21 January 2015

DS: Snowflake

Snowflake is my first foray into the world of Dark Shadows. Before listening to this I didn't have a clue what it was beyond being 'a bit weird', which is the general impression I've got from the online reaction. But now I think I have a relatively good idea of what it's all about, thanks to the concise writing of Joe Lidster.

Across these fifteen minutes, we're introduced to Victor Frost, a British private detective sent to investigate Collinsport's residents, and we bear witness to his death. Lidster and Daniel Collard, who plays Frost, build up a curious picture of the detective from the start. Questions are posed that haven't yet been answered, right away. I did really like how many details were left ambiguous too, adding to the tense atmosphere of the whole piece. Often overly descriptive prose can detract from the tone the writer is going for, so it's encouraging that Lidster has a sound understanding of how best to realise his aim.

This is an ideal place to start with Dark Shadows. Through the perspective of an outsider, we explore the world of Collinsport and its extraordinary residents. The framing device of a recording isn't uncommon in audio drama, but after all, if it ain't broke... In very few words, the listener immediately knows Frost, and his fear of the inevitable is tangible. This a good jumping-on point not only because it's free, but because it leaves the listener so hungry for more. It tells you all you need to know about the series in just a few minutes, but at the same time tells you absolutely nothing! 

Although the events of the Frost's first week, when he investigates whether Collinsport believe in ghosts on the instruction of a mysterious employer named Snowflake, are all very atmospheric and intriguing, it's when the action returns to the present that the most interesting material is reached. Given that Jackie Tate, a local girl of fifteen, is the most prominent Collinsport native, it's only natural to assume that she is the female referred to in the closing portion of Snowflake, but brilliantly it's never clarified. The moments of possession, culminating in the final line of the piece, are all especially haunting. The impression you're left with of this supernatural entity is quite unnerving.

The music and sound design create a forbidding impression indeed. David Darlington's ominous underscore is quite frankly excellent, and far stronger than you'll find in some of Big Finish's more popular ranges. The direction of the episode as a whole is impressive, and the possessions feel supernatural but never unrealistic. This has a very different vibe to the audio drama I'm used to - and that is no bad thing. Whilst listening to this, I had something akin to butterflies in my stomach. The excitement generated is of the finest kind; the listener is keen to learn more, but at the same time every bit of sense is telling them not to for his own good health.

One thing's for sure: this isn't one to listen to on your own in the dark. It's fascinating, beguiling and intriguing in equal measure. I hate using the word 'creepy' since it carries so little weight these days, but that's exactly what this is. Allow Joe Lidster, David Darlington and Daniel Collard to soak you up into their supernormal realm. Snowflake is absorbing, and its focus on character is commendable, the writer clearly having a good definition of who they all are. Lidster conducts this story in the most enjoyable fashion: by showing and not telling. It's what's not said that's key in this and I can't wait to see how Bloodlust picks up the story - will we ever find out who Alex, the recipient of this recording, is?

In a Nutshell: I think I'm going to like this series very much...

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