Ghost Light: Doctor Who: Season 26
Ghost Light SYNOPSIS:
Arriving in Gabriel Chase Mansion near the end of the 19th century, the Doctor has set Ace an investigation test. They meet the owner Josiah Samuel Smith and his ward Gwendoline who invite them to dinner with the visiting reverend Matthews. They also met the crazed former explorer Redvers Fenn Cooper who is led away by gun brandishing maids and Nimrod the neanderthal butler.
The mysterious Josiah is forced by the Doctor to take them down to the cellar where they find a stone spaceship and release a being called Control. In the struggle with Nimrod a cocoon emitting light is broken. They all flee back to the mansion closing off the cellar. The Doctor finds that Josiah has been capturing any visitors to Gabriel Chase as specimens and awakens an Inspector Mackenzie to assist them.
Josiah who is evolving into the ultimate Victorian gentleman has also brain washed all the servants to do his bidding and plans to take over the British Empire. The Doctor releases Control who is evolving into a Victorian lady, against Ace's wishes they both release Light the owner of the spaceship who has evolved into an angel like being and wishes to continue his cataloging of all Earth bound species.
The Doctor must deal with Ace's anger at him bringing her to the same haunted house she encountered as a child and convince Light to stop his planned cataloging that could destroy all evolved life on Earth.
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Ghost Light DETAILS:
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Ghost Light CAST & CREW
Sylvester McCoy (Seventh Doctor)
Sophie Aldred (Ace)
Ian Hogg — Josiah Samuel Smith
Michael Cochrane — Redvers Fenn-Cooper
Carl Forgione — Nimrod
Sharon Duce — Control
John Nettleton — Rev Ernest Matthews
Katharine Schlesinger — Gwendoline
Frank Windsor — Inspector Mackenzie
Brenda Kempner — Mrs Grose
Sylvia Syms — Mrs Pritchard
John Hallam — Light
Production Staff for Serial 7Q:
Writer - Marc Platt
Director - Alan Wareing
Script editor - Andrew Cartmel
Producer - John Nathan-Turner
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Ghost Light REVIEWS
It seems the classic series is hanging on by the skin of it's teeth…as we move from Lake Vortigan to a Victorian manor house in London…for Ghost Light.
The Doctor & Ace visit the craziest, wackiest old house in London called Gabriel Chase and one of the most complicated and multi-layered and downright confusing plots ever in the series. Ghost Light sees a massive return to form here with a creepy atmosphere, tension, a cavalcade of bizarre and weird characters, a villain that's really threatening and they're all portrayed by actors who really care about bringing life to them and making each performance convincing and believable (is that a double negative?), well almost all of them. Nice that the last Dr Who story filmed should be entirely set in the studio just as the first one was.
Marc Platt had apparently been submitting ideas to the production office for about 15 years and no one had taken any notice of him…until now. Think maybe because he always submitted ideas with old monsters in them? But persistence paid off and here he hands over a complex story about a stone spaceship buried at the bottom of a house and a creepy bloke called Josiah Samuel Smith (great name) who gets around looking all musty and dusty who may or may not know about the spaceship. But he sounds threatening and has a definite presence whenever he walks into a scene. It's all about evolution and what change does to people and this is what we're rapped over the head with time and time again.
But Ghost Light flows well even though you have to watch it a few times to work out what's going on but it would've really benefited from having another episode and some back story as to what sort of beings the crew from the stone spaceship were, why they evolved or left husks of themselves around and why Light was categorizing every life form in the universe in the first place. Nice that at least Mrs. Pritchard and Gwendoline got a proper story arc that concluded and not in a happy way either. Maybe there were just too many characters?
Josiah was obviously a categorized being that escaped from his holding cell and took over the ship and banished Control and Light in some fashion so he could evolve into a higher life form but none of this was adequately explained. Nor why he let Nimrod out to become his butler. Just as why Redvers Fenn Cooper's (another great name) snuff box was blasting light from it or how and why Reverend Matthews was turned into an ape. More power to the supporting cast who didn't seem to give a damn and gave us great performances. Especially Sylvester who is totally in his element as the 7th Doctor, diving into planning, scheming and eventually saying even he can't play this many games at once and manipulating Ace just to find out something about her background, probably one of his finest performances discounting his small angry bit.
Ace is more tolerable in this one too. But can still grate a bit with her overdone tomboyish bits. She does have nice shoulders though. Pity Ghost Light didn't have another episode, because some characters don't really have enough screen time. The constable is likable but is killed off too quick. Josiah Smith achieves his evolutionary goal but his plan is to just assassinate Queen Victoria and take over, now how would the established British Empire just allow him to do that? How he and Control have swapped bodies is never explained either.
Speaking of Control, thought the performance was the only thing that let Ghost Light down. The whingeing childlike character never sat well with me and gets tedious pretty quickly….and Light's voice, why was John Hallam so insistent on playing Light as a gay mardi gras figure with a high pitched voice? But it was nice how Sylvester outwitted and took care of perhaps the most powerful alien he faced. The production design was great, the house was so well realised and the furnishings and costumes showing off that the BBC is still the king of period drama. The stone spaceship was a nice stab at something original too and the lighting all round was moody and claustrophobic. Just wish Marc Platt had put in more explanations for the plot and the back story of the spaceship crew . Ghost Light saw the series returning to form that in itself was good 7/10
How someone can not see that something as badly written as Battlefield only needed three episodes and not four to adequately do the job, while Ghost Light either needed four episodes to make it work instead of three (or not be commissioned at all) is just plain ludicrous. And somehow the following story needs five episodes instead of four! People who have watched Ghost Light fall into two categories; those who saw it and enjoyed it, and then there are those who saw it and couldn't work it out.
Guess which one I am? Okay I'm sure all the answers are there and I didn't need a bloody DVD featurette to explain to me how cool it was to commission a story that was "multi-layered" which is Cartmel-speak for "disjointed" and "thoughtless". As a script editor, if a story comes across your desk that has potential, but is lacking clarity then the first thing to do is clear it up and make it work. Not make it worse by climbing up each others arses and pretending to be clever. Of course this was produced in the final days when no one gave a fuck but on the other hand you could have put SOME effort into what you were doing and maybe tried to give the show a chance. As it stands it is a complete mess. A viewer shouldn't need to watch a show countless times to try and make sense of it, if at all.
Goldby has listed some sticking points with the story that got to me as well. But here is one I'd like explained. Inspector Mackenzie was discovered laying on his back in the bottom drawer of a chest of drawers. The chest of drawers was only about two feet deep. How was a six foot policeman lying stretched out in a drawer that was only two feet deep?
Now that's the script out of the way. What about the other bits of Ghost Light? Alan Wareing does do a great job at directing this and his camera never stops moving as he pans all over the studio sets getting the best angles and close ups he can. There are also some nice choreographed bits in it as well such as the maids all standing on the stairs or the scene in the cellar where Control gets out and everyone bolts it for the elevator. The performances are all very good too and each one of them is different. Josiah is over-the-top, while Mrs Pritchard is cool, collected and slightly creepy. Redvers Fenn Cooper is a very dashing explorer and the Inspector is a very good comedy foil. Carl Forgione is great as Nimrod and you can see he has done some homework on his mannerisms to get the Neanderthal servant just right.
Sylvester is excellent here as the Doctor and its great to finally see him out of that bloody hat!! He looks so much better without it and (jumbled script aside) the dark and moody atmosphere of the story really does his Doctor some justice. He's also a real bastard too, tricking Ace into returning to Gabriel Chase to face her fears. Speaking of Ace, I can't see the fuss the writers are putting into her. Sophie Aldred delivers a one-note performance in every story she's ever had and its really painful to watch at times. Of course at this stage of the game there was bugger-all budget to kick around so hiring an actress with Aldred's credentials was probably their only option.
The sets all look great (there's a back handed compliment) and the BBC does do period very, very well. And being studio-bound was a big plus too in the way it wasn't for Happiness Patrol. So in all, it looks very good and there is some very good performances and the direction is excellent, but (again) it is the script that is letting it down. 6.5/10
You have to give credit to Marc Platt. He's spent the best part of 20 years working and re-working scripts, and finally he's been able to get one up.. the last one of the classic era ever to be filmed! And he's certainly got a lot of good ideas - unfortunately though he's put them all into the one script.
Without wanting to sound too much like a Theatre craft review, as far as I can make out the plots about an ever evolving family from a long time ago who are holding the bloke who collected them and his control guard prisoner in his own stone ship in the basement of a house while they send any visitors to the house to Java via some chests of drawers. One of the visitors knows Queen Victoria so the head of the family plots to take over England, but in the meantime the Doctor and Ace have arrived to investigate why Ace burnt the place down 100 years later, and have unlocked the prisoner and his guard from the basement stone spaceship and the prisoner turns out to be an Angel who was cataloguing Earth and his guard was his Control sample, and now that he's seen that everything has evolved he wants to destroy everything.
While in the meantime the Control sample has turned into a lady Eliza Doolittle style and won the heart of the bloke who was the link to the Queen, thus destroying the head of the family's plans to take over England... and that's why Ace burnt down the house...On top of that there's the hint at the start that the Doctor is training Ace up for something - perhaps a link to what would have been season 27 where Ace was to become a Timelord? I think Platt was going to write that one too?
Here's something I thought I'd never say... maybe Grob's right... maybe the script editor should be doing more work here to tidy up these scripts. Once again we have a lot of good ideas and a pretty good story, but Ghost Light's lacking the clarity that it needs to make it a bloody good story.
On the plus side though, the production here is slick. In fact, I'll say it's the slickest looking production since Caves of Androzani. Ghost Light has that gothic look of old Who, mixed in with the crazy other world stuff of another planet working really well. Once again Alan Wareing has to be commended, not only for bringing us a classy looking product, but also for getting a group of actors to look like they really know what's going on... even if none of us do at all.
McCoy in particular looks in total control here - and he's central to the whole thing... and not only that, he's central to trying to explain it all... including what light is, and why it was collecting species in the first place... and he does it really well. This is probably my second favourite of his performances - it's nice and understated and continues to be dark and manipulative. Ace goes well here too - she becomes quite the clothes horse in this series! All the people in the house are well played too - particularly the crazy explorer guy at the start and the policeman... they're played, as Grob would say, for real! Control is a bit of a pain in the arse though. And I'm not really convinced by Light - he reminds me of something out of the Young Ones for some reason.
So anyway, much like this review, there's a lot going on in Ghost Light, but no real coherence... but unlike this review it looks nice and swish and leaves you thinking that the show is going well again... if only we could understand it!