Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Dark Shadows, The Road to Bloodline FINALE: Blood & Fire


Grok It, Reader-Bots. Spoilers for this and Dark Shadows: Bloodlust Ahead.

“Every time I come to Collins House, I get the strangest feeling. I know I belong yet, somehow, I don’t think I’m ever going to live here. Isn’t that odd?”

And so, we reach the end of the Road to Bloodline with the massive Blood & Fire. Released in 2016 to coincide with the property’s 50th Anniversary, this four episode series is the very picture of a satisfying prequel tale. But at the same time, a tremendous set up for the incoming Bloodline as it weaves a wonderfully serialized tale, stocked with the heavy hitters from the cast, both old and new, that also manages to deliver all the high drama and supernatural hijinks of the franchise. Just like Bloodlust did, and just like Bloodline intends to do. No wonder it won friggen awards. In short, a bloody tremendous success of an audio from where I’m sitting. I couldn’t have asked for a better tale to end this column on. Enough preamble, right? Let’s get to it.

So from the jump, writer Roy Gill lays out a tremendous narrative hook. Saved from her heroic sacrifice for Collinsport at the end of Bloodlust, the witch Angelique Bouchard (Lara Parker once again swinging for the fences)  now faces her master The Dark Lord in Hell’s Waiting Room. Displeased by her latest face turn, The Dark Lord proposes a mission to grant her his good favor. If she can disrupt time and erase the Collins family from reality, she will be once again proven loyal to evil and restored to a favorable position within the darkness.

Then we are transported to the Big Finishverse’s own version of the 1800’s TV storyline, even FURTHER back. Honestly I think this story’s setting is the furthest back in time, in canon Dark Shadows has ever gone. I will check with the head office on that but quote me anyway, I gotta build street cred. The year is 1767 and Angelique must now stamp out the Collins line before it can even begin; by ruining the marriage of one Joshua Collins (Barnabas 2.0 Andrew Collins) and Laura Murdoch Stockbridge (Joana FREAKING Going!). What follows across these epic four episodes is classic Dark Shadows down to the friggen studs, y’all. Angelique charms her way into the in construction Collins House, meeting Joshua’s parents Patience (Kathryn Leigh Scott) and Caleb (Mitchell Ryan) as well as Joshua’s sister Abigail (Daisy Torme). Also visiting for the incoming wedding is Caleb’s brother Theodore (David Selby) and his wife Isobel (Nancy Barett). So we basically have a full cast of favorites all ready, but Blood & Fire just keeps on giving.

As the episodes go on, listeners will start to realize that literally every single speaking part is being played by a Dark Shadows staple. Jerry Lacy shows up as Caleb’s fantatical contractor Malachi Sands. Lisa Richards and Christopher Pennock pop up as the funny and fussy parents of Going’s Laura. John Karlen, of course, plays Alfred Loomis, the Collins’ faithful footman and carriage driver. And it isn’t just old favorites! No, no! Some new additions from the audio-verse also gets some choice stage time. Anchored by the commanding lead performance of Andrew Collins’, other Big Finish newbies like Alexandra Donnachie and Matthew Waterhouse play recurring side characters, providing a nice mixture for the audience of old and new players throughout the ensemble.

Plus there is even an extra layer of canny casting in Joana Going playing what is essentially the second female lead. Fans of the Phoenix storyline will recognize Laura’s name and fans of literally most TV from the 90s until now (plus Phantoms! And the 2001 DS reboot I still haven’t seen!) will recognize Going’s name and she just absolutely kills it. Both just as a romantic lead and as an antagonist of Lara Parker’s Angelique. Both women share the “stage” of this story beautifully and provide a legitimately talented base line for the story in terms of pure acting.

But all the cast members in the world couldn’t make this special work if the script and direction of it failed, but I am happy to report, this thing absolutely sings throughout. Roy Gill’s script delivers all the gory, ghoulish fun and heavy soapy drama of the property in spades. And along with expansive, immersive sound design and direction by David Darlington, this whole series feels properly big and epic. Just like a 50th Anniversary special too. I was also kind of struck at how “user friendly” it was. I complained last column about how ...And Red All Over was kind of insular, but I think Blood & Fire could be one of those fabled audios you could hand to someone unfamiliar with the property and say, “This is Dark Shadows” and they would get it. I mean, aside from the bit of Bloodlust and Bloodline window dressing, but that’s like a 2 minute conversation. 1, if you text it. 

So, yeah, I am absolutely head over heels for Blood & Fire and I think you all will be too (if you haven’t already heard it like a billion times by now because I am coming into these things late). Massive in scope, production values, and talent, this anniversary special delivers everything great about the franchise’s past, present, and future, wrapped in a macabre package and sealed with chillingly entertaining performances. I have said a few of these audios are “must listen” but I think Blood & Fire might be the first “must own” of my time at the CHS. I think it is that important to the overall output of Dark Shadows.

Until next time, be seeing you.   

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