Ghost Light (Doctor Who)

Ghost Light (Doctor Who)
153[1]Ghost Light
Doctor Who serial
Ghost Light (Doctor Who).jpg
The Doctor muses about the events of "Ghost Light."
Writer Marc Platt
Director Alan Wareing
Script editor Andrew Cartmel
Producer John Nathan-Turner
Executive producer(s) None
Production code 7Q
Series Season 26
Length 3 episodes, 25 minutes each
Originally broadcast October 4–October 18, 1989
← Preceded by Followed by →
Battlefield The Curse of Fenric

Ghost Light is a serial in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in three weekly parts from October 4 to October 18, 1989.



In 1883 the mansion house of Gabriel Chase in Perivale near London is under the control of the mysterious Josiah Samuel Smith, who has subjugated the occupants via some form of brainwashing. It is a most mysterious place, where the serving women brandish guns and the butler is a Neanderthal named Nimrod. Other occupants include Gwendoline, the daughter of the original owners of the house who have now disappeared; the calculating night housekeeper Mrs Pritchard; the crazed explorer Redvers Fenn-Cooper; and the Reverend Ernest Matthews, opponent of the theory of evolution which Smith has done much to spread. For his pains Matthews is transformed by Smith into an ape and placed in a display case.

The TARDIS arrives at Gabriel Chase. It turns out that Ace had visited the house in 1983 and had felt an evil presence, and the Seventh Doctor‘s curiosity drives him to seek the answers. Something is also alive and evolving in the cellar beneath the house and when Ace investigates she finds two animated and dangerous husks. The cellar is in fact a vast stone spaceship with something trapped inside. The Doctor, meanwhile, works his way through the stuffed animals in Gabriel Chase and eventually finds a human in suspended animation, an Inspector Mackenzie, who came to the house two years earlier in search of the owners. The Doctor revives him and together they seek to unlock the mysteries of Gabriel Chase. He also encounters the evolving creature from the cellar, known as Control, which has now taken on human form. The Doctor helps it release the trapped creature from the cellar, a being known as Light who takes the form of an angel.

Thousands of years in the past, an alien spaceship came to Earth to catalogue all life on the planet. After completing its task and collecting some samples, which included the Neanderthal, the leader Light went into slumber. By 1881 the ship had returned to Earth. While Control remained imprisoned on the ship to serve as the "control" subject of the scientific investigation, events transpired such that Smith, the "survey agent", mutinied against Light, keeping him in hibernation on the ship. Smith began evolving into the era's dominant life-form—a Victorian gentleman—and also took over the house. By 1883, Smith, having "evolved" into forms approximating a human and casting off his old husks as an insect would, managed to lure and capture the explorer Fenn-Cooper within his den. Utilizing Fenn-Cooper's association with Queen Victoria, he plans to get close to her so that he can assassinate her and subsequently take control of the British Empire.

Light is displeased by all the change that has occurred on the planet while he was asleep. While Light tries to make sense of all the change, Smith tries to keep his plan intact, but events are moving beyond his control. Light turns Gwendoline and her missing mother, revealed to be Mrs Pritchard, to stone in a bid to stop the speed of evolution; while Inspector Mackenzie meets a sticky end and is turned into a primordial soup to serve at dinner. As Control tries to "evolve" into a Lady, and Ace tries to come to grips with her feelings about the house, the Doctor himself tries to keep the upper hand in all the events that have been set in motion. The Doctor finally convinces Light of the futility of opposing evolution, which causes him to overload and dissipate into the surrounding house. It was this presence that Ace sensed and which caused her to burn the house in 1983. Also, Control's complete evolution into a Lady derails Smith's plan as Fenn-Cooper, having freed himself from Smith's brainwashing, chooses to side with her instead of him. In the end, with Smith now the new Control creature imprisoned on the ship, Control, Fenn-Cooper and Nimrod set off in the alien ship to explore the universe.


Serial details by episode
Episode Broadcast date Run time Viewership
(in millions)
"Part One" 4 October 1989 (1989-10-04) 24:17 4.2
"Part Two" 11 October 1989 (1989-10-11) 24:18 4.0
"Part Three" 18 October 1989 (1989-10-18) 24:17 4.0


Working titles for this story included The Bestiary and Life-Cycle.[5] As revealed in the production notes for the DVD release, the story was renamed Das Haus der tausend Schrecken (The House of a Thousand Frights/Horrors) upon translation into German.

The story evolved out of an earlier, rejected script entitled Lungbarrow. It was to be set on Gallifrey in the Doctor's ancestral home and deal with the Doctor's past, but producer John Nathan-Turner felt that it revealed too much of the Doctor's origins. It was reworked to make both evolution and the idea of an ancient house central to the story. Marc Platt used elements of his original idea for his Virgin New Adventures novel Lungbarrow.[5]

The working script was heavily edited, with a number of explanatory scenes ultimately being omitted. The result is a plot that, unusually for Doctor Who, generally needs to be viewed several times to be understood. In particular, the function of Josiah and Control is never clearly explained. The plot is only fully explained in the DVD special feature "Light in Dark Places." Even the cast and director of the story were confused by the script, and made repeated calls to Marc Platt for explanations.

Platt includes several allusions and references to late 19th and early 20th century literature. Among the most notable, Mrs Grose is named after the housekeeper in Henry James' short story The Turn of the Screw (1898). Control's desire to be "proper ladylike" is reminiscent of Eliza Doolittle from George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion (1912), particularly as Ace has her repeat a presumably mis-remembered version of the "Rain in Spain" rhyme from the play to improve her speech, and at one point the Doctor refers to Ace as "Eliza". When Control threatens to burn the invitation to Buckingham Palace Josiah boasts that he is "a man of property", referencing the first volume of John Galsworthy's The Forsyte Saga. Redvers Fenn-Cooper makes several references to Joseph Conrad's novella Heart of Darkness (1902) and also one to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novel The Lost World (1912), claiming that he had seen giant lizards in a swamp in Africa and that Conan Doyle did not believe him. As the serial is set in 1883, it can be inferred that Fenn-Cooper's story becomes the inspiration for the fictional version of Conan Doyle's novel. There is no indication that Fenn-Cooper is quoting from or referring directly to the "later" works themselves. There are also many references to Lewis Carroll's Alice. Gwendolyn calls Ace Alice, the Doctors refers to the elevator ride as "[down] the rabbit hole" and when he tells Light that not all forms of life are catalogued he starts naming imaginary creatures such as dragons and griffins, and then goes on to mention "the bandersnatchers, the slithy toves".

In the dinner scene, the Doctor asks rhetorically, "Who was it said Earthmen never invite their ancestors round to dinner?" This refers to Douglas Adams'[6] The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy – Adams had worked as a script editor on Doctor Who for one season of Fourth Doctor episodes, and wrote or co-wrote three stories in which he got away with several references to his other works. The Doctor makes a reference to the Fourth Doctor serial The Talons of Weng Chiang, which also took place in Victorian England, and quotes the Beatles ("It's been a hard day's night").


  • Ghost Light was the last serial of the series ever produced, with the last recorded sequence being the final scene between Mrs Pritchard and Gwendoline. It was not, however, the last to be screened — both The Curse of Fenric and Survival, produced beforehand, followed it in transmission order.
  • This story is the first in what some have termed the "Ace Trilogy", a three-story arc that explores the turbulent personal history of the Doctor's companion, Ace. Such detailed exploration of a companion's earlier life was unusual in the original series, although it has become one of the main features of the new series. These three stories also linked to some extent by the concept of evolution, which features strongly in this story and Survival, and to a much lesser extent in The Curse of Fenric.

In print

A novelisation of this serial, written by Marc Platt, was published by Target Books in September 1990.

Doctor Who book
Book cover
Ghost Light
Series Target novelisations
Release number 149
Writer Marc Platt
Publisher Target Books
Cover artist Alister Pearson
ISBN 0-426-20351-8
Release date 20 September 1990
Preceded by '
Followed by '

VHS, DVD and CD releases

  • This story was released on VHS in May 1994.
  • A DVD release followed in September 2004, with many extended and deleted scenes included as bonus features. However, unlike the situation with The Curse of Fenric, these scenes no longer existed in broadcast quality and were sourced from VHS copies, some with burned-in on-screen timecodes. This made an extended edit, as had been prepared for the Fenric DVD release the previous year, impossible.

Soundtrack release

Doctor Who: Ghost Light
Soundtrack album by Mark Ayres
Released 1993
Genre Soundtrack
Length 51:34
Label Silva Screen
Mark Ayres chronology
Doctor Who: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy
Doctor Who: Ghost Light
Shakedown: Return of the Sontarans
Doctor Who soundtrack chronology
Doctor Who: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy
Doctor Who: Ghost Light Doctor Who - Pyramids of Mars

The soundtrack album for this serial was released on Silva Screen Records in 1993 [7] [8] [9]

Track listing

  1. The Madhouse
  2. Goobledorf
  3. Uncharted Territory
  4. Heart of the Interior
  5. Enter Josiah
  6. Indoor Lightning
  7. Nimrod Observed
  8. Time to Emerge
  9. Burnt Toast
  10. Ace's Adventures Underground
  11. Where is Mamma?
  12. Loss of Control
  13. The Way to the Zoo
  14. The Memory Teller
  15. Lighting the Touchpaper
  16. Homo Victorianus Ineptus
  17. Out of the Shadows
  18. Light Enlightened
  19. Tropic of Perivale
  20. Tricks of the LIght
  21. Judgement in Stone
  22. Requiem
  23. Passing Thoughts


  1. ^ From the Doctor Who Magazine series overview, in issue 407 (pp26-29). The Discontinuity Guide, which counts the four segments of The Trial of a Time Lord as four separate stories and also counts the unbroadcast serial Shada, lists this story as number 157. Region 1 DVD releases follow The Discontinuity Guide numbering system.
  2. ^ Shaun Lyon et al. (2007-03-31). "Ghost Light". Outpost Gallifrey. Archived from the original on 2008-05-12. Retrieved 2008-08-30. 
  3. ^ "Ghost Light". Doctor Who Reference Guide. Retrieved 2008-08-30. 
  4. ^ Sullivan, Shannon (2007-08-07). "Ghost Light". A Brief History of Time Travel. Retrieved 2008-08-30. 
  5. ^ a b Ghost Light at Doctor Who: A Brief History Of Time (Travel)
  6. ^ Cornell, Paul; Day, Martin; Topping, Keith (1995). "157 'Ghost Light'". Doctor Who: The Discontinuity Guide. London: Doctor Who Books. pp. 351–2. ISBN 0 426 20442 5. 
  7. ^ (1993) Album notes for Doctor Who: Ghost Light [CD Booklet]. Silva Screen (FILMCD 133).
  8. ^ Ayres, Mark. "Mark Ayres - Doctor Who Incidental Music". Retrieved 2008-10-05. [dead link]
  9. ^ "Millenium Effect". Retrieved 2008-10-05. 

External links


Target novelisation

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