Matthew Kresal checks out the audio drama released to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Dark Shadows.
Big Finish is almost certainly best known for their Doctor Who output, which has now stretched across nearly two decades, yet the company has proven just as adept at taking other properties and bringing them back to life for fans, including successful audio adventures for Blake's 7 and The Prisoner, to name but two. They've also managed to cross the Atlantic, bringing back to life Dark Shadows, the gothic soap-opera set in a Maine town and centered around the Collins family that celebrated its fiftieth anniversary earlier this year. The occasion was marked with a special release featuring cast members from across its TV and audio runs. The result was Blood & Fire.
I must confess at this point that most of how I've experienced Dark Shadows comes from Big Finish's output. I've seen episodes of the TV series of course and I read Lara Parker's novel Angelique's Descent a couple of years ago. Yet, perhaps because I was already attuned to Big Finish's output via Doctor Who, I found the series most accessible there. Big Finish has tried to keep their Dark Shadows audios accessible to those who haven't seen much (or indeed any) of the TVs series. Blood & Fire, despite being a celebratory release, continues in that tradition as well, from its opening minutes when Parker's witch Angélique is sent back to 1762 by her dark lord with only goal: to destroy the Collin's family.
Dark Shadows was a soap-opera with gothic and horror overtones (it featured vampires, werewolves, witches, time travel, and parallel universes to name but a few things) which is all captured nicely here in Blood & Fire. Roy Gill's script lands Angélique at an important moment in the history of the Collins family, one which reveals the family in all of its shame & glory as a wedding is soon to take place and one generation prepares to hand over to another. There's all kinds of drama and skullduggery going on in, and few are truly what they appear to be. The supernatural elements of the series loom large over this release as well, from witchcraft to zombies, all of which give fans new and old a sense of what Dark Shadows is all about.
The performances are solid across the entirety of the large cast. Leading it is Parker in the role of Angélique and Joanna Going as Laura Stockbridge, with Blood & Fire playing out largely as a battle of both magic and wits between the two of them, something that both of them are more than up to. Going in particular just about steals the entire show as her character comes front and center and her fate becomes intertwined with that of the Collins family. The entire cast is solid truth be told, and I could spend paragraphs listing everyone but standouts include Kathryn Leigh Scott, the ever reliable David Selby (who comes at the start of the second half), Andrew Collins as Joshua Collins, and James Storm. While performances tend to vary towards the melodramatic at times, it's all in keeping with both the story and the series as a whole and so many familiar voices will likely make longtime fans very happy indeed.
While I freely admit to not having a huge amount of Dark Shadows experience, I feel safe in saying that of everything I've experienced no single story sums up the series as well as this one does. Simply put, it captures everything the series is about: family dynamics, the supernatural, and the corruption that comes with wealth and power. Blood & Fire is a celebration of the elements that has made Dark Shadows a success across five decades and, if Big Finish's output is anything to go by, it's got plenty of life left in it still.
Matthew Kresal lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't
have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the
Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.