The story involves Sarah Jane being on holiday in Italy with her friend Jeremy Fitzoliver. Coincidentally the Brigadier is on holiday as well spending time with his Italian uncle Mario who is being threatened by Max Vilmio who is a mobster who is also an immortal emperor from the time of the Holy Roman Empire. There are also phantoms on Mario’s estate which are from Null Space which is kind of like an afterlife but not everyone there is dead as the Doctor and Sarah Jane make it into Null Space at several points. Basically it’s an excuse for Barry Letts to create a story about ghosts and to have a way for the Doctor to kill the villain of the story which again doesn’t make much sense. The novel is a pretty long one and it really shows as the thing is so cluttered that it makes it difficult to get through. This isn’t a complaint however on Barry Letts’ writing style which I found most enjoyable as he knows how to write. The prose feels kind of like an adventure story in the same vein of The Keys of Marinus and The Chase with some great settings with some great supporting characters, it’s just the main cast and the villain who really suffer from the already cluttered plot.
The Doctor here is supposed to be the Third Doctor who was always a bit arrogant and was famous for never really listening to his companions with the exception of Liz Shaw. Here he does ignore Sarah Jane for most of the novel, but he doesn’t really feel like these lines are meant for the Third Doctor with the exception of the large amount of technobabble. It feels almost as if the story was meant for the Fourth Doctor, but the radio play changed halfway through writing that it would be for Jon Pertwee instead so Letts did some rewrites and didn’t bother with changing things for the novelization. Yes this was originally a radio play and the novel is the first version available before the play was even broadcast which you can really tell as there is just a ton of dialogue but I digress.
Sarah Jane doesn’t fare much better as here she is trying to write a romantic thriller novel on her holiday which is introduced in Chapter Two and quickly dropped thereafter as Letts has no idea on where to go with the plot thread. She also has some of the weirdest dialogue and thoughts as she goes into what I assume is cockney, but that doesn’t make any sense as it often flip flops to regular English. The Brigadier is in this novel and even though he is on the cover I barely remember what he contributed to the plot except put up with Jeremy. He’s there just to have an uncle who is already a racist caricature of an Italian which doesn’t really fit with the story and to look after Jeremy. Jeremy is what really ruins this novel for me as he is just an awful character. He is the completely whiny momma’s boy who is apparently Sarah Jane’s friend who she uses as a way to go on vacation. He contributes nothing but being there to be annoying. I haven’t read or listened to The Paradise of Death, but now I have even less desire to do so as Jeremy features even more in that story which I dread. Jeremy is Season 19 Adric mixed with the worst of Turlough and Clara intensified to the extreme. I just hate his character and wanted him to die horribly every time he appeared.
To summarize, The Ghosts of N-Space is an example of great ideas put in a lot of wasted potential from an author who should have known better. The ideas are there to make the story one of the greats, but sadly the characters are all over the place. They range from tolerable to the complete despicable. The villain is clichéd, the Doctor doesn’t really make any sort of sense in his incarnation and the companions are out of character. Really this isn’t one for people and if you want a Barry Letts story just watch The Daemons. 25/100