The Doctor and Ace find themselves in a sinister mansion in
Perivale, 1883. Josiah Samuel Smith occupies the house, but
he is more than the Victorian scientist he appears to be.
Ace must confront her own worst nightmares when she discovers
that her past and the house's future are inextricably linked...
Many fans dislike Ghost Light, dismissing it as incomprehensible
twaddle. Among this story's harshest critics is Sci-Fi
Online's very own Anthony Clark, who so wanted to avoid
watching the thing again that he asked if I could step in
to review it instead.
on the other hand, have a high regard for this three-part
serial, so here comes the case for the defence.
It is true that several aspects of this story are not as clear
as they could or should be. Explanations regarding the precise
relationship between Josiah (Ian Hogg), Control (Sharon Duce)
and Light (John Hallam) had been whittled away from Marc Platt's
vastly over-long script long before the production even got
into the studio. As a result, we only get a vague impression
of an alien crew and life system - which in a way succeeds
in making them seem all the more alien and strange.
I cannot quite believe that there are fans out there who haven't
yet worked out that the dinner-jacketed aliens are husks cast
off by Josiah, like a reptile shedding its old skin, as he
evolves his way up to becoming a Victorian gentleman. This
is explained perfectly clearly. My only complaint about the
husks is that there should have been many more of them, showing
more gradual stages in Josiah's development.
viewers will find all the answers they need among this DVD's
special features, which include a new 40-minute documentary,
Light in Dark Places; Writer's Question Time,
a 12-minute Q&A session with Platt recorded at a 1990 Doctor
Who convention; the usual in-depth on-screen production
notes; and an audio commentary with Sophie Aldred (Ace), Marc
Platt, script editor Andrew Cartmel and musician Mark Ayres.
It is amusing to note that even Platt and Cartmel sound a
little confused from time to time as they discuss the intricacies
of the script!
One thing I hadn't grasped until now is that the name Control
does not refer to any kind of control that the character has
over anything, despite the fact that she manages to manipulate
Josiah's husks. Rather she is an experimental control. While
Josiah was permitted to venture beyond the confines of the
ship, thus becoming susceptible to changing conditions, Control
was restricted to a controlled environment - at least, to
complex tale was made all the harder to follow the first time
around by the fact that the dialogue was often drowned by
the incidental music. Mark Ayres is at pains to point out,
in the audio commentary and Light in Dark Places, that
he didn't write "loud" music: the problem was in the mix.
This factor is now better balanced, with the addition of an
optional Dolby 5.1 surround mix. If all else fails, you can
always watch the show with the subtitles on!
Whereas its sound may let it down, Ghost Light's visuals
do not disappoint. Though studio-based (apart from a few brief
cutaways to show the house's exterior), the production does
not look cheap. This is because the BBC has a chance to do
what it does best: period costume drama. The sets look magnificent,
and for once they aren't lit too brightly.
story also boasts some excellent guest performances. Ian Hogg
is suitably dastardly as the villainous Josiah, Sylvia Syms
is extremely creepy as housekeeper Mrs Pritchard, Carl Forgione
is noble as the Neanderthal Nimrod, John Hallam swings effectively
from confusion to wrath as the angelic but insane Light, Frank
Windsor is amusing as the blustering police inspector Mackenzie,
and Michael Cochrane is downright hilarious as the deranged
explorer Redvers Fenn-Cooper. Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred
also give what are quite possibly their best performances.
The latter's restraint is echoed in the discarding of his
straw hat, which gives the Seventh Doctor a more serious appearance,
even darker than usual. The performers bring meaning to the
multi-layered script, in much the same way that a talented
cast can bring even the most impenetrable Shakespeare play
cast is assisted by a rich script that is full of great lines,
such as the Doctor's "Who was it said Earthmen never invite
their ancestors round to dinner?" (it was Douglas Adams, by
the way, in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) and
Redvers' "Of course, if she was a real lady, I wouldn't be
in her boudoir." There's another classic line, this time about
Charles Darwin, among the deleted scenes.
DVD also includes Shooting Ghosts, which comprises
19 minutes of raw studio footage, including unused takes and
fluffs galore; an isolated music track; and a photo gallery.
so Ghost Light takes a bit - well, a lot - of study
to fully comprehend. However, I'd rather watch an imaginative
story like this than something as straightforward yet dull
as, say, The Space Museum, any day of the week.
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