that as new programmes are always being made, his work would never be complete. Light makes the same realisation regarding his cataloguing of life forms – they are always evolving, and it drives him to insanity! Tell me about it...
Ultimately, I enjoyed the Ghost Light DVD experience far more than I ever did watching it on television or VHS, and I think that this is largely down to the understanding of the story that I have gained from the special features. Some might say that if you have to watch a documentary to understand a programme, then it defeats the whole point, but I just found it all the more rewarding.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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