Monday, November 5, 2018

Dark Shadows: Bloodlust - The Post Mortem Interview


Our coverage of the epic re-release of Dark Shadows: Bloodlust might have wrapped up, but I still had a few lingering questions about the sprawling tale. Luckily, I was able to sit down with the impossibly nice and wildly talented Joe Lidster and get him to answer some of them! I figured with him being one of the company’s most prolific writers and directors he would at least have SOMETHING to say. Thankfully I was right! We talked about all sorts of great stuff, including the production of Bloodlust, the wonderful cast and characters of the franchise, and what we can expect from the upcoming sequel series Dark Shadows: Bloodline.

The Collinsport Historical Society: Just to start, how did Bloodlust come about? Was there a want on the production side to do more larger scale stories?

Joseph Lidster: It was a combination of things really. Stuart Manning decided to step down from producing the full cast series so we knew we wanted to do something to follow on from Kingdom of the Dead. David Darlington, my co-producer (the one who makes it all happen, basically) was very keen to do something that would re-capture the serial aspect of the television series and I was very keen to do something that didn’t just follow on from the cliffhanger at the end of Kingdom. There was a five-year gap between the two series and we’d spent a lot of time on the Dramatic Readings range trying to find ways to make the series more newbie-friendly so we didn’t just want the opening scene to be Carolyn and David in Collinwood possessed by Petofi. I also wanted to give the series lots of “wow” moments. If you know Dark Shadows then you know who the characters are but if you don’t then I wanted each of the supernatural characters to have a big entrance and so on. The House of Despair through to Kingdom of the Dead had lots of brilliant stuff in them but they kind of assumed you knew who everyone was and why the stuff that happened was important. I wanted to strip it right back – in a similar way to when Russell T. Davies brought back Doctor Who– so it was both a relaunch as well as a continuation. David’s idea of doing this as a 13-episode serial fitted with that perfectly so that’s what we pitched to Big Finish.

CHS: How did you go about choosing the characters that would be included?

J.L.: We knew we had to have the characters who were still there at the end of Kingdom of the Dead. So we had to have Isaiah Trask, David, Carolyn, Maggie Evans, Ed Griffin and his mother, Jessica. Although Quentin, Barnabas and Angelique had all been sent away at the end of Kingdom there was no way we wouldn’t be bringing them back. The main character we did bring back was Amy Jennings. We’d re-introduced her into the Dramatic Readings’ range and we’d fallen in love with Stephanie Ellyne who played her. We also wanted to create a “next generation” of the Collins family so we worked out that Amy was the character we could do this with. The 2003 audio Return to Collinwood had made it pretty clear that neither David or Carolyn had had children so we worked out how Amy could bring us some teenage characters. Soap operas rely on there being more than one generation but Dark Shadows – through a combination of the last couple of years of the television series being more about Barnabas and Julia travelling through time etc and Return to Collinwood being a reunion special rather than setting up new storylines – had stagnated with regards to continuing the present-day Collins’ family. We worked out that Amy was just old enough to have a baby and that if she was married then she could have a step-son. We quickly worked out that we wanted the husband to be killed off so she wasn’t tied to a man and that we could find some supernatural way to age up her baby so we’d have a nice family unit.

We then looked at exploring Collinsport some more. We wanted it to feel like a proper serial drama – with different family units in different locations in the community. As research, we watched how a lot of first episodes of soap operas did this, as well as watching the first episode of Twin Peaks – which was obviously a big influence on Bloodlust. We decided that we wanted to focus on the community and build up the supernatural elements so they felt big, so we created the Blue Whale group – Jess and her son Ed. We moved Trask into being a drunk who was often at the Blue Whale and brought back Ed’s wife Susan, as a ghost. We knew we wanted to look at how a murder affects a community so we knew we wanted to bring in a regular Sheriff, a doctor at the hospital, the editor of the Collinsport Star and so on. We wanted there to be a new everyman character – the new Joe Haskell – so created Frankie who also served as giving the editor of the newspaper a boyfriend. We also used Frankie to give Ed a friend as I’d always found his character to be a bit one-dimensional and non-sympathetic. We looked at the characters we could give children to and decided on the Sheriff and the Doctor. By doing all this, we could create a community of different generations living in different locations who would gradually start to interact with each other. It was actually quite a scientific process. One of the things I’m proudest of with Bloodlust is that I think it feels natural rather than extensively plotted but every character was designed to fulfil a specific purpose. There were a lot of Excel spreadsheets working out their interactions and what purpose they served.

One character I personally had to fight for was Kate Ripperton. I adore working with Asta Parry and felt she’d given an amazing performance in Beyond The Grave. Kate was pretty much the one character in that story who didn’t really get any kind of closure. The rest of the writing team were – quite rightly – worried about bringing back a character with so much baggage but I fought for her and I do think the character really works. Frankie was a hard character to get right, though, because when we were writing him, he was just coming across as nice and dull. I then remembered Roger Carvalho and realised he’d be perfect for the role so I sent his showreel to the other writers and said “This is Frankie” and we went through his dialogue and made it much more in Roger’s voice. Roger also meant we increased the number of people of colour in the series which I felt was very important. I also wanted there to be some out gay characters because I think representation is so important.

The original idea we had was that we would tell some kind of murder mystery and that it would all be a smoke-screen for what David and Carolyn were doing. We also knew that we wanted the series to open with a new character arriving in town and we would discover the characters and locations through them – as they did in Episode One of the television series. We decided that we’d open with Amy and her family arriving in town as she would have been away for ten years. We then started to work out who the murder victim would be and we kept coming back to Amy. The character you think is going to be the main character is the one who gets killed off at the end of episode one. But… we loved Amy. We loved Stephanie. We didn’t want to kill her off. Hence, the creation of Melody Devereux – who is so blatantly a Victoria Winters-type character. Melody arrives in town and then she becomes the victim. Then, episode two could open with Amy arriving in town.

With regards to making the characters more “wow” we then moved Angelique into a whispering cave because, again, I didn’t just want to cut to her in a house muttering about wanting revenge. It was all about building interesting soundscapes, making the supernatural characters seem big and exciting again, and creating a community that the listener would become invested in.

CHS:  Where there any characters that you wanted to include that you couldn't fit in?

J.L.:  I can’t think of any in particular. We didn’t want to bring back Cyrus and Sabrina at that point as they wouldn’t really have fulfilled a role in the series and we knew every character had to have a reason to be there. In fact, that’s why we killed off Isaiah Trask. We knew that Melody, Andrew and Deputy Eric would die (Melody would be our Laura Palmer, Andrew would be a baddie and his death would make the character of Amy stronger, and Eric was… cannon fodder). We pretty quickly decided that Kate and Frankie wouldn’t be long for this world as they were perfect “everyman” characters to kill off. Isaiah’s death wasn’t planned at all. We hadn’t fully worked out where he would go – in fact, I think the Excel spreadsheets for the later episodes pretty much had “Isaiah helps Angelique or something”. I was writing the episode and just found myself thinking “He’s served his purpose to the plot… he could just get shot now?” and I just wrote the scene and sent it to the others and they loved it. So sudden and shocking. I had also found the character slightly woolly – was he a Trask? Was he born there? Who were his family? Obviously, Jerry Lacy is an amazing actor so I knew we would bring him back in some way but that particular character just felt like he no longer had a function, now that we knew who the woman in the whispering cave was and so on. His death also served to highlight the madness that was engulfing the town.

CHS:  What was the discussion of how this particular story fit into the Big Finish mythos, or as I like to call it the Big Finishverse, like?

J.L.:  There wasn’t that much discussion really. We knew it would follow on from our Dramatic Readings and from Kingdom of the Dead and we knew that it was set roughly twenty years before Return to Collinwood. I’ve now got a huge a timeline of “things that need to be done.” So, the two “things that needed to be done” in this were to write out Angelique and to wipe Maggie’s memory of the supernatural. In the Dramatic Reading Path of Fate, Angelique is said to have lived in a cottage in the woods for ten years (c1993) and Maggie, in Return To Collinwood, has no knowledge of the supernatural at all. I also wanted to write out Angelique because I felt, in the previous full cast audios, she had become an easy way to end stories – she’s so powerful that basically she could just do a spell and that’s the problem resolved. Also, with Maggie, in Return to Collinwood it’s stated that Joe died ten years before after being happily married to Maggie – so we knew we wanted to get her out of town so she the marriage could take place and they could have a few years happy together. So, yeah, lots of continuity stuff that hopefully doesn’t feel too plotted.

CHS:  What was the hardest part to write for you? Was there as particular scene or episode that proved a tough nut to crack?

J.L.:  The hardest scenes to write usually involved the deaths of characters. We fell in love with Kate and Frankie and it would have been so easy for us to change our minds and let them live. Also, Andrew’s death was incredibly difficult because we couldn’t have too much time pass before the next episode and the plot had to keep going but we also had a teenage boy losing his father - so we really had to keep that in mind with Harry’s scenes. He couldn’t just forget his father had died but, at the same time, we couldn’t really spend too much time exploring the grief process. Anything involving the Petofi storyline was also difficult because we knew that – for new listeners – the character and his backstory would be new information, so we had to find ways to make him relevant to our characters rather than just “here’s an old villain from the TV series” – so the book about him came from Michael’s university days with Amy and Carolyn and so on.

Technically, possibly the hardest thing to do was to ensure that Barnabas was there as a character. He’s a vampire so can only be up and about at night, so we had to find ways to move time on so that episodes would quickly be set after dark – but it’s tricky to resolve an exciting cliffhanger by the next episode cutting to the following evening and having characters talk about what happened. One of the later episodes has David and Amy talking and he’s doing a spell so she doesn’t realise how much time has passed just so that we can quickly get to night and have Barnabas join in!

CHS:  I see that you are also directing some of these stories. Tell me about the transition from writer to director.

J.L.:  I’ve been directing for a while, really. It came about just because it was convenient really. So, with the Dramatic Readings, I would come in and just guide the actors while David (Darlington) does all of the technical stuff. It then became much more important with Bloodlust because it was so complicated and so few of the actors recorded at the same time, so my main job was just make sure everything fitted together performance-wise. And I think it does so I’m happy with that! Frankly, with actors as good as what we have there’s very little direction needed.

CHS- Were you pleased with the reaction to the story?

J.L.: We were so so thrilled. The way the story was released – two episodes a week – meant that people really got into trying to work out who the killer was. Everyone was talking on forums about the various clues and so on. It was really exciting to watch that unfold over the weeks it was released. And yeah, it seems to have really clicked with the audience. To this day, we still have people telling us how exciting it was and how well the series works. Which is nice!

CHS: Were you a fan of the show before getting the job?

J.L.: I became a fan through working on it, really. Stuart Manning introduced me to the show and I started to fall in love with it. I then wrote an audio for him and fell in love with it a bit more. Then I started producing the series and began to really realise just how glorious Dark Shadows is. It’s genuinely something so different to anything else there’s ever been on television and it’s genuinely a huge honour to be involved in keeping the series going. To actually have some control over the fates of these amazing characters is just really weird and brilliant.

CHS: Team Barnabas or Team Quentin? Or other?

J.L.: Oh, well I started with the 1897 storyline so it was all about tall, evil, silent, sexy Quentin so he’s always going to be my first love but they’re both just brilliant. But, genuinely, I’ve fallen in love with all the characters. It’s an over-used word these days but I think 90% of the characters in Dark Shadows are iconic – often because of the actors playing them.

CHS: Finally, is there anything you can tell us about Bloodline? And if not, is there a dollar amount you will take in order TO tell us something about Bloodline?

J.L.: Ha! Well, we’ve announced that it’s about the wedding of Amy and David and that whereas Bloodlust was a story about a mystery, this is a mystery about a story. What else can I tell you? I let slip at a Big Finish convention yesterday that Jessica Griffin and Sheriff Rhonda are back. This time next week we’ll have completed the UK recording – our final session is with two new actors playing the new characters of Bonnie and Jamie. Chris Pennock has revealed that he is back – which I’m SO happy with so… new fact – a character will be born who will have a huge influence on the town.

Dark Shadows: Bloodline releases in April of 2019, but is available for pre-order now, while Bloodlust, and all the other deliciously evil stories mentioned here, are available now in both digital and physical formats at

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