Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 718: Ghost Light, Episode One
Ghost Light has something of a reputation for being the most confusing Doctor Who story ever made. I’ve only seen it the once before, and I have to confess that - yes - I was left confused by it. I think it was largely because when I saw it for the first time, I didn’t realise that there were any three-part stories, and so I wondered where the rest of it was on the DVD, and also because I was watching with a friend who really didn’t ‘get’ Doctor Who at all, so I was having to answer lots of his questions about all manner of other things, which probably distracted my attention during a few crucial moments. The sad thing is, though, that it means my memories of the story are tainted, and I’ve never had a desire to watch it again because my mind automatically associates it with being confusing and not one I particularly enjoy. I understand the concepts at the heart of the story, though, so I’m hoping that I’ll be better poised to go along with it this time around…
I’m certainly finding it easier to follow today, but then this first episode is largely about setting up the mysteries and introducing us to all the various characters for the rest of the story. All the same, I think it’s the type of tale which benefits from a second viewing, because I’m watching today largely aware of who everyone is, which means that I can focus more energy into enjoying the rest of the episode. There’s still one or two questions hovering around my head, but I’ll hold off on them for now and see if they’re dealt with in the upcoming episodes.
Something that I’m really revelling in throughout this episode is the Doctor’s Dialogue.. Three of my favourite pieces of Seventh Doctor dialogue all come from this episode (I knew they were all in this story, but didn’t realise that they came so close together); namely, the description of why someone might not like him, the list of things that he despises, and of course;
We all have a universe of our own terrors to face.
In much the same way that Pertwee’s Doctor got the speech about courage, this is another one of those lines which so completely sums up the Doctor, and I’m surprised that I don’t hear it quoted in fandom more often.
I’m also surprised to find just how much this story is about the Doctor pushing Ace to confront her fears. I’ve mentioned in the past that the line between what actually gets stated (or strongly implied) on screen, and what was added to their relationship later on in the novels and within fandom, has often been a little blurry for me. In the past, I’ve always assumed that the Doctor had brought Ace to this house simply to confront her demons, and that we’d retroactively made it part of his ‘tests’ for her. Actually, though, it’s explicitly laid out as a kind of ‘initiation test’ for Ace, and I think I rather like that. It feels again - and I’m well aware that I’m saying this about once a week at the moment - like the relationship between the Doctor and Ace has moved on once more, and I really can’t help but feel that the time between adventures is much longer for this pair than perhaps any other in there programme’s history. I don’t know what kind of time frame I’d put on this one, but it doesn’t feel like the events of Battlefield were recent - something about their relationship just feels so much different here.
It’s definitely the harshest that we’ve ever seen the Doctor be towards Ace, and the discussion they share towards the end of the episode about her history with this house is a lovely chance for a great Doctor/Companion pairing to shine opposite each other. It’s an idea that’s always fascinated me - that Ace knows this house in 1983, long after its prime, and yet she’s been taken back in time now to become an intrinsic part of the building’s story a hundred years earlier, and tied in to the ‘evil’ that she felt there before. I’ve always loved the idea that building’s can have such long lives, and can experience so much over the years, and seeing images of old buildings in years gone by is the kind of thing which fascinates me. I know the lines get a little blurred later on in the story with some sirens, but it’s almost a shame that we don’t get to see this house in the dilapidated state that Ace did, because it’s exactly the kind of thing that would set my imagination on fire.
That said, the descriptions we’re getting of the place so far are lovely, and a great chance for Sophie Aldred to show us her acting skills. Ace has been with us for a while now, and while I’ve praised the way that the character works with the Doctor, I don’t think I’ve ever really made mention of Aldred herself. I think it’s to her testament that I was so able to buy her as a sixteen-year-old in Dragonfire, and yet feel as though I’ve watched her grow up as the stories have rolled by. She’s giving a lot of thought to the way that Ace works, and I think she’s largely been well-served by a production team who are paying more attention to the way the companion’s story is told than at any point in the last decade. It’s so nice (and also a massive shame) to see the programme going out with such a strong team, both in front of and behind the cameras, and Aldred is a massive part of that.