Combining the Doctor Who and “crazy” themes in a single post…
“Ghost Light” was the last story filmed during the classic period of Doctor Who, which ranged from 1963 to 1989. Even the actors claimed to be a bit befuddled by “Ghost Light,” which (on the surface) is about a group of eccentric characters holed up in a Victorian mansion. But aliens and monsters are afoot, and amidst this scintillating mix of Gothic horror and theatre of the absurd there lurks a subtext concerning evolution.
Darwin and his theories engendered much popular debate in Victorian Britain — and not a few comic songs, the best known of which is John Young’s “The Darwinian Theory” (a.k.a. “Have you heard the news of late/ About our great original state?”).
J. F. Mitchell’s “That’s The Way To The Zoo,” dating from 1883, may not explicitly mention Darwin or evolution, but borrows the trope in suggesting that the addled or ungainly might find hospice in an unlikely quarter:
That’s The Way To The Zoo
I don’t know what it is about my figure or my style,
That every time I walk abroad the passersby do smile;
I lost myself in Kensington about a week today,
I asked a cabman my way home when to me he did say:
That’s the way to the zoo!
That’s the way to the zoo!
The monkey house is nearly full
But there’s room enough for you.
Take a bus to Regent’s Park,
Make haste before it shuts;
Next Monday I will come and bring you
Such a lot of nuts!
— J. F. Mitchell, 1883
Sung with obvious amusement by Katharine Schlesinger (who plays Gwendoline), the line “Such a lot of nuts!” can’t help but remind us of the oddball characters we’ve met. Interviewed for the DVD extra “Light in Dark Places,” Schlesinger’s eyes light up when she talks about how much she loves singing.
(See also my Ghost Light Picture Gallery.)
Java programmers would be amused to learn that being “sent to Java” is a euphemism for being killed off or put into suspended animation. Nevertheless, two problems associated with “Ghost Light” are:
1. It was edited down to fit in the allotted time, and so proceeds at breakneck pace, making it hard for the audience to grasp the plot twists. There wasn’t time for breathers or pacing punctuation marks.
2. The music was mixed rather loudly, so that one strains to hear the actors, whose genuinely witty repartee is sometimes drowned out.
Ace: Don’t you have things you hate?
The Doctor: I can’t stand burnt toast. I loathe bus stations — terrible places, full of lost luggage and lost souls. And then there’s unrequited love, and tyranny, and cruelty.
The Doctor: Let me guess. My theories appall you, my heresies outrage you, I never answer letters, and you don’t like my tie.
Back in the day, folksinger Arlo Guthrie used to close out his talking signature piece “Alice’s Restaurant” by suggesting that singing a few bars would be a good way to freak people out, especially shrinks or army recruiters. Though times have changed, this does point to a strategy for dealing with lunatics like Anne Carlton and Mary Murphy: If accosted or otherwise importuned by them, simply point in any random direction and begin singing “That’s the way to the zoo…”
For further listening, viewing, or reading:
The Splendid Chaps’ version of “That’s The Way To The Zoo” has two more verses not sung by Katharine Schlesinger:
The script for “Ghost Light” by Marc Platt, released by Titan Books in 1993, may be read or downloaded on Archive.org:
This article by Melanie Keene on “Science in Song” includes priceless illustrations from olde tyme sheet music:
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