I remember thinking, at the time that it went out, that Ghost Light is yet another of those “clever” stories that are so far up themselves that they make no sense to anyone except the smartarse who wrote it. I’ve always hated the Cartmellian School of Fanwankery as epitomised by bollocks like Lungbarrow, so this was a Fan Edit I put off for as long as possible. With only a dozen or so Classic edits to go, I’d left it as long as I could before I finally tackled this one, but luckily I managed to hit upon a way of doing it that might be fun to do and help it make more sense than it did when it went out.
To be fair to writer Marc Platt, the one responsible for this most impenetrable of stories, the Script Book does make things a bit clearer by including some of the material that was cut. But that doesn’t excuse his shockingly poor plotting and inability to make clear to the viewer what’s going on, you don’t get any kudos for being so clever that you just confuse the shit out of everyone watching. The fact that nearly a whole episode’s worth of material got excised before transmission is no excuse either. If all the bits that explain the plot are the bits that get cut then that tells me that, structurally, there’s something seriously wrong with the script, and there is. Once again we get a story that explores a theme, in this case the theory of evolution, which is nothing more than an old Greek idea that was popularised by Darwin, instead of building a plot to explore that theme. This isn’t drama, this is a writer thinking out loud about his subject so no wonder it’s as bad as it is.
So how to try and improve on this one? One thing I knew for sure was that this wasn’t going to be the usual cut down affair. Like Fenric before it, the story suffers from being far too tightly edited, which is Cartmel and Platt’s fault for having a set of scripts that were far too long and not the right length for the transmission slot, so, if anything, this was going to be an edit where material was put back in rather than taken out.
As for what style to do the edit in, my original idea was to do this as a silent movie, something I’ve not yet done. However, once I’d started it soon became clear that the sheer amount of work involved in captioning all that dialogue meant that a silent movie edit was going to be a helluva lot of effort for very little gain. And so I went with the only other realistic option – to reinstate everything that was cut.
And so this is the first Whoflix Fan Edit without a single cut. All I’ve done is reinstate all the extra material that’s on the Extended/Deleted extra on the DVD. At least with all the footage reinstated, there’s a chance that the damn thing will a least make a bit more sense than the transmission version – whether it does or not is up to you!
The first step was to compile all the TX footage together, then create a set of “silent movie” style opening and closing caption cards, and then finally to insert all the extended/deleted footage from the DVD and knock up some closing credits. Reinstating the footage was complicated by the fact that some of the shots had the timecode at the top of the screen, meaning I had to zoom in on the picture to get rid of it but since I was going to treat the finished picture anyway that wasn’t an issue.
All the extra material fitted in with few real problems apart from the usual audio challenges when it came to covering the transition from one version to the other. In terms of visuals, there were a few places where I had to adjust the Brightness & Contrast of the TX section to match the DVD material.
Another section that required some ingenuity on my part was “chapter 14” which has Gwendoline attacking Ace. Since that shot carries on where the TX version left off I had to swap the order of the shots so that Ace has her freakout, we cut to Light, then back to Ace and then to Inspector McKenzie. Adding in all the extra footage took the running time up to just under an hour and a quarter, which means there was almost enough material for four episodes, never mind three. Perhaps that goes part way to explaining why the damn thing was so confusing to watch back in 1989 when you only had one chance to catch on to what the hell was going on back in those days of PSP TV [Pre-Sky Plus].
The final thing to do was to treat the footage with an “old film” effect and adjust the brightness and contrast so the picture wasn’t too murky. After all those years of overlit sets, like Seabase Four, it’s a treat to get a story where someone has rediscovered the virtue of turning the bloody lights down. Though maybe they turned them down a little too much in some places, full marks to lighting guy Henry Barber. When it came to music, I used a cue from Vampire Circus to get us into the opening scenes and the first half of The Majestic Tale of An Idiot With A Box from the series eight soundtrack to close things.
Coming back to this after all these years, my opinion of the story hasn’t improved much, I still think it’s far too “clever” for it’s own good. It’s like a grande guignol stage play but without any sympathetic characters to care about when they get dispatched. Yes, there are lots of creepy Addams Family type goings on but the whole thing has an air of “so what?” about it that makes it hard to care about any of the characters, since none of them are particularly likeable.
That said, the cast are all good, with the only mist-step being John Hallam’s “light” and airy voice for Light, which just comes across as silly and reduces him substantially as a threat, so we’ll assume he was directed to do that. Casting an actor famous for playing the villainous Squire in The Mallen Streak as well as being Dirty Den’s cell mate, is a damn good idea. But to then have him play Light so “lightly”, apart from a few fleeting moments of vocal menace, was the wrong acting choice to make and I doubt it was Hallam who made it.
Speaking of menace, “Ghost Light” as a title doesn’t have any, it’s another one of those crap titles that tells you nothing about the story you’re about to watch. Okay, so it’s about the “ghosts” of the past in the creepy house Ace will visit in the future but I prefer the much more melodramatic and silent movie type title of The Ghosts of Gabriel Chase instead. Mwahahaha!