Wednesday, 23 October 2013


The Doctor and Ace meet Redvers Fenn Cooper
Marc Platt had apparently been trying to get a gig as a Doctor Who writer for some time, and finally in the 26th season of the show, he got his chance with ‘Ghostlight’, after his initial submission proved unworkable (a story set on Gallifrey called ‘Lungbarrow’).
‘Ghostlight’ is a very different story again from the rest of the season, the rest of the McCoy era, and indeed Doctor Who in general. In my opinion, this is clearly the best Sylvester McCoy story of all, with only two issues. One – Sylvester McCoy is generally excellent through
John Nettleton as the Reverend Ernest Matthews.

Katherine Schlelsinger as Gwendoline
the three episodes, however in the final episode there’s a moment where he tells Light to leave Earth, and to be frank I’m not sure what he’s doing. Whenever he has to act really angry he screws up his face, holds out a hand and loses the audience. It’s a bizarre step out of the world he is in to what appears to be some desperate acting. Alan Wareing should have been on to that and reshot it at the very least, but it remains in there for all to see. It’s not the only time he’s done something like that, but this stands out because generally the rest of the story is McCoy at his best, playing games with Ace and being mysterious.
My second issue is with the picture quality. There wasn’t much that could be done when making the DVD, sadly most of the original video tapes with original footage were wiped so they couldn’t remaster them particularly. They had to work off the finished product which does look like it’s down a generation or two. Remembering that in the days before digital TV to edit video you basically had to copy it and lose a generation. With ‘Ghostlight’ being such a low-lit story, the issues are compounded and there is a lot of grain for something not shot on film. Such is life, it doesn’t detract too much from the story.
Sophie Aldred as Ace
The story is about a survey team sent to Earth to catalogue life. We have the control subject – ‘Control’(Sharon Duce), and the survey – Josiah Samuel Smith (Ian Hogg). In charge of the survey we have ‘Light’. The idea is that Control stays the same, whilst Josiah evolves with the planet. Light is fed up with the constant evolution and decides to destroy Earth, but instead the ship is taken away from Earth and continues its search for life with Control and Redvers Fenn Cooper (Michael Cochrane) at the helm.
Ian Hogg (Josiah) mencaces Ace held back by Sylvia Syms
The plot is all there, but there was a lot of scenes cut for timing reasons which may have helped the plot to be clearer. Andrew Cartmel laughs at people who were confused on the DVD, but although I understand the thing, it is the sort of story which requires the audience to piece it all together to comprehend what is going on. For a young audience that would be hard. I think watching this story in one sitting is advisable too, allowing the viewer to connect threads throughout the three parts rather than desperately trying to remember things from the previous week (presuming they watched an episode a week as it was originally broadcast).
Having said that, there’s nothing wrong with a plot which requires effort from its audience at all. The music, although a little loud at times, is excellent, the house is very well done and the vision presented by the director is amazing. Wareing has really brought to life a Victorian house in Perivale, made it creepy and sinister, and his casting was impeccable. From John Hallam as Light down to Brenda Kempner as Mrs Grose, every character was played by the perfect person for the part.
John Hallam as Light
Being contained entirely within a house probably helped curtail the budget, but it meant that every little detail could be gotten right, and they did. This is a wonderful example of a story that unfolds, that peels itself piece by piece, to reveal a clever if somewhat confronting at times plot. We have the struggle between theories of life – religion versus evolution, although the story certainly is on the side of the evolutionist. Set in Victorian times, this was a hot issue on the tails of Darwin’s theories.

This story has no Daleks or Cybermen, no epic battles and no alien worlds. And it is the better for it. It shows that a strong cast, a strong director and a cracking script is all that is needed to produce a brilliant piece of Doctor Who.


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