Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Dark Shadows Audi-O-Rama #1: The House of Despair

Audi-O-Rama #1: The House of Despair

By Justin Partridge 

Dark Shadows: The House of Despair 

Starring: David Selby, Lara Parker, Kathryn Leigh Scott, John Karlen, Ursula Burton, and Jamison Selby

Written by: Stuart Manning

Directed by: Gary Russell

Baby, Can Ya Dig Your SPOILERS AHEAD?

He’s a Righteous SPOILERS AHEAD.

Tell Me, Baby, Can Ya Dig Your SPOILERS AHEAD?

“I thought that if I ran fast enough I need never turn back, but now I find myself compelled to return. 

Just as I always knew I would be.” 

What’s this?! An audio review! From ME?!

Yes, your eyes do not deceive you, dear readers. I have returned to the fake cobweb-encrusted shores of Collinsport. Much like Quentin Collins, I did so roam the world before my return to you now. I followed the Devil Hulk through his night-bound exploits in the desert. I followed Ol’ Shellhead, Iron Man, to the farthest reaches of space in pursuit of Korvac. And in between, I visited Gotham City (shockingly great public transit), Krakoa (shockingly great mutant coffee), and even Otherworld (shockingly awful magicks-based law enforcement).

But all the while, my heart yearned always for my beloved Collinsport. The rolling fog, the constant cosmic dread, it’s wobbly constructed interiors and exteriors. It left a real void in my heart not having all that with me every day. That longing was further stoked by my colleagues here at the CHS sending me regular correspondence and my still-active subscription to The Collinsport Star. But after a horrid layover weekend in accursed Bangor and quite a lot of impassioned persuasion (nee: tearful begging) to Upstairs, I have returned to my old desk here at the CHS! It’s even by one of the windows this time. I am very lucky.

And I fully plan on using it! The desk, not the window. It’s all terribly exciting, I’m sure. But I want it to be fun too! I have a lengthy plan on what we will be discussing here at Audi-O-Rama but I am trying to leave myself open to covering other things here too. Things that might slightly deviate from the list I have already, with approval from Upstairs, of course. 

As of now the general idea is a “Dark Shadows at Big Finish Retrospective” approach. Meaning I will be tackling every single Dark Shadows release from Big Finish Productions. Alongside some other coverage of things I’ve already started writing on. Such as the Marlyin Ross audiobooks and The Tony & Cassandra Mysteries.

Some we will be double-covering, like Bloodlust/Bloodline and the 1973 Storyline. But I think I definitely have more to say on the ones we’ve discussed before! Armed also with the broader experience tackling these (and more!) from the start. 

And speaking of the start, here we are now with a true blue blast from the early Aughts past; 2006’s The House of Despair. Big Finish Productions’ first time at-bat with Dark Shadows. And one that stands up pretty well as a functional and user-friendly reboot of the franchise. 

Spearheaded by Stuart Manning and Gary Russell, two names that should be very familiar to the Whovians amongst you, The House of Despair is a novel, if a bit basic “re-pilot” for this “new” era of Dark Shadows.

We open, as is tradition, on someone on a train. Bound for the town at the edge of the world. But this isn’t just any ol’ someone. It’s Quentin Collins, played once again by the immediately activated and charming David Selby. Forgive me a brief tangent, but I fully knew that a lot of these were going to be heavy on Selby’s Quentin, but I still got a total thrill and instant warmth hearing Selby inhabit the role. Quentin and Selby overall are both very, very important to me as a person and creative, so I think all of these audios will have a slight (and wholly unobjective) edge being so focused on him.

Better still, Selby totally comes back wholly reformed and confident in the part as well! Usually you would expect a bit of “ring rust” when it came to someone coming back to a role for the first time (2006 time, that is) since the 70s. But with Selby’s Quentin, from the first scene on the ever-implacable Collinsport Express on, he’s absolutely on. Charmingly anchoring the three-part, sixteen chapter serial and bantering beautifully with the rest of the returning cast. As if no time had passed between the final slate and now/2006.

EVEN BETTER, the whole production has allowed his own age to seep into his characterization. Manning and Russell do some dancing this serial around his immortal status in this first tale, as they are also somewhat dancing further around Collinsport’s whole deal in the wake of the final TV episode. Leaving it more nebulous in the now as to try and build it out later. But with that lack of plot, what comes shining through is Selby’s performance in concert with the rest of the returning vets. All of whom return to their roles with the same gusto and activation as Selby.

One of the great strengths of The House of Despair is how it’s not ignoring the dearth of time between the final TV episode and this “new” episode. Neither is it’s cast. Though everyone is positioned in a narratively sound starting position when we start (Maggie now owns The Inn and works there still while a new family owns the Blue Whale, Anqelique has “died” and haunts the Sea Cave, The Collins family are “missing”,and Barnabas is presumed dead) Russell, Manning, and their cast allow these icons to be actually older. Having changed and settled (for the most part) realistically in the time between those last credits and now.

However, while the returning cast members provide The House of Despair plenty of charge for the diehard fans while selling the “feel” of Dark Shadows for newbies, it’s plot is a mite thin when compared to the aforementioned charge. I think much of this is coming from the fact that Manning and Russell have so much stuff to set up for the incoming range. 

Quentin Collins has returned to Collinsport, but the strange happenings that have plagued the town have remained. Manifesting this time around as a gaggle of soulless and memory-less townspeople called “The Lost”, controlled by the creature known as Mr. Strix. Who has taken up residence in the abandoned Collinwood. The perfect place for an interdimentional demon in control of a massive murder of crows filled with the “Lost’s” human souls. 

In order to banish Strix from his ancestral home, Quentin enlists the help of Willie Loomis and a resurrected Angelique. The former being the only real connection left to the ancient house and the town that bears its name. Loomis being left in the wake of the Collins’ family exodus. John Karlen…he was just the best, y’all.

Naturally, this leads to a sonically pleasing showdown with the demon and our now assembled “new” cast. For physical and metaphysical ownership of the ancient mansion. Which is then bolstered further in favor of our anti-heroes by the debut of the “regenerated” Barnabas Collins. Played assuredly by the darkly charming Andrew Collins, one of my absolute favorite performers in all of Big Finish Productions. Alongside Ursla Burton and Jamison Selby’s Susan and Ed Griffin, new owners of The Blue Whale. Who we know grow to full on co-stars of the range later down the line. Burton, especially, transitioning from behind the mic to behind the scenes!

If this sounds like a lot of moving parts, it totally is. But worse still, it doesn’t really seem like the properly big ideas that the range became known for. Strix, his soul-birds, and The Lost are all neat ideas and could maybe serve as a serviceable “monster of the week” in another serial separately. But trying to jam them together on top of how much work is being put into resetting the core cast and Collinsport, post TV hiatus. It just seems like too-little butter scraped over too much bread. 

Especially when the REAL GOOD bread and butter is all the setting up of our legacy characters! Using such powerfully weird iconography such as Barnabas’ ring, Quentin’s “Graveyard of Memories” liminal space, and even the very real estate of Collinsport and Collinwood, Manning and Russell really bait the hook nicely for their resurrected take on Dark Shadows

Where they choose to pick up with our main cast members too shows a sort of canny and basic malleability. No one, save Barnabas really, is in a wholly unexpected place. Angelique still haunts the town. Maggie has transitioned from one pillar of the community (Collinwood) to another (Collinsport Inn). And now Quentin has returned, robbed of his memories largely and eager to build a new life as the primary Collins of the old great house. It’s a neat starting position to go from.

Which Manning and Russell waste little time upending slightly! Thanks to a timely bite from the brand new Barnabas to the injured neck of Willie! Being just a highly soused human facing a literal demon, Willie is waylaid in the battle of Collinwood. Forcing Barnabas, spurred on by the gloating Angelique, to spread his vampire curse to Willie. Now WHERE have we seen THIS before? This is Dark Shadows 1301. Facing us normal ham-and-eggers against actual monsters and various cosmic horrors interspersed with some choice high drama. This is basic stuff, people!

No, not basic. That’s not the right word. It’s comfortable. Both in terms of production and execution. The House of Despair eases us back into the dreary, but weirdly engaging world of Dark Shadows. Shepherded by voices, creatives, and characters we’ve known for years who seemingly haven’t lost a single step. 

It made me so, so happy to be back. And so, so excited to hear where we get to next. 


  • This is going to be something I try here, akin to the old AV Club “Stray Observations” sections. Basically just a spot for all the random junk I think of that I can’t fit into the review proper and/or direct appeals to y’all, our dear readers.
  • Gary Russell as a writer is someone I have a real personal connection to. It was nice seeing that he’s involved so heavily in this first stretch of audios. 
  • He wrote my first proper introduction to the Fifth Doctor. Divided Loyalties from the BBC Books Past Doctor Adventures novels. Which I read and reread like a thousand times before I ever saw frame one of a Peter Davison serial. I freaking loved that book and I am STILL trying to find a copy to rebuy that won’t cost me one of my kidneys. 
  • Also very happy to hear Robert Cobert’s original music pieces all over this opening serial. It’s baked into my whole idea of Dark Shadows at the DNA level, so I’m always happy to hear it. Doubly so to hear it used so well. 

Next Time: The Book of Temptation! A Maggie Evans story! Quentin/Angelique team ups! Dr. Grace Holloway from Doctor Who! Be seeing you, Spiders From Mars


Justin Partridge has always loved monsters and he thinks that explains a lot about him. When he isn’t over analyzing comics at Newsarama or ranting about Tom Clancy over at Rogues Portal, he is building Call of Cthulhu games, spreading the good word of Anti-Life, or rewatching Garth Marenghi's Darkplace for the dozenth time. He can be reached at the gasping Lovecraftian void that is Twitter @j_partridgeIII or via e-mail at Odds are he will want to talk about Hellblazer.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 25

Taped on this day in 1968: Episode 460


As Barnabas and Victoria face certain doom, will Joshua, Ben, and destiny unite to propel them into the future? Barnabas Collins: Jonathan Frid. (Repeat; 30 min.)

After the brisk execution of Nathan Forbes, Barnabas instructs Joshua to ensure that this is his son’s last night as a vampire. Joshua vows to do so, but with a curious uncertainty. When it comes time, he cannot pull the trigger, and instead has Ben Stokes chain him in suspended animation. Joshua later honors Barnabas’s request and grants Ben his long overdue freedom. Later, before Victoria is taken to the gallows, Peter Bradford vows that he will find her in time. 

We begin with the death of Nathan Forbes. Now, on the other end of one apocalypse, Barnabas is free to unleash the full extent of his wrath. He is no doubt saturated with self-recrimination; he did not allow the dead part of his heart to triumph over the living part, to a literally eternal regret.  Perhaps by unleashing his inner evil, he could’ve done more good in the world. It’s a lesson he will carry with him, whether he remembers its impetus or not. Barnabas has only one foe left to destroy: Himself.  He asks Joshua to do the honors, but Joshua tellingly procrastinates the attempt until the next day. His father says, enigmatically, that he doesn’t know what lies beyond the grave. He may be speaking existentially. Or he may be forming a plan to send Barnabas to another time. Perhaps to be free of the troubled son. Perhaps with the hope that Barnabas will find an enlightened future.  

In this moment, Joshua fixates on rewriting the present. You could argue that it’s for the posterity of the Collins family. And that may very well be somewhat true. But I think there is a more profound truth here. I think Joshua is developing the plan for Barnabas — to be discovered in a future where the burgeoning fidelity to science can conquer the curse of Angélique. Perhaps it’s foolishness. Perhaps it’s vainglorious. These are the sorts of decisions made in the world devoid of women and their anchoring influence. Yes, men are rash. Yes, they are cowardly. Yes they are drunk on a strange, fatalistic optimism. But these are risks that men, left to their own devices, are famous for. It is the blindness of “who dares wins,“ and in times of total desperation, daring is the only choice some have. By reshaping what will become history, Joshua is preparing a safe perch on which his son can land. Now, business concerns are secondary for the patriarch. His wife is gone. His brother is gone. His daughter is gone. All he has is his son. And all he can guarantee is passage to a tomorrow beyond the reach of the shattered present. Although he will later go through the pantomime of attempting to shoot Barnabas in his coffin, I wonder if he had any intention of ever really doing so.

Before they part, Barnabas has just two requests: free Ben Stokes and attempt to liberate Victoria Winters. Joshua responds that he will do both. 

Dark Shadows reveals its deepest value, commitment, when the characters can knowingly face death rather than have it sprung upon them. Their’s is world with little control. These are the few moments where control is possible. The characters savor them with gravitas and clarity. It is the same kind of commitment that Barnabas will show Quentin nearly 200 years in the future (and only 45 years in the future) as he assures the execution-bound scientist that he will fulfill all of his final requests. That’s not just Barnabas speaking. That’s Joshua speaking. 

Jonathan Frid and Louis Edmonds tackle their final scene with heartbreaking finesse. Crying is not the most powerful thing an actor can do on stage. Rather, it is the attempt not to cry that seizes audiences. In these moments, Frid and Edmonds seize. In a medium of love scenes, there is none more poignant.

The scene will repeat itself later in the episode as Victoria and Peter say farewell. When Peter vows to find her in time’s wilderness, it’s as if he has been subconsciously inspired by Joshua. Just as Barnabas will find some kind of peace in the future unknown, Peter will find Victoria. These are not just wishes or speculations. These are not predictions. These things happen with the tortured confidence of men who seem to have been to the eras they foresee and are reporting back. 

Joshua, yes, has a surface level of uncertainty. But he shows commitment nevertheless. And if the viewer should have any doubt that this optimism has feet of clay, Peter’s commitment promises the viewers that Dark Shadows is one universe in which they can have confidence. Yes, Joshua is indulging in history‘s greatest lie. But sometimes it takes a lie to preserve everything that would be lost on the altar of truth. In such cases, life is too precious to squander on the vanities of honor and honesty. They are luxuries reserved for the untested and the fortunate. Joshua is neither.

It’s an episode of haunted goodbyes, but like Ben Stokes contemplating the future, while it is the end of one world, it is the beginning of another. We know, at last, who Barnabas truly is. We know why. We know some of the threats he will face. And we know the heart with which he will face them.

Dark Shadows, as we know it, is finally ready to begin.

It’s the sixth anniversary of the Dark Shadows Daybook. Sharing these moments and insights with you has been the highlight of my life of over a half decade. I want you to know how grateful I am if you are still reading these words and if they have done anything to help deepen your love for this story. 

I’ll see you all at Collinwood. Someday. 

This episode hit the airwaves March 29, 1968.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

More on Mitchell Ryan

When I wrote the obituary for Mitch Ryan, I also had a show opening that night. It was tough to write for a lot of reasons, but I found myself corresponding tonight about him and the loss, and I think it might be worth sharing.

The piece was a bear because he was a virile guy, and although he slipped into old age with exactly the kind of crusty dignity that you would imagine, it was one of those things where it was not unexpected.  Kind of like Jonathan Frid. When someone went too soon, like Chris Pennock, or they roiled away in a miasma of personal conflict, like John Karlen, the words come really easily. Mitch Ryan was different.  

I have a lot of regret about not meeting him him. We got along extremely well when we chatted. Kathryn Leigh Scott was really happy with the interview I did. Every word I wrote about his warmth and enthusiasm was genuine. The fact that we could reminisce about Louisville was a huge bonus.  I grew up in the very last years where vast swaths of Louisville institutions somehow had carried on from his childhood. I don’t know exactly where his house was down to the mailbox, but I could take you within a few blocks. And it was pretty much a house like mine.  He went to the same high school as my mom, and I had to dance delicately around the fact that it was about a decade after he graduated.  (He was eight years older than she was.) 

I mean he was just a sweetheart.  I was going to bring a book on his neighborhood (and my neighborhood) to the Dark Shadows convention in 2016. When he couldn’t make it, I vowed that I would send it to him. I never got around to it. I’m sure he forgot about the whole thing seconds after I made the offer, but it’s one of those weird human moments that just kind of hangs on my conscience.

Now, now that the play  is over, I actually have the time to sort of sit back and properly  mourn.  I honestly think he is what made the show what it was at its very core. I think he  provided the essential first mystery and sense of masculine ambiguity that propelled the series. It was the baton that Frid picked up.  

And it’s a marvelously happy life.  It’s a life where he took the kind of problem that normally dashes people forever and he simply overcame it.  Well, I’m sure there was nothing simple about it. But he overcame it. I regret that he didn’t get the role of Captain Picard. By the time Patrick Stewart took the part, he had already had a wealth of brilliant opportunities to explore acting.  And although Ryan did some great stage work, it was maybe not the same as working year in and year out with John Barton at the RSC.  That show would have been a jaw dropping vehicle for him to show and discover what he was put on this earth to do.  

But despite that, he was just the very best kind of credit to his profession, to the show, and to what we all can be.

Patrick McCray

Saturday, March 5, 2022

Mitchell Ryan 1934-2022

Mitch Ryan has died. 

Normally we use euphemisms for these sorts of things. “We lost so and so.” Or, “such and such went too soon,” as if there is some more appropriate time.  But of all of the Dark Shadows cast members, none projected honest and uncompromising integrity like Mitch Ryan. It feels fundamentally disrespectful to dress it up with something other than a plain and honest fact when referring to his death.  The word is as straightforward as the character he played. And as pained.

Burke Devlin was the show’s first “troubled hero.” We absolutely wanted to get behind him, but his extremity held us back. And besides, we’re sort of trying to root for the Collins family. But there he is. Episode after episode. He’s there for Vicki. He’s there for David. He’s there for us. He was a menace. He was a friend. And in every phase, he was believable.

I can think of few other actors who could project that kind of tortured ambiguity.  It was a human mystery, and it compelled Victoria’s imagination as much as any ghost or phantom parent. He welcomed us to Collinsport in every sense, and alongside the writers, Mitch Ryan set the Escherseque moral landscape that defined the series and drove it forward. 

Mitch Ryan and Jonathan Frid shared the same, most important quality. In their performances, they were able to embody two diametrically opposed states of mind without creating a contradiction. The fascination generated by that strange and unique ability compelled viewers to keep watching, unable to guess where those men might ultimately go.

Ryan was no stranger to conflict. His exit from the show was driven by a poignant battle with alcoholism, and the evidence becomes increasingly obvious as his time on the series goes on. The struggle led to a break from acting. For most, that break would be a permanent one. It is to Ryan’s credit that he took the recovery process seriously and rebuilt his career within a few years. Soon, he was co-starring in the Dirty Harry sequel, Magnum Force, almost nabbed the role of Picard, essayed the villain in Lethal Weapon, took a memorable and recurring role on the hit series, Dharma and Greg, and played a pivotal part in the Halloween franchise. 

Easing into retirement, Ryan found continued opportunities to explore art in painting and writing, publishing his autobiography quite recently. He revived the Burke Devlin character for Big Finish Audio and framed the recent Dark Shadows rep production of A Christmas Carol with a fine narration of alternating warmth and gravitas.

I interviewed him on Christmas day seven years ago and found him to be exactly as warm and accessible as you would imagine.  He was a fellow Louisville native, having grown up just a few blocks from where I grew up, myself. We are a strange and unique breed, in the company of Tod Browning, Muhammad Ali, and Hunter S Thompson. Mitch Ryan was a fine addition to the list. A Korean war veteran, he began his career on the stage at the Barter Theater and remained loyal to live performance, even appearing in A Long Day’s Journey into Night at the Pasadena Playhouse in 1993 with fellow Dark Shadows alum, Alan Feinstein. He was a lifetime member of the Actors Studio, appearing in Wait Until Dark and The Price on Broadway. Smoothly transitioning to film, his judgment and leadership won him the presidency of the Screen Actors Guild Foundation.

Few performers have rebuilt their careers with such dignity and range. It would be a cliché to point out that his self-generated revival made him somewhat of a phoenix, but considering that he battled a Phoenix on the program, we’d be remiss not to make a note of it. He built the very definition of a worthy life, and that’s exactly the kind of personal character necessary to give Collinwood its true foundation. He welcomed Vicki and the viewers to the beginning and the end of the world.  Thanks to his work, though, that salutation may always be in the wrong order.  

Patrick McCray

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