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     Home »  The Sylvester McCoy Era »  Ghost Light
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    Ghost Light Views: 3223
     Thursday, May 07 2009 @ 12:34 PM EDT
    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 (see the early above post by Tarashnat; it’s actually pretty cut and dry.) 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 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

    What we observe is not Nature Itself, but Nature exposed to our method of questioning.
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     Thursday, May 07 2009 @ 04:58 PM EDT
    When I first watched GHOSTLIGHT I thought DW would soon be cancelled. It was trash. It was junk. It had more Ace angst. It made no sense, at least what was up there on the screen. Then Ace goes to sleep in a haunted house with danger all around. A lot of strange people were paraded out and the Doctor wasn't speaking loud enough to be understand. He mumbled through it all. I hated this story for a long long time. And IT was the mold for most other New Adventures, not all but most. The Doctor was manipulating Ace.

    I've yet to rewatch this but the time is coming.

    Then I read all about it in books, in fan commentary, in more books, in the magazines and on line...etc. The story does make sense but unfortunately it really doesn't without all the extra reading and figuring out. DW at that time was throwing in everything but the kitchen sink. On CURSE OF FENRIC, one fan, and he's somewhat correct, said being back in time should be enough of a story but they have to throw everything in but the kitchen sink: vampires, Nazies, Vikings, Russians, Russian pretenders, priests, a lost relic, a curse, etc etc etc, Ace's mum, Ace as a baby, a thing frm the beginning or end of time from probably an alt universe time line. Any one of these would be fit for a story but throw them all in together and you have a mess. GHOSTLIGHT is similar. If you have to figure out what is happening by all this extra stuff, is it a good drama? A good show? I used to say no but...

    CURSE like GHOST suffers from being slightly ahead of its time although to be honest 2001: A SPACE ODSSESY was like this, Space: 1999 was like this. In many ways MILLENIUM was like this. All three of the later ones I mentioned were better than GHOST and FENRIC. To some extent THE PRISONER was like this, too.

    I had rewatched CURSE and FENRIC with all the knowledge of the fan/production team etc behind it. That way, the pair of them are a much better pair of stories and one can appreciate what they are doing, however, again, without the explanations and/or some kind of sense/logic somewhat linear storytelling is it good? Is it good to need others to explain your story? Or is it just bad storytelling to not have what viewers need to figure out wtf is going on?

    I'm not sure there are easy answers to that. I do know I'm going to rewatch these. I also know that I much prefer THE TWIN DILEMMA to both of those. I much prefer almost any Tom Baker story to both of those. Ace and the 7th Doctor are in way my fav team.

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