“I am infinitely more frightening than a ghost story.”
Posing Tarrant as a deceased bounty hunter, Avon and the crew set up a clandestine meeting with the sinister Shifkin in exchange for more information about Dayna’s whereabouts. But this is all to take place on the haunted planet of Larudon, rumored to be populated by the vengeful spirits of plague victims…
Left alone aboard the Liberator on teleport duty, Vila will soon come to terms with the truth behind these whispered rumors…
Alone in the dark, on the run from unseen forces whose sinister sussurations seem calculated to drive him into paroxysms of abject terror, Vila must face his fears to survive…and protect the Liberator from an insidious plan for its capture in the bargain.
And with both Zen and Orac oblivious to the pointed, personalized threats and haunting whispers he faces and even offering denial of a surprise visit from Avon, Vila finds himself questioning his very sanity…
Another showcase for Michael Keating, Ghost Ship provides suitably eerie atmospherics, with the ostensible safe home base of the Liberator itself serving as a claustrophobic trap from which there is no escape.
Incapable of trusting his own senses, Vila is less the hero than the victim of the piece, both haunted and terrorized by the legendary revenants of Larudon on one hand and manipulated into effectively handing over the ship to hostile forces. While there’s plenty of airtime to be had (allowing Keating to offer his best Scoob and Shagg impression), it’s hardly a shining moment for the character, at least the more multifaceted one we’ve come to know and love over the course of the Big Finish Classic Audio Adventures and Liberator Chronicles.
“Everything they have, they built on fear, Vila. They use fear to manipulate people in business transactions, fear to manipulate the colonists into abandoning the planet.”
While Keating makes the best of what is ultimately something of an unflattering (if not stereotypical) take on his character, author Iain McLaughlin (responsible for two of our all time favorite Doctor Who main range-related shorts, the Peter Davison/Erimem No Place Like Home and the Davison, Erimem and Peri meet Sylvester McCoy, Ace and Hex adventure The Veiled Leopard) allows plenty of room for Paul Darrow’s Avon to act with duplicitous and manipulative planning and other crew members (most obviously Tom Chadbon’s Del Grant) to sneak in a few moments in the spotlight as well.
Ultimately more of a (fairly effective) mood piece (with a dash of politicosocial relevance – that quote about using fear to manipulate the populace sounds oddly apropos to modern day right wing politics) than a showcase for ongoing character development, Ghost Ship taps into some fairly stereotypical “series bible” broad stroke rules of thumb about the major characters involved herein (namely Vila and Avon, presented fairly bluntly as being defined as “cowardly” and “shifty” respectively).
This leaves Ghost Ship feeling very much like a reasonably likeable throwback to earlier days, as if the last few years of effective continuity had never taken place and these men were time warped straight from the dawn of teleseries 3.
I did enjoy the story overall and appreciated the more personal and atmospheric approach McLaughlin chose to adopt for his tale, but the oddly broad, somewhat outdated take on the character of Vila (and to a lesser extent, Avon) left this longtime Blakes aficionado scratching his head a bit.