Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Audi-O-Rama #3: Dark Shadows: The Christmas Presence


By Justin Partridge

Starring: David Selby, John Karlen, Andrew Collins, Lara Parker, Kathryn Leigh Scott, and Toby Longworth

Written by: Scott Handcock

Directed by: Gary Russell

Sloat in This SPOILERS AHEAD World (III)

“Surely you have something more…substantial for me to feast upon? It is Chris-TT-Mass, after all.”

Our first double dip reveals an unexpected strength and deepened appreciation for Dark Shadows: The Christmas Presence! My third time at-bat overall for Audi-O-Rama; an exploration and analysis of Dark Shadows (and others!) at Big Finish Productions. 

In the interest of full disclosure, o readers, despite my excitement in the opening of this column, I was slightly worried about “re-covering” some of these for the CHS. Thoughts like “will people want to hear about them again?” and “Should I just move into the House by the Sea and become a crab-man?” rattled through my head. 

But much of that noise was blasted away once I finally sat down again with The Christmas Presence. As I found it a wholly delightful, well in-character single serial that is only improved with my as-chronological-as-possible listening order. 

Christmas Eve is approaching and Quentin Collins is keeping true to his word to regather his family. He has a canny plan for it too. First, he will send out a sort of “psychic signal” into the world, inviting them back to Collinwood. Once back, he will ply them with a sumptuous Christmas lunch. One he’s invited the whole town to as well, with the help of Willie Loomis and Maggie Evans. And even Anqelique and Barnabas are put to the task, as Quentin recruits our favorite witch and vampire combination to help don Collinwood’s most gay apparel. Hopefully transforming the once imposing and empty mansion into the inviting pillar of the community Quentin wants it to be. 

But someone…or someTHING else has other holiday plans. A ravenous creature that has been stealing children across Collinsport. Seemingly with the face of “whatever they want it to be”. For its latest victim it’s Santa Claus. But for Quentin, it’s the face of a family friend and only “person” to take him up on the invitation. Professor Timothy Eliot Stokes! Played with a hammy, but charming power by Big Finish veteran Toby Longworth. Drawing Collinwood once more into a tried and true supernatural scandal that is draped heavily in small-town tragedy, trauma, and torment.

What better way to spend a Christmas, right?

Oh, and also, a Christmas turkey bound for the oven comes to life and tries to kill Maggie. 

Gosh I just think Dark Shadows is really neat.

My big Marge Simpson energy aside, The Christmas Presence really is a tremendous third installment for this fledgling range. One that continues to make good on the intention to “reestablish” Dark Shadows as a whole. 

For one thing, they really start mixing up the character pairings, relying heavily on one of Dark Shadows’ most enduring and powerful elements; its cast. While David Selby’s more reserved and heartfelt take on Quentin Collins is still the de-facto “lead” of the serial, everyone down the line gets substantial time in the spotlight. Better still, they usually are paired off with someone else we love while doing so. Our beloved John Karlen gets some weighty scenes both with Kathryn Leigh Scott and Lara Parker. Andrew Collins’ regenerated Barnabas too is allowed ample room for charged, but largely courtly banter with Scott as well, tempered further with his hissed and powerful asides with Parker. 

This is the first one so far that felt as if everyone had plenty to do and talk about and I appreciate Handcock and company realizing that’s where the real strength of Dark Shadows lies. In its ensemble and character interactions. 

Better still, The Christmas Presence comes to the table with our first bonafide banger of a plot. The idea of Quentin imploring psychically for his family to come to Christmas lunch and then having to deal with how it pisses off the rest of the assembled cast to carry out said lunch could have been enough. But also further the inclusion of the “Nightmare Creature” that’s not only using Stokes’ face, but Stokes HIMSELF as a bridge into the waking world where he can feast on more nightmares. It’s just total candy, and right at home within Dark Shadows’ already established world of conceptual, but grounded monsters

The Christmas Presence ALSO comes with a great deal of expanded scope and attention being paid to its own internal continuity as my beloved Big Finishverse is starting to take shape. Folks wondering about Willie’s vampire bite from The House of Despair will be as disappointed as I was not to see that being followed up on just yet, but thankfully Handcock and Russell provide plenty more in its place. 

Chiefly, more exploration of Quentin’s “Graveyard of Memories” as well as the opening gambits of The Second Barnabas’ own memory gaps from the end of the TV show. Along with his possible “overwriting” of the soul whose body he now inhabits. All being brought to a head as the cast faces off against the Stokes creature, who offers them the chance to make all their “dreams” (read: nightmares) come true.

It’s a lot of really heady stuff, but I really applaud the creative team’s willingness to go this big and this weird THIS early on in the range. All while achieving the nearly impossible task of keeping everyone sounding and acting in character supported by a meaty premise.

I was slightly worried about diving back into The Christmas Presence. I know this is one some fans don’t really enjoy and it has a slightly spotty reputation thanks to the “undead, killer Christmas turkey” of it all. 

But truly, I was very impressed with it this second time around. It’s got all the major hallmarks one could want of “proper” Dark Shadows while also attempting to grow the franchise into new, interesting places. Using both known iconography, strong plots (finally) and the wonderfully spirited performances of the character actors we all have come to adore.

The Dark One bless us! Everyone!

Audi-O-Grams

  • My original review! Part of a pair of “Very Special Christmas Episode” reviews I did for our beloved CHS.
  • There is also a weird bit of discrepancy as to when this actually was released. The Big Finish website says “September 2006”, but the Dark Shadows Fandom Wiki (a resource I’ve found myself using more and more throughout this column) cites it as “January 2007”. Even in my OWN FIRST REVIEW, I say it’s 2006. One more thing to ask Scott Handcock and Gary Russell should I ever meet them.
  • The Second Barnabas has the sword cane too and I’m just as giddy rediscovering that fact as I was first discovering that fact. 
  • Sheriff Haggerty shoutout! It’s awesome seeing this range already dropping hints and teases for the incoming serialization elements and miniseries. (Haggerty makes a debut proper in Kingdom of the Dead). 
  • Composer Joseph Fox continues to excel with the new scoring of this era of DS, but the wholesale (largely unchanged) use of “Josette’s Theme” during this serial really nailed me in the ribs. Tremendous stuff all around, score and sound design wise. 
  • Speaking again of Scott Handcock, I’m mostly finished with Doctor Who: The Mind of Hodiac; the Russell T. Davies  “Lost Story” for the Sixth Doctor and Mel that he helped bring to life this past month. Expect a full review eventually over at my other gig Dis/Member, but a slight teaser, it’s tremendous (and oh, so, 80s, innit?!)

NEXT TIME: The Rage Beneath! Big Finish’s first arc finale! One I’ve never heard before! Be seeing you, house proud town mouses. 

Saturday, July 9, 2022

The Dark Shadows Daybook: July 9



Taped on this day in 1969: Episode 798

By PATRICK McCRAY

In the wake of Szandor’s death, Magda and Barnabas discover that her curse has destroyed Quentin‘s heretofore-undiscovered child. Meanwhile, Quentin is given reason to suspect that Victor is actually the Count.

It begins as the darkest of dark comedies, and Thayer David looks like he’s broken loose from the set of a mordant Blake Edwards movie. Szandor shows up at the door, eyes bulging and voice as monotonous as Ricky Jay’s. Classic TV hypnosis. Except that Barnabas very quickly realizes that he’s not hypnotized, as does Magda when her long-suffering husband finally falls dead at her feet, knife in the back. And in some ways, it really is a knife in the back from the writers of the show as Szandor and his laborious makeup job are replaced by Count Petofi and HIS laborious makeup job. Either way you slice it, it’s going to be early mornings for Thayer David for the foreseeable future.

With Szandor’s death, Petofi has officially arrived. Not a moment too soon. By “officially arrived," I mean that Quentin did what the Collinses do best, besides lying: he snoops in the garden to see the count in an intimate moment with the show’s favorite, insidious imp, Aristide. A connection!

And then the episode packs Quentin’s bags for a one-way trip to hell; the audience finds out that a gypsy curse has robbed him of a child he never knew existed. The revelation to Quentin is a cold, quiet study in stillness and being. Jonathan Frid, Grayson Hall and David Selby sit with the dark luxury of simply being as the weight of one hundred episodes carries itself for once. It’s a remarkable slice of authentic theatre in a sea of breathlessly timed craft. 

It’s also the most authentically sobering moment on the series. Barnabas wisely corrects a grieving Aunt Magda that their former hostilities are no longer relevant. The program’s sinister antics are all fun and games until someone loses an infant. This suddenly becomes a very real-world horror, haunting every parent and older sibling watching the program. Dark Shadows is becoming very good at playing for keeps, Although it didn’t start out that way. Maggie‘s kidnapping flirts with it. So does the pain of 1795. And from 1995 until the end of the series, the show will excel at handcrafted discomfort. And few moments are as cruel as Barnabas experiences with the death of Angelique. But even that pales in comparison to this. I can aspire to glib detachment as much as I want, but the death of a child is a horror universal to humankind. Including me. 

Compound that with the knowledge that Quentin is the loneliest character in all of Dark Shadows, and everyone knows it. We can imagine, just from his interaction with Jamison, what a marvelous father he would have made. Move over Shatner;  I see your Transformed Man and raise you a Quentin Collins: parent. Not only do Barnabas and Magda discover that this was a possibility all along, but they also see a lengthening shadow that will redefine Quentin, and only for the worse. The question now is, what shape will that take?

We are nearly 100 episodes into the 1897 adventure. When we look back on this storyline, I think many of us just remember the color and humor and panache of it all. We forget how it begins to end. The party’s over, but the show refuses to turn on the fluorescents. Quentin emerges as the normative voice of reason as the staid world that was once his cosmic Margaret Dumont becomes an asylum. It is a transformation far more profound than his lycanthropic one. As he is thrust into bereaved sobriety, Quentin will be confronted with reflections again and again to quietly punish him for the sins of who he was. And can become at any point. Want proof?

Of course, the painting. A living testament to his animalistic urges, it will also record a decay divorced from age.  When we see him in the 20th century, Quentin will be one year shy of one hundred. Elderly, but not impossibly so. When he re-discovers the painting, it is not of a 99-year-old man. It is an EC Comics portrayal of the worst of syphilitic dissolution and decay. Yes, Quentin is dolorous and mature by then, but his immortality clearly led to decades of greater risk. Even a reformed sinner can fall off the wagon, and it’s clear that the wagon backed up and ran over him more than once. Even though he is, literally, the picture of handsome, the actual picture depicting the consequences of his actions can never be destroyed. Even more conscience. Yes, Barnabas suffers. But he suffers from comparably cartoonish tragedies. Quentin’s suffering comes from his regret of some very relatable mistakes. It’s a quiet acid that can never completely destroy him. It just burns without release. No one on the show could explore the humanity and range of that journey like David Selby. 

But Quentin has another reflection to confront: the Count.  Both men are mischievous magic users fully content to dissimulate with zest if it gets them what they want. By confronting the Count, and by occasionally inhibiting his body, Quentin will learn the value of choosing a better path. The Count is exactly who Quentin might have become without a tragedy. And any parent will tell you that the prospect of losing a hand merits less than a shrug compared to the thought of losing a child. 

The 60s, but especially the preceding year of 1968, would force the most carefree of Americans to grow up. Dark Shadows was doing the same.

This episode hit the airwaves July 16, 1969.

Monday, June 27, 2022

The Dark Shadows Daybook: June 27


Aired on this day in 1966: Episode 1

By PATRICK McCRAY

A sophisticated New Yorker gives up big city life for the charm of rural America. Will she find colorful locals and a talking pig… or terror? Mr. Wells: Conrad Bain. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Victoria Winters ventures from Manhattan to Collinsport to assume the position of governess in a forbidding mansion whose owners are ambiguous about her arrival. Along the way, she meets a brooding business tycoon, quietly obsessed with her future employer’s isolation. A charismatic diner waitress, Maggie Evans, joins in the chorus of those who warn her away from Collinwood.   

Okay, so technically it's the 56th anniversary of the first episode of Dark Shadows.

Except that it really isn't. It's the 56th anniversary of the first episode of Shadows on the Wall. After all, if Art Wallace had any idea that the show would’ve wound up like it did, there’s no way that this would have been the pilot. That doesn't make the pre-Barnabas episodes inferior, but I do see them as a separate series; I think it's helpful to look through that lens. 

How to introduce Dark Shadows? I mean, really. This sets a certain atmosphere, but I'm not certain it's an atmosphere that works with the ultimate point of the show. And yet it’s still a marvelous piece of television storytelling. 

This is both a small and large episode. It exists at night, with small ghostly characters surrounded by vast swaths of darkness. Yet, it’s an expansive episode, almost an epic by comparison to the rest of the series. It has 11 characters which is over twice the norm of the program. It takes place on trains and at the Blue Whale and at Collinwood and in New York and in the Collinsport Inn lobby and at the attached diner and even on a lonely street corner. It takes two cities to tell this story and uses abundant flashbacks, thus told over multiple days even though it's also just a tiny slice of one endless night. 

As the next episodes go on, they will all be taking place over this “day.” And yet this day begins after dark, and if that's supposed to be in early to mid June, during some of the longest days of the year, how long is that evening? That strange timelessness creates a wonderfully surreal slice of pure atmosphere. And pure atmosphere is what powers the entire story as we learn about Victoria Winters and her quest for home and meaning and identity, so yes, it’s the 56th anniversary of the first episode of Shadows on the Wall. And without that, we would have had no Dark Shadows. Let’s celebrate it as its own animal. And yes, I know it's all one big text and it's one big story. And yes, I am violating my own rules by looking at this as more of a slice of real-world production than the first piece of a 1225 piece puzzle. But what’s analysis without a little internal contradiction, right? 

It's fun to watch how Art Wallace deploys the characters, sets, and information that viewers will need. It gives a clear view of his priorities… and what did or did not hook audiences. 

As the episode begins, Vicki is introduced as someone in search of meaning, Having to find out as much as she possibly can about… everything. That singular need makes her oft-repeated mantra of, “I just don't understand” feel more grating for her to say than for us to hear. Meanwhile, Roger is preoccupied with the danger of bringing a stranger into the house, while Liz seems determined to do so. When we consider that Liz is the one who has been isolating herself for 18 years, this situation becomes intentionally absurd. That is a quieter mystery than Vicki’s quest. It's one to be revealed under the skin of the story, but it's more profound than any of the others. 

Painting Roger as an angry xenophobe may be the only sour note here. After all, the trial and Burke’s imprisonment were over a years ago. Unless Roger is obsessed with Burke's return, he's in a pretty comfortable place. The later Roger — of Dark Shadows — would be thrilled at someone new coming into town. And from a dramatic perspective, having him in a place of smug comfort might have been a good height from which he could fall with Burke's return. But it wouldn't give the character anywhere to go, and it sets up one more mystery — why is Roger such an intense sourpuss? 

As a character, Collinsport is depicted in a suitably dreamlike fashion; the conductor says that there are normally no regular stops there, making the town seem beyond isolated for a place with a major business within. We wonder how it can possibly hope to exist. Not only has Liz isolated herself, and not only is Collinwood a fortress from the outside, but the entire town seems insulated from any kind of external influence. We understand why Burke calls it “the beginning and the end of the world.” In her flashbacks, Vicki keeps hearing the question, “What are you going to do?” And her answer is the answer of the 20th century; to take action is to step into a void of nothingness, hoping for the best. 

Even though the episode is in black and white and it uses it magnificently, its investment in the symbolism of color is no more pointed than when we hear about what Burke and Vicki have physically brought to Collinsport. Burke is saddled with two black bags, literally representing his copious personal baggage and their ominous contents and weight. Vicki has only one piece of luggage: red. Her desirability or her heart or her intensity or sense of life? Or maybe Art Wallace just liked typing the word “red.” But it’s a passionate color, making her a tad less virginally naive when she meets her Collinsport counterpart, Maggie.

At this point they split up. Vicki stays at the inn… a place of nourishment and comfort, where people know Burke with a fond warmth incongruous with his cold demeanor. And Burke? He goes off to a bar, which says it all. He leaves the girl with the red tote and journeys to the Blue Whale. A color both sad and obscene, attached to the largest animal on the planet. Is he Jonah or Ahab or both? 

They both learn valuable information from possible allies. Or not. Vicky meets Maggie, who so little resembles the later character of Maggie Evans that the part might as well be played by Danny Trejo. Maggie is a wonderful foil for Vicki, worldly and edgy and keeping nothing to herself. They are both seemingly working class and yet nothing alike. 

At the bar, Burke learns that Elizabeth has been isolated for 18 years. That’s big news for the audience, but upon reflection it seems odd that Burke would not know some of this. He hasn’t been away that long. But the mystery of Collinwood pervades. It feels as if Vicki‘s impending danger is printed in bold on every page as the pilot moves her closer and closer to Collinwood. 

Just like Barnabas would, 211 episodes later, give or take, Vicki knocks on the door under the portmanteau to gain entry. It’s a very specific shot repeated for significant characters entering Collinwood… ones who seem to have more of a place there than many of the actual residents. As Liz ushers her in, the episode’s abrupt end brings our attention to what we still long to know.

As the camera pulls away from the conversation to follow, we feel like voyeurs yanked back into the anonymous night. It's a directorial move telling us that we have only gotten a brief glimpse. It’s a world meant to be guarded and cloaked. If we're lucky, maybe we will be allowed back in just as Vicki was allowed in. Will our stay be as brief?

It's a terse, suspenseful inauguration. What would that series have been like if it had been a success as envisioned? Within two years, Vicki would be not only lost in place, but in time as well. Her mysteries would mount rather than diminish. Perhaps Maggie never lost her brass as she gained texture and nuance. It takes grit and glamour to win the attention of television’s brainiest, most diabolical beaus. I don’t see Nicholas and Barnabas on the menu at this point, but I’m happy to hang around for them. Shadows are made to reveal surprises. Nothing could have surprised viewers more than what awaited them in the ones cast here. 

This episode hit the airwaves June 27, 1966.

Friday, June 24, 2022

The Dark Shadows Daybook: June 23


Taped on this day in June 23, 1967: Episode  271

By PATRICK McCRAY

If it’s wedding bells for Liz and Jason, why is she ringing them with a bloody fireplace poker? Paul Stoddard: Dennis Patrick. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Liz explains why she cannot marry Jason in a flashback depicting her attempted assassination of Paul Stoddard. 18 years prior, after using the fireplace set for a rather extreme couples therapy role-play to respond to his attempts to leave, she seemingly murdered Paul, whose body was ostensibly buried in a trunk in the basement.

At this point, I really don’t know how most people watch Dark Shadows, or if there even is such a thing as “most people.” With DVDs largely dead as a medium and streaming packages insisting on separating the pre-Barnabas episodes has a weird (but potentially telling) afterthought, I really can’t responsibly begin this essay the way I would have a few years ago. Therefore, I shall.

When most people watch Dark Shadows, they begin with the unleashing of Barnabas, and immediately, it’s clear to anyone that he is not the villain of the series. It may be televisions greatest morality trick. I mean, yes he’s a kidnapper who kills people, but he’s no JR Ewing. He’s doing the former simply because he hast to eat. He’s doing the latter because he thinks, in someway, he can release the true, inner spirit from some sort of weird, working class prison of internally mistaken identity. Well, OK, he also beats the shisha out of Willie Loomis on a regular basis, but everyone has to have a hobby. And considering where he came from, that’s simply how you maintain a home appliance, like knocking a television on the side (back when they had sides) or whacking something with batteries in it to do… Whatever that’s supposed to do. Teach them manners or something. 

Realistically, the villain is obviously Jason Maguire. Jason does what he does not just out of greed, but because he legitimately enjoys torturing Liz. Maybe it’s class envy. Maybe it’s deep seated, Irish Catholic rage aimed at someone who is more than likely an atheist. Or a Protestant. And to Jason, they’re probably the same thing. We don’t know much about the alleged death of Paul Stoddard, but we know that Liz has basically made herself serve 18 years with Matthew Morgan’s cooking with no time off for good digestion. It’s clear that she feels bad and that she has done more than her share of time served.  So, we naturally feel sorry for her and that makes him all the more hateful. 

What’s worse is that Dennis Patrick is quite probably the most charming actor to ever darken the towels of Collinwood, and while it won’t be the first thing out of my mouth if I ever see a cast member again, I suspect most of them would agree with me.  So, we wind up with that weird animal of “the villain you love to hate.”   

And pardon if I digress from my digression, but doesn’t that phrase seem a little turned around? Shouldn’t you take a certain modicum of satisfaction in having the ethics to, if not love the act of hating a villain, at least have no compunction about hating them? Now that I think about it, the expression that is probably more accurate is, “the villain you hate to love.” Because you know that you should just like him, but he’s such an ingratiating person that, honestly, I often find myself thinking, “well, if I’m going to be married to a hateful parasite, at least he’s fun to be around.“

Liz has been alone for 18 years. She has more money than she knows what to do with. I’m not saying that she should fall head over heels for every extortionist who helps to bury a murdered spouse, but now that I’m thinking about it, I sort of wonder how bad life with Jason would really be. I mean, I’m sure marriage would be terrible. Especially because all of my married friends warn me that it’s terrible. But… I’ve seen close-ups of Bill Malloy‘s beard. And no, I’m not talking about Mrs. Johnson. I’m just saying that she could do worse. I see people get married for money all the time, and I have to give props to Jason for at least being honest about it.  

And you can’t say that Liz doesn’t mind slumming it when it comes to husbands. I always detected a class difference between Liz and Paul. There are never any references to the mighty Stoddard belt loop empire or whatever people make their fortunes with. (I hear rumors that it has something to do with hard work, but I haven’t the nerve to try it.) And besides, give Jason a mustache and cut off his supply of Grecian formula, and you have yourself one Paul Stoddard with a more winning accent.  

So even with all of that, Jason‘s moments of sadism are striking enough that it overcomes even Dennis Patrick’s effervescence. (Which, ironically, makes him all the more adept as an actor.) 

As a Dark Shadows viewer, this episode, and the ones that immediately follow it, are some of the first most reassuring moments for most viewers that the show will deliver. Because at this point, Barnabas has given up on Maggie, probably because he thinks she’s dead (but not in the right way). So that entire storyline vaguely feels like it went nowhere. But this one had to go somewhere. It’s a bit of terrestrial nastiness that has to end in a wedding. 

The show does such a masterful job at reiterating the source of Liz’s anxiety that, even if we have not followed it from episode one, we still feel a profound satisfaction at seeing the flashback to Paul’s murder. As a kid, I didn’t think they would ever show something like that. And you only got it once, unlike everything else on the show, where the same pivotal moments are often repeated at least five times so that everyone, no matter what day of the week they see it on, gets the thrill.  This felt like a genuine reward for paying attention and tuning in every day. It was somehow both the Easter Egg and the entire basket.

Coming about one year and a week after the show went on the air, it had to be even more luxuriously satisfying for viewers who’d been with it from the start.

It takes four more episodes for the complete dénouement. It seems like a typically excessive length until you combine it with the typically excessive build up. At which point, the five episode pay off feels almost generous. 

Watching the hand of Barnabas rise up to crush Jason‘s life was a quick and brutally satisfying moment, as well. It’s a gesture that becomes a force of nature. For Willie, it was a moment that created a new life. For Jason, it means some thing else. But it makes the force within Barnabas seem like something out of Greek mythology, a cruel and honest crucible responding to an intruder’s essence. In some ways it almost feels as if that force within Barnabas has a judgmental autonomy completely divorced from the great man. A bit like Count Petofi’s capricious hand would be several years later. Because both times, it’s basically just Barnabas‘s instinctive response to having someone throw open his bedroom door without even knocking.

And although the coffin was not necessarily rocking, Willie and Jason really should have at least greeted him from his sleep with a newspaper and some toast. 

This episode hit the airwaves July 10, 1967.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

It Was Great When it All Began ...


By PATRICK McCRAY

2021 was an extraordinary year for Dark Shadows. Yes, it was also a sad year. We lost some marvelous actors, and the losses have cast the future of Dark Shadows festival into doubt with this author… certainly on the scale we saw in 2016. At the same time, there was a wealth of independent Dark Shadows podcasting and authorship. The Rondo nominations are a testament to our passionate industry. Although the rights holders seemingly kept it quiet in 2021, we did not. And that has spilled into 2022. Why the revival? Is it even a revival? Perhaps it’s more of a testament to the momentum that’s been building for a decade. 

2011-2021 is a ten year span of technological innovation that has put extraordinary tools in the hands of workin’ Joes like us to create quality products that rival the professional offerings we wish we’d had. Podcasting and desktop publishing are the two most notable examples. But there’s more than technology afoot. I’m beginning to suspect that mine is not an isolated case. 

What case? In 2011, Dark Shadows fans got the best news possible: a Tim Burton/Johnny Depp movie that would certainly catapult us from accusations of camp to accolades of genius. Then, 2012 happened to us. April, 2012, to be exact. While the film attracted many brainy and iconoclastic new fans, it charmed few longtime supporters. For all of the angst that caused, I think it was more of a catalyst than curse. I know that I felt like I needed to do something for the franchise to give back a little. At the time, my best idea was a stunt somewhere at the crossroads of Morgan Spurlock, Andy Kaufman and Evel Knievel… I sacrificed 45 days to watch the entire series, 10.5 hours a day, five to six days a week. A decade later, I had one collection of essays out and another on the way. Three fine podcasts serve the internet. And the books just keep coming. 

If 2011-2021 was a decade of an uncomfortable detente between the original fans of the series and the Burtonians, the tenth anniversary of the Burton film (and Mr. Frid’s death) is what may be the final word on the subject from the first generation of fans, Jim Beard’s collection of various memoirs, Running Home to Shadows. It’s a title that needs little elaboration. Ask almost anyone who was born somewhen at the intersection of Eisenhower and Kennedy and you’ll hear the familiar nostalgia-cry of “I ran home from school every day to watch Dark Shadows….”

This narrative dominated the experience of growing up with Dark Shadows, and it finally has a definitive voice to give it shape in this book. For those of us born after that period, there’s been a subtle caste-system in DS fandom… maybe out of necessity. Our work (at least prior to the Sci Fi Channel and the internet) has not been one of discovery but archaeology. The suspense was non-existent. Correction, the suspense was in whether or not we would actually see the series. Did the final episodes exist? How could we see them? Would MPI really finish? Once DVD and streaming settled that argument, the more honest question became, “Who would actually finish watching it all, now that it’s available?”

It is to the show’s credit that so many did and still do… despite lacking a unifying ritual. But that ritual -- running home from school to see and share the new episodes -- created a bonding momentum that got us here today. No other program has that cultural legend behind it… or the decades of mainstream horror that have resulted. As such, Beard delivers a vital history and voices that have yet to go silent.

Dark Shadows Audi-O-Rama #2: The Book of Temptation

 

Audi-O-Rama #2: The Book of Temptation

By Justin Partridge



Dark Shadows: The Book of Temptation

Starring: David Selby, Lara Parker, Kathryn Leigh Scott, John Karlen, Daphne Ashbrook, and Andrew Collins

Written by: Scott Handcock

Directed by: Gary Russell


All Work and No SPOILERS AHEAD Make Jack a Dull Boy.


“Everybody has nightmares, Maggie. I can’t help you with that. Nobody can…”


Now That’s What I Call Dark Shadows! Volume Two!


Welcome back to Audi-O-Rama, dear readers. And you return to find some classic Dark Shadows hijinks and ensemble-based goodness! As we tackle 2006’s The Book of Temptation. Big Finish Productions’ strong follow up to their own return to Collinsport. Helmed by long-time Big Finish scribe Scott Handcock (Torchwood, The War Master, Time Lord Victorious, and the upcoming The Mind of Hodiac with Rusty T. Davies!) and the legendary in my book, Gary Russell.


The reverberations of Quentin Collins’ return to Collinsport are still being felt throughout the town. But nobody is more affected than poor ol’ Willie Loomis. Who wakes to find himself in the care of Maggie Evans at the Collinsport Inn after his…let’s say, draining reintroduction to the “new” Barnabas Collins and the resurrected Angelique last time in The House of Despair. 


Naturally, his “sickness” and reignited mania brought on by Barnabas’ bite raises Maggie’s hackles. And she aims to give the Collins family a piece of her mind about it too. But instead of telling off our reunited dark trio, she is drawn into this serial’s ghostly main plot. Centered around a haunted book, brought to life by Doctor Who’s Daphne Ashbrook, that feasts on the memories and souls of those unfortunate enough to read from its pages. Adding them to a twisted conglomerate of personalities 


As far as plots go, The Book of Temptation’s is a trifle basic. The idea of a haunted book has been done a few times before now in Dark Shadows and Scott Handcock’s version here doesn’t really reinvent the wheel. Despite a wonderfully broad and multi-layered performance by Daphne Ashbrook. A performer that stands up well amid the new and returned cast and who also adds a novel ethos to the part of Charlotte Howell. A former member of Collinwood’s staff in the 1920’s who becomes the main pillar personality trapped in the book’s warped collection of souls.


But The Book of Temptation’s real success is in its uses of the reassembled icons of Dark Shadows. If the previous serial’s goal was about bringing everyone back to the table and reintroducing audiences to Collinsport of the “now”, The Book of Temptation’s aim seems to be building them all back outward again. And it totally nails it.


While John Karlen’s Willie doesn’t get much to do this round aside from some quick lampshading in the first and last parts, everyone else gets substantial time in the spotlight. Kathryn Leigh Scott is brought fully back into the ensemble with her return to Collinwood, and both Handcock and Russell work overtime to make sure Quentin, the “regenerated” Barnabas, Maggie, AND Angelique get ample time and opportunity to interact with one another.


And it’s all totally sparkling! Scott’s Maggie is back to playing the voice of reason and compassion throughout the Collins family and Angelique’s pragmatic, slightly ruthless courses of action. One of which includes Quentin straight up imprisoning Maggie in the infamous Collinwood dungeon to keep her “safe” from the book’s influences. I wish I could deal with all my problems by simply throwing them in a dungeon, but I guess that’s just the privilege of the supernatural 1%ers.


Better still, Handcock’s script doesn’t ignore the already established dynamics between Maggie and the rest of the cast. While narratively he has to dance around slightly because of Maggie’s memory-wipe from the final TV episodes, on the whole, Maggie’s reconnection with everyone is dealt with really carefully. And with a deft touch performance wise thanks to Scott and Andrew Collins’ newly formed dynamic. That in itself is heavily informed by the courtly spark of Jonathan Frid and Scott’s famous chemistry.


All around, The Book of Temptation is a rousing success. Both as a sophomore installment of this “new” era of Dark Shadows and as a single serial experience. A lovingly produced slice of pulpy gothic-ness. One both gracefully supported by its TV past and working extra hard to reestablish bonafides for a whole new audience. Exemplifying how and why these characters and their franchise work. Without being overly bogged down in its reverence for the past television-based incarnation. Honestly, kinda the best case scenario for a follow-up episode! I would have loved this in 2006, but I surely love it now and will likely give this to normals looking for a neat entryway into Dark Shadows. 


Not too shabby for a second round, huh?


Audi-O-Grams

  • We get our first “new” appearance of the Collinwood Drawing Room! And it’s still being used for hissed and tense secret asides between characters! Traditions are very important.
  • We also get our first mention of an exorcism in this “new” era. It’s endlessly funny to me that both seances and exorcisms are just standard operating procedures for the Collins family.
  • It’s not Dark Shadows without a parallel timeline. Yet more stuff in common with Doctor Who besides sharing cast members and creatives.
  • I continue to love how Big Finish just gets out of the way of Robert Cobert’s music. They provide some wonderful supplemental music and scores of their own later on in the ranges, and even now here, thanks to Joseph Fox’s great additions. But man, Cobert’s stuff is still just unimpeachably great and they know it.


NEXT TIME: 2007’s The Christmas Presence. Our first double-dip! Yuletide vibes! Toby Longworth! Be seeing you, you crazy diamonds.

_____________________________________________________________________

Justin Partridge has always loved monsters and he thinks that explains a lot about him. When he isn’t over analyzing comics at Newsarama or ranting about Tom Clancy over at Rogues Portal, he is building Call of Cthulhu games, spreading the good word of Anti-Life, or rewatching Garth Marenghi's Darkplace for the dozenth time. He can be reached at the gasping Lovecraftian void that is Twitter @j_partridgeIII or via e-mail at justin@betweenthepanels.com Odds are he will want to talk about Hellblazer.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Dark Shadows Audi-O-Rama #1: The House of Despair



Audi-O-Rama #1: The House of Despair

By Justin Partridge 


Dark Shadows: The House of Despair 

Starring: David Selby, Lara Parker, Kathryn Leigh Scott, John Karlen, Ursula Burton, and Jamison Selby

Written by: Stuart Manning

Directed by: Gary Russell


Baby, Can Ya Dig Your SPOILERS AHEAD?

He’s a Righteous SPOILERS AHEAD.

Tell Me, Baby, Can Ya Dig Your SPOILERS AHEAD?


“I thought that if I ran fast enough I need never turn back, but now I find myself compelled to return. 


Just as I always knew I would be.” 


What’s this?! An audio review! From ME?!


Yes, your eyes do not deceive you, dear readers. I have returned to the fake cobweb-encrusted shores of Collinsport. Much like Quentin Collins, I did so roam the world before my return to you now. I followed the Devil Hulk through his night-bound exploits in the desert. I followed Ol’ Shellhead, Iron Man, to the farthest reaches of space in pursuit of Korvac. And in between, I visited Gotham City (shockingly great public transit), Krakoa (shockingly great mutant coffee), and even Otherworld (shockingly awful magicks-based law enforcement).


But all the while, my heart yearned always for my beloved Collinsport. The rolling fog, the constant cosmic dread, it’s wobbly constructed interiors and exteriors. It left a real void in my heart not having all that with me every day. That longing was further stoked by my colleagues here at the CHS sending me regular correspondence and my still-active subscription to The Collinsport Star. But after a horrid layover weekend in accursed Bangor and quite a lot of impassioned persuasion (nee: tearful begging) to Upstairs, I have returned to my old desk here at the CHS! It’s even by one of the windows this time. I am very lucky.


And I fully plan on using it! The desk, not the window. It’s all terribly exciting, I’m sure. But I want it to be fun too! I have a lengthy plan on what we will be discussing here at Audi-O-Rama but I am trying to leave myself open to covering other things here too. Things that might slightly deviate from the list I have already, with approval from Upstairs, of course. 


As of now the general idea is a “Dark Shadows at Big Finish Retrospective” approach. Meaning I will be tackling every single Dark Shadows release from Big Finish Productions. Alongside some other coverage of things I’ve already started writing on. Such as the Marlyin Ross audiobooks and The Tony & Cassandra Mysteries.


Some we will be double-covering, like Bloodlust/Bloodline and the 1973 Storyline. But I think I definitely have more to say on the ones we’ve discussed before! Armed also with the broader experience tackling these (and more!) from the start. 


And speaking of the start, here we are now with a true blue blast from the early Aughts past; 2006’s The House of Despair. Big Finish Productions’ first time at-bat with Dark Shadows. And one that stands up pretty well as a functional and user-friendly reboot of the franchise. 


Spearheaded by Stuart Manning and Gary Russell, two names that should be very familiar to the Whovians amongst you, The House of Despair is a novel, if a bit basic “re-pilot” for this “new” era of Dark Shadows.


We open, as is tradition, on someone on a train. Bound for the town at the edge of the world. But this isn’t just any ol’ someone. It’s Quentin Collins, played once again by the immediately activated and charming David Selby. Forgive me a brief tangent, but I fully knew that a lot of these were going to be heavy on Selby’s Quentin, but I still got a total thrill and instant warmth hearing Selby inhabit the role. Quentin and Selby overall are both very, very important to me as a person and creative, so I think all of these audios will have a slight (and wholly unobjective) edge being so focused on him.


Better still, Selby totally comes back wholly reformed and confident in the part as well! Usually you would expect a bit of “ring rust” when it came to someone coming back to a role for the first time (2006 time, that is) since the 70s. But with Selby’s Quentin, from the first scene on the ever-implacable Collinsport Express on, he’s absolutely on. Charmingly anchoring the three-part, sixteen chapter serial and bantering beautifully with the rest of the returning cast. As if no time had passed between the final slate and now/2006.


EVEN BETTER, the whole production has allowed his own age to seep into his characterization. Manning and Russell do some dancing this serial around his immortal status in this first tale, as they are also somewhat dancing further around Collinsport’s whole deal in the wake of the final TV episode. Leaving it more nebulous in the now as to try and build it out later. But with that lack of plot, what comes shining through is Selby’s performance in concert with the rest of the returning vets. All of whom return to their roles with the same gusto and activation as Selby.


One of the great strengths of The House of Despair is how it’s not ignoring the dearth of time between the final TV episode and this “new” episode. Neither is it’s cast. Though everyone is positioned in a narratively sound starting position when we start (Maggie now owns The Inn and works there still while a new family owns the Blue Whale, Anqelique has “died” and haunts the Sea Cave, The Collins family are “missing”,and Barnabas is presumed dead) Russell, Manning, and their cast allow these icons to be actually older. Having changed and settled (for the most part) realistically in the time between those last credits and now.


However, while the returning cast members provide The House of Despair plenty of charge for the diehard fans while selling the “feel” of Dark Shadows for newbies, it’s plot is a mite thin when compared to the aforementioned charge. I think much of this is coming from the fact that Manning and Russell have so much stuff to set up for the incoming range. 


Quentin Collins has returned to Collinsport, but the strange happenings that have plagued the town have remained. Manifesting this time around as a gaggle of soulless and memory-less townspeople called “The Lost”, controlled by the creature known as Mr. Strix. Who has taken up residence in the abandoned Collinwood. The perfect place for an interdimentional demon in control of a massive murder of crows filled with the “Lost’s” human souls. 


In order to banish Strix from his ancestral home, Quentin enlists the help of Willie Loomis and a resurrected Angelique. The former being the only real connection left to the ancient house and the town that bears its name. Loomis being left in the wake of the Collins’ family exodus. John Karlen…he was just the best, y’all.


Naturally, this leads to a sonically pleasing showdown with the demon and our now assembled “new” cast. For physical and metaphysical ownership of the ancient mansion. Which is then bolstered further in favor of our anti-heroes by the debut of the “regenerated” Barnabas Collins. Played assuredly by the darkly charming Andrew Collins, one of my absolute favorite performers in all of Big Finish Productions. Alongside Ursla Burton and Jamison Selby’s Susan and Ed Griffin, new owners of The Blue Whale. Who we know grow to full on co-stars of the range later down the line. Burton, especially, transitioning from behind the mic to behind the scenes!


If this sounds like a lot of moving parts, it totally is. But worse still, it doesn’t really seem like the properly big ideas that the range became known for. Strix, his soul-birds, and The Lost are all neat ideas and could maybe serve as a serviceable “monster of the week” in another serial separately. But trying to jam them together on top of how much work is being put into resetting the core cast and Collinsport, post TV hiatus. It just seems like too-little butter scraped over too much bread. 


Especially when the REAL GOOD bread and butter is all the setting up of our legacy characters! Using such powerfully weird iconography such as Barnabas’ ring, Quentin’s “Graveyard of Memories” liminal space, and even the very real estate of Collinsport and Collinwood, Manning and Russell really bait the hook nicely for their resurrected take on Dark Shadows


Where they choose to pick up with our main cast members too shows a sort of canny and basic malleability. No one, save Barnabas really, is in a wholly unexpected place. Angelique still haunts the town. Maggie has transitioned from one pillar of the community (Collinwood) to another (Collinsport Inn). And now Quentin has returned, robbed of his memories largely and eager to build a new life as the primary Collins of the old great house. It’s a neat starting position to go from.


Which Manning and Russell waste little time upending slightly! Thanks to a timely bite from the brand new Barnabas to the injured neck of Willie! Being just a highly soused human facing a literal demon, Willie is waylaid in the battle of Collinwood. Forcing Barnabas, spurred on by the gloating Angelique, to spread his vampire curse to Willie. Now WHERE have we seen THIS before? This is Dark Shadows 1301. Facing us normal ham-and-eggers against actual monsters and various cosmic horrors interspersed with some choice high drama. This is basic stuff, people!


No, not basic. That’s not the right word. It’s comfortable. Both in terms of production and execution. The House of Despair eases us back into the dreary, but weirdly engaging world of Dark Shadows. Shepherded by voices, creatives, and characters we’ve known for years who seemingly haven’t lost a single step. 


It made me so, so happy to be back. And so, so excited to hear where we get to next. 


Audi-O-Grams:

  • This is going to be something I try here, akin to the old AV Club “Stray Observations” sections. Basically just a spot for all the random junk I think of that I can’t fit into the review proper and/or direct appeals to y’all, our dear readers.
  • Gary Russell as a writer is someone I have a real personal connection to. It was nice seeing that he’s involved so heavily in this first stretch of audios. 
  • He wrote my first proper introduction to the Fifth Doctor. Divided Loyalties from the BBC Books Past Doctor Adventures novels. Which I read and reread like a thousand times before I ever saw frame one of a Peter Davison serial. I freaking loved that book and I am STILL trying to find a copy to rebuy that won’t cost me one of my kidneys. 
  • Also very happy to hear Robert Cobert’s original music pieces all over this opening serial. It’s baked into my whole idea of Dark Shadows at the DNA level, so I’m always happy to hear it. Doubly so to hear it used so well. 


Next Time: The Book of Temptation! A Maggie Evans story! Quentin/Angelique team ups! Dr. Grace Holloway from Doctor Who! Be seeing you, Spiders From Mars


______________________________________________________________________________________


Justin Partridge has always loved monsters and he thinks that explains a lot about him. When he isn’t over analyzing comics at Newsarama or ranting about Tom Clancy over at Rogues Portal, he is building Call of Cthulhu games, spreading the good word of Anti-Life, or rewatching Garth Marenghi's Darkplace for the dozenth time. He can be reached at the gasping Lovecraftian void that is Twitter @j_partridgeIII or via e-mail at justin@betweenthepanels.com Odds are he will want to talk about Hellblazer.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 25



Taped on this day in 1968: Episode 460

By PATRICK McCRAY

As Barnabas and Victoria face certain doom, will Joshua, Ben, and destiny unite to propel them into the future? Barnabas Collins: Jonathan Frid. (Repeat; 30 min.)

After the brisk execution of Nathan Forbes, Barnabas instructs Joshua to ensure that this is his son’s last night as a vampire. Joshua vows to do so, but with a curious uncertainty. When it comes time, he cannot pull the trigger, and instead has Ben Stokes chain him in suspended animation. Joshua later honors Barnabas’s request and grants Ben his long overdue freedom. Later, before Victoria is taken to the gallows, Peter Bradford vows that he will find her in time. 


We begin with the death of Nathan Forbes. Now, on the other end of one apocalypse, Barnabas is free to unleash the full extent of his wrath. He is no doubt saturated with self-recrimination; he did not allow the dead part of his heart to triumph over the living part, to a literally eternal regret.  Perhaps by unleashing his inner evil, he could’ve done more good in the world. It’s a lesson he will carry with him, whether he remembers its impetus or not. Barnabas has only one foe left to destroy: Himself.  He asks Joshua to do the honors, but Joshua tellingly procrastinates the attempt until the next day. His father says, enigmatically, that he doesn’t know what lies beyond the grave. He may be speaking existentially. Or he may be forming a plan to send Barnabas to another time. Perhaps to be free of the troubled son. Perhaps with the hope that Barnabas will find an enlightened future.  


In this moment, Joshua fixates on rewriting the present. You could argue that it’s for the posterity of the Collins family. And that may very well be somewhat true. But I think there is a more profound truth here. I think Joshua is developing the plan for Barnabas — to be discovered in a future where the burgeoning fidelity to science can conquer the curse of Angélique. Perhaps it’s foolishness. Perhaps it’s vainglorious. These are the sorts of decisions made in the world devoid of women and their anchoring influence. Yes, men are rash. Yes, they are cowardly. Yes they are drunk on a strange, fatalistic optimism. But these are risks that men, left to their own devices, are famous for. It is the blindness of “who dares wins,“ and in times of total desperation, daring is the only choice some have. By reshaping what will become history, Joshua is preparing a safe perch on which his son can land. Now, business concerns are secondary for the patriarch. His wife is gone. His brother is gone. His daughter is gone. All he has is his son. And all he can guarantee is passage to a tomorrow beyond the reach of the shattered present. Although he will later go through the pantomime of attempting to shoot Barnabas in his coffin, I wonder if he had any intention of ever really doing so.


Before they part, Barnabas has just two requests: free Ben Stokes and attempt to liberate Victoria Winters. Joshua responds that he will do both. 


Dark Shadows reveals its deepest value, commitment, when the characters can knowingly face death rather than have it sprung upon them. Their’s is world with little control. These are the few moments where control is possible. The characters savor them with gravitas and clarity. It is the same kind of commitment that Barnabas will show Quentin nearly 200 years in the future (and only 45 years in the future) as he assures the execution-bound scientist that he will fulfill all of his final requests. That’s not just Barnabas speaking. That’s Joshua speaking. 


Jonathan Frid and Louis Edmonds tackle their final scene with heartbreaking finesse. Crying is not the most powerful thing an actor can do on stage. Rather, it is the attempt not to cry that seizes audiences. In these moments, Frid and Edmonds seize. In a medium of love scenes, there is none more poignant.


The scene will repeat itself later in the episode as Victoria and Peter say farewell. When Peter vows to find her in time’s wilderness, it’s as if he has been subconsciously inspired by Joshua. Just as Barnabas will find some kind of peace in the future unknown, Peter will find Victoria. These are not just wishes or speculations. These are not predictions. These things happen with the tortured confidence of men who seem to have been to the eras they foresee and are reporting back. 


Joshua, yes, has a surface level of uncertainty. But he shows commitment nevertheless. And if the viewer should have any doubt that this optimism has feet of clay, Peter’s commitment promises the viewers that Dark Shadows is one universe in which they can have confidence. Yes, Joshua is indulging in history‘s greatest lie. But sometimes it takes a lie to preserve everything that would be lost on the altar of truth. In such cases, life is too precious to squander on the vanities of honor and honesty. They are luxuries reserved for the untested and the fortunate. Joshua is neither.


It’s an episode of haunted goodbyes, but like Ben Stokes contemplating the future, while it is the end of one world, it is the beginning of another. We know, at last, who Barnabas truly is. We know why. We know some of the threats he will face. And we know the heart with which he will face them.


Dark Shadows, as we know it, is finally ready to begin.


It’s the sixth anniversary of the Dark Shadows Daybook. Sharing these moments and insights with you has been the highlight of my life of over a half decade. I want you to know how grateful I am if you are still reading these words and if they have done anything to help deepen your love for this story. 


I’ll see you all at Collinwood. Someday. 


This episode hit the airwaves March 29, 1968.

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