Ghost Light part 1

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    Craig @craig

    The Doctor takes Ace to a Victorian mansion, Gabriel Chase, as an initiative test and a surprise. The home of Josiah Samuel Smith, who holds heretical evolutionary theories “worse than Darwin”, it seems a dangerous madhouse. The evening staff are zombie-like, a Quartermain-style explorer, Redvers Fenn-Cooper, walks the corridors having gone insane and the butler, Nimrod, is a neanderthal.

    For those who want to buy it the BBC are doing it for £5.99 – cheaper than Amazon. You can also pick up Curse of Fenric and Survival (they’re all part of a trilogy) for the same price.

    Anonymous @

    That’s my first Sylvester McCoy episode so I’m glad to have experienced it.  I’m back to live-blogging stylee comments on what I saw because it’s all quite strange to me and I don’t have ready analysis and comparison to anything but AG Who (and, of course, Talons of Weng-Chiang thanks to this forum!).

    – The incongruity of shoving the dinner tray under the door as if to a monster or a madman, with a cheery ‘I’ve brought you your dinner, and your copy of The Times.’  So, something to be feared which is also intelligent.

    – Ace: ‘You’re still a lousy parker!’  he he

    – It’s interesting that the Doctor sent Ace out to scope out the new environment and report back to him, before he exits the Tardis.  Although, this ties in with the point below about Ace and this house …  ‘It’s a surprise.’

    – The stylised direction (is that common in the McCoy era?) is exemplified by Ace and the Doctor sticking their heads into the corridor and looking left / right together – I assume this was a comedy moment?  I don’t think anything quite like that has been done in AG Who.  The acting is also more stiff and stylised – ToWC was far more naturalistic.

    – Did Ace just do the ‘don’t wander off’ trope whilst discussing school trips?  She sure did.

    – The music is really intrusive.  Come back Murray Gold, all is forgiven.  🙂

    – The Doctor just happens to have a fang of a cave bear in his pocket?  The wisdom of the greatest elders of Nimrod’s tribe?  What a coincidence.

    – Once again, a companion corrupts / enlightens (take your pick) a local.  I was surprised by the cross-dressing considering all the petticoats and crinolines draped around the boudoir during the changing scene.  Will this pay off in later instalments?

    – Why doesn’t that light affect the Doctor’s eyes like it does everyone else?

    – The Doctor’s ‘surprise’ for Ace is that he is forcing her to face her terrors by bringing her back to the haunted house she visited when 13 years old.  It’s a bit heavy-handed, though; other Doctors have surely been more subtle about helping their companion to grow.

    – Fantastic cliff-hanger, the monsters advancing on Ace!

    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord

    Welcome all, to the eighties. I don’t live in the past. There are glimmers of something great in almost each era of Who, but the relative quality of stories in the 80s did see some problems occurring. Ghost Light is untypical for the era, I think, and something different.

    Watching this first episode reminds me of how I felt when first watching it. It’s largely studio bound, but that always helped early Who. Put the monsters and effects of the period into harsh sunlight (as many Baker II and McCoy stories did) and that harsh light revealed some uncomfortable truths – they really needed more money. Watching this episode I immediately thought “It’s gloomy – I’m missing things – THIS IS DOCTOR WHO!”.

    I can’t remember which thread it was on now, but there was an argument made that the TARDIS being more controlled was a Moffat thing, and took away from the intent of the show. This episode (and indeed Talons before it) would seem to dispute that. Watch the sixth and seventh Doctor serials and they often go precisely to the point they wanted to. As in this one, when the Doctor takes Ace to confront an early fear and troubling event in her life.

    Just a tangent into the last series, the Doctor reviewing young (and even pre-Clara birth) life seems to echo this. How did the Doctor know to bring Ace here, if he hadn’t done something similar in her case? How did he know about the red bike for young Rose for Christmas one year? For all the distaste about 11 examining the early life of a companion, maybe he takes the opportunity to do it more than once? The hints for this really start at this point though.

    I love McCoys manipulative impatience in this episode. He has a goal here, and his frustration at her responses is palpable. The scenes regarding the “blasphemy” of the theory of Evolution were something I wasn’t familiar with at the time, and did prompt me to read up on that era.

    So hurrah! Still an educational show!

    @shazzbot – The music mix on DVD is much better, but the actual music itself is still pretty uninspired.

    Anonymous @

    I just had a thought about what I said about ‘stylised direction’ in this episode (although I’m still hoping that someone with more knowledge can advise if the stiffness/stylisation of acting and directing are common throughout the McCoy era).

    In Love and Monsters (gawk spit), there was a Keystone Kops stylee running back-n-forth from Rose and 10 at the beginning, which echoes the heads-in-the-corridor business in this part of Ghostlight.  So, I was wrong; this kind of forced comedy stage direction did bleed into the AG era.  But only briefly, and I don’t think ever repeated again AG.  Anyone have any thoughts on that?

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    Yes, the composer here was Mark Ayres – who I think isn’t as good as Dudley Simpson (the composer for Talons). Murray Gold I rate quite highly – I’ll listen to his music quite a lot.

    This is sensibly set to budget. Interiors, costumes available from store, props available from store. That meant they could spend the money on getting a decent bunch of actors; which they needed, because this isn’t a straightforward story. Ace is our viewpoint character – and she really doesn’t know what the hell is going on. Neither does the audience. 🙂

    It’s established very quickly that there are no normal inhabitants of this house, and the people who just work there want nothing more than to get the heck out before dark. It is considerably more stylised – if you compare this ‘haunted house’ with the ‘haunted house’ of Hide, you can see the difference in stylistic approach. Victorian Gothic versus Kitchen Sink (and Hide does have a kitchen sink, as well as some whisky glasses, mugs of tea and a bottle of milk).

    You can see the Seventh Doctor’s manipulative nature here very clearly: he’s listened to Ace’s story, he’s obviously decided there’s more to that house than she’s realised, and he’s taking her to the point where it all started. But without doing anything so straightforward as telling her ‘we need to investigate’. If he did that, she might say she didn’t want to go.

    Is it my imagination, or is McCoy trying to conceal that wretched pullover as much as he can?

    Anonymous @

    @bluesqueakpip“Ace is our viewpoint character – and she really doesn’t know what the hell is going on.  Neither does the audience.”   Thank goodness it wasn’t just me!  It took two viewings to place the character names and understand what is being set up in this part.

    @phaseshift – I’m fine with the studio boundaries of this story so far, and I utterly agree with you that the harsh disinfectant of bright sunlight is not The Petty-Cash Monster’s Best Friend.  And I’m intrigued by your implication that earlier Doctors also meddled in (even if simply by observing) the early years of their future companions’ lives.

    @bluesqueakpip – didn’t notice the pullover concealing, but I was enchanted by the Doctor pretending he was the Master of the House to the Reverend.  And how quickly he flipped over to introducing himself as the Doctor once the real owner turned up.

    Oooh oooh oooh – Ok, it took two viewings and I still didn’t get it until just now.  The reason the owner wears dark glasses and is ultra-sensitive to light, is obviously related to that radioactive box’s bright light which everyone (but the Doctor) is practically blinded by.

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip


    It took two viewings to place the character names and understand what is being set up in this part.

    Yes. We’re into the era of widely available video recorders – and now we’re starting to see the assumption that the audience doesn’t have to get everything the first time round. They can rewind.

    You can also see this Doctor’s very alien nature; the way he manipulates even someone he likes, the different reactions to physical phenomena, his immediate recognition of other ‘aliens’.

    The physical comedy bit – Sylvester McCoy was primarily known as a physical comedy actor when he became the Doctor. His first series was a bit of a disaster; one of the big differences between McCoy and Colin Baker was that McCoy (and Andrew Cartmel, the script editor) recognised that they had to make drastic changes. But you do still see these very stylised physical comedy moments throughout the Seventh Doctor’s period, here and there.

    Anonymous @

    It didn’t strike me until rewatching episode one of Ghost Light just now that it actually segues really rather nicely with Talons. There’s the direct reference to the ‘Chinese fowling piece’ that Redvers threatens the Doctor with, but like Talons, the story also riffs wildly and eclectically on Victoriana. There are the literary references to Conan Doyle and Pygmalion, Redvers is meant to be clearly reminiscent of Allan Quartermain (as well as riffing on James Fenimore Cooper’s name). And is it just me but does Josiah seem a bit like Dracula?

    But there’s quite a few scientific references in there as well. Darwinism is at the heart of Ghost Light and I can’t help but wonder if the Rev Ernest Matthews is meant to be riffing on William Paley (who admittedly is only really considered to be the antithesis of Darwinism these days thanks to Richard Dawkins). There are also the many references to Darwin and Josiah seems to have performed the Kettlewell peppered moth experiment 50 odd years early.

    But it’s this layered approach that marks Ghost Light out as one of the templates for Nu Who. Each rewatch offers up fresh insights, fresh information. @Shazzbot is right when she argues that it’s a much more stylised approach than AG Who however. It’s always struck me how clipped and oblique the dialogue between the Doctor and Ace often is. It’s almost like word association. The Doctor will say something and Ace will riff off it and bounce it back to him and so on. It makes it one of the great Doctor/companion pairings and one of those that I always imagined still having a life when we’re not there to see it.

    The putting the companion at the centre of the story is also very much something that I think AG Who has taken from stories like this. Without Ace I don’t think we we would have had the Pond arc, or the Donna one, or possibly even the Clara one. And like Nu-Who, key aspects of character are buried in almost throwaway dialogue. It’s not just the evil within Gabriel Chase that haunts Ace, it’s her state of mind at the time — her guilt and trauma at the racist attack on her friend’s house is perhaps something that’s she has still not got over. That’s surely a very grown-up thing to have found its way into Who at this time and it’s very subtly done.

    I’d also argue with @shazzbot that the Doctor’s manipulation of Ace is hardly ‘heavy handed’. I love the aspects of the Doctor we see here. I don’t think he’s ever been darker. It’s not just that he’s trying to help his companion through a crisis, it’s almost as if he’s playing with her. There’s an almost callousness to the way that he seems to be playing with her mind. He clearly cares but there are also limits to his empathy. His curiosity and his own agenda often trumping his compassion. I don’t think we’d ever seen a Doctor as dark as that since early Hartnell and we wouldn’t really see it again until Doctor 11.

    In fact, I can almost imagine Smith delivering McCoy’s great ‘burnt toast’ speech. That little scene with Ace has always been in my top 10 Who scenes and a potent reminder that the Doctor’s concept of humanity is often exaggerated and combines obvious props (like toast or bus stations or bow ties or fish fingers and custard) with a befuddled failure to grasp a real understanding of the concept.

    In fact, the more I think of it now, the more I think it’s clear that Hide was very much riffing on Ghost Light. The haunted house, the monster who is not what they seem, the centrality of repressed emotion to the story and a Doctor who fails to quite understand the human cost of his interventions.

    But McCoy takes the Doctor in a direction that even the AG Doctors do not. All the other Doctors have a degree of ignorance of the situation when they arrive. Here and in Fenric, McCoy seems to know everything that will happen before it does so. It’s merely his job to arrive in time to move the various pieces (i.e. people) around so that things will fall exactly the way he wants them to. He’s the arch manipulator. Look at the way he’ll often consult his watch, as if to say ‘yes, it’s now time for me to prod this person in that direction, move this object there’.

    But while the Doctor would never again be as ‘removed’ from his humanity as he is here, I’d argue that the very ‘alien-ness’ of his Doctor has had a profound effect on the AG series. (If only because it was stories like Ghost Light and Fenric that were the key influence behind the Virgin New Adventures which then kept the concept of Who on life support until the likes of RTD and SM could come along to revive it.)

    (Oh, and @bluesqueakpip, with regards to humour, I find it interesting that for such a physical performer that by the time we get to Fenric and Ghost Light that McCoy’s physical comedy is all but gone  and here certainly all the lighter moments seem to be linguistic ones. I find the Doc’s verbal sparring with Matthews is almost Tom Baker-esque in places.)

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip


    I find it interesting that for such a physical performer that by the time we get to Fenric and Ghost Light that McCoy’s physical comedy is all but gone  and here certainly all the lighter moments seem to be linguistic ones.

    It’s one of the reasons I like McCoy so much. It wasn’t that he’d never done serious drama; it was that someone who’d been hired for his comedy skills was so willing to take the Doctor that dark – and that alien.


    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord


    Yes it was Ayres for this one. I think a lot of it was the budget at the time which didn’t allow for them to “dwell” for any length of time.

    Listening to the Prom, I was pleased that so many of the old composers (like Simpson and Ayres) were there to see their work profiled. You can’t help but wonder if they were thinking “I’m in the Royal Albert Hall listening to a full Orchestra belt out something I worked on 30-40 years ago as a jobbing Composer. Someone wake me up now!”.

    HTPBDET @htpbdet

    Ace:                        It’s true, isn’t it? This is the house I told you about.
    Doctor:                 You were thirteen. You climbed over the wall for a dare.
    Ace:                       That’s your surprise. Isn’t it? Bringing me back here.
    Doctor:                 Remind me what it was that you sensed when you entered this deserted house. An aura of intense evil?
    Ace:                       Don’t you have things you hate?
    Doctor:                I can’t stand burnt toast. I loathe bus stations. Terrible places. Full of lost luggage and lost souls.
    Ace:                      I told you I never wanted to come back here again.
    Doctor:                Then there’s unrequited love. And tyranny. And cruelty.
    Ace:                      Too right.
    Doctor:                We all have a universe of our own terrors to face.
    Ace:                      I face mine on my own terms.
    Doctor:                But don’t you want to know what happened here?
    Ace:                      No!
    Doctor:                You’ve learnt something you didn’t recognize when you were thirteen.
    Ace:                      Like what?
    Doctor:                The nature of the horror you sensed here.
    Ace:                      Alien?

    I am not all that sure that, on first viewing, the machinations of the Doctor were as profoundly clear as everyone here seems to think.
    Ace had told the Doctor a story about a house and he knew that she had encountered alien power – and so he came to investigate. Do we really know any more than that on first viewing this episode?
    The sound relationship between the Doctor and Ace is the foundation of this episode: it is only because the Doctor knows that Ace trusts him that he can contemplate doing what he does.
    I found this atmospheric and intriguing – but the same two things irritated me then as they do now – the music and the lighting.
    The writing is quite sophisticated and suspenseful and with proper lighting and suitably atmospheric mood music, this could have been quite scary indeed. But the JNT “light-entertainment” mantra sees the bright lights and the almost jaunty music used, despite its contrapuntal effect on the acting and the text. A great pity.
    There is nothing wrong with the compositions – its just the brief they were given that seems to me misplaced.
    McCoy, of course, was not the first comic and physical comedy performer to play the role of the Doctor – Pertwee was a comedy voice man through and through and a vaudeville expert – and he plays the “straightest”  (in the sense of non-comic) Doctor of them all.
    McCoy seemed to me to be warming up nicely here. He is unexpected in many scenes.
    @Shazzbot – his producing a Cave Bear Tooth always seemed to me a nod to Unearthly Child – not sure why. And I know what you mean about stylised direction – but, actually, I think that is just how television period drama was made then. Its the lighting which makes it seem more stylised than it otherwise would I think.
    This story could easily be made now. Marc Platt was ahead of his time.

    Anonymous @

    @htpbdet — but it’s that very ambiguity that’s interesting and unique. The Doctor is not, it seems, as unequivocally on Ace’s side here, or less so than other Doctors would be. For instance, despite his often patronising attitude to her, I can’t imagine that Pertwee’s Doc would ever do something like this to Jo. Or if he did, he’d be a lot gentler about it.

    As Ace complains in Fenric: “You know what’s going on, don’t you? You always know but you just can’t be bothered to tell anybody.”

    The suggestions are already here in this story that this is part of the series of tests that Ace is being put through in order to send her to the Time Lord Academy, which I believe is how her departure from the series was being planned.

    I’d say for the first time since, say 1963, McCoy presents us with a Doctor who neither the companion nor the audience can really trust. As I said above, I think I can see the ghost of that in Smith’s portrayal of Eleven.

    You’re dead right about story not being unaffected by the JNT-isation effect — and it’s not over yet. But I also find it interesting that the cast and writers in this era seem to be almost subversively fighting against the known wishes of their producer to create something that they know to be better than his vision of the show. Hence we get a really rather nice performance from Ian Hogg as Josiah, Katherine Schlesinger giving us music hall turns at the piano and the Doctor being forced back into the shadows after his dayglo Sixth incarnation.

    Agree with regards to Marc Platt too. I’m honestly bemused why he doesn’t get invited to write for the show now. What with Ghost Light, and the really rather excellent Spare Parts Big Finish audio — which RTD strip-mined for Age of Steel but still failed to come remotely close to surpassing in terms of quality and story-tellling.

    HTPBDET @htpbdet


    I may not have expressed myself very well.

    All I meant was that by the end of Ghostlight 1 we do not really know anything about the Doctor’s manipulations. We know he has tricked her by not being up front about why he has brought them there.  But we think that is it.

    It is not until later that we come to be certain about the Doctor’s manipulations re Ace.

    Well, that’s how it seems to me anyway.

    Otherwise, I agree entirely with your observations. I particularly liked the subverted music hall numbers!

    Anonymous @

    @htpbdet — agree, re. Doc’s manipulations.

    What I like about this story is that it’s almost like the show’s own ‘I don’t want to go’ moment (a la Tennant). It’s almost as if it’s showing off some of the tricks it can still do, some of the directions in which it has barely begun to explore.

    It was the memory that this and the other stories of this season left in the mind of fans that left the impression that the show could — and should — come back.

    Of course, it did give the cancellation that extra tang of bitterness. An air of having just been killed off, having just got through the other side of its worst years…

    chickenelly @chickenelly

    Just watched it at last.  First impressions:

    1) The title sequence has really dated.  The sequence at the beginning of Talons has aged much better, possibly because they could afford more than a Casio keyboard for the theme tune.

    2) There are hints to gothic stories such as ‘Turn of the Screw’.  The housekeeper who scarpers at the beginning I think is called Mrs Grose.

    3) Not got much of a clue where the zombie maids fit in, but thought they were quite creepy and I could have done with seeing them float about a bit more.

    4) The bit where the monster is getting his food pushed through the locked door (along with the Times), is echoed in the Crimson Horror.

    5) It might be that I’ve watched too much tv over the years, but it is reminding me of a ‘Ripping Yarns’ type episode at the moment.  Must admit I chuckled when the ‘Mant’ like monsters were waving their hands about at Ace at the end.

    Having said all of that, I’m enjoying this retrospective.  Roll on next week!

    Actually, I just had to seek out the ‘Mant’ trailer and it still made me laugh:

    Miapatrick @miapatrick

    watching both this evening, so very late here. Brief thoughts:

    clearly ‘crimson horror’ referenced this near the beginning, nice to see it and see how AG who looks back into the past.

    Ace’s takeaway comment- to be fair, takeaways did exist at the time. Though I don’t think (for many reasons) they did home deliveries.

    This reminds me how random and surreal television of the time could be. I don’t have any memories of this episode, only sketchy ones of the Doctor and Ace, but a lot here does feel familiar, in a homely kind of way.

    McCoy was fantastic. ‘I’m as human as you are’ ‘Yesss’.

    Troughton1966-69 @troughton1966-69

    To me Ghost light is McCoy’s worst episode. To me the whole Episode just did not make sense!

    If it wasn’t for some great acting by Sophie Aldred ( Ace) it could easily of been the worst episode in doctor who history!

    After the disappointment of Ghost Light I watched The curse of Fenric, the penultimate episode of the classic series, and that was  a fantastic episode! It had great acting from both McCoy (The Doctor) and Sophie Aldred (Ace).

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