Ah, Doctor Who and horror, two of my favourite things. When they come together, the scarier stories are often magic. And Ghost Walk delivers on that respect.
When it was initially announced that a spooky story was on its way, I was pretty excited, Static was superb and I was highly anticipating Ghost Walk. And I wasn’t disappointed.
Every now and again, Big Finish comes up with a delicious idea, they did it with stories like The Pirates and The Chimes of Midnight. And this is one of those stories with a delicious idea at its heart. It all begins ordinarily enough, its a normal night for Ghost Walker, Leanne, played with flourish by Fenella Woolgar, she has a group of tourists going around the local hotspots like the Screaming House, the Witch Pool and the Hanging Yard. he also has to keep her tourists away from her rivals. And she can see ghosts that no one else can. But Leanne doesn’t believe in ghosts.
For some reason, the darker stories have always suited the Fifth Doctor, Earthshock, Ressurection of the Daleks and The Caves of Androzani all worked brilliantly on television because of their dark tones. It is obviously something to do with the Fifth Doctor being younger, brighter and chirper. Despite the over-lit sets of the eighties, many of the stories from the Davison Era had some quite grim worlds when you really looked. Trevor Baxendale’s novel, Fear of the Dark did much the same thing as Ghost Walk, taking the Fifth Doctor and making him face his worst fears. The loss of his friends, the loss of his ship and the loss of his favourite planet.
In his interview for Doctor Who magazine and the CD Extras, author James Goss, a regular contributor to the worlds of Big Finish, tells us he got the idea for this story when he was doing a ghost walk. He was fascinated with the way the guide would talk to the punters, something which evidently stuck when he wrote the character of Leanne. What also helped was that the script editor, Guy Adams also worked as a ghost walker back in the day. With two people who have experienced both sides of that world, then it is little wonder that this story works so brilliantly.
But there is so much more to Ghost Walk rather than the titled, ghost walk. Each of the companions is separated from the Doctor for extended periods of time and each one has a lot to do, giving each one a time to shine.
On the television, the problem with the crowded TARDIS was evident. With one Doctor and three companions, splitting the stories up so that each one got things to do was difficult. One either got caught like Adric in Castrovalva, one got locked up or possessed like Tegan in The Visitation and one got sent to sleep like Nyssa in Kinda. It isn’t exactly the same problem for them on audio, though I should imagine it could be, indeed, Adric’s segments are shorter than that of Tegan’s and Nyssa’s but it is no less important. In fact, Matthew Waterhouse, much like he did in Kingdom of Lies proves to us that he has a talent for comedy. When he is arrested and threatened with deportation to Australia, is comment is laugh-out-loud.
Nyssa finds herself stranded in the past and her story is a particularly dark one. Following on from a few years after the infamous Witch-Trials that plagued England and killed thousands, Nyssa finds herself flung right into trouble when she literally tumbles from the sky into a field. Saved from a fiery fate by the local Reverend, played brilliantly by Sacha Dhawan, Nyssa gets an interesting love story, something akin to the Autumn story in the anthology release, Circular Time. And just like Autumn, this one is just as heart-breaking. Reverend Matthew obviously has feelings for Nyssa and Nyssa has feelings for him too, but she knows that the Doctor will come for her, she just has to pass the time until that happens. Sarah Sutton obviously relishes the chance to play Nyssa out of her Florence Nightingale mode as she gets to get her hands dirty. But the fates of both Adric and Nyssa are deeply disturbing and made even more uncomfortable by the fact that they aren’t resolved immediately.
Janet Fielding gets to play a different side to Tegan too. Ghost Walk sees Tegan as the voice of reason, someone who offers some snarky comments but shares a number of touching moments with the Doctor. And Peter Davison plays the Doctor with a dry wit, frankness and some quiet dignity. This is quite possibly one of his best performances since Spare Parts.
The horror side of Doctor Who got the show into trouble with the notorious Mary Whitehouse back in the seventies and there is no doubt in this reviewer’s mind that if she heard this one, especially with a couple of the extremely disturbing cliff-hangers, she would have pounced on this quicker than a dog with a bone. This story would be brilliant in a prose format too, it is so suspenseful, foreboding and comes with a creepy villain.
Speaking of creepy villains, Stephen Greif is brilliant as the demonic Saboath. He is deliciously creepy and his brotherhood are terrifying, despite all they do is chant! The guest cast is on fine form too, Fenella Woolgar, Sacha Dhawan, Stephen Greif and Carolyn Seymour all manage to create one of Big Finish strongest guest casts to date, aided with a particularly strong script and tight direction from Barnaby Edwards.
Ignoring the dark tone this story takes, it is actually laced with some nice humour and banter. And it finally feels like Matthew Waterhouse is settling in nicely. Waterhouse had been doing some of his best work in the Dark Shadows and Short Trips’ ranges at Big Finish. Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton had that report with Peter Davison from years of doing these audios. Ghost Walk marks a more comfortable beginning for this crew at Big Finish and long may they continue.
This is a brilliant Doctor Who horror story, one that I’m sure I’ll be returning to at some point in the near future. It is tense, creepy and disturbing. It takes the Fifth Doctor’s era and makes it shine, the companions come across well and James Goss’s familiarity with this TARDIS team results in one of the best Big Finish tales to date…
This is a city of ghosts and no-one knows them better than Leanne. Twice a night she leads tourists to visit the most haunted sites – the Hanging Yard, the Witch Pool, the Screaming House, and, of course, the Catacombs.Leanne’s realised the ghosts of the city are real. Something’s lurking in the Catacombs – an ancient force that has been growing in the darkness for centuries. Sabaoth is returning and they must be stopped before they devour the world. Leanne knows this because a ghost told her.
A ghost called The Doctor.
Peter Davison (The Doctor), Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Matthew Waterhouse (Adric), Fenella Woolgar (Leanne), Sacha Dhawan (Matthew), Stephen Greif (Sabaoth), Carolyn Seymour (Mrs. Stubbs), Phillip Childs (Giles), John Banks (Louie) and Rebecca Tromans (Nancy).
Written By: James Goss
Directed By: Barnaby Edwards
Producer: David Richardson
Script Editor: Guy Adams
Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs