A Ghost Story for Christmas returns to BBC Four this Christmas
“Halfway out of the dark” is how Christmas was once described in Doctor Who’s A Christmas Carol. But it’s possibly more true to say it’s right in the middle of the darkness. Perhaps that’s why horror and Christmas have gone hand in hand for as long as anyone can remember. Even Dickens’ original Christmas Carol was, above all, a ghost story. And perhaps nowhere is that link more explicit than in the long marriage between dark Christmas nights and the short stories of horror master M.R. James. And this Christmas, thanks to the talents of Mark Gatiss behind the camera and Peter Capaldi in front of them, Martin’s Close is the latest in that eldritch tradition.
Originally written by M.R. James to be read aloud as a Christmas thrill for his students, it was first published in 1911. Since then it’s thrilled generations of readers but, unlike many of James’ stories, like Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad or Casting the Runes, this is surprisingly the first time Martin’s Close has been adapted. Surprising that is, since unlike James’ usual style it’s written in the manner of a scripted dialogue.
A courtroom drama unlike any other, as the dead accuse the living
It tells the story of George Martin (John Martin in the new version), a man on trial for his life following the murder of a young woman. But are the sightings of the woman after her own burial proof that he’s been framed, or of something much more sinister. Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi stars in Martin’s Close as Dolben, the prosecutor trying to secure Martin’s conviction. But his evidence is of the most unusual sort – the testimony of the dead.
Doctor Who writer Mark Gatiss has both adapted and directed Martin’s Close for BBC Four. This is his third episode in the Ghost Story for Christmas series, after M.R. James adaptation The Tractate Middoth in 2013 and his own original The Dead Room last year. It’s part of a bumper, if bloody, Christmas for Gatiss, with his new version of Dracula (co-written with Steven Moffat) starting on New Year’s Day and his documentary In Search of Dracula on the 3rd of January.
Of Martin’s Close, Gatiss says that “after the delightful success of last year’s The Dead Room, it’s a fantastic privilege to continue the tradition of the Christmas ghost story on BBC Four. And what better way than one of my favourite stories by the master of them all, M.R. James?”
1684. John Martin is on trial for his life. Facing him, the infamous ‘hanging judge’, George Jeffreys. But this is not a cut and dried murder case. Because the innocent young girl Martin is accused of killing has been seen after her death..
Martin’s Close is on BBC Four at 10pm on Christmas Eve and will be available in the UK on iPlayer here