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GHOST LIGHT


Chase - Posted on 14 August 2009

1

Okay WTF? WTH? I'm still divided about this story and in the years 1989 to about 1999 or maybe later, I was of the opinion that this and CURSE OF FENRIC were about the two worst DW stories ever made, really stupid, morbid, incomprehensible, and immature with nothing of any value. Then I watched parts of GHOST LIGHT and read some more about it and FENRIC, watched all of FENRIC (in which all things were thrown in but the kitchen sink: Russian, Nazis, Vikings, vampires, the war, a curse, an ancient evil and the Doctor knowing something, a parallel universe timeline or something) and thought maybe they were not so bad.

Watching this ep recently has made me think that my original assessment was true: this is badly made rubbish. First, most fans that like this drivel try to say that not everything needs to be explained and they often quote THE PRISONER. Well, this is nothing like that allegory and even the most fantastical of PRISONER episodes had either an explanation or some allergorical reason to exist. This doesn't. It's poor storytelling at least this ep is and for DW, the best ep should be the one that sets things up.

The Doc and Ace arrive and for some reason everyone, EVERYONE accepts that they are there. Unless I was not paying attention, the Doc is mistaken for someone who goes on about Darwin's theories. Ace is looked at like Rose in TOOTH AND CLAW as being naked so RTD stole that stuff from this. It didn't help either story really.

The confined sets are...okay but I prefer the outside stuff as in BATTLEFIELD and even GREATEST SHOW. The haunted house is spooky enough but who are all these maids coming out of the walls and why? Why are they so mean and creepy? Why are the Doc and Ace putting up with  their mean-ness. What's in the cellar? Well, we'll find out in the next few eps I"m sure. If Ace is so scared of haunted houses, why did she run to the basement...where two monster men are calling out "Ratkin." WHAT? Why? This really sucked to be honest. The set up is poor, with various things being shown to us and said to us without any real story. The set and music are creepy and that's fine and ONCE AGAIN, the feeling is that this could have, should have been so much better.

Oh and we find out Ace is a dysfunction mess. She once burned down a haunted house becaues she was pissed  that her friend's house was firebombed because she was a foriegner or Indian or something. I once thought that the people who burned down the friend's house were the same ones that lived in the haunted house. As it turns out I think later eps show us that Ace didn't burn down the house but to have this suspicion about a heroic character...okay it makes her more human but really, what a jerk she is. To even think you could have burned down a house because something happened to a friend of your's...these types of criminals are put on trial on LAW AND ORDER and CSI every week, well, really every day. It didn't make Ace more sympathetic to me, only pathetic and loser-ish. And I was just beginning to like her some.

Once more we have SO many characters thrown at us, with so much as a name given, and they start talking on and on and on about...nothing that makes sense. McCoy says some cute things and Ace joins in, sarcastically and then there's their little spat...there's a Neanderthal man walking around who gets boffed on the head by something in the cellar.

Really I hope this gets better in ep2 but I doubt it will with such a bad start. Oh, and if some fans think that this is a thinking person's story, it's not. It's trash. No one can think anything from what is on screen. Maybe they cut a lot out of the script or the finished shooting of the script but this is not a thinking man's DW. It's barely even DW. So the arguements that this is cerebral (it's actually quite the reverse) don't apply either and the arguements that not everything has to be given to us don't apply because something has to be given for us to have a story. I'm disappointed because I th ought GHOST LIGHT was better...    

2

This was a little better but not by much. Ace decides to go to sleep in the haunted house of her nightmares, the Doctor doesn't warn her about anything, and his "Things are getting hotter than I expected" is starting to become routine.

Still, once the characters are all in place and the bad ones start evolving and the chases from the cellar begin, this ep stands out from the first as being more exciting, faster paced, and a bit more intellegent.

I still don't understand why Mrs Grose and the others leave the house before nightfall and know something is going on but nothing has been done...or has it? And the policeman? No one ever came to look for him?

Then the Doc seems to have made a deal with Control...and just what was Control? Besides the organization in the TV show GET SMART. Kidding aside, again, one has to consult other sources (other fans, books, interviews, etc) to find out what Control is, what Light is, what Josiah was up to, where and why Nimrod was there, and who the maids were (I'm still not sure who they were). And what was going on. That still means the scriptwriter is not doing his job. We do get a bit more in the third episode, I thought, but we shall see.

again, this one is a bit better but still poor DW. 

 

3

This saves it, just. I mean if Control. Light, and Josiah (is that his or all of their real names?) were all such advanced beings, why are they so stupidly acting like morons? Why doesn't Light know that life on Earth will change if he's been studying it for so long. Really, the aliens who should be smartest are actually acting retarded. It still makes little to no sense, logically. Even when explained, the aliens are that advanced to do what they do, live what they live and have such powers and yet...they are so incredibly amoral, self centered, and evil minded that they miss the obvious.

Still, Light has some standard horror sequences that go over well, the dismantling thing, the soup thing. It seemed as if the Doc knew what happened to the policeman ahead of time? Could he have saved him? Ace gets a couple of good fights and even the retarded Control gets to jump out  a window. Andrew Cartmel explains the plot on the dvd so that helped. There are some really good ideas there but the dn't all translate well to the screen.

Not sure about the Doc's "Wicked" at the end and I've never been fond of Ace's sayings or indeed of Ace but whatever, it's a nice gesture on his part.

Redvers turns out to be a nice character and so does Nimrod.

All in all, a variable story and hard to figure and hard to rate to be honest. I guess it's not as poor as ep1 overall and not as poor as I once thought but it's certainly no classic and not worthy of its status. It also certainly was not worthy to, along with FENRIC, direct a large number of fans who then directed the NEW ADVENTURES for years and years of Doc manipulation and entities like Control and Light. As I"ve said though, DW has room for all types of ideas and while I"m glad that the direction has changed (THANK GOD) there's room for the New Adventures and a manipulative bas#$% Doctor too. And strange a F$#@ aliens.

Oh and the idea of making Queen Victoria say "I'm not pleaed" may have come from the behind the scenes here: McCoy and Aldred bet that one of them could make one of their co stars smile first. He won. Sounds like TOOTH AND CLAW, which also stole the idea of Ace's/Rose's not wearing enough for the locales of this time.

A strange story, not terrible, not classic, over rated at times, under rated by others. Like the theme it has of change, it's hard to peg down...

Also: I don't much believe in evolution either. Darwin himself told us that he had problems with his own theory and made a long list as to why. Also taking bones of different men from different locales isn't a great thing to do. I do think there was and is some evolution but I don't aspire to the belief that it contradicts creation theory...besides the Bible doesn't tells us everything else that happened, that maybe other creations happened and maybe evolution was  a part of the plan. Who knows?   

Two more stories and I"m glad this era will end.

BTW, while there are major differences, a lot of this story reminded me of an old 50s movie called THE BLACK SLEEP! 

Aurelius's picture

Here is a reprint of my review from back in May:

As I am nearing the end of watching the McCoy Era I have finally reached one of the most complex and engaging of any of the episodes of Doctor Who, “Ghost Light,” which should be hailed as a classic, but isn’t. Here’s why.

First, the confusing story. The story is actually quite simple; most can’t see this because of Part 3. Parts 1 and 2 are brilliant, structured and textured and Part 3 is a complete nightmare that derails and confuses everything. Nothing in Part 3 makes any sense, other than the rather muddled explanation of who each character is:
- Light (appearing in the form of an “angel,” and portrayed horribly by the actor with an even more horrible outfit) is on a mission to catalogue all life in the Universe
- Josiah Smith is his survey agent, capable of evolving to mimic the native forms of life in any environment
- Control is linked to the Survey agent to prevent it from evolving too far and breaking free of Light’s control
The rest—Fenn-Cooper planning to assassinate the Queen; Smith trying to take over the British Empire; what exactly “Light” is; dead things coming back to life; the muttered gibberish of Control; the Pritchards being turned to stone, none, I mean absolutely, none of these things make any sense, and all of them happen in rapid fire succession. If one isn’t paying attention, it seems like a garbled nightmare.

Second, the telling of the confusing story. Contrary to previous posts, the story is neither David Lynch-like (it seems so upon first viewing but that’s giving too much credit; where each character here would symbolically represent something, it doesn’t; but you do get that weird David Lynch vibe, like Mackenzie preserved in the collection drawer) or a mystery (or, more accurately a Who-done-it), but rather told in the tradition of a ghost-story; a mystery and a ghost story are not the same things. This is more in the lines of Henry James’ Turn of the Screw (meaning, what exactly are we witnessing and can we trust what we are witnessing?) than anything by Agatha Christie. Doubt, rather than deception, plays a key role in this story along with a heavy dose of ambiguity. This muddles the main story of an alien come to earth to catalogue its life and its servants get out of hand while it sleeps.

Third, actually story being told. This story is not about Light or ghosts or haunted mansions. This is a story about Ace. On the worst day of her life, when she is 13, Ace climbs the wall surrounding Gabriel Chase, senses a primordial evil and burns the house down. This action, coinciding the same day her friend Manisha’s flat was burnt down by racist white kids, has made Ace hard and rough. The Doctor knows this and this is why he has “tricked” her by not telling her that they are in Perivale, knowing that she must face this terror. Only by confronting this terror, can Ace move on, mentally, emotionally and I’d even venture, spiritually.

Throughout the story continual references are made to evolution, natural selection and metamorphosis and things “changing” (and we are witness to a few literally happening), as well as light returning, both figuratively and literally, as well as life. All of this applies to Ace: by confronting this terror (the feeling of evil in the house) and understanding it, both life and light return to her life, and the Doctor knows this. This episode is really a drawn-out, textured character study of Ace and I don’t believe we’ve ever had something like this before for any of the companions—perhaps Rose, where the majority of Season 1 deals with her, her family and her “relationship” with the Doctor.

To a lesser degree, this episode also expands the magnitude and mystery of the Doctor—him manipulating events so Ace can confront her terror and by and large, commanding and directly taking on Light, who for all purposes shown in the episode is a presumed “superior” being, and basically “defeating” him, causing him to disperse and fill the house with evil energy that 100 years from now Ace will sense. So, viewing it this way, we have a circular construction—the Doctor by helping Ace face her terror, helps create that same terror. Or vice versa, timey-wimey, wibbley-wobbley, right?

In the end, what are we to make of “Ghost Light?” Muddled mess or misunderstood classic? Somewhere in between. “Ghost Light” should be on par with “Blink,” but isn’t. This is a 4 part story told in 3 parts, where the events of the third part are a jumbled nightmare that needs a better editor and more cohesive thought. The story at its heart is simple, but the layers surrounding it are too convoluted and vague for us to care, and at some points understand and even watch. But, looking past this, we can feel the brilliance that is strived for—the creativity and the idea that an episode doesn’t need to follow a pre-designed mold. If done correctly, we have “Blink;” if you fall short, even by a foot or two, you have “Ghost Light.” In the end, this episode’s ambitions outweigh talent and most of us are left scratching are heads.
Rating: 8 / 10 or 4 ½ TARDIS groans out of 5

"Gosh, that takes me back. Or forward. That's the trouble with time travel; you can never remember." (The Doctor, The Androids of Tara)

You are too kind. If it is a character study of Ace it doesn't do a good job of that either. How does the burning down of this house and the burning down of her friend's house have anything to do with one another, except that Ace is so F'ed up that she does it ? Ace is a mess and has to be straightened out with this? This helped her? She faced her fear and did what exactly to help stop it? Other things I've already listed as to why the aliens doing this are so ...well, retarded. Just because something is alien and advanced doesn't mean they don't understand our ways and change, in fact, they should understand more of it.

Aurelius's picture

Perhaps i'm giving this one too much credit. I really wanted to like this episode alot, but really it falls short and does indeed become one giant mess. I have no answers to your questions regarding the nature of Ace. Only one of a thousand problems with this story. It is a bold attempt to do something brave and different and ultimately fails. Ambiguity is one thing but in this story, geez! I think the original idea for this story was going to be about the Doctor's past and his family and something about him being connected to The Other. I know next to nothing about any of this having not invested the time or effort into any of the novelizations. But, that sounds far more interesting than what we were given. On the whole, I agree with your assessments and with that sais, I would revise my review and give it 5/10 simply for not following formula and trying something bold.

"Gosh, that takes me back. Or forward. That's the trouble with time travel; you can never remember." (The Doctor, The Androids of Tara)

to play both sides, I see that there is some merit to a story that is something LIKE this story, only that it could have been better.     

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