The Tractate Middoth is the latest in the sporadic Ghost Stories for Christmas series, with Mark Gatiss adapting and directing this M.R. James story. Gatiss is a natural choice for the task – his accompanying documentary proved him a worthy student of James, along with his previous television ghost story credentials in his 2008 series Crooked House. This new M.R. James adaptation was broadcast on BBC2 on Christmas Day.
The Tractate Middoth is familiar James material, with a secret will hidden inside a book located within a labyrinthine library. It’s guarded, naturally, by a dark spectre. When the book is taken and the will is discovered the thief is punished by supernatural means. There’s little more to it really, although Gatiss added some appropriate menace with the interior library scenes and did a fine job with source material that relies a little too heavily on coincidence. Roy Barraclough and Una Stubbs each provided comic turns in the drama. Although appreciated, it was slightly awkward as comedy isn’t really something that fits snugly into M.R. James. The cast also included Sasha Dhawan (fresh from his role in An Adventure in Space and Time), Louise Jameson, John Castle and David Ryall as root of all the ensuing evil, the hideous Dr Rant.
It’s difficult though to be critical as any new James adaptation is welcome. Rather like Doctor Who, it’s something I’d prefer to be there than not, although a late night showing on Christmas Eve may be the more fitting schedule. But hopefully the BBC will reinstate A Ghost Story for Christmas annually. I expect that Mr Gatiss will be up for it.