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This is a 'film only' review
You don't have to be very old to remember when Doctor Who was low budget with people wrapped in green bubble wrap to make the aliens and pyrotechnics which were limited to about one an episode. Cybermen which looked like men in jumpsuits which had been spray painted silver (but at least they had more dialogue) and a TARDIS interior which looked like it came as a flat pack.
Since the revival of Doctor Who I have stared watching some older ones via a DVD through the post rental service. Out of the ones I have seen again I still think Tom Baker was the best (the one with the scarf and 'jelly babies') closely followed by Sylvester McCoy.
I remember Ghost Light when it was first screened in the days that it would be 30 min episodes and a story would be over three or four episodes with about 3-4 different stories per series. Whilst the new version of Doctor Who has a much higher budget possibly better acting from many of the supporting cast there is just something special and nostalgic about these old series.
The opening titles are not amongst my favourites, it was quite early computer graphics. I much preferred the opening titles of the Tom Baker and Peter Davidson eras.
This story consists of 3 episodes.
Basic Plot of Story:
The Doctor and his companion 'Ace' (Sophie Aldred) arrive in Gabriel Chase, an old house with some rather odd inhabitants. The servants are always very quickly out of the door as the clock strikes six the 'others' appear. Unfortunately for him a bumbling vicar had arrived earlier in the day and has been left on his own in the house - much to his irritation.
The Vicar had arrived to challenge the house's owners theory on evolution referring to it as 'Darwinian claptrap' However, the owner only appears after nightfall and has a strange aversion to light, but why? The housekeeper is as sinister as the owner and looks like she could turn you into a pillar of salt with a single word.
Naturally the Doctor realises something is wrong but how exactly can he put it right? What will be the consequences of his actions? Ace also feels uneasy but why, and why does she panic when she learns the name of the house? Just who is the person with the strange voice who is referred to as 'control' and just what is in the cellar that the owner is trying to keep secret?
The main theme of the plot is that of evolution and it shows the battle of the evolutionary theory with the religious view point. (Not as boring as it sounds, honest)
How do the main actors do?
Sylvester McCoy is probably my second favourite incarnation of The Doctor. Whilst Tom Baker played the part as a bit eccentric we see a darker side of the Doctor with Sylvester McCoy in the part. McCoy does play the part well but appears to take more random decisions rather than the meticulously thought out ones of the earlier Doctors.
Sophie Aldred does well in playing the part of what I can describe as a bit of a teenage brat. She is stuck in the 80s (well they were filmed back then) and some of the references she makes use words in there inverted meaning (e.g. wicked meaning good etc)
Josiah (the house's "owner")
Ian Hogg does make an honest go at this part but at times he overacts the aversion to light which the character is supposed to have. This for me made the character slightly unconvincing for the first episode and a half.
Another notable character was that of the Vicar played by the fantastic John Nettleton (better known for playing Sir Arnold in 'Yes Minister'). John had this part spot on and his ability to produce the voice of the disapproving country Vicar made this perhaps one of the most believable characters.
Whilst some bits of this story were rather odd and not really explained it is one of my favourite stories from the Sylvester McCoy era of the part. The interior of the house does add the 'spooky' dimension to it and the dim lighting also helps in this regard. This may have been the era of the low budget Doctor Who but sometimes in the more recent series the high tech special effects appears to try to distract the watcher from some really poor acting e.g. Freema Agyeman's performance as Martha Jones was distinctly wooden at times.
However, I do find that some parts of this story are not very well explained and it does make you think 'eh? what was that all about?'. Whilst some of the one liners between the Doctor and Ace are fairly funny I felt this did not always fit in with the storyline. These are the main reasons I deducted one star from my rating.
Doctor Who's last season was its strongest for many years, with all of its four stories finding fanatical support among some sections of the fan community. It wasn't supposed to be the end, script editor Andrew Cartmel had a definite idea of where he wanted to take the show, but watching those last few stories, you do get the feeling that... they knew.
Ghost Light was not the last story to be aired, the show's epilogue voiceover was tacked on to the end of Survival, but it was the last to be filmed. For once, the fact that the season's budget had run out worked in the serial's favour.
Set in a single country house over the course of two or three nights in the nineteenth century, Ghost Light encapsulates all the things that Doctor Who ever did well. The period setting has been recreated sumptuously, and the house looks more like a film set than a cheap BBC serial, particularly the entrance hall where much of the action takes place.
The plot, aliens in a historical setting, harks back to various Doctor Who classics: The Talons of Weng-Chiang most obviously, but also The Time Warrior and Evil of the Daleks. The serious television viewer who despises cheap spaceship models and stuff can thus have their prejudices eased by a recognisable setting.
The heavy reliance on Gothic horror as a source is also a Doctor Who staple, especially when funked up with surrealist body horror. And the magnificent cast full of British character actors is a great bonus. And the whole thing is, very quietly, terribly subversive.
The story, for I assume most of you will need it. The Doctor arrives in a crumbling old house called Gabriel Chase with his companion Ace. Ace is what the BBC thought an '80s teenager would be like. She uses words like 'wicked' a lot. And, it is made blatantly clear in the opening minutes, she has already visited the house in the twentieth century.
In short order, the time-travelling twosome encounter a schizophrenic explorer who believes he's in the Amazon by the name of Redvers Fenn-Cooper, a Neanderthal butler called Nimrod, a sadistic housekeeper, a psychotic teenage girl, a wretched rag-clothed creature known only as Control, two reptilian monsters in dinner jackets and the light-hating Josiah Samuel Smith, apparent owner of Gabriel Chase. These bizarre grotesques are joined by a bumbling vicar with 'first corpse' almost visibly stamped on his forehead.
These characters, who all have their intimidating moments, are united by only one thing, their intense fear of... Light. With unusual restraint for Doctor Who, the splendour of Light, an alien entity dressed as a nineteenth century concept of an Old Testament angel, is held back for the third of the three twenty-five minute episodes.
The story shows a new side to the Doctor. Although Sylvester McCoy's interpretation had seen the Time Lord becoming steadily darker and more manipulative of those around him, his schemes had until Ghost Light the aim of wiping out various evil monsters. This time, however, the Doctor's just desperate to have a chat with Light. Ace wakes up halfway through the second episode to find that the Doctor's made unholy alliances with half the house's occupants, and has no idea who or what he's about to unleash.
The story's theme is evolution. Taking the controversy over Darwin's work as a departure point, Josiah (Ian Hogg) is gradually evolving into a Victorian gentleman, which has the double effect of satirising the growing power of the middle classes as a result of the industrial revolution. Beginning as a wasted figure hiding behind smoked glasses and cobwebs, Josiah appears healthier in every scene, the result of some fantastic make-up work. Similar skill is employed to depict the gradual humanisation of the bestial Control, in a Pygmalion sub-plot. From the set to the dialogue, the beauty of Ghost Light is in its detail. What are we to make of the fact that the three non-regular female characters in the story have been dressed to suggest Queen Victoria at various stages in her life (ie, young, middle-aged and elderly)?
Sights to look out for include Josiah regressing the bumbling (creationist) vicar into an ape; a Scotland Yard inspector hidden in the specimen drawer beneath the tropical butterflies (and complete with label); the devilish 'Cream of Scotland Yard' primordial soup gag; the blisteringly straight performance by Michael Cochrane as the beautifully nutty Redvers Fenn-Cooper, and Sylvester McCoy's Doctor cheerfully announcing that he hasn't got a clue what's going on as the clock ticks closer to armageddon.
On its initial TV broadcast, viewers complained that they didn't understand what was going on in this story either. Many expository scenes had to be cut for timing reasons, so there's never any explanation for oddities like the blazing snuff box. However, the surreal atmosphere evoked by these apparently random events serves the story far better than a Scooby Doo style speech explaining everything. The only point at which things go a bit nutty is in the closing scenes where people's heads start exploding and Ace is confronted with ANOTHER terrible secret from her past.
Writer Marc Platt clearly had a whale of a time researching his story and its characters, with many of the servants being nicked from Gormenghast and The Turn of the Screw. The psychotic Gwendoline is a revelation, a demure English Rose debutante who suddenly flips and starts chloroforming and stabbing people, screaming that she's sending them to Java. Eventually the Doctor realises that she is being controlled by hypnosis:
DOCTOR: I could almost forgive her arranging all those trips to Java...
REDVERS: She was hypnotised, Doctor.
DOCTOR: ... If she didn't enjoy them so much.
Sticking so doggedly to the Java euphemism appears a little strange at first, until you realise that because no one ever actually comes out and says that Gwendoline has slaughtered at least four people, including her own father, and enjoyed it, the video can slip through the censorship net. If Oliver Stone had thought of using remote colonial postings as a euphemism for mass murder, Natural Born Killers would have had a much smoother ride through the press.
There are many more things I could write about this fine serial, and the sheer richness of the source is an indication of its quality. Different lines take on extra significance on each viewing. At the moment I'm particularly struck by: 'Scratch the Victorian veneer and something nasty comes crawling out,' as one of the production's targets is the pre-conception that Victorian England was in any way a nice place to live. Sometimes I sympathise with Control, at other times Light's futile quest to catalogue life on Earth is swimming in pathos, even when he decides to try and nuke the Home Counties to bring an end to evolution.
And when, finally, it's all over and the Doctor and Ace are sitting on some stairs looking a bit worn out, I can never help feeling that, however good Survival (the last story transmitted) was, this should have remained Doctor Who's final adventure, in all of its twisted, Gothic, camp, melodramatic, chloroform-dampened splendour.
First broadcast in 1989 and starring Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor and Sophie Aldred as his companion Dorothy "Ace", "Ghost Light" is one of the most powerful of the classic Doctor Who stories and one which sadly came too late to prevent the programme being axed for over a decade. Arriving at a large house in the late nineteenth century, the Doctor announces to Ace that he has a surprise for her. As they progress through the house it becomes increasingly evident that mysterious - and probably malignant forces - are at work and that the building houses a devastating secret. The previous owners of the house have disappeared, with the exception of their grown up daughter Gwendoline, and the residence is now in the control of the enigmatic Josiah Smith and his housekeeper Mrs Pritchard. With further discoveries it becomes evident to Ace that this house is her worst nightmare, since she went to the building when she was a young teenager and felt such evil there it affected her profoundly. The Doctor believes it is essential she confronts her terrors and, by bringing her back to the house, she will be able to make sense of what went on. However, far more dangerous matters are at hand, things that should remain still are rousing, the concepts of right and wrong, guilt and innocence are entwined in a bewildering fashion and the Doctor and Ace are about to be witness to a sinister chain of events. And in a place in which the forces of evil come out at night, letting in the light may turn out to be the worst thing they could do.
One of the constant themes within "Ghost Light" is that of confrontation or, to be more precise, the means in which various characters react and adapt to situations and concepts that can be personally traumatising. The manner in which Ace, for example, reacts to her fears is markedly different from how Gwendoline does. The former confronts them, sometimes physically attacking, sometimes verbally opposing. She is still visibly terrified, yet her nature determines she shall not capitulate. Gwendoline, on the other hand, falls into confusion, acceptance of what she is ordered to do and becomes unable to reason for herself. Her willpower is weakened not only by her difficulties in moving away from the new status quo of the house, but also because her inner character ensures she is happy to accept this adapted state of affairs. Control adapts to various changes and impositions placed upon them in the opposing way to Josiah, using a greater balance of mental and cognitive alterations to reach the point she wishes for herself. She has a strength of nature that is concealed strongly with her initial appearances. Faced with the sights he has witnessed, the explorer Redvers Fenn -Cooper retreats into a semi -illusory world, unable to distinguish between reality and fiction and submitting to his captivity. The Reverend Matthews can not see any other view point other than his own and is so rigid in his opinions that this has the potential to place him in danger. Light states it abhors change and wishes to prevent it, yet ironically makes changes itself in relation to other beings in the house. With the exception of the Doctor and Ace, perhaps the only other character within the building who is able to retain their sense of self strongly enough and yet to accept the need for change sometimes is the Neanderthal, Nimrod. His personality ensures that, even when he is placed somewhere which is completely different, both historically, geographically, culturally and linguistically to what he has known, he is able and willing to settle into his new role and life, whilst at the same time retaining enough of his Neanderthal beliefs to ensure he is still of the same nature.
Another aspect which occurs throughout "Ghostlight" is that of the concepts of reality and illusion. Perception - especially how it can be manipulated to guide us into coming to erroneous conclusions about things - is something which "Ghostlight" focuses on very strongly. What we - and the characters - consider to be facts are brought into question and, again, how the differing beings react to them ensures what their fate shall be. Those who are unable to question their own particular beliefs are trapped, both literally and metaphorically until - or indeed if - they are able to re-examine what they have held onto. The police officer, for example, is of the opinion that it is two years earlier. Fenn-Cooper assumes he is literally looking for himself and the viewers are steered towards coming to the wrong conclusions about several of the characters. It is not until the Doctor - with his overwhelming ability to see past the illusions and to poinpoint the reality of the situation - sets off the necessary catalyst of events that the true cases can be determined. This is not to say that the Time Lord is all powerful and able to realise immediately what is going on, yet his scepticism and his ability to think for himself rather than accepting what he sees, stands him in greater stead than the others.
When watching "Ghost Light" we are witness to an array of excellent acting from many of the cast. Sylvestor McCoy enters well into the role of the Doctor in his second series, his increasingly deeper and more cynical nature more evident in narratives such as this. Furthermore, he and Sophie Aldred work commendably well together, utilising both humour and confrontation in order to present a powerful partnership. The scenes in which the Reverend Matthews is horrified at Ace's clothes and demeanour are particularly amusing, with the contrast between his shocked reaction and the Doctor's mischevious responses. McCoy neither over exagerrates his role nor underplays it, acquiring the necessary balance and thus ensuring a credible performance. Aldred achieves the same effect, thankfully being able to steer away from the stereotypical image of the screaming female assistant to display a stronger character and yet revealing her character to be still vulnerable and therefore realistic on occasions. Her terror at discovering the Doctor has taken her back to the house she hated as a young teenager is one example in which Aldred's acting is done to strong effect.The actors portraying the malignant Smith and the sinister Mrs Pritchard may also be praised, since both veer away from depicting them in an over the top fashion and instead employ a subtle air of menace that serves to heighten the tension and the aura of evil that emanates from them. Pritchard's vicious arm twisting of Fenn -Cooper amply illustrates the unpleasantness of her character and the scene in which Smith laughs at Matthews as that man is eating a banana is chilling. Matthews himself is played admirably, the role of a late Victorian clergyman who refuses to consdoer any other views than his own being well set out and Fenn - Cooper is shown to be a man desperately struggling to keep on the right side of reality and often failing. Control does sometimes appear a bit too comical to be taken seriously, it is possible that her role was meant to be funny, but in the scenes in which pathos is suggested, this falls down in place of the possibly unintentional humour. Or it may be that because there are scenes in which humour is definitely intended then when other, more serious scenes involving Control occur, her overall nature means it is hard to separate the comedy from the more serious elements. Unfortunately, since the majority of his role is very powerful, there are also elements of Light which fail to come up to his overall standard. At times he appears too mawkish, too prone to whining to be seriously considered a threat. However, this only occurs now and again and the majority of the time Light is depicted exactly as he should be, as something which is struggling to make sense of things around him and who reacts to his environment in a pitiful and yet terrifying way.
The special effects and overall appearance of "Ghost Light" are very effective, resulting in a realistically haunting atmosphere. The subdued lightning of the house, ostensibly to indicate a late Victorian building, serves as well to symbolise the oppression and darkness prevalent within many of the characters who reside there. Furthermore, further scenes within the house make good use of the special effects in the way they provide a contrast between those areas and the majority of the house. Light's costume is a little bit too elaborate perhaps, the impression is sometimes given that he will start singing musical numbers, but on the whole the costumes and props used are very convincing. From the way in which Smith's physical appearance alters dramatically, to the subtle way in which Gwendoline's wearing of a man's suit suggests her change in personality (if we are to presume she was a conventional Victorian woman who would not have thought of dressing up in male attire before) the appearances of the characters all help with the narration set before us. Nimrod's features especially are very well done, looking almost convincing.
In conclusion "Ghost Light" is a remarkable work and one which came close to ending the classic run of Doctor Who (a few more stories succeeded it) in a very powerful way. Using tension, humour and some genuinely chilling moments it amalgamates history and science fiction to great effect. When considering how the Doctor Who stories should be categorised, this should surely stand amongst the best and is a credit to the actors and crew members who worked on it.
This DVD contains a story from the last series of classic Doctor Who (series 26), actually being the last story to be filmed.
Starring Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor, the serial is an experiment in a new way of story telling in as much as half the time (especially on first viewing), the viewer will have no idea what is happening. There is no obvious conclusion to the end of the story. Like the rest of the stories in this series, the Tardis interior is unseen.
The Doctor takes his companion, Ace (Sophie Aldred) back to a mansion, "Gabrielle Chase", that she has nightmares about.
He has taken her back to 1883, and we learn why the house gives Ace 'The Creeps", as well as a more personal link.
Although I enjoyed the story, I found it incredibly confusing and need to watch it again to understand it better.
Unlike some classic Doctor Who DVD releases, the disc doesn't have a picture on the surface, but instead just relies on perfectly adequate text.
The story runs over three episodes and is approximately 75 minutes in length. The DVD is rated PG and is complete with a host of extras as is to be expected of a 2|Entertain Doctor Who disc. These include a commentary on the episodes by Sophie Aldred and then script editor, Andrew Cartmel as well as two other people involved in the production. Also included are deleted scenes and a 5.1 remix of the sound.
Other extras include:-
* LIGHT IN DARK PLACES - The making of Ghost Light
* SHOOTING GHOSTS - A unique look at the studio recording process
* WRITER'S QUESTION TIME - The Author of this story answers questions
* MUSIC ONLY OPTION
* PRODUCTION SUBTITLES