Ghosts

Posted in Audio by - November 29, 2020
Ghosts

Released November 2020

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

There’s no doubting that the pairing of David Tennant and Alex Kingston is one rife with potential given the innate charisma and pride of both the Tenth Doctor and River Song as well as the implicit limitations that continuity has placed upon their developing relationship. Yet while the first two stories of this set have aptly captured the ambitious and sweeping storytelling styles of River’s creator and eventual showrunner, Steven Moffat, ‘Ghosts’ by Jonathan Morris looks to slow things down by featuring just one immersive setting as River requests the Doctor meet her on the most haunted planet in the galaxy where something is very wrong with the ghosts.

The literally haunting visuals of ghosts can be immensely successful in any medium, and Howard Carter’s sound design and music make this world and its ethereal denizens tremendously immersive and unsettling from the very start. With a thick mist seemingly taking the lives of those who walk through it, ‘Ghosts’ instantly states its inherent danger when the Doctor who has answered a request from River she does not recall sending sees apparitions of his would-be companion and himself to hint at what fate must befall them at some point in their future on this world. Naturally, the Doctor firmly and adamantly proclaims that ghosts do not exist even as the evidence appears to mount before his eyes, but River is much more accepting of what may await her while inadvertently surmising that the Doctor is keenly aware of when and where her ultimate demise must occur. In fact, this is the story of this set that best makes use of where these two leads are in relation to each other from the Doctor’s perspective with hints at their future together being the most subtle and River proving just how much of an unknown quantity this incarnation of the Doctor is at this particular moment in his life. The Tenth Doctor should not be treated as equivalent to an early Eleventh Doctor, and ‘Ghosts’ best shows how to walk that tightrope while allowing the Doctor to open up to the idea of what River presents.

What makes ‘Ghosts’ far more successful than its traditional setup, however, is the twist that casts everything that has come before it in a new light. It’s obvious and logical enough to be guessed fairly early on, but even in that case it still presents a unique storytelling format that seamlessly allows for intriguing character development and the core mystery to unfold completely naturally. Logically, it’s the Doctor’s ability to point out missing and subtle pieces of information regarding all of those surrounding him- River included- that allows everything to be put into fuller context, and Timothy Bentinck, Mina Anwar, Emma Swan, and Sam Benjamin all do well in their parts to heighten the sense of mystery as the past and present become more tightly intertwined than anyone expects. Still, it is an interesting narrative choice that has been present throughout this set to feature ideas so similar to what River experienced in her first on-screen appearance, but that type of foreshadowing from her perspective is ultimately unobtrusive to the singular stories on hand and proves that variations on a theme can still be wholly successful.

Recording and producing this entire box set during the isolation of COVID-19 lockdown is a testament to the skills and determination of everyone involved in every capacity, and the studio quality that ultimately comes through allows these releases to slot in perfectly with everything that has come before. And while the idea to rush these scripts into production when David Tennant became available for recording is an understandable decision by Big Finish to further flesh out the Tenth Doctor adventures, it’s clear that there is still much more that these two particular characters could achieve together with a more profound narrative backdrop should that desire and scheduling availability ever arise.

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