The Ghosts of N-Space

Posted in Audio by - November 16, 2017
The Ghosts of N-Space

Aired 20 January – 24 February 1996

Following a very successful foray back into the Third Doctor era with ‘The Paradise of Death,’ Barry Letts returned to the era for one final collaboration with Jon Pertwee, Elisabeth Sladen, and Nicholas Courtney with ‘The Ghosts of N-Space.’ Yet whereas the preceding serial featured mainstays of the era that made it instantly comfortable and recognisable, ‘The Ghosts of N-Space’ acts under the guise of pseudo-science and with liberal use of time travel to delve more deeply into the realm of religion than is usual for the franchise to offer something suitably different.

There certainly is more than enough material to warrant six full episodes, but paradoxically there is also quite a bit of padding to allow each individual episode to reach its intended running length. Beginning simply enough when the Brigadier calls in the Doctor after spotting a demonesque creature while visiting his Italian Uncle Mario whom one Max Vilmio is pressuring to sell his castle, the story uses a bit of coincidence- or synchronicity as overtly stated- to bring Sarah Jane Smith and Jeremy who happen to be on holiday in the same region into the picture. As the Doctor explains, the world they all experience has its opposite where a person’s consciousness goes to live after departing a body, and the barrier is thinnest at the castle. With this N-Space ravaged by N-Forms who are beginning to break through into reality, the Brigadier and Jeremy must fortify the castle in the present against the mafia and ghosts while the Doctor and Sarah Jane travel far into the past to investigate the dark actions of a medieval alchemist and their relation to the death of a young girl in the nineteenth century.

Though the notion of N-Space is immensely intriguing, the script is rather blunt in its attempts to use it to push religious concepts as being pure fact. While this does not detract from the story in any meaningful fashion as Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory are subsequently introduced, Doctor Who is at its best when subtly including ideas and beliefs rather than directly presenting them as fact with no room for individual interpretation. Because of entire scenes that end up being superfluous despite enjoyability, a sometimes-varying tone, and an obvious contrivance that sees the mafia antagonist in the present being the now-immortal alchemist from the past who is now bent on ruling the world and beyond, this is something that is not as easily overlooked as it might be in other tales.

Though age had understandably crept into the voice of the Jon Pertwee in the preceding serial and is certainly noticeable here as well, all three leads perfectly manage to capture the essence of their younger selves and remain incredibly enthusiastic and committed from beginning to end. Indeed, though the quality of the script does not live up to ‘The Paradise of Death’ and certainly embarks on a more experimental and grandiose path that traverses several time zones, it still very much feels like a lost story from Jon Pertwee’s tenure, the highest compliment that can be afforded any tale. With Pertwee, Sladen, Courtney, and Letts no longer here, this final official outing into a much-beloved era of Doctor Who thankfully treats its leads with all due respect and provides one final, triumphant victory lap for all involved.

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