"Even I can't play this many games at once."
IN THIS ONE... Dinner at Gabriel Chase. Light finds Earth has changed since he finished his survey. Ace admits to arson.
REVIEW: I am in love with the above shot of Ace juxtaposed with the peacock behind her, where she is soon replaced by a homicidal Gwendoline, making the two girls equivalent in some way. And that equivalence is that both are guilty of crimes. Ace's is revealed in this scene, the burning of the old house a hundred years hence, sirens blaring in Ace's waking fever dream. Gwendoline's is sending people to "Java", including her own father. It's notable that the Doctor rejects Gwendoline for "enjoying it" too much, but embraces Ace's act of delinquency (a rare surprise for him), and forgives her. Ace has the decency to feel guilty, and while her conscience after the fact is admirable, it also comes with a fair amount of self-loathing, self-loathing the Doctor is trying to extinguish. He accepts her as a delinquent because he's one himself, possibly, but as with The Curse of Fenric, he's obviously making her face her guilt and fear so she can accept who she is, for that way lies... well, the series ends before we find out, though the plan was to have her enter Time Lord Academy (as a new kind of Time Lord, human, compassionate and a free-thinker?). Our past makes us who we are, and Ace must accept the things she did because they made her the person she is. That's at least in part of the crux of this story, as evidenced by Josiah falling when his former selves (the rungs of this evolutionary ladder) are blown up.
But while Ace's evolution from disturbed teen to well-rounded adult is what it's all about, it's brought out by a similarly-themed backdrop. One part is the conflict between Josiah and Control, which I can only describe as a war of the sexes, and to my mind, the evolution of the Western family. These characters first evolved from animal forms to human, and from human forms to increasingly more civilized (in Control's case, ladylike) attitudes. Control's evolution is later than Josiah's, so as women's emancipation was late in coming. When she bursts out of the house, she experiences a setback, returning to the house to hide from an empty world too big to understand. It's a world that isn't welcoming to women, so Control returns to the security and domesticity of the house, bickering with Josiah at dinner (where he talks only of politics) and eying the rugged Redvers instead. By the end, Control has taken literal control of her destiny and leads the crew of the stone ship towards new horizons, new surveys. Ultimately, the modern woman is still Ace, who will find herself in this house in 1983 and destroy its patrician foundations altogether.
The other conflict is, of course, the one between Light and change. Now, Light is probably the weakest element of the episode. An angel with a bouffant hairdo and a high-pitched voice, unfortunately reminding me of a similar character in the awful Star Trek episode "And the Children Shall Lead", he's pretty ineffectual. But I suppose he's meant to be. The idea that he's an angel works in the context of his representing religious dogma (i.e. Genesis), and a Garden of Eden frozen in time, where evolution is not possible. His fury at Gwendoline and her mother is because they dared adapt to their situation and change. And so it goes with all of Earth, his solution an apocalyptic firestorm to wipe all life from the planet to his catalog will be up to date for all time. The Doctor's counter-move is to list creatures from myth and legend not included in the survey, then turning Light's hatred of change on him, since he is unchanging too, and make him realize the very nature of the universe is change, at all levels. That makes Light glitch, which again reminds me of Star Trek. Well, the Doctor and Kirk always did share a dislike of narrow-minded computers.
My three usual paragraphs are done, and I haven't even mentioned some of the best moments. Ace given the easy way out (the TARDIS key) and not taking it. And whether "primordial soup" or "the cream of Scotland Yard" is the cruelest and funniest of two jokes about the inspector's final fate. So much stuff! I do wonder what Ghost Light would have been like with a fourth episode, with time to breathe and explain things just a little bit more. I don't think it's in any way as opaque as some of its critics make it out to be, but like The Curse of Fenric, it does suffer from quick editing that doesn't give you time to think about what's happening (the husk explosion is one example of too quick a moment).
VERSIONS: The deleted and extended scenes on the DVD include Light making a quick trip around the world and the maids going after the inspector with a machete. Marc Platt's Target novelization is well regarded as it brings into focus his themes, who the inhabitants of Gabriel Chase are, and Ace's feelings.
REWATCHABILITY: High - In a perfect world, it moves just a touch slower. Even in ours, I love the progress that's being made with Ace, and the final confrontation between the Doctor and Light.
STORY REWATCHABILITY: High - I understand why some find it too "representational" as opposed to "naturalistic" (pun intended), but I still love it to bits as a moody, well-designed, incredibly weird, thematically rich piece of Victoriana. Best of all is how it advances Ace's story, which is the real highlight of this season.