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21 December 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 720: Ghost Light, Episode Three

Dear diary,

Watching this episode today, I’m not sure quite how I was left confused by Ghost Light on my first viewing. It does all make sense… but you have to think about it, because there’s a few key pieces that simply aren’t actually said. I think the only thing I’m not entirely sure about is what ‘Light’ actually is. A god? A living embodiment of light? That’s the one bit left puzzling me, and I may have to do another watch of the story again with this particular question in the front of my mind to try and make a decision on it. Not that it’s any hardship to watch again - I’ve enjoyed these three episodes. I think it is a story which you need to be paying attention to, though, so that’s probably where I went wrong before.

Yesterday, I mused that this felt like the show regaining confidence again after the cancellation in the middle of the decade, and I’ve been thinking a lot about that overnight. I worry that I made it sound there like the programme has all of a sudden managed to pull itself up again suddenly, almost four whole seasons on. No, Doctor Who has been getting its confidence back again for some time now - having really lost it, I think, during Season Twenty-Four - and you only have to look at stories like Remembrance of the Daleks to see a programme every bit as good (and sometimes better than) it was in the 60s, 70s, and early 80s. I think what I mean is simply that Ghost Light is a great example of this; you can really see how well everything has been done, from the writing to the design to the direction. Show this to someone who dismisses the last few years of the programme as rubbish, and they’ll struggle to say it comes off any worse than some other areas of the show’s past. What we’re seeing here is a team working together at the height of their ability, and it’s creating a product which could rival the fabled Hinchcliffe years no trouble. It really is a shame that the seasons are so short in this period - because I’d love to see what they could do with a full twenty-six episode run, especially in regards to Ace’s character story.

The more I thought about this, the more I thought about the programme’s position in general. With Doctor Who up to about the hiatus in the mid-1980s, I can tell you when it was on - if not specifically to the minute, then generally. I know that the first eighteen seasons were on Saturday nights from about 5-ish. Then Peter Davison comes along and it switches to twice-weekly in an early evening mid-week slot, bouncing around the various days over the course of three years. Once Colin Baker takes up residence in the TARDIS, we’re back to Saturday nights, at a slightly later time than before. Fine, that’s all the detail I need to have enough context for the show at those stages. I realised, though, that I didn’t know much about how or when the McCoy era was broadcast. Obviously, I knew that it was pitted against Coronation Street at the time - the ratings giant of British TV - but I realised that I didn’t really know what this meant. A quick look at the recently digitised Radio Times archive tells me that it was a little after 7:30 on a Wednesday evening that the programme aired at this point in its life… which isn’t the slot the programme is being made for at all.

I tried explaining this to a friend this morning, and he couldn’t get his head around what I was trying to say. There’s a high likelihood that I was simply doing an appealing job of making my point, but I’ll try again here. The programme in Seasons Twenty-Five and Twenty-Six doesn’t feel like the type of show you’d sit and watch on a Wednesday evening. The tone is all wrong. Now, I don’t think it’s being made for a Saturday evening, either. To me, it feels more like the type of show you’d air on a Sunday, late afternoon. Is this me just being incredibly strange, or do people know what I mean? Please leave a comment to let me know if I’m mad. I’ve often seen it said that the programme did well to survive for three years, sustaining fairly decent ratings considering that it was up against the big ratings hitter, but I think I’m more impressed that it’s managed to survive in this time slot at all, because it doesn’t feel right for the show in general, and the show at this point isn’t right for it!

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