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The Doctor in Gabriel Chase Serial 7Q:
Ghost Light

Working Titles: The Bestiary, Life-Cycle.

Starring: Sylvester McCoy (The Seventh Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace).

Plot
The Doctor takes Ace back to 1883, to a house called Gabriel Chase she would burn down a century later after sensing a lingering presence of evil within. In the 19th century, Gabriel Chase is the home of amateur scientist Josiah Smith, who is conducting research into evolution against the wishes of the Church. But there is far more to Smith than meets the eye: he is in fact an alien who has spent millennia adapting to humanity, and now intends to assassinate Queen Victoria and take over the British throne. Meanwhile, buried in the basement is Smith's former master, a powerful alien being who intends to halt all evolution on Earth. And the Doctor has inadvertently awakened him.

Production
Marc Platt had been a fan of Doctor Who for, and had been attempting to secure a commission from the production office since the mid-Seventies. Around 1976, Platt submitted an idea for a story set on Gallifrey called Fires Of The Starmind. Although this was rejected by then-script editor Robert Holmes (who already had his own Time Lord story, The Deadly Assassin, in the pipeline), Holmes felt that Platt showed a lot of promise. Encouraged, Platt maintained periodic contact with the production office, and in late 1980 had discussions about several concepts with Christopher H Bidmead shortly before the end of Bidmead's time as Doctor Who's script editor. Platt then collaborated with Doctor Who historian J Jeremy Bentham on a story called Warmongers featuring a conflict between the Sontarans and the Rutans during the Blitz. This was rejected by script editor Eric Saward, as was a 1984 Platt storyline, Cat's Cradle.

Cat's Cradle was a complex adventure in which the TARDIS turned into a bizarre landscape across which time flowed in bizarre patterns. When Saward was replaced by Andrew Cartmel, Platt submitted the storyline again. Cartmel liked it very much, but thought it far too ambitious for Doctor Who's humble budget. He agreed to meet with Platt, though, and from this -- as well as discussions with another potential Who writer, Ben Aaronovitch -- Platt developed two new ideas. One, inspired by the Leo Tolstoy's 1869 novel War And Peace, was titled Shrine and concerned aliens searching for their reincarnated God-King in 1820 Russia. The other was called Lungbarrow, and featured the Doctor returning to his ancestral home on Gallifrey -- the Lungbarrow of the title. There, he would face his deepest fears by confronting his strange cousins.

Lungbarrow hewed very closely to Cartmel's desire to make the Doctor's background more mysterious, but producer John Nathan-Turner feared that it also revealed too much of the character's origins. Nonetheless, Cartmel thought that the basic ideas of the storyline -- the Gothic mansion setting, the oddball characters and the theme of facing one's fears -- held considerable promise. Platt agreed to rework Lungbarrow, and together he and Cartmel devised the idea of making evolution a central theme of the adventure. They also decided that the story should feature Ace, rather than the Doctor, dealing with her fears. Platt gave the new adventure the title The Bestiary, but Nathan-Turner disliked this and asked him to change it. After being briefly referred to as Not The Bestiary, the scripts had gained the working title Life-Cycle by the time they were commissioned on November 16th, 1988.

By May 1989, the serial had gained its final title of Ghost Light. For a time, it was thought the adventure would air third in the season, after Battlefield and The Curse Of Fenric, but it was later decided to position it between the two action-oriented serials. The scripts continued to evolve, with Platt drawing on some background Aaronovitch had created for Ace while writing the novelisation of his Remembrance Of The Daleks, specifically the firebombing of her friend Manisha's apartment. During the early stages of his development, Light was silent and had wings (which he used to smother the maid in episode three); the latter element was abandoned due to concerns that they could not be effectively realised. Nathan-Turner asked Platt to include a standard monster element in the serial, and so Platt devised the husks in the basement, representing Josiah's earlier evolutionary forms. Originally, there was to have been three husks, with a fish-man joining the insectoid and reptilian versions. Their faces were also intended to incorporate echoes of Josiah's human features, but these details were essentially lost.

Platt drew from several Victorian literary sources in writing Ghost Light, particularly as inspiration for his characters. Control's evolution into a "ladylike" was a sped-up version of Eliza Doolittle's transformation in the George Bernard Shaw play Pygmalion (1913). Mrs Grose was a lift from the character of the same name in another haunted house story, Henry James' 1898 novel The Turn Of The Screw. Gwendoline was originally called Maud, after the character Maud Ruthyn in the 1864 Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu novel Uncle Silas; the name had to be changed due to a BBC adaptation of the book (as The Dark Angel) set to air around the same time. Redvers Fenn-Cooper was based on H Rider Haggard's classic adventure character Allan Quatermain, who debuted in King Solomon's Mines (1885).

As with the previous two years, the final six episodes of Season Twenty-Six were divided into two three-part stories, made by the same production team. One was all-studio and the other made entirely on location; Ghost Light was the year's studio entry, and was directed by Alan Wareing immediately after he completed work on the season's location-only serial, Survival. Indeed, Ghost Light's lone piece of location work -- the establishing shots of the mansion, Gabriel Chase -- was carried out at Weymouth in Dorset on June 21st, toward the end of production on Survival.

Studio work was split up between two blocks, one lasting two days and beginning on Tuesday, July 18th, while the other stretched over three days and started a fortnight later on August 1st. One key scene from part three was not completed due to time constraints, and featured Mackenzie encountering the night maids and Mrs Pritchard as they prepare to leave, whereupon one of the maids chases him with a machete. This explains why he is hurrying and muttering about Gabriel Chase being "a mad house" just prior to his death at Light's hands. Work on Ghost Light, and on Season Twenty-Six as a whole, concluded on August 3rd. Several more scenes were cut or trimmed in post-production due to the serial running overlength. These included Nimrod resigning his position, Light preventing Mackenzie from leaving Gabriel Chase by causing the door to become bolted, and material expanding on the spy devices Josiah has secreted in the upper observatory where the TARDIS materialises.

By the time Ghost Light began airing in October, it was already clear that Doctor Who was in trouble. Its viewing figures had been low ever since the 1985-86 hiatus between Seasons Twenty-Two and Twenty-Three, and although there had been some signs of improvement the previous year, Battlefield's ratings had sunk almost without a trace. Ghost Light was not much better. The BBC held a second press launch to promote the final two serials of the season and the situation did improve somewhat. But the damage had already been done. In the November 25th edition of the Radio Times, Head of Serials Peter Cregeen confirmed that fans could expect a longer-than-usual wait before Season Twenty-Seven, though he promised that Doctor Who would return. Despite these assurances, Doctor Who has yet to reappear as an ongoing series.

Consequently, Ghost Light marked the final regular participation in the programmes for a number of people. Wareing has continued to direct, with work including Ghoul-Lashed (alongside Sylvester McCoy). Platt had two stories under consideration for Season Twenty-Seven. One featured the Ice Warriors terraforming Mars. The other (which appears to have been the stronger candidate) was set in the 1960s and would have introduced a new semi-regular character (an ex-gangland boss) to the series. Regardless of which plot was ultimately selected, the four-part entry would almost certainly have ended with Ace's departure, as Sophie Aldred was contracted only for the first eight episodes of the 1990 season. The idea being considered by Cartmel, Platt and Aaronovitch was to have the Doctor leave Ace on Gallifrey to be enrolled in the Time Lord Academy. Platt was also being considered to replace Cartmel once the latter stepped down as Doctor Who's script editor. Platt has continued his involvement with Doctor Who, writing three novels for Virgin Publishing's New and Missing Adventures ranges. Two of these -- Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible and Lungbarrow -- were inspired by Platt's rejected script proposals of the same titles; the other, Downtime, was based on a direct-to-video production featuring several Doctor Who characters. More recently, Platt wrote Loups-Garoux for the Big Finish line of Doctor Who audio plays.

It is not clear whether or not Andrew Cartmel would have continued as Doctor Who's script editor for its twenty-seventh season. Following the completion of Season Twenty-Six, Cartmel worked on the drama series Casualty for a year and then left television to write for various computer-related magazines. Cartmel wrote three novels in the New Adventures series -- Cat's Cradle: Warhead, Warlock and Warchild -- and also penned Winter For The Adept for Big Finish Productions. Despite his protestations to the contrary, Nathan-Turner likely would have been forced to remain on Doctor Who for Season Twenty-Seven. He finally left the BBC on August 31st, 1990, but maintained his relationship with Doctor Who for several years thereafter, producing several special video releases, and producing and cowriting the thirtieth anniversary special Dimensions In Time in 1993.

Sophie Aldred has continued to act, both in television (concentrating on children's programming) and in the theatre. She returned to play Ace in Dimensions In Time, in several Big Finish releases, and in the 2001 BBC Online audio adventure Death Comes To Time. With visual effects designer Mike Tucker, Aldred recounted her time on Doctor Who in the 1996 book Ace!. McCoy had considered leaving Doctor Who after Season Twenty-Six, but was persuaded to remain for one more year; it is likely that Season Twenty-Seven would have been his last, however. Like Aldred, McCoy still works prolifically on stage and screen, and returned to play the Doctor in Dimensions In Time, Death Comes To Time, and various Big Finish releases. McCoy also maintained for years after the end of production on Ghost Light that he was eager to finish his tenure as the Doctor "properly", by recording a regeneration scene and handing things over to an Eighth Doctor. Though the wait would be considerable, his wish would finally be granted...

Details
Original Transmission Details
Episode Date Time Duration Viewers Audience App.
1 4th October 1989 7.34pm 24'17" 4.2m (94th) 68%
2 11th October 1989 7.34pm 24'18" 4.0m (93rd) 68%
3 18th October 1989 7.35pm 24'17" 4.0m (104th) 64%

Principal Crew
Producer John Nathan-Turner
Script Editor Andrew Cartmel
Writer Marc Platt
Director Alan Wareing
Designer Nick Somerville
Costume Ken Trew
Incidental Music Mark Ayres

Principal Guest Cast: Michael Cochrane (Redvers Fenn-Cooper), Sharon Duce (Control), Carl Forgione (Nimrod), John Hallam (Light), Ian Hogg (Josiah), Brenda Kempner (Mrs Grose), John Nettleton (Reverend Ernest Matthews), Katharine Schlesinger (Gwendoline), Sylvia Syms (Mrs Pritchard), Frank Windsor (Inspector Mackenzie).

Novelisation: Ghost Light by Marc Platt (book 149), September 1990; cover by Alister Pearson.

Video Release: Ghost Light, episodic format, May 1994; PAL (BBC Video cat.# 5344) and NTSC (Warners cat.# E1318) formats available; cover by Colin Howard.

Rankings: 29th (72.71%, Doctor Who Dynamic Rankings website, 22nd June 1999); 37th (75.27%, DWM 1997 Annual Survey).

Sources


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