Wednesday, November 29, 2006

My Review of Doctor Who's: "Ghost Light"

Written by Marc Platt
Directed by Alan Wareing

The Doctor: “Who was it that said Earthmen never invite their ancestors round to dinner?”

To be honest out of all the serials of the original Doctor Who, this might be one of the most confusing but wonderful ones I’ve had the pleasure of buying. There’s the right element of creepiness, further explorations into the successful Seventh Doctor and Ace dynamic and it wisely runs for the length of three episodes.

The Doctor and Ace finds themselves in a creepy mansion back in the latter’s hometown of Perivale but it’s not long before it’s established that the house in questions is under some creepy control of Josiah Samuel Smith who has managed to put everyone else living in that house under his control.

The Doctor is keen to find out what exactly is going on in this mystery house but Ace is a lot less enthusiastic about this particular. One thing that was a constant with Ace is that unlike some of her predecessors, the writers here had a great interest in vocalising her more than ever.

It’s part of Ace’s general appeal. After the largely passive Peri and somewhat annoying Mel, Ace became the kind of companion we’ve seen in the past. Her thoughts, reactions, feelings and more importantly her own past became paramount in her overall characterisation.

The final season of Doctor Who gave us two serials that were often more Ace’s character growth and facing up to her past rather than The Doctor or even the monsters that inhabited these serials. “Ghost Light” is the first one to really hit that home when halfway through the story it’s revealed that Ace has a history with this creepy house.

In 1983 Ace had visited this place and felt an evil presence which obviously scared her enough to openly argue with The Doctor about leaving this mystery well alone. It was also this creepy presence that had Ace burn the place to the ground so visiting it 100 years prior to her little bout of arson seemed anything but therapeutic.

Another plus point for this episode is putting the action into the year 1883 and taking the normally tomboy dressed Ace and shoving her into a more feminine attire. Sophie Aldred happens to be one of those understated beauties and Ace is particularly gorgeous in the dress she spends most of this serial in.

The real villain of the episode however Josiah is a suitably nasty piece of work. Controlling everyone in the house means that both The Doctor and Ace finds themselves in battle a good few times. Ace herself even gets to have a bit of girl fight with both a manipulated Gwendoline and Mrs Pritchard, the latter of whom is a calculating madam to put it mildly.

There are many surprises that this serial tends to offer. One of them being the fact that a spaceship is hidden beneath the cellar with something hidden in that. That is later revealed to be an alien that came to Earth to collect various samples, which even included a Neanderthal but after doing that the alien in question then decided to slumber.

Of course there are also two alien forces in this story and both of them have their own agendas. Control is the one with its desire to become a lady and Sharon Duce gives off the vibe that she had a lot of fun such an unstable but in some ways arguably less destructive alien menace.

With so many twists in this serial, it’s almost hard to keep up with everything really. The mansion has sympathetic characters in Gwendoline, Inspector Mackenzie and a butler with the neat little name of Nimrod as well as the nasty characters in Mrs Pritchard, Josiah and the other alien menace – Light.

Well part of this episode title had to play into things and having the baddie called Light is a nice enough twist for me. Light kills both Mrs Pritchard and Gwendoline (after it’s revealed their mother and daughter) in a failed attempt to stop evolution and Josiah goes on his own rampage.

However the defeat for both of them feels a little easy compared to all the complexity that we’ve had to go through. Smith winds up becoming a prisoner on the alien ship inside the mansion and Light is bested by The Doctor’s emphasis on how futile it would be to try and stop evolution.

With both Fenn Cooper and Nimrod doing a bit of space exploring, the only other was Ace facing up to her past history with the house. She doesn’t exactly thank The Doctor for placing her in this situation but she’s smart enough to realise that he’s got a point and by the end of the story, she does seem to be able to lay her own ghosts to rest so to speak.

Also in “Ghost Light”

As usual there were other titles that this serial could’ve gotten such as “The Bestiary” and “Life-Cycle”.

Reverend Matthews: “I see that all the stories about you are true. You have no shred of decency. Even parading your wantons in front of your guests.”
Ace (to The Doctor): “Does he mean me, professor?”
Reverend Matthews: “I have it. This is some experiment related to your mumbo jumbo theories. Perhaps she’ll evoke into a young lady.”
Ace: “Who are you calling ‘young lady’ bug-brain?”

This episode had a lot of surreal images what with the house, the guests and the plethora of stuffed animals on display also.

The Doctor: “Let me guess. My theories appal you, my heresies outrage you, I never answer letters and you don’t like my tie.”

Ace: “There must be things you hate.”
The Doctor: “I can’t stand burnt toast. I loathe bus stations full of lost baggage … and then there’s unrequited love, and tyranny, and cruelty.”

Although this was the second serial to be screened in Season 26, it’s interesting that this was however the last one that was actually filmed.

Gwendoline: “I think Mr Matthews is confused.”
The Doctor: “Never mind. I’ll have him completely bewildered by the time I’m finished.”

Ace: “Scratch the Victorian veneer and something nasty will come crawling out.”
Josiah: “You and The Doctor thought you could get the better of me but I’ll see him squirming yet.”

I noticed that we got one fun dinner scene in this serial where Ace joked about ordering in a curry to The Doctor’s disdain.

The Doctor: “It’s asleep downstairs and Josiah doesn’t want it awoken.”
Ace: “Maybe that’s a good idea. Maybe it should be left alone. Professor, just this once.”
The Doctor: “It’s very, very old, perhaps even older. Just one quick chat?”

Inspector Mackenzie: “And who are you?”
The Doctor: “I wouldn’t want to confuse you.”

The fight scene between both Ace and Gwendoline did look a little homoerotic. I recently found this site that noted anything on Doctor Who that could be considered “gay” and this was one of those things. Watching that fight again, I have to admit that I agree.

Light: “Earth! Why mention that wretched planet to me?”
Ace: “If you don’t like it then bug off.”

Ace (re the mansion): “I wish I had blown it up instead.”
The Doctor: “Wicked.”

This came out on DVD in 2004, with a decent selection of extras but the commentary with Sophie Aldred, Andrew Cartmel, Marc Platt and Marc Ayres is really good.

Confusion aside, this is an exceptional story. “Ghost Light” boasts the right length, has enough creepiness to surpass the somewhat naff looking monsters and making it both a period setting and incorporating some of Ace’s own personal history with the mansion only heighten the story. One of the series strongest episodes but also rather underrated too.

Rating: 9 out of 10.

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