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Doctor Who: Ghost Light (Story 157)
Doctor Who Ghost Light
Story 157
Actors: Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred
Director: Alan Wareing
Genres: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Television, Cult Movies
NR     2005     1hr 11min

London, 1983. An old house mysteriously burns to the ground. One hundred years earlier, the Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and Ace arrive at a sinister mansion, where they discover that Ace's past and the house's future are inex...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred
Director: Alan Wareing
Genres: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Television, Cult Movies
Sub-Genres: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Science Fiction, Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Studio: BBC Video / Warner Bros.
Format: DVD - Color - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 06/07/2005
Release Year: 2005
Run Time: 1hr 11min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 8
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Dr Who at its most complex.
G.Spider | 03/17/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This adventure reminds me of a good painting - no matter how many times you see it you always find something new.Possibly the most densely-plotted Dr Who story ever written, virtually every word has some deeper meaning or significiance. The Doctor/Ace double-act was one of the strongest Doctor/companion teams ever in the series - what other Doctor would take his companion back in time to make her face her worst nightmare? In this case it's a Victorian mansion which will one day become the haunted house Ace entered as a teenager. The sets are lavish and look like they were made for a high-budget period drama, the music is superbly brooding and the dialogue is powerful. With its themes on evolution, its gritty realism and its well-written characters, this is up there with the best of the '70s Tom Baker and Jon Pertwee stories."
Thomas E. O'Sullivan | Knoxville, Maryland United States | 06/08/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Although broadcast order places SURVIVAL as the final DOCTOR WHO story - it's really GHOST LIGHT that takes the final bow. While SURVIVAL ends with a more upbeat and open ended ending - it's GHOST LIGHT that really helps to tie up some loose ends, character development (Ace comes full circle here) and opens a lot more doors for the future. GHOST LIGHT is a great story - but within the WHO community there is a great divide between those that love the story and those that hate the story. I fall somehwere in the middle, but with a strong bias towards the "love" side of the arguement. Yes, there are problems with the story. What happens, why, how and to who and what for are often muddled. The story draws deep water on its Victorian roots, yet manages to whip around around the place like a over sugared two year old on skates - things just happen because they happen, with no real clear reason as to why. And by the end of the story we're not so much left with an actual ending as a musing, a personal discovery. So, if you're looking for this story to follow the same path as previous DOCTOR WHO stories and have it simply handed to you... move on. But, if you're looking for atmosphere, tension, suspense, chills and ideas - then GHOST LIGHT is unlike many DOCTOR WHO stories that have come before it. Running only three episodes, it's too short for all the material there, yet just long enough for it never to get too tired or simply run dry before the end (a common problem in DOCTOR WHO stories). There just isn't enough time for the standard padding to fill it out... it just rolls on, taking you along for the ride. It's confusing. It's thought provoking. It's a cheat. It's a riddle. It's GHOST LIGHT, and it's one of the best the series ever produced.

The DVD is outfitted with all the bells and whistles we've come to expect from the series. There is commentary and while solid, never rises to a boiling point (much of the conversation is taken up by the writer - Marc Platt - explaining the story, what was both onscreen and what had been cut, or never made it onto film). But there are some fun moments, and one glaring error as Sylvester McCoy is not present. Sophie Aldred does tell us that this is the story McCoy loved the most, so it's a disappointment he could not be on hand to share his thoughts. Missing scenes add to the story and the highlight (for me at least) was SHOOTING GHOSTS a "as it happened" look at filming. Here we get to see everything happen at once... direction, actions, actors working on lines, marks, stopping and starting, laughs, mistakes, and everyone trying to beat the clock and get the day done. An excellent feature.

If you're a fan of DOCTOR WHO then GHOST LIGHT is a must... if not for the story, then as history marking the end of the original series. A great story, excellent performances and a well put together DVD. Highly recommended."
"Never mind. I'll have him completely bewildered by the time
Crazy Fox | Chicago, IL USA | 09/10/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)

"One of the fun things about "Doctor Who" is you never know where or when you'll end up next. Right from the start, the show's basic premise delightfully freed writers from the constraining laws of time and space, and that's as true of "Ghost Light" as it was before and (thankfully now) since. The laws of basic storytelling are another matter entirely, however. Adaptable as they are in style and fashion, they remain ironclad and immutable in substance no matter whether it's 1969 or 1989, regardless of whether the Doctor finds himself gallivanting about right here on Earth or on a distant planet, in the forgotten past or the unforeseen future--or, as the case may be, rural England in 1883. The writer and (more importantly) the script editor of "Ghost Light" blithely ignore all this, I'm afraid, whether from sheer laziness or a misplaced sense of what constitutes cutting-edge creativity I'm not quite certain, though I suspect the latter. In any case, the storyline (if I may call it that) suffers as a result, and what might potentially have been a great Doctor Who adventure winds up instead an unsatisfying muddled mess, a rough draft masquerading as a finished product.

What makes this story so confusing? Lots of things, probably, but the key fault seems to be that the many different characters and their interrelationships are never clarified properly and so the overall significance of their words and actions remains almost utterly opaque to the viewer even as the final credits start rolling. Some mystery is good at the beginning, even preferable of course, but gradually the Doctor should unravel that mystery for himself (which he does, apparently) AND for the viewer, if by no other means then by the tried-and-true method of having him explain matters to the viewer's proxy, the Doctor's human traveling companion. Yes, borderline sexist or not, "Ghost Light" cries out like a banshee for one of those paternalistic moments when the companion looks confused and the Doctor kindly starts in "well, you see, Jo..." (or Ace, as the case may be)--these can be done quite well, too, actually, as we've already seen in another storyline from the McCoy era, "Remembrance of the Daleks", and that was for classic arch-enemies whom only the newest viewer would be unfamiliar with while all of the characters in our storyline here (quite a few at that, oh dear) are prior unknowns requiring some level of exposition at least. An attentive script editor would've made sure such exposition was forthcoming as well as probably advising against a dull defused climax in which the Doctor stops the obsessive-compulsive Light from wiping out all life on earth by basically just talking him out of it. Our hypothetical attentive script editor might also have taken our fledgling writer aside and kindly clued him in that assassinating Queen Victoria (as per Josiah's evil scheme) would not have ipso facto overthrown the British government: the royals have this whole bloodline succession thing so that when one dies another promptly fills the role, y'know, and anyway there's still the Prime Minister and Parliament and all.

So is "Ghost Light" a total flop? Not entirely. Perhaps its most redeeming feature is the set design and costuming. Leave it to the BBC to get this down to a tee, but everything is wonderfully authentic and historically accurate so that you do really feel like all this sound and fury signifying whatever is sure enough transpiring in the Victorian era. The controversy surrounding Darwin's theories of evolution and natural selection are part and parcel of this Victorian ambiance and yet are thoroughly integrated into the excuse for a plot in sophisticated and clever ways, most especially linking up with the inorganically alien Light's job stress and accompanying motivation to bring some stability and order to Earth's ever burgeoning profusion of lifeforms by wiping them all out (this by the way is probably one of the most uniquely weirdest and morbidly comical motivations for a "villain" in television history). Sylvester McCoy takes a befuddled script and makes the most of it, doing a fine job as the Doctor and still showing an immense talent for convincingly shifting from goofy to serious in a double-heartbeat in ways that almost send a chill down your spine. A perfect showcase for this occurs when Ace realizes the Doctor has kindly surprised her by taking her back to the past of a house that was her worst nightmare (kind of unsettling behavior on his part), and she asks him bitterly if there aren't things he hates: watch as he replies first with such silly offhand things as burnt toast and bus stations and then adds unrequited love, tyranny, and cruelty to the list with such utter conviction that it's like he's feeling these awful things deep down in his bones even as he utters them. A dramatically brilliant moment almost buried in the very undramatic and unbrilliant clutter around it.

Finally, "Ghost Light" is somewhat important in terms of the show's historical development as a whole, focusing much as it does on the character and the past of the Doctor's human traveling companion, Ace. This was quite rather unusual and unprecedented at the time and was remarked as such, whereas with "Doctor Who" today it's a definite and prominent aspect of the show's format, especially with Rose and her circle of family and friends. In hindsight we can see this storyline as a transitional one in that regard. That said, any attempt to therefore use it to get young fans of only the new series interested in classic Who would be sorely misguided and would doubtlessly backfire. No, this one's mainly for "Doctor Who" DVD collectors every bit as obsessively completist as the Light and of course for diehard fans (such as myself, admittedly) who love this show even when it totally drops the ball."
Not really as creepy as it should be but...
Douglas Ratcliff | Madison, WI United States | 05/28/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"It seems odd to me that I never saw this story during the PBS run so it is a real treat to buy and watch a Doctor Who DVD from the later years that I haven't seen.

The biggest critique for me is the music overwhelms the dialog at several points, same as in Fenric. But getting past that the story does suffer from not enough exposition of the bad guys. Often times, one deosn't require much exposition but just enough to know what they are.

I had no real idea of who or what Josiah was, I kind of got he was evolving from the reference to his husks. And Control, I thought Control was the ship's computer. Still, even with the confusion over the narrative, all the performances are fun to watch. Esp. Michael Cochrane as a confused explorer sort (no wonder he's confused, considering the story he's been written into).

I think the big thing that makes the story suffer is in 1989 they didn't have the special effects to make the Angel of Light creepy enough. What's here is fairly creepy but never quite reaches chilling except for in the deleted scenes.

I never really enjoyed Sophie Aldred as the street smart companion, as people who are street smart tend to annoy me, but in this story she is much better and she doesn't wear that horrid bomber jacket, I believe it has one scene and it is draped over a chair.

Sylvester McCoy, I always enjoy his performance. I think he's probably the best Doctor since Tom Baker. But again, in spite of his performance, there seems to be something missing of his character from this story.

I still think it is worth it for the Doctor Who fan (especially one who missed the original airing) but the casual fan may be left with cold feeling and probably rightly so."