Ghosts and N-Words is 1996's eagerly-awaited sequel to The Paradise of Death. Once again, Barry Letts revisits the UNIT era with Three, Janey Sarah, Brigadoon, and everyone's favorite 1970s companion Jeremy.
Everyone's on vacation. Sarah Jane has gone on vacation with Jeremy because she's a masochist, while the Brig is visiting his family in Sicily because the Lethbridge-Stewarts are Italian now, and they all end up getting involved in this American mafia thing with Azal from The Daemons, which the Doctor comes to help sort out.
Then there's a haunted castle, with poltergeists that attack SJ and Jeremy.
So the Doctor figures out what's up with the poltergeists. Remember how in Full Circle we learned that N-Space is the name for our universe, because it's Normal? Psyche, N-Space is actually the name of a totally different universe. Which is actually our universe's spirit world, although the Doctor describes it the other way round. Every living thing has an N-Form in N-Space. When you die, your N-Form goes through an N-Tunnel of white light to N-Heaven, unless you have too much N-Guilt, in which case your N-form turns into an N-Demon. OK, kinda sounds like Barry has converted from Buddhism to Catholicism… The Doctor builds a machine to detect these demon N-Forms, and the poltergeist attacks again, but the Doctor's just trolling his companions with a projection, and now he's learned what he needed to know, so he can build a machine that will separate his soul from his body so he can visit N-Space and find out what's going on.
He and SJ do exactly that, and N-Space is literal Catholic Purgatory as described by Dante. Anyway, they find the story scattered across three time zones, because you can astral project through time in Purgatory, so now they can come back and use the TARDIS to visit all three time zones.
Jeremy is a coward and won't come along, but that means he's able to discover that the Mafia guy wants to kill the Doctor for some reason. Nobody believes him, so he sneaks off to intentionally get himself captured and tortured by the Mafia because he was too cowardly to go time-traveling.
Anyway, a bunch of stuff happens, most of which is a bad Jane Austen pastiche and none of which matters.
Then we get some parallel infodumps that explain everything. The 16th century alchemist and his monk apprentice that the Doctor saw in Purgatory are now the Mafia guy and his hitman in the 20th century because alchemy works.
So the Doctor has to go back in time to change history so the earlier times he visited won't happen the same way, because fuck paradoxes and fixed points in time and all that shit, what's the point of having a TARDIS? And they break time by literally having SJ hold the hands on a clock still so it can't move. Bravo Letts.
But, guess what, they haven't changed history, they've just become two of the characters that they already knew about from that history, and were responsible for making it happen in the first place. You know, exactly the same thing that happens any time Peri and Erimem or whoever don't listen to the Doctor telling them it'll do that so they try it and it does that, except this time it's the Doctor thinking it'll work. They have two excruciating conversations about this where the Doctor makes no sense and then somehow manages to contradict himself anyway. So, his solution is to go to the other time zones and try to fuck with history there, because this time it'll work. Which it doesn't.
So finally, the Doctor discovers that astrology is the best way to fight alchemy because holy shit, Barry Letts hasn't converted to Catholicism, he's just desperately believing in anything and everything now because he's old and afraid to die, isn't he. Anyway, there's a comet whose astrological influence opened a crack in time, I think because the UNIT dating controversy caused 1975 to become 1972 because it doesn't make sense otherwise even if you believe astrology. So, that crack is what let the alchemist do the N-Space thing, and the Doctor can use the TARDIS to reverse the polarity of the astrology flow and close it. But first he has to get SJ out of the dream world, because oh yeah, dreams are astral travel. So he does that, then he does the astrology thing, and it works.
But the alchemy mafia guy is on our side of the barrier, and he's now reunited with his soul and his other bodies scattered through time, and he's got all the demons with him too. The Doctor does his usual, "Wait, if you stop being evil at the last second, I'll help you", offering to go negotiate with the other superbeings in the galaxy on his behalf, but he does the usual, "Haha, no, I'm evil, I want unlimited rice pudding", and starts absorbing demons to get more powerful. So the Doctor turns his astrology thing back on and, because the mafia demon guy happened to be standing in exactly the right place, he explodes.
And then it turns out that Roberto, who I haven't mentioned but he's a nice guy, is the secret prince, because he knows a song, so he gets to inherit the castle. Good for him.
Is it better to be so mediocre you leave no impression, or to be so bad that no one can ever forget you? That's the question asked by the two BBCR Third Doctor stories.
The story has a lot more to it than Paradise, but it's all overcomplicated and hard to follow, and almost all of it (including the entire 1818 setting that makes up half the story) turns out to be irrelevant once you work it out. I'm not sure whether Letts was just trying a new trick to hide the fact that the padding was padding, or making a valiant attempt to demonstrate Jungian synchronicity through nonlinear storytelling without having ever read any successful nonlinear stories first, but either way, it's not worth the effort. Really, the only decent bits are the couple places where it briefly becomes a trad UNIT story and the Brig gets to Brig it up (and if I wanted that, I'd rather see it on TV).
Also, Letts clearly has no idea how to write for audio, so the characters are just the kind of people who constantly walk around saying, "I, Sarah Jane Smith, am now standing by myself in a 20-foot-square room" out loud. Paradise did that too, but there he had the whole "experienced reality" plot device to make it reasonable.
Meanwhile, the props guy has become a slightly better director, and the actors are generally trying a lot harder this time, but all of that is ruined by the fact that almost everyone in the story is saddled with an accent that they are completely unequipped to pull off. Apparently some of them are supposed to be "realistic" accents and some are supposed to be "comedy" accents, but I literally cannot tell which are which.
Finally, Doctor Who can sometimes be a little silly in its explaining away superstition as science but not actually explaining it, but this goes way, way beyond silly. Every bit of superstition you've ever heard is all literally real, and that's science! This is worse than pseudoscience idiots like Creationists or Quantum Meditators trying to fool themselves into thinking real science is on its side, this is the Doctor scoffing at quantum physics because astrology is older and the Egyptians and Babylonians were wise, and then calling that science. Fuck you, Barry, no, that's the opposite of science. And this is the opposite of audio drama.