Synopsis: When the Doctor sets an initiative test, Ace is initially suspicious and then alarmed to discover it involves a spooky old house. It contains a menagerie of strange creatures, a crazed explorer, a lost policeman and a ruthlessly ambitious man who appears to be evolving into… what? Worst of all, the house is in Perivale – the exact same one that emotionally scarred Ace all those years ago…
- 1 Tropic of Perivale
- 2 Gabriel Chase
- 3 Uncharted Territory
- 4 Gaslight Boogie
- 5 Josiah’s Web
- 6 That’s the Way to the Zoo
- 7 Ace’s Adventures Underground
- 8 Creature Comforts
- 9 Out of Control
- 10 Twice upon a Time
- 11 Trick of the Light
- 12 Beautiful Soup
Background: Marc Platt adapts his own scripts from the 1989 serial.
Notes: The first chapter presents Ace’s first steps into the derelict Gabriel Chase in 1983 when she was 13 (about a year earlier than Remembrance of the Daleks suggests, although here, Ace herself says she was 14). The house is near Western Avenue (also known as the A40, which becomes The Westway, where it passes within sight of BBC Television Centre, fact fans!) Ace’s friend’s full name was Manisha Purkayastha and her sister also survived the devastating fire. Ace was a fan of Michael Jackson when she was younger and her mum called her ‘Dory’. Back in Ace’s present day, aboard the TARDIS, she is now 17 years old. The Doctor is struggling to get accurate data from the TARDIS – and there’s an elegant description of his relationship with friends past and present:
Anyone who travelled in the TARDIS had a price to pay. However willingly any new companion walked through its doors, leaving their own world behind, and however determinedly they tried to assert control over the bizarre events in which the Doctor’s travels might embroil them, one fact was inescapable: throughout time and space their lives were in the Time Lord’s hands. Even the slickest of jugglers, however, could drop a skittle at one time or another.
…. Call him showman, conjuror, great detective, mentor or tormentor, his speciality was to juggle the past, the present and the possible. No one was safe from that; anyone could be a potential skittle.
The Doctor rarely bothered with a safety net either; he never considered he needed one. But he didn’t always ask the skittles.
The Reverend Ernest Matthews makes his final approach to Gabriel Chase via a dog-cart that he’s hired from Ealing Station. He is Dean of Mortarhouse College, Oxford (not Merton College as on TV). He has learned that Josiah Samuel Smith has endorsed the theories of Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace in papers written with ‘scant grasp of literary or scientific style, or even the basic rules of grammar’. While this is his primary concern, he is also worried about Smith’s ward, Gwendoline, after seeing them together at the Royal Opera House in London. As he approaches the front door of the house, he hears ‘the distant grating and wheezing of some large mechanical device’ and sees a flashing light in the observatory turret.
The Doctor heavily implies to Ace that he met Darwin during his voyage on the Beagle. He believes they should follow proper etiquette and leave the house so that they can knock on the front door and be invited in. According to Redvers Fenn-Cooper’s journal, the events take place across the nights of 19-20 September, 1883 – although as at least one entry for this was ‘written’ while he was in a strait-jacket, we might assume the journal itself is a delusion.
The weary, weather-beaten face that returned his stare belonged to a man apparently in his late thirties. He had a haggard look to him. His thick, fair hair was greying and ruffled and his jacket looked slept in. Along with his bushy moustache, he had several days growth of stubble and accompanying bags under his eyes. Even so, Ace decided there was something dashing about him, despite the spear and being at least twice her age.
Smith insists that the occupant of the cell in the basement is supplied with a copy of The Times every day as a form of mockery, aware that his prisoner cannot read and will use it to build a nest. The Doctor plays some boogie-woogie on the piano, but sensing the outrage from the Rev Matthews, he switches to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, which is interrupted by the arrival of Josiah, our first indication that it is not what it seems:
Its hair was white and long; its skin pale and leech-like. It wore a night-blue, velvet dinner-jacket and black, pebble-lensed spectacles that looked like tiny craters on its wizened, wicked face. As it groped its way into the halflight, grasping at the back of a chair for support, the Doctor saw that the creature’s clothes were covered in strands of cobwebs.
Prompted by Ace’s tuxedo, the Doctor asks if he ever took her to see Georges Sand or Vesta Tilley. He pretends to be appalled by Josiah’s offer of Five thousand pounds, as ‘a gentleman only ever pays in guineas!’ Ace uses the lift in the hope of returning to the attic floor of the house, but Mrs Pritchard has set the lift to go to the basement to delay the prisoner’s escape and remove the problem of Ace in one go. The tunnel leading to the basement chamber is covered in cave paintings.
Control is able to manipulate the empty husks of Josiah and Ace sees the creature inside the cell – a ‘half-lit shape covered in filthy rags’ – before Nimrod slams and bolts the door. Lady Pritchard’s first name is ‘Margaret’. Distressed at the sight of Control in her rags, Mrs Grose tells the Doctor she’ll be seeking employment elsewhere; the Doctor asks her to pass on his regards to ‘Peter Quint’ (the sinister but absent figure in Henry James’ The Turning of the Screw, which also features a domestic called Mrs Grose). Inspector Mackenzie witnesses ‘Lady Pritchard’, still dressed as a housekeeper, arranging the packing of a number of items away in trunks for despatch to the ‘lodgings in Whitmore Street’. Ace gives Control a book on etiquette, which she touches to her head and absorbs. Light tours the Earth to discover the total scale of evolution across the planet, where only the most basic bacteria in swamps remain unchanged.
Cover: Alister Pearson’s best cover ever, evoking the ‘window’ concepts used by Jeff Cummins, combining Gabriel Chase at night, Ace in her Victorian frock and the Doctor in close-up. Underneath the house are some symbols, which include the artist’s initials alongside those of then-Doctor Who Magazine reviewer Gary Russell.
Final Analysis: I just had to pull out this line:
‘Professor! What’s going on?’ She almost felt like crying she was so confused.
As with Ben Aaronovich’s Remembrance of the Daleks, Ghost Light benefits immensely from being transferred to the page. The dialogue is easier to understand for one thing and the reader has time to work out the intent behind most of Control’s slowly improving grasp of English. The shifting relationship between Control and Josiah – previously the Survey Agent – is spelled out just a little more as Light begins to understand the change that has come over his former servants.
One of the greatest disappointments of the final years of Doctor Who on TV is that Marc Platt only got one chance to write a story (he’s made up for it since with his novelisation of Ben Aaronovitch’s Battlefield, the novel Lungbarrow and some hugely popular audios for Big Finish). I’ve both praised and critiqued Terrance Dicks’ economical approach, and been dismissive of some of the more overwrought texts submitted to the range by first-time authors, but it’s genuinely surprising that this is Marc Platt’s debut novel – and the writing is exquisite. Here’s his introduction to Light:
Robed in liquid gold and silver, with skin shimmering, it had the noble and terrible beauty of a seraph, fallen to Earth from its place beside the Throne. It glided from the lift, energy humming from it like a generator and droning fiercely at any mortal it passed.
Slowly, the fans who grew up watching the series and reading the books are taking over and it’s rather exciting at this late stage to find a book where the writing excited me as much as David Whittaker’s did in Doctor Who and the Crusaders, published 25 years before.
One thought on “Chapter 149. Doctor Who – Ghost Light (1990)”
Hands down one of the best McCoy yarns and best of the novelisations. It’s a rich and exquisite book. It evokes the TV show and yet surpasses it in so many ways.
Excellent book and excellent cover!
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