Tuesday, September 3, 2013


It might be time for Big Finish to embrace the inevitable and let Collinsport move away from the early 1970s.

At the moment, age isn't a problem for every DARK SHADOWS actor involved in the Big Finish series, but time has a way of forcing the issue. Listening to THE LUCIFER GAMBIT, it was a little unnerving to hear NANCY BARRETT playing a flirty young Carolyn Stoddard. There was no masking the age difference between her and the actor playing Collinsport's new sheriff, and the effect was unintentionally creepy. This might sound a little unfair to Barrett, but it's the situation that's unfair. The DARK SHADOWS phenomenon forces the original cast to return to their youth, swimming against a current that gets more resistant each year.

Ironically, the latest episode of Big Finish's DARK SHADOWS series is centered on people coping badly with fading youth. In THE LUCIFER GAMBIT, Amy Jennings returns to Collinsport after an extended absence, a little bit older and a great deal wiser. After intercepting a telephone call meant for an absent Prof. Stokes, Amy answers a cry for help that leads her into a supernatural domestic squabble between a dead woman and her living husband. And that's about as much as I can say without wading further into spoiler territory.

Written by ERIC WALLACE, who previously wrote the DARK SHADOWS audio dramas THE WICKED AND THE DEAD and KINGDOM OF THE DEAD (as well as MR. TERRIFIC and TITANS for DC Comics,) THE LUCIFER GAMBIT is one of the more energetic episodes of the series. It involves a bit of deception, an interesting new monster and a few threads that connect it to the year's other DARK SHADOWS mysteries. It's difficult to discuss in any great detail without spoiling the proceedings, but it's a fun story.

Where things begin to fray around the edges are with the casting decisions. There are no bad performances here, but the chemistry between the actors often feels wrong. STEPHANIE ELLYNE does fine work as Amy Jennings, replacing DENISE NICKERSON for whatever reason. I wish I could say the casting change made me miss Nickerson, but it didn't. SHEILA STEAFEL is also fun as the episode's villain, and it's an impressive feat of planning that allows for brief appearances by NANCY BARRETT and LISA RICHARDS. There's a lot of added value here for DARK SHADOWS fans.

But the differences in ages, both real and fictional, throw off the proceedings on more than one occasion.  Barrett sounds her age when she's flirting with the younger actor; Steafel also sounds her age while playing a character married to a much younger man. One is intentional, while the other is an example of reality creeping into the story. This is further confused by the dangerous obsession with youth that drives the plot. This dissonance doesn't feel intentional, but it certainly feels weird.

Now, I'm not suggesting we change the locks and give the original cast of DARK SHADOWS their walking papers. On the contrary: I think it's time to put their experience to better use. Listening to this episode, I wondered what it would be like to hear Barrett playing the matriarch of Collinwood in the present day. This led to questions about the fates of Maggie Evans, David Collins and yes, even Barnabas.
A leap forward to the present might even dull the sting of recasting actors we've lost over the years. Or, at least, explain their constant absences from the series.

Granted, this would probably create a dozen other problems, such as trying to figure out how things like smart phones would function in the kinds of stories told by DARK SHADOWS. But maybe it's time for that.

THE LUCIFER GAMBIT is available on CD and digital download from Big Finish.

1 comment:

Travis Woodman said...

Great article! I was just having the same thought if TV or Big Finish started Dark Shadows back up in 2013, with aged Carolyn and David, living with their spouses and children at Collinwood. Quentin and Barnabas nearby. Willie is retired, Maggie and Joe living in Collinsport. Victoria could even return from the 1700's, only aged a few years from the 1970's, and then she should could be the one displaced from time.

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