The producers of Big Finish’s DARK SHADOWS line of audiodramas are on a crusade to redeem the long-lamented “Leviathans” storyline.
For those of you arriving late: The Leviathans story is widely believed to have been moment when DARK SHADOWS jumped the proverbial shark. Combining elements of H.P. Lovecraft, Ira Levin’s “Rosemary’s Baby” and Jack Finney’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” the show’s ratings began a decline during this story that never fully righted itself. Fans continue to nurture a lingering resentment for the Leviathans, and think of it as the Yoko Ono of DARK SHADOWS storylines.
And, as with Yoko Ono, the Leviathans are little more than a scapegoat for less visible problems. While DARK SHADOWS made several critical missteps during that storyline, it also got a lot right. And Big Finish refuses to throw this monstrous baby out with the bath water.
THE HARVEST OF SOULS is a sequel to two previous (and mostly unrelated) episodes, THE HOUSE BY THE SEA and BEYOND THE GRAVE. The stars of those individual episodes, Kathryn Leigh Scott and Colin Baker, are united in this bleak tale that finds their characters at staggeringly low points in their lives. Following the events of BEYOND THE GRAVE, Maggie Evans (Scott) decides she’s had her fill of Collinsport — and life, in general — and is drowning her misery in pills and booze. Her efforts to commit suicide are thwarted by an acquaintance from the past: Warlock Nicholas Blair, now wearing the face and skin of another man.
Blair is again in the service of the Leviathans, and it’s revealed they have a surprising connection to Collinsport. Blair explains that life first crawled from the ocean in the place that is now Collinsport. Naturally, the Leviathans have an almost-nostalgic affection for the town, and have abandoned their goals of world conquest if it means they can regain control of their former home. This means the current inhabitants have to go … someplace else. Blair is given the chore of serving Satanic eviction notices on the town’s residents, who are seduced away from their homes (and this plane of reality) in exchange for a lifetime of dreams.
THE HARVEST OF SOULS functions as an interesting dissection of Maggie Evans and Nicholas Blair as characters, though one of these is much more explicit than the other. Scott’s performance here is incredible, and had me thinking about how well these kinds of stories would work as live readings. While Baker is essential to the story (as is Jonathon Marx as the late Sheriff Jim Hardy), THE HARVEST OF SOULS is almost a one-woman show. Scott takes her character on a heartbreaking tour of past disappointments. Maggie has always had an almost saint-like ability to endure tragedy, and this story finally sees the character reach her breaking point. There’s a subtle cruelty to the episode’s vignettes, which have Maggie visiting moments in her life where she almost found happiness, only to have life snatch it away. THE HARVEST OF SOULS is a revelation, courtesy of Scott’s performance and a terrific script by James Goss.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Nicholas Blair, a quasi-sociopath who seems almost immune to his own suffering. Blair has convinced himself that he’s doing a good deed by stealing away the residents of Collinsport because, like Maggie, life has nothing to offer them but hardship. He needs Maggie to complete his pact with the Leviathans, and it’s his own warped sense of compassion for her that eventually damns him. After a fashion, both characters find hope in each other, though it’s clearly a relationship not built to last.
It's eerie how well Baker understands Nicholas Blair. While he never apes the mannerisms of Humbert Allen Astredo (the actor who played Blair on the TV series), he manages to convey the mischievous, cocky swagger we're familiar with. We're lucky to have Baker in this role.
It’s not a perfect story, though. There’s probably one flashback too many, and Marx isn’t given much to do besides being oppressively nice in his every scene. There’s a saccharine flavor to his sides of the script that I’d like to chalk up to Maggie’s own biased memories of the character, but we never see anything of Sheriff Hardy besides a pleasant smile. He’s less of a character than he is set decoration. Again, it might be intentional on the part of Goss, but it doesn’t make Hardy any more interesting.
For continuity buffs, there’s a treasure trove of detail to be mined from THE HARVEST OF SOULS. It provides a compelling explanation for Maggie’s blonde phase from early in the original TV series, and even manages to connect the Leviathans and the 1840 storyline in a manner so brilliant that it seems almost obvious. This is definitely among my favorite DARK SHADOWS offerings from Big Finish.