DARK SHADOWS is an intimidating, lumbering beast. The original series has more than a thousand episodes, all of which have serve as a foundation for comic books, novels, television "revivals," three feature films and more than 50 audio dramas. I imagine many people never sample DARK SHADOWS because they simply don't know where to start.
This mindset has probably even kept a few devoted DARK SHADOWS fans away from Big Finish's audio dramas, which have generated a gravity of their own during the last decade. It was pretty easy to keep up in the early days: the new installments were (generally) set after the end of the television show, creating a tidy continuity. But the series' rambling timeline eventually led to writers exploring the deeper pockets of Collinsport, creating a narrative that straddles several centuries.
But it looks more confusing than it actually is.
Jumping onto a serialized story — whether it's a Spider-Man comic, a post-modern soap like PRETTY LITTLE LIARS, or DARK SHADOWS — is a lot like arriving at a party: You're dropped into the middle of several on-going conversations, many involving people you don't know. Some guests have lengthy (possibly even troubled) relationships, while others are complete strangers. I could probably elaborate more on this metaphor, but I just remembered that I hate parties. (But you probably see my point.)
A user at the Divergent Universe forums has shared a growing timeline of DARK SHADOWS audio dramas that puts the entire series in chronological order. I've used this timeline to build an infographic for Big Finish's many release, which you can find at the bottom of this post.
WARNING: It's a HUGE file.
A few notes before you start exploring it:
Big Finish's timeline has always been intentionally loose. Many of the episodes set after the end of the original series are listed only as "1973." This doesn't automatically mean these stories all take place during the same 12-month period ... just that they take place in the years following the show's cancellation.
The same goes for the episodes set in "1983." Some of the early Big Finish stories were set in the early 1980s, with later episodes implying a progression of time. A great many are slugged "1983," but there's no reason to think they all take place during the same year OCTOPUSSY was released.
Regardless, the writers take these complicated backstories into consideration when creating each new story. It's been a driving concern from the very beginning not to alienate new fans, so it's safe to dive into the DARK SHADOWS line pretty much anywhere.
Below, you can find the first draft of the visual timeline to Big Finish's DARK SHADOWS tales. Click the image for a closer view.