Monday, August 11, 2014



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.

Spoilers ahead.

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.


roy said...

Interesting review. I have my favorites when it comes to the Big FInish audios, yet there's something to love about all of them. I particularly enjoyed hearing Kathryn Leigh Scott portraying Julia Hoffman in a brief scene. The rhythm of the ocean waves in other scenes was lovely, too.

cynthia curran said...

House by the Sea does it have Caleb's ghost.

roy said...

If I remember right, House by the Sea mentions Caleb, but not his ghost. The only flaw was saying the house by the sea (the house Vicki was enamored with) was the same as Nicholas Blair's house (the show did use the same or similar interiors, but totally different exterior shots). There was a huge amount of continuity in the story: Tom Jennings buried in the basement, etc., etc.

guest said...

Cynthia, to answer your question, I just relistened to House by the Sea and was more impressed with it than before (the audios are a little difficult for American fans to get into.) Yes, this audio does mention Caleb several times and includes a scene with him. There are also interesting scenes with Elizabeth, Barnabas, Julia, and Carolyn. For some reason, the author makes Caleb's house the same house that Nicholas Blair rented. So if you accept that, it's an enjoyable and effective story -- and fits in with continuity of many of the other recent audios. Only in retrospect do I see the plot threads and continuity with other Big Finish audios.

R Isbell said...

Harvest of Souls - I didn't like Maggie drowning her sorrows in alcohol and pills in the beginning, but Kathryn Leigh Scott's quickly pulled me in. She was amazing. The character of Jim added a lot. I was really pulling for the two of them, hoping they'd last as a couple. Love the beach scenes and original DS music played in a few spots.

Beyond the Grave - It seemed too illogical that a British television crew would be interested in the happenings of Collinsport, Maine. But the production seemed polished. I didn't think I'd ever relisten to this one, but I did and liked it better than i'd thought. It's very, very dark.

The House by the Sea - This one has been called a good starting point for newbies to enter the world of Dark Shadows. It is. Voiced almost totally by one actor, it stars Colin Baker as Gerald Conway, a man haunted by dreams of the house by the sea. So when he finally found the house, he rents it for a much-needed vacation. The narrative includes wonderful scenes with Elizabeth, Carolyn, Julia, and even Barnabas Collins himself.

Cousin Barnabas said...

Yeah, The House by the Sea is pretty great. I was INCREDIBLY dubious about this episode, but it turned out to be one of my absolute favorites.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...