The novelisation
Ghost Light

Episodes 3 Just one of the many cast members waiting to get killed off.
Story No# 157
Production Code 7Q
Season 26
Dates Oct. 4, 1989 -
Oct. 18, 1989

With Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred.
Written by Marc Platt. Script-edited by Andrew Cartmel.
Directed by Alan Wareing. Produced by John-Natahan Turner.

Synopsis: The Doctor encounters the powerful forces of evolution in a strange house infested with aliens.

Back to page one (the first twenty reviews)


God I love this story by Kathryn Young 4/4/05

The puzzling bits: the plot in general

Everyone complains that this story is difficult to understand. But no one ever asks "why do the Daleks have this uncontrollable urge to take over things again and again and a-bloody-gain"? No one ever asks "why does the Master come up with those unbelievably stupid plans like that one involving the Magna Carta and than Concorde one"? No you just accept that because the Master wears black and a silly beard he is evil and that is just what he does.

I swear there is a missing scene from Time-flight. Remember that story - the daft one where Tegan actually pumps up a Concorde wheel with a bicycle pump: I suspect it went something like this.

MASTER: 'Ha ha ha ha Doctor.' The Master pulls off his weird froggy mask. 'You are so gullible. It is I the Master and you didn't recognise me. I am an evil genius.'

DOCTOR: 'Of course I didn't recognise you, you twonker - what with your disguising yourself as a weird sorcerer froggie thing and speaking in an atrocious Chinese accent. And just why are you in disguise anyway? You are 100 millions years in the Earth's past in a barren wasteland.'

MASTER: 'Ahh? But I did it to trick you - and you were fooled.'

DOCTOR: 'Then why did you rip your mask off the moment you saw me?'

MASTER: 'Ahh? (thinks for a moment) But now my evil plans are nearly complete. Now I have ALL the little packets of peanuts from both Concordes - ho ho ho.'

DOCTOR: 'And did you forget you are allergic to peanuts?'

MASTER: 'Ahh.'

DOCTOR: 'You haven't really thought this through have you?'

MASTER: 'No, not really.'

So let me explain it: There are no reasons. The guys in the silly outfits or rubber suits are generally bad and the guy in the question mark jumper is good. All the rest is technical gobbledegook. This story is not that hard to understand. It is just that it is a few steps up the evolutionary story ladder (boom boom) of the usual "nasty aliens who want to do bad things" plot. But if you stick with the basic premise that bad guys do really stupid, weird and implausible things cos that is just what they do, it will all make sense and we can all sleep at night.

The Doc and Ace

This relationship has to be one of the main reasons I keep reviewing these stories - I want to spread the Seventh Doc/Ace love around. For me the last TV Doctor Who season and all the subsequent books featuring the two characters are very special.

I get sick of the Doctor as this cardboard time traveling non-shagging version of James Bond. I want to know why, when where and exactly what happened behind the bike sheds. That doesn't mean I want to see him bonking Charley on the console, but I do want to see him interacting with other people, gentle men, gentle beings, sentient life forms, his companions on more than a "hey, I'm a guy in a frock coat who runs down corridors" type of way.

I really like the fact that he cares for Ace in a way that I had not seen in Doctor Who before... oh come on: let us review the Doctor/companion thing over the years.

Billy: Cranky old git who you would not turn your back on, especially when he has a rock handy.

Pat: Bit too much swinging in the sixties if you ask me. I could never keep track of them - Ben, Polly, Jamie...

Jon: Too in love with himself. Bints in miniskirts were purely there to impress the other blokes and reinforce how cool he was. Well - all I have to say to that is: "Way to go Austin."

Tom: Leela was eye candy and Sarah, well Sarah Jane Smith's whiny high pitched grunting still amuses me to this day.

Peter: Like a bleedin kindergarten - stop whinging children!

Colin: Well he favoured the kill or cure approach to assistants.

Sylvester: Once we ditched Mel (personally my theory is that she was only introduced to be even more irritating than the Sixth Doctor) and took on Ace it all got better (as betterer as anything in the eighties was going to get. Remember this was the decade of leg warmers and early Madonna).

Paul: Oh my - do you know that if we ditch the miniskirts and invest in character instead it is actually more interesting. Well that only took them 27 years to figure out.

Chris: Humans are stupid apes who think pink polar fleecies are the height of fashion (but we know that deep down he really likes Billie and her pink polar fleecie).

Forgive me if I am not all that au fait with the Andy Cartmel master plan, but I do believe that involved pushing Ace out of the TARDIS nest until she can fly. I love the way this evolves over the last tv season. The Doctor is always there, pushing her, needling her, but ultimately letting her do all the work. So to continue the Ace plot arc the Doc takes Ace on yet another travail to thwart evil since the dawn of time. Although personally Light or Josiah Smith didn't really seem all that evil since the dawn of timeish - just a couple of right pratts if you ask me. In between having personal guilt attacks about doing "you know what" to the house, Ace seems to really enjoy being Time's Vigilante. Although this is pre "I'll rip your bloody arms off NA" Ace. In this story she is young and desperately wants to please. She bounces around him in a "yes Professor, no Professor" sort of way.

There is that lovely scene in Survival where the Doc stands on the hill and asks Ace to come home. The look he gives that Cheetah chick is dead nasty: don't mess with my girl furball. The Doctor is doing his incredibly dysfunctional best to be a parent. You think it is hard for your average parent? Try being a crusty 900 year old Time Lord and having to cope with a teenager! (the birds and the bees talk must have been a hoot) He loves her, but he doesn't understand her and nor does he know how to look after her... but he is trying - in his own Doctorish way.

This is why I get a feeling that there is an underlying sense of care in this story that fits in with the Doctor/Ace relationship. For all the spookiness of Ghost Light, Ace always seems to be watched over very carefully. Yes, she does do a bit of over angsting here and there and does get menaced by a few alien monsters, but they couldn't move very fast and I think that was more JNT than Marc Platt. And yes it was all creepy, but I don't think there was actually any danger to Ace.

The Titles

This title sequence is quite illuminating. Gone is the high speed hurtling down what looks like a tube of aluminum foil. No, with this one we are out there in the big wide universe. However I had no idea the universe was filled with quite so many electric pink things hurtling around at vast speed. It is no wonder we have so much trouble with our long range probes - just as they are entering Mars' orbit - WHAMMO - they are hit by a giant electric pink thing that escaped from the BBC special effects department sometime in the nineteen eighties.

For me, my favourite title sequence was Colin's. There is Colin, all smiley and happy and sweet looking - thinking about a future of Doctor Who where some bastard writer didn't turn him into a psychopath who tried to strangle his assistants and the whole thing wasn't cancelled. But I like this one too. After all the electric pink things have whizzed past in a synthesized frenzy, there is Sylvester, all painted up like that chick from Goldfinger (except silver), winking at you as if to say "I'm the Doctor now. It is going to be all right."

I wish Sylvester... I wish.

And if you watch the end credits right to er, the end you get to see a tiny weenie TARDIS fly across the screen from left to right and then again from right to left - like it was involved in a giant galactic game of Pong. There we go - the turntable techno Doctor Who theme and Pong - two reasons we love the eighties.

The DVD cool stuff

I'm not normally an Easter egg hunting fiend for DVD extras but this one has a few little gems that should not be missed.

The filming of Ghost Light documentary

A fascinating look at Sophie and Sylvester at work: I have never been to a convention and have never met Sylvester, but judging by this doco he must be a hoot at parties - always the first one with the straws stuck up his nose pretending to be a walrus. Sylvester and co happily giggle and gurgle their way through the recording process, yet always manage to look serious just in the nick of time.

And it is made even more poignant by the fact that this was the last ever thing they filmed before... you know...

The other doco

The other doco grabs as many actors as they can to reminisce about how bloody weird the story was and say that basically they didn't have a clue what it was about either. So there we go - finally vindication for all those "It doesn't make sensers" - even the actors didn't have a schmick. It is also packed full of information and a few bitchy luvvie comments. I rather liked the fact that several actors were sent out of the rehearsal room for laughing too much.

The photo gallery

For some reason the makers decided that for the viewing public's enjoyment they would combine two great experiences in one: and what is the perfect complement to any Doctor Who adventure? Why trench warfare of course.

The photos are very interesting, but you feel as if you are watching them in a World War One trench under a constant artillery barrage. I think the makers thought it was meant to be thunder, but I started getting Nam flashbacks. Interesting piccies, but do not show this to your granddad who fought at Normandy.

And there are actually a few of Sylvester not wearing his jumper. Everyone knows how much he hated it. I don't know if the photos are from a rehearsal or wot, but I get the feeling that he was trying it on - to see if he could get away without wearing it for a bit. So for the first time we have our darker and more manipulative Doc sans all his irritating props and JNTesque OH SO SUBTLE clues. However JNT probably spotted him, stuck it back on him and locked him in the catering van as punishment, because like a puzzled woolly boomerang it appears all the way through the final story.

A Review by John Seavey 24/6/05

If The Curse of Fenric is a story that hasn't aged well in the fifteen years since its initial broadcast, Ghost Light has aged like a fine wine. It's a beautiful story and a relative rarity in Doctor Who -- in a series written for the whole family to enjoy, this one almost demands that you be a patient, intelligent adult, willing to devote time and effort to understanding it. That said, it's also a rarity in television in general -- it's a complex, intelligent, multi-layered work that rewards each new viewing with new layers of symbolism and intelligence.

People have said that the story is about evolution, but that misses the point; Ghost Light is about change, full stop. Change is inevitable. You either accept it and adapt to it, or you refuse, and it steam-rolls over you. By setting it in the Victorian era, Marc Platt intuitively found the perfect metaphor for his theme. An era of unchanging glory, the Empire Upon Which the Sun Never Set, had just had the unpleasant information delivered to it that first, it had come up from savage apes and growling beasts, and second, it was doomed to the inevitability of change. The perfect setting for a story that meditates on change.

And "meditate" is exactly what it does. The actual plot, the through-put of events, is really quite simple. Insane Alien A escapes from Centuries of Slumber B, and must be stopped before destroying Planet C. It doesn't even need a diagram. But it's the way we enter into the story, the way we move through it, that's important. Reverend Matthews, the perfect Victorian gentleman who's convinced that change is impossible, reduced to a specimen of "Homo Victorianus Ineptus". Nimrod, the civilized Neanderthal who's practically a living illustration of every Victorian's insecurities about evolution -- an ape wearing a tuxedo. Control and Josiah, each in their own way perfect examples of Social Darwinism -- Control, of course, is a social climber, while Josiah takes the far more predatory approach to becoming the dominant life-form in English society. (The fact that his plan could never work is just another part of what makes it so perfect); while he seeks to reach the top of the societal "food chain", the brutal and murderous manner in which he does so harkens back to "nature, red in tooth and claw".) Even the insects become living metaphors; Josiah holds them in stasis, only to see them break free and crawl away, no longer under his control.

Then, of course, there's Light. Airy, ethereal, almost polite... but terrifyingly mad. Detractors of the story have complained that he surely must have known about evolution, but that misses the point -- he knows about it, he just refuses to accept it. Like any good collector, he needs to know exactly how complete his collection is; the task he's set before himself is impossible, but he can't see it that way. In the end, he snaps... but not before executing some of the best and scariest murders in Doctor Who. "I wanted to see how it worked... so I dismantled it."

It's just well and truly a story you can watch again and again, always picking up something new and clever, and always appreciating Marc Platt's wonderful dialogue ("Let me guess. My theories appall you, my heresies outrage you, I never answer letters, and you don't like my tie.") The DVD has enough deleted scenes to form a whole additional episode, and I could definitely use more scenes from this story; it's enough to make me want to find Russell T Davies and drag him over to Platt's house for a chat.

Oh, and the scenery, production values, acting, and music are all great too. But really, this one's all about the script.

Worth the Effort by Donna Bratley 18/120/06

It's not what you'd call undemanding television, but with a bit of concentration (and a few repeat viewings of the DVD) Ghost Light is revealed as a gem of a Doctor Who story. A claustrophobic Victorian mansion inhabited by an assortment of oddities speaking smart dialogue, and wearing terrific costumes, it's a visual treat with just a few puzzles left at the end that I still haven't fathomed out.

How did Light's ship end up under Gabriel Chase? Why is he hibernating? Did Josiah have to evolve into the height of civilisation, the Victorian gent, through such ridiculous stages? And what's the point behind the hunt for the Crowned Saxe-Coburg, other than the euphemism being one of the best ever? Assassination isn't unknown, but there usually tends to be a coherent strategy for the future behind it: no sign of that here.

However, I can forgive Marc Platt those loose ends, because his complicated, tense script delivers as an overall package, with Josiah's greeting of Reverend Matthews, the wonderful "Homo Victorianus Ineptus" tag, the aforementioned description of Queen Victoria and the monstrous "cream of Scotland Yard" moments being the show-stoppers. The careful euphemism "going to Java" fits Victorian squeamishness perfectly, one of countless nods to the era's obsessions. And let's face it, any script is helped with the performances Ghost Light boasts.

That starts with the Doctor. McCoy's incarnation will never be my favourite, but he's terrific here, whether manipulating Ace into facing her worst nightmare, bemusing the Reverend Matthews, or lighting the blue touch paper with nowhere to retreat. Maybe if it hadn't been for a prejudice against gimmicky question marks, I might always have appreciated him this much.

It's Ace's story, though; not something that happened so often in the original series (Russell T Davies, take note). Sophie Aldred is brilliant, mixing guilt, panic and angry defiance with the guts and spirit that made her one of the best and most entertaining companions ever: I loved the fight with Katharine Schlesinger's sweet but creepy Gwendoline. She also gets the best of the costumes: both the music-hall tux and the gown look great.

As for the guest actors, there's not a wrong note struck among them. Nimrod, the evolved Neanderthal, is a delight, and was that really Sylvia Syms as Mrs/Lady Pritchard? Michael Cochrane as poor old Redvers, the archetypal Victorian explorer madly dashing around the house as if it were deepest Africa is hilarious, even if I still don't know what sent him mad, and his Professor Higgins act with Control actually works, which I wouldn't necessarily have expected.

Sharon Duce manages to make Control's evolution into "freeness" touching; it's good to see her take charge at the end, with Josiah returned to a more primitive state. Ian Hogg sparkles, never more menacing than in the "rocking horse" scene with Schlesinger. I can't watch them, his hands on her waist, without a shudder.

Then there's Light; what a pity he's only there for one episode. If ever there was a villain I'd like to see back, it's the deranged librarian: polite, almost charming until he's crossed, but definitely, gloriously certifiable then. John Hallam's performance is magnificently theatrical, and he gets the best ever defence of a murder, innocently uttered. "I wanted to see how it worked... so I dismantled it." Brilliant.

Perhaps some of the effects haven't aged as well as the story; who cares? If it's glitzy CGI you want, why are you watching? Ghost Light depends on more important elements than fancy technology: innovative storytelling, clear direction, fine actors delivering good lines in a flawless setting.

What possessed the BBC to pull the plug on a show capable of this, I will never know.

A Review by Jonathan Norton 7/2/07

This is another McCoy story which failed to grab me when I saw the first few episodes on broadcast, so I didn't bother following it to its end. Since then I've heard endlessly about what a great story it is (The Discontinuity Guide quotes a review that hails it as the best Who story since 1979), so I finally got the DVD to see what the fuss was about.

What the fuss turns out to be about is an absolute mess hopelessly packed into 3 episodes, desperately needing 4 to straighten it all out. It also desperately needs a decent editor like Robert Holmes to perform surgery and release its great potential to be a genuine classic outshining the Hinchcliffe era stories, which are the nearest Who comparisons for its blend of SF and Hammer horror. As it stands, the script is nowhere near the lowest standards of 70s Amicus films.

Let's start with the absolute mystery of how the Doctor comes to be accepted in this house without turning up at the door with a proper introduction, and how he instantly wins over the chief inhabitant to the extent that he will wave huge sums of money at him for his co-operation. Let's wonder why neither that inhabitant nor his henchpeople ever notice the presence of the TARDIS, despite it being parked in their sleeping quarters. Wonder why they find time to stuff and case their latest victim. Wonder about time in general, since no attempt has been made to timetable the course of events over the 2 days of action, or work out where the characters are supposed to be at different moments. Wonder why on Earth the house needs to employ normal human staff, why they turn up at all if they are aware that nasty business occurs at night there. Wonder how that Neanderthal acquired enough knowledge to talk about "his planet" near the end.

A fourth episode would be needed to give a proper unfolding to the introductions, and the bungled scuffling in the cellar. Perhaps we wouldn't then need the ridiculous contrivance of Ace going down there for no reason at all at the end of episode 1. Note also the goof that the Doctor and Josiah leave the dining room by one exit (leaving Ace behind) yet then here her screaming from the foot of the stairs. Why didn't she run out after them, and take the shorter route?

Extra time would also allow for a proper development of one of the many good ideas the story had: the adaptation of Control in Eliza Doolittle-fashion from an urchin to a lady. We wouldn't need the stupid moment of her jumping through a window, when she could let herself out of house. Incidentally, why does it take her so much trouble to get out of the cellar at the end of episode 1 when the door is unlocked during the whole fight?

More time could have been found by excising the stupid and unnecessary plot diversion about assassinating Queen Victoria. Instead we could have seen more of Light's rebirth as well, and he might have changed less abruptly from squeaky-voiced angelic innocence to a throatier intolerant villain.

But that would have required solving the central incoherence of why a naturalist, who has already observed "ichthyosaurs" (and therefore his witnessed the Earth millions of years earlier) should be in any way surprised at the existence of evolution, or adopt a pointless mission to prevent it. And who exactly is Josiah, and how does all the business of him having "husks" (that still live on, somehow) and imprisoning Control work, exactly? Why should Light just "disperse" at the end?

We could do with the Doctor explaining some of this, but he's far too busy being "smug and self-satisfied", as Josiah correctly describes him. He never seems bothered by anything going on, and is surprisingly confident that freeing Control or Light would not put them in danger. Yet he does admit sometimes he doesn't know what's what. Is he on a mission he isn't telling us about? We never know.

There are all the elements and ideas here for a fantastic Who story. The cast are above average. With spookier music, proper pacing, plotting and exposition this really could have been the greatest Who story since 1979 (of course, that's true of Time-Flight as well...) Or at least it could have been a decently average Tom Baker story. The actual result is nowhere.

This brings me to the biggest mystery, which I mention in my Remembrance review: why people seem to praise the McCoy stories so much, apparently judging them by less demanding standards than the earlier seasons. The only show to be treated with appropriate harshness is Time And The Rani, which (I suggest) suffers because it came first and thus quality thresholds had not been adjusted for it.

Based on my incomplete viewing at the time, and subsequent DVD watching, I'd say there were enough worthwhile ideas spread over all 3 McCoy seasons to make up 1 average Tom Baker season, or at least something about as good as season 22. The Stephen Wyatt stories were good (but not classic by any means), the Ian Briggs stories were good (same qualification). I will allow Remembrance through as long as it's noted that it's no better than Attack of the Cybermen, minus Lytton's crushed hands. You can have Battlefield and Survival as well, though I'd dump the latter if I'd have a proper 4-part Ghost Light.

So that's the one McCoy season, 3 years in the making, that I would have commissioned.

A Review by Finn Clark 2/4/07

I don't really like Marc Platt's work. He's literate, imaginative and sophisticated, but his novels can barely be said to be plotted at all and my reactions to them range from "underwhelmed" to "burn this atrocity". However, I love Ghost Light. The crucial difference is that it has a story. It may be convoluted, confusing and not particularly well communicated, but much of that is due to trying to do too much in three episodes. That's not Marc Platt's fault. Andrew Cartmel was the script editor. What's more, the story's so interesting that for me this flaw becomes a virtue.

This is undoubtedly the most challenging Doctor Who television story we'll ever see. These days we're used to episodes that are trying to cram too much into their allotted time, but even Russell T. Davies hasn't attempted anything like this. 21st century Doctor Who's more interested in heart than head. Anything difficult gets squished like a cockroach. I certainly don't expect ever again to see anything that expects the viewer to work this damn hard, both in terms of reflecting on the themes and just plain figuring out the plot. Let's face it: most Doctor Who stories cater for morons. That's fine. That's the nature of television.

However, this story expects me to think. I admire that! "Brains like spiral staircases"... that's Ghost Light. I love its convoluted strangeness, which suggests that Marc Platt's brain doesn't work like anyone else's. It's fascinating in a way that one rarely sees. Doctor Who can do themes and character moments, and can even be thought-provoking, but no other story has this much texture and intricacy. New Who has had strongly developed themes, especially in Russell T. Davies's scripts, but Season 26 (especially Ghost Light and Survival) remains in a class of its own. Here everyone and everything exists in relation to Platt's theme of evolution, including the TARDIS crew. Light can't change. Josiah is evolving and Control is degenerating, but this apparent status quo can itself change.

Even the Victorian setting is perfect, with its stuffed animals and stuffy academics. The Reverend Ernest Matthews sees himself as the pinnacle of evolution, except that he'd call even that description insulting. He's a true Victorian Englishman, but his worldview is thrown into perspective by Ace and Nimrod. There are also lots of dead things... moths in glass cases, stuffed birds, aborted things in jars. "Like a morgue." Normally in evolution, the dead are left behind as their changed descendants survive, but in Gabriel Chase the dead linger. Josiah has his Husks in the basement. There's also Nimrod. Killing something here takes imagination, which is incidentally another thing I love about this story. Ewww, heheheheh.

So there's plenty of brain food. There are the themes, plus the whole mystery of what's going on in Gabriel Chase and what everyone's trying to do. However I could say as much about Lungbarrow and Time's Crucible, about which I'm much less enthusiastic. What Ghost Light has is a story. The plot advances. It's going somewhere. Its characters do things! And at its heart is McCoy's Doctor at his scariest, manipulating the entire cast and doing something unspeakably horrible to Ace.

It's a different kind of scary from Hartnell's, but even Hartnell didn't hit these kinds of notes and in any case he was only bad news at the start of his reign. Only twice in the Doctor's life was he more than just the hero: seasons 1 and 26, with the cornerstone of the latter being Ghost Light. It's like an entire story on the level of The Curse of Fenric's "kill her". He lies to Ace. He releases Light. He's responsible for some terrible things and people die as a direct result of his actions, although in fairness the end result of resolving the situation and neutralising Light was probably worth it. Admittedly, in part three Light rampages through the cast leaving a trail of creatively murdered corpses, but the Doctor quickly deals with him. One hates to think what might have happened had the escape happened under less controlled circumstances.

Everyone's good, though. It's a heavyweight cast, but Marc Platt also writes interesting parts... no "waiting for the axe to fall" victims or wishy-washy rebels. Mrs Pritchard and Gwendoline are a bizarre combination of genuine pathos and sadism in sending people to Java. Inspector Mackenzie is a laugh. Redvers Fenn-Cooper is fascinating. Nimrod is lovely.

As everyone knows, the storytelling can be murky. It all makes sense underneath, but you'll be doing well if you catch all the explanations on first viewing. There's some disconnection in the cellar scenes, while in addition it's never clear what everyone's talking about in episode two with Light. We get the impression of something hugely powerful, but with three sets of ill-defined entities down in the cellar (Control, Light and the Husks) the details hardly leap out with great clarity even on repeat viewings. However, one understands enough to be scared, which is the main thing.

For me, this story goes steadily downhill, though not in a big way. Part one is my favourite and part three my least favourite. That episode has cool murders, but unfortunately also the job of resolving the plot. That's never been Platt's speciality. Nevertheless this story remains rich and thought-provoking, right up to the conclusion with the Doctor and Ace left alone in a house of the dead. The only survivors disappeared in a stone spaceship.

Even on a production level, this is one of the most impressive Doctor Who stories. The BBC were always at their best with costume drama and here we have a luscious Victorian pseudo-historical packed wall-to-wall with quality actors. This story is special. It's unique in Doctor Who in two different ways: its richness and complexity and its characterisation of the Doctor. It's not perfect, but its imperfections are themselves something to be treasured... I'm proud to be a fan of a series that could produce this story. We'll never get anything else like it, but at least we'll always have Ghost Light.

Gothic Evolution by Matthew Kresal 6/6/17

Ghost Light.

Mention just the title to fans of Classic Who, and you're likely to elicit a series of responses. For some, it's a compelling piece of work full of atmosphere and good dialogue. For others, it's a baffling mess of ideas strung together across three episodes. For me, I fall into the former category rather than the latter. Why? Because Ghost Light might be the most deceptively complex Doctor Who stories ever made.

That isn't to say its reputation for being complex is unfounded. After all, this site's editor once edited a collection of fanzine essays that included four different writers (including future New Adventure writer Kate Orman) trying to make sense of the tale. Perhaps "complex" isn't the right word to be used. Perhaps the better one would be "layered". Because Ghost Light certainly has plenty going on within its three episodes.

On one level, it is an alien-invasion story masquerading as a Gothic ghost story. All the elements for a Gothic tale are here: large spooky house, a strange and dominating male figure, a seemingly innocent young female, a menacing housekeeper, guests who are not what they seem and family secrets coming into play. What makes Ghost Light unique is what writer Marc Platt and script editor Andrew Cartmel do with them by turning some of the tropes on their head (Gwendoline becomes both victim and villain, for example) and by turning it not into a ghost story but into a tale of alien invasion that is largely contained to this one house. In fact, it might well be considered more in the vain of the Gothic genre than many of the tales from the era more than a decade before that is more generally associated with Doctor Who and that genre.

On another level, it's a tale about Victorian naturalists and evolution. Light in his way is a Victorian naturalist, cataloging different species and eventually coming to feel overwhelmed by what he's encountering (becoming a kind of conservative who wants everything to stay the same). Control and Josiah are evolution and science at work: Contol being the experimental control who never changes, while Josiah is a creature that goes out and adapts to the environment around him. Evolution plays a major role in the story, both in terms of dialogue but also in plot.

Speaking of dialogue, Platt's script bristles with references and wit. There's the occasional reference to the series' past with a brief reference to The Talons of Weng-Chiang and the works of Douglas Adams. There are literary references ranging from Henry James to George Bernard Shaw and even pop-culture references such as the Beatles. Platt also pokes fun at Victorian culture, with characters such as the anti-evolutionary Reverend Matthews and a reference to one of the real-life examples of evolution pointed to in the era the story is set. The wit is on play as well with some wonderful one-liners that, along with the aforementioned references, makes this one of the most literary and humorous tales the series has ever produced.

Yet, for all of that, it never loses sight of its characters. By both design and accident of scheduling, this was to become the first in a series of stories that developed the character of Ace and, indeed, in three episodes Ace got more character development than some companions had in multiple seasons just a few years before. Yet the Doctor is never too far away, with Sylvester McCoy's Seventh Doctor firing on all cylinders as both master chess-player and unknowing clown, depending on whichever suits him. Outside of the TARDIS crew, all of the characters here are richly drawn and superbly brought to life by Ian Hogg as Josiah, Sylvia Syms as the housekeeper Mrs Pritchard and Michael Cochrane as Redvers Fenn-Cooper. It's a richly written tale, brought to life superbly.

All that being said, I stand by what I said in my review of Platt's own novelization in 2011: Ghost Light works better as a novel than it does on-screen. What it needs, as my best friend said when we recently sat down and watched this, is a scene where Ace (or really anyone) sits the Doctor down and says "What is going on here?" Outside of that, it needs what Platt was able to do in the novel: have space for the story to breathe and be fully told. Perhaps if it had been an episode longer and hadn't needed to be cut down as much (the DVD features nearly a full episode's worth of deleted scenes), it would be a clearer tale. That said, the idea that the story is a baffling mess is unfounded, as there are plenty of context clues and references made for viewers to follow the story if not always totally understand why something is happening.

In the end, Ghost Light is far from your typical Doctor Who tale. It's a layered tale, full of incident and references that make it among the most literary tales the series has ever produced on screen. It's a story that shows that, even in the last days of its original run, the series still had legs to run with. Or, to put in another way, it was still evolving...