Review: Doctor Who: Books: The Black Archive 6: Ghost Light

ghostightcoverBy Jonathan Dennis

Obverse Books, out 1 July

A critical look at the last story of the classic era*

*with rather a large number of footnotes**

**many of which are bad jokes

Miwk Books recently printed Tim Quinn and Dicky Howett’s autobiographies as a two-in-one book – whichever way you pick the book up, you get one or other’s tale, then once done, you turn it over and start again. Obverse have done something of the same trick with the latest Black Archive, although they’ve achieved it by having a very serious and properly analytical main text, and a set of footnotes that range from the funny to the seriously annoying.

After a scene-setting overview (which deals with the Lungbarrow origins and gets that element out of the way quickly, as well as a discussion of the change in the way story is presented on television), Dennis looks at how the characters in Ghost Light represent archetypes and are borrowings from early sources, all suitably amended to serve the narrative’s purpose. As ever with this range, no theory is too outlandish to be discussed, and there’s a great parallel drawn between Ghost Light and a certain 1975 movie (and it’s not Jaws!).

A discussion of the use of the haunted house trope in Doctor Who follows, and there’s a very good case made for one early story to be counted that I’d never have dreamed would qualify. Then comes an analysis of mesmerism, hypnosis and the heel/toe effect – if you don’t know what that is, then this chapter is illuminating, not least because it deals with Light’s powers.

Exactly what Java is (and the way in which the script is, at best, ambiguous on the subject) comes under discussion in the next short chapter, which posits theories about the story that I’m not sure totally work but are interesting to assess. That leads into the biggest topic: evolution, and exactly what Ghost Light is saying about it. This is a fascinating read and the place where the jokes in the footnotes become irritating to the extreme – particularly as there are some serious references as well, so you can’t ignore them altogether! Dennis wraps up with a suggestion as to why Ghost Light has held up so well…

You’ll certainly come away from this book with some new ways to look at Ghost Light – as well as at least one other story (oddly, its running order mirror in the classic series) – even if you’ll wonder why a red pen wasn’t exerted a bit more forcefully!

Verdict: Another strong analysis with interesting suggestions… and bad jokes. 8/10

Paul Simpson

Click here to order from Obverse Press

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