We return to the adventures of the Seventh Doctor, but in contrast to Black Orchid, this is a serial that went from being very badly regarded by myself to being rather enjoyed when I bought the DVD. It therefore also marks a new stage in my reviews – until now the stories were to fault ones that I did not enjoy, or had very little to commend them. From this point on, we are dealing not with stories that I did not enjoy, but rather stories that I enjoyed less than those that come later.
Like I said, at first I was somewhat bemused by this serial – it seemed somewhat confusing and glaringly anti-religious (mind – in contrast to modern Doctor Who this is relatively tame by comparison) – and one thing that hasn’t improved from VHS to DVD was the poor quality of the video, due to attempts by the producers to shoot the serial in low level lighting. But with a more sympathetic viewing I rather enjoyed the story – it was a clever concept and had tension that nicely built up over the three episodes.
I grant you that some of the acting is rather hammed up – not least of the character ‘Control’ – and as with most 80s serials there is the problem of the production looking somewhat tired. The serial also requires a sympathetic view, and probably a second viewing to make sense of what is going on – it doesn’t make it easy on the viewer. But you do reach the end of it thinking “Oh goodness! That’s clever!”
The story in essence explores two distinct themes – Ace confronting her own fears, and the relentless pace of change. The Doctor brings Ace to the Victorian house of Gabriel Chase, a house in Perivale that Ace would later burn down in the 1980s, sensing an evil presence there. As part of the Doctor’s refinement of Ace’s character he helps her to face her own fear – but in so doing also reveals what gave Ace the nervous feeling. It turns out the mansion was built atop the buried spaceship of an all-powerful being known as Light, who had determined to catalogue the entire world. Light’s lieutenant Smith is evolving into the dominant species of the day, a Victorian gentleman (I told you the story was weird!) and attempting to leave Light in hibernation.
Light goes on a massive rampage when awoken from his slumber, jolly cross at how much the world has changed compared to when he went into hibernation, and it is only stopped when the Doctor persuades him that change and evolution are unstoppable – the remnants of Light’s crew fly off to explore the galaxy, including a fine example of a Neanderthal picked up in the Stone Age. Confused? Yes – that’s rather the issue! Ghost Light is a rather interesting story idea shot in a creative style, and I rather enjoyed it when rewatched. But even after a number of viewings I still find the plot difficult to follow – and it sadly spoils the enjoyment a bit!