Ghostlight by Marc Platt has the dubious honour of being the final Seventh Doctor story to be produced, though was the second transmitted in season 26, between the 4th and 18th of October 1989. There is plenty of background on the BBC’s archive, but I will repeat some here to give context to my thoughts.
I did watch much of this series at the time, and have already reviewed Battlefield and The Curse of Fenric. If you’ve read those you’ll know I had mixed views of the series. I know I watched those two as transmitted; I have no recall of watching Ghostlight until recently. With the benefit of 25 years more experience, and far greater appreciation of all things Whovian, how was it for me?
In 1983, before she met the Doctor, a 13 year old Ace had a fright exploring a house called Gabriel Chase. The Doctor has taken Ace back to 1883 to explore what happened in the house’s past, one hundred years before she burns the place down.
The house is inhabited by a selection of curious characters most of whom come out by night. There is a lot of detail on the BBC’s now defunct classic who guide (see here). There is Joseph Samuel Smith (an evolved alien), explorer Redvers Fenn-Cooper and Nimrod a Neanderthal in Smith’s service. Behind the scenes is Light a powerful alien who came to catalogue the Earth’s creatures and who has a loathing of evolution. Evolution is a strong theme in this story (even down to Douglas Adams dialogue about earthmen and their ancestors) along with am almost plot of killing Queen Victoria (this never convinces as anything other than window-dressing). There is also a figure known as Control who acts to balance Smith’s efforts.
The story is difficult to unpick and ends with the Doctor defeating Light by convincing him that even he evolves.
This is a difficult story to follow and I can’t spot any strong connection to Lungbarrow. Much of the acting is strong and the setting is eerie; sadly the story just doesn’t work and is not accessible. I read that it makes better sense after multiple viewings; maybe.
Ace is worth talking about — she is now almost completely different from the cocky teenage bomber we first met. She dresses very differently and there is also a strange section where she and a young woman in the house dress as men. All very surreal.
As a marking point for the evolution of characters this is interesting, as a story it doesn’t work for me.
Please, someone convince me differently!