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Audio Book Review


Doctor Who
Ghost Light


Author: Marc Platt
Read by: Ian Hogg
RRP: £13.25, US $34.95
ISBN: 978 1 4084 6829 6
Available 02 June 2011

Perivale, 1983: a column of smoke rises from the blazing ruins of a forgotten, decaying mansion. Perivale, 1883: in the sleepy village of Greenford Parva, Gabriel Chase is by far the most imposing edifice. The villagers shun the grim house, but the owner, the reclusive and controversial naturalist Josiah Samuel Smith, receives occasional visitors. The Reverend Ernest Matthews, for instance, Dean of Mortarhouse College, has travelled from Oxford to refute Smith’s blasphemous theories of evolution. In a deserted room upstairs, the Doctor and Ace venture from the TARDIS to explore the decaying mansion... Who - or what - is Josiah Smith? What terrible secret does his house conceal? Why does Ace find everything so frighteningly familiar...?

If ever a Doctor Who serial needed a good novelisation, it is Ghost Light. Explanations regarding the precise relationship between the strange, alien characters of Josiah Samuel Smith, Control and Light had been whittled away from Marc Platt’s vastly over-long television script before the production had even got into the studio. Scenes were further truncated during the editing of the recorded footage, and some dialogue was drowned out in the sound mix, making this one of the most challenging Who stories to comprehend. Fortunately the novelisation, penned by Platt himself and published by Target Books in 1990, is very good indeed.

The author reinstates scenes and lines that had been omitted from the BBC1 production (many of which can be seen among the deleted scenes on the serial’s DVD release), but his contribution doesn’t end there. He also adds new sequences, including a completely original opening chapter comprising a flashback to a younger Ace in 1983 and a scene set aboard the TARDIS before it lands, and explores the minds of all the many and intriguing characters, including Ace, Josiah, Mrs Pritchard, Gwendoline, Redvers Fenn-Cooper, Nimrod, Control, Light, and even the Doctor. It also helps enormously that there are no problems here deciphering what each character is saying, especially in the case of the unevolved form of Control, whose modulated tones suffered worst of all on television. One thing that still isn’t entirely clear is the significance of Control’s name (only the special features on the DVD explain that she is an experimental control), though there are hints of this fact too. Platt elaborates on his story to such an extent that it takes Ian Hogg, who played Josiah on screen, six whole hours to read the novelisation for this unabridged audio book.

Hogg doesn’t really go in for imitations of the serial’s cast. Instead, he distinguishes the various characters’ voices in his own way, without reference to the performances of the actors who played them on screen. Consequently, Hogg’s Seventh Doctor sounds suitably wise and enigmatic, but with no trace of Sylvester McCoy’s Scottish lilt (which other narrators tend to overdo anyway). In this reading, Inspector Mackenzie, rather than the Doctor, is Scottish, perhaps inspired by the character’s name, while Ace sounds Cockney. The character who sounds the most like his television counterpart (even more so than Josiah himself) is Redvers, though this coincidence is most likely an indication of how splendidly well cast Michael Cochrane was in the role, rather than Hogg doing an impersonation.

Do set aside plenty of time to listen to this talking book - as I said, it does go on for six hours. However, sound designer Simon Power augments the reading with dramatic sound effects and music cues, some of which are not dissimilar to those of the original serial.

Freed from the cage of its television format, Ghost Light has evolved very nicely.


Richard McGinlay

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