THIS STORY TAKES
OFFICIAL TELOS DELUXE
HARDBACK (ISBN 1-90
IN AUGUST 2002.
Perhaps sensing the
mood of introspective
TARDIS lands in the
most haunted place
on Earth, the luxury
ocean liner the Queen
Mary on its way from
Southampton to New
York in the year 1963.
But why do ghosts
from the past, the
present, and perhaps
even the future, seek
out the Doctor? What
appalling secret is
hidden in Cabin 672?
And will the Doctor
be able to preserve
his sanity as he
struggles to save the
lives of the
mighty forces which
even he does not fully
I’m beginning to think that I must be doing Keith Topping something of a disservice as his name never leaps to mind as being one of my favourite Doctor Who authors, yet (al-most) every time that I embark upon reading one his books I’m held spellbound. And Ghost Ship, despite the tumult of criticism that it has endured since its publication, is no different.
What sets Ghost Ship apart from a traditional Doctor Who story is that it lifts the veil on the Doctor’s thoughts and feelings: the lone, post-Deadly Assassin fourth Doctor recounts this unsettling tale in the first person. Back in 2002, such a proposition was not only completely unheard of, but largely frowned upon by readers. Contemporaneous reviewers lambasted Topping’s rich and flowery prose (which was purported to represent the Doctor’s thoughts),
as well as his supposed failure to get a handle on Tom Baker’s unfathomable portrayal.
“A repulsion from the hard-headed scientist within me
rose to a shouting crescendo of outraged disbelief.”
But considering this novella shortly after having listened to Paul Magrs’ eloquent Hornets’ Nest series, which has of course been narrated by Baker, such condemnation suddenly seems a little hollow. As I read Ghost Ship, I could hear Baker delivering Topping’s lyrical, almost Magrstian prose with suitable relish. And what’s more, it felt right.
“...there was a smile on my face as I did so. This simple act of destruction was
my release from the choking constraints of the last few days. From the
pain and the misery and the self-doubt and all those other things that
I thought I had left behind on Gallifrey and on Skaro. A feeling
of being helpless to change the course of events, of not having the
right answers when the cogs that turn the wheels of the universe
asked of me that I should be the one to do their dirty work for them.”
And though Topping’s nautical ghost story is mostly unremarkable
– conventional almost to a fault, really – it’s flourishing climax had
me mulling over the events of the recent tenth Doctor special, The
Waters of Mars, and this idea of the “Time Lord Victorious”. The
Doctor of this story’s satisfaction at having come up with the “right
answer” here certainly makes you think. “Do I have the right...?”
“The time is out of joint, oh cursed spite,
that ever I was born to set it right.”
All told then, Ghost Ship is a telling glimpse behind the bluster; a
divisive but nonetheless intriguing experiment that I would strongly
recommend giving a dusting-down and reappraisal today. Though
hindsight may be “a luxury of those who never have the need for
the velvet embrace of adventure”, it’s certainly an insightful one.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2009
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This novella’s blurb offers no guidance as to its placement. However, as at the start of the story the Doctor
is still ruminating on the events of the television serial The Deadly Assassin, we have placed it immediately afterwards.
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