Blurb: A close encounter with a stray missile leads the Doctor to materialise his TARDIS on a planet that hangs in the dark at the edge of the known universe. A planet so dark that it exists in near-permanent night. A planet that enjoys just a single day’s light once every thousand years…
Exactly what happens on the planet in its rare daylight hours – that’s what a geographical survey headed by Senior Tutor Bengel is stationed here to establish. They, the Doctor and Leela are about to discover that when daylight comes, the White Ghosts rise…
So don’t be afraid of the dark. The cover of night is a mercy.
Review: White Ghosts is the second story in the third season of Big Finish’s Fourth Doctor Adventures. It follows on from the ending of the previous story, The King of Sontar. The basic premise is a reverse of the movie Pitch Black. Writer Alan Barnes thought that it would be neat to write a story where nighttime was safe and daytime was the thing to be feared and this story is the result.
White Ghosts fits well into the style that the Fourth Doctor Adventures seem to be going in. Since Night of the Stormcrow these stories have been taking on a far darker tone than the previous Fourth Doctor and Leela stories from season one. For longtime fans this is a call back to the adventures of Tom Baker that they remember from television. The first half of his run was known for its gothic horror and for obviously mining movie plots to come up with new adventures week after week. As was already said, White Ghosts owes a lot to Pitch Black but it also has strands from Little Shop of Horrors and I am Legend, just to name a few. That makes this story and the last few of the season feel as if they are the spiritual successors of the Fourth Doctor Adventures on TV. This is great for fans of that classic series, but there’s nothing here that would be difficult for anyone new to the series to understand. The basic setup with the Doctor and Leela is explained well enough, and the listener goes through the story from the point of view of the TARDIS team as they’re discovering what’s going on with this planet as well.
Despite some clever ideas, the story’s structure doesn’t quite work. The whole idea that this is far out in the edge of the universe where light is hard to come by, so life has adapted to grow rapidly when it does occur is very interesting. The White Ghosts themselves don’t make a lot of sense until you get to the end of the story and one particular revelation puts them in proper context. I also liked the subtle buildup to the fact that the research team is hiding something. You don’t quite realize what until about midway through the second episode and that ends up adding yet another layer to the story and explaining why the Time Lords wanted the Doctor involved in this situation after all. Unfortunately, this is another story that clearly wants to be a four-parter and it doesn’t really work in the two-episode format. The first episode sets everything up as the Doctor and Leela start getting to the bottom of some of the mysteries that they’ve found on the planet. Yet there’s so much going on that episode two has three major revelations firing in at rapid succession. The final one gets very little time to be developed and other than adding yet another note of danger, nothing is really done with it. The main resolution to the story comes with very little explanation and several important events happen onscreen, so it gives a feeling of being rushed.
One thing that should be noted is that there is a nice tie-in with the previous story. There are some great moments between the Doctor and Leela in the beginning. She has taken it upon herself to learn from the TARDIS library and her ingenuity and naivety in trying to improve herself by learning more about Earth is a really nice, character-building moment. The fact that she’s doing so by reading fairy tales highlights that innocence that she has but also feels so right for the character. There’s no reason why she wouldn’t expect Earth to have fairy tale monsters with her experiences with the Doctor up to this point. Jameson continues to keep Leela fresh and energetic. The story also gives us a nice insight this time by eschewing the normal practice of doing combat on audio by having a lot of shouting and hitting noises by giving us stream-of-consciousness narration from Leela’s point of view that gives us a lot of insight into how she thinks and was one of the more interesting directorial choices. Tom also gets some great moments as the Doctor here. His initial moments with Leela are touching as the usually self-confident Doctor is forced to come to the realization that he might be a bad teacher. On the planet his normal irreverence is pulled off with the charm and skill that only Tom can provide. The final confrontation though is clearly the best moment. The Doctor gets to counter point the end of the previous story by showing that evil can be punished without killing. It’s a dark moment and Tom gives it all the weight that it requires. The sound design on this one is perfect, emulating the Dudley Simpson scores of yesteryear and giving this story the feeling of something that may have been a lost television story from the 1970’s. Also there’s a sound from some creatures in episode two that may be the most chilling thing that Big Finish has created yet. The whole production is top notch and while none of the guest stars distinguish themselves particularly they all do a fine job with what they’re asked to do.
Recommendation: A dark and mysterious story, White Ghosts exudes atmosphere that wouldn’t have been out of place in the first three seasons of Tom Baker’s run on television. The ideas are interesting and the cast give their performances the energy and skill that are required for the parts. Where the story lets down is in its pacing. It feels like a four episode story with the last three episodes crammed into episode two. In spite of that one downside, I recommend listening to it.
Big Finish Productions
Directed by Nicholas Briggs
Produced by David Richardson
Written by Alan Barnes
Runtime Approx 60 min.