24 January 2015

Dark Shadows: Bloodlust i

So here we are, my first full Dark Shadows story. This honestly could have gone anywhere, I had no preconceptions or expectations whatsoever. All in all, I thought it was an interesting start to this thirteen-part series, and the atmosphere is clearly defined from the off. 

Following the newly-wed Devereuxs, who like me are new in town, we are slowly introduced to the backwards town of Collinsport. The people of the town are all stuck in a bygone era, and there seems to be a hint of malevolence about almost every character at first. The introduction (or return for the majority of listeners) is handled well, but in a different way to Snowflake whereas Joe Lidster needed only to establish enough of the town and its oddities to give a general impression over fifteen minutes, here Will Howells must establish the sprawling community that will be at the heart of the next twelve episodes. Both approaches achieve their aims well enough. While it would be impossible to introduce every single character in these twenty-five minutes, enough of the relationships, animosities and internal politics are established to give an informed view of the town.

Are the Devereuxs the most American Americans ever? Quite probably. She's an attractive independent female who works in a shop. He's a self-confessed four-eyed nerd. Tell me that doesn't sound like the plot to the latest Hollywood rom'com'. But anyway. After being spontaneous and sticking a pin in a map of New England, Melody has elected to hold their honeymoon in Collnsport. There's a lot of throwaway remarks about destiny which will surely crop up again later in the series, but for now I've no idea where they're leading. Having pulled up at the weird station (where no-one else gets off) they check in at the weird inn before going for dinner at the weird restaurant. Suffice to say this isn't a normal fishing village.

The only resident who seems to show the couple any genuine warmth is Frankie, and aside from being friendly, good looking and working down the mine, I don't really know who he is. Even Jessica Griffin, the restaurant owner, is only courteous in the hope that they'll return. There's an interesting side to her, telling her son to only fetch "the cheap stuff" for Melody and Michael, and I'd like to see a bit more of that come out. There's an intriguing story featuring her son Ed which the SoundCloud introductions from last year detail, and is hinted at here. His wife Susan died, but interestingly we (through the eyes of Michael) witness her speaking quite contentedly with him. And that's where the plot really kicks in.

Up to this point, we've basically been getting to know the cast we'll be spending the next few hours with, but here things shift up a gear. That's not to say the opening portion dragged, quite the opposite in fact, the twenty-five minutes flew by once I got into it. Michael, knowing he's been seen, and a little freaked out by what he witnessed, is desperate to get away from the place, that much is clear. Equally obvious is that he doesn't want to alert his wife to his true feelings (a) so as not to alarm her and (b) in case he's got the situation all wrong. But making up a false excuse to go after them, Ed soon returns to the restaurant calling for the Sheriff and an ambulance. It's bad news: Melody's dead.

From the way the story opened, I didn't expect things tot turn ugly quite this quickly, but I suppose that was Howells' intention. There's nobody except those in the restaurant in the clear here. That leaves the Reverend, the husband, the Sheriff (didn't she arrive on the scene quickly), Ed from the restaurant, the woman from the inn and any of the many characters we've not yet met, in the frame. Not only is the 'who' unknown, but the 'how' and 'why'. The rich heritage of Collinsport and the impression I've got of some of its residents (I'm sure there must be a vampire or witch amongst them) means that anything's fair game, and I'll be interested to see where Howells, Lidster and Alan Flanagan take the story.

Just a quick note about the performances. Being an American show made by a small company based near Bristol, I don't doubt there will be some accents applied over the thirteen episodes. I couldn't sense any massively off-key accents here, and I was in no doubt that Daisy Torme and Jeff Harding, who played Melody and Michael, were from across the pond. Not many characters were afforded much of an opportunity to really express themselves, but I must say Jackie Tate sounds very different to how I imagined she would following Snowflake. She's about twenty years older for one thing!

I must admit I did find it hard to keep track of characters and names in this, but that's probably only because it's a totally new world for me. Doctor Who spinoffs are about the furthest I've explored into Big Finish's catalogue up to now, and by definition they have some kind of recognisable element at their heart, be it Daleks, Jago and Litefoot, the Counter-Measures team, or whoever. Being dropped headfirst into an established environment with no foreknowledge whatsoever is refreshing, exciting and a little confusing. None of these are necessarily negative points though.

I think I have the mood of this series pretty firmly pinned now. It feels very much like a cult show from the '60s with twenty-first century characters dropped into it, and that seems to be the setup the producers were after. I also get the impression that this is heavily inspired by old American horror stories, which I'm not overly familiar with, but seem to be at least part of the foundation of this town, and this series. David Darlington does a really good job of evoking black-and-white American TV, with lots of shrill trills and ambient hysteria pervading the piece. I recognised that theme music at once when I heard it too, and I think it must have been included on the Big Finish podcast. I must say, while I'm really not a fan of it, it suits the theme Darlington and Howells distil Bloodlust Part One with. Perhaps that statement ought to be the other way round, but this is very aurally consistent.

While I'm not entirely sure I'm sold on this type of series yet, I look forward to finding out over the next dozen episodes.

There are many ways for you to buy Bloodlust from Big Finish here. Read Joe Ford's review of this episode here.

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