17 May 2015

BF: The Feast of Magog

The third instalment of six in The Worlds of Big Finish sees us venturing into the realm of The Confessions of Dorian Gray, which is very much director/producer Scott Handcock's territory anyway. This is probably the most complete of the series  so far, and I was left with the sense that the whole story had been told, something which I didn't get from The Archive (review here) and The Adventure of the Bloomsbury Bomber (review here).

The world of Dorian Gray is an interesting one. The impression I'd got as an outsider was that they were horror stories, sometimes with supernatural trappings. That idea's pretty much confirmed in The Feast of Magog, which centres around a seance which does of course go wrong. 

Like the previous adventure, which took us into Sherlock Holmes' world, the events of this episode are very much due to the book linking this series - that's not a spoiler, it's in the official synopsis - but ultimately the book itself has little impact on proceedings. That's not necessarily a criticism, more an observation. And I also found that, as with Bloomsbury, it was strange that this didn't affect the overall arc at all. The status quo with respect to the overall story of The Worlds of Big Finish is in exactly the same position as it was at the end of The Archive. I do wonder about the mysterious shopkeeper though. He seemed to know the importance of the book like no-one else in this series, and so I hope he's at least mentioned in the remaining half of this boxset.

The character of Dorian Gray himself is pretty much as I expected. This is my first experience of the character, although I do now have the first three series of his Big Finish adventures ready and waiting. In this context, I am looking forward to delving into those, especially as three are written by David Llewellyn, who has of course written the entirety of this boxset. Included here too is Dorian's friend Evan Morgan. Alexander Vlahos and George Rainsford make for a great leading pairing. The characters' shared time is made all the more interesting by the fact that they had a conflicted history and not instant admiration of each other as many series' frontmen do. 

In fact, it was an excellent decision to venture in Gray's realm immediately after Holmes' - and not just to tie the episodes into one big story, featuring three shared characters - because it shows the contrast prevalent in twentieth century Britain. At one end of the spectrum you have the more secure world of Holmes where it feels like he will outsmart the eccentric human plot whilst his brother dwells in gentlemen's clubs and government boardrooms. And then there's Dorian Gray. The supernatural, uncertain world feels more exciting. Given what I've heard about Dorian, and given the fact he's immortal - no, shut up, that's not a spoiler - I genuinely had no idea what might be in store for the guest cast. Pamela St John-Edwards certainly leaves the story in a different way to how she arrives.

The plot of this episode works both as an discrete element and a continuation of Bloomsbury's story. The main event is more than strong and interesting enough to hold the story up by itself but Llewellyn engages the listener with layered characters the like of which we have heard in the other two stories, but he goes further here. It's not just the 'villains' who we're not quite sure of here. Gray is a fascinating character in Llewellyn's hands and I certainly hope this is indicative of the strength of his main series. The point I made last time about characters not being all they seem is also true in The Feast of Magog, with friends and foes alike being ones to watch.

An excellent introduction to the engagingly insecure world of Dorian Gray, then, The Feast of Magog also sports the best title of the series. Ghosts of Christmas Past, the first meeting of the worlds of Gray and Holmes, now excites me a lot more than it did a week ago. David Llewellyn once again manages to switch genres with prowess, making it all the more of a shame that I'm now halfway through Worlds. Having reached this stage and not mentioned Steve Foxon's excellent music and sound design is something of a crime too. It's clear to me that he clearly favours, often leaving stretches of the episodes unscored, but that's no problem in my books - especially when he excels at post production work like he does. I've liked his work on The Word Lord, Babblesphere (review here), Urgent Calls (review here) and The Brood of Erys (review here) before and The Worlds of Big Finish looks to be another impressive addition to the back catalogue. 

I've already seen people saying this is a boxset of taster episodes devised by the evil Gods of Big Finish to empty your bank account still further when you then want to try other ranges, but I refute this. In my humble opinion, although that's undoubtedly an attractive bonus, those people have probably missed the point somewhat. This is great lesson in storytelling from David Llewellyn, quickly establishing each World with minimal cast and I continue to be impressed by how he, Handcock and Foxon manage to transport listeners between such disparate setups. Even though only sixteen years separate this and the last episode, they're just as different in terms of tone and emphasis as the Graceless and Sherlock Holmes stories were. This is the most complete, satisfying and impressive episode yet.

Iris Wildthyme is up next and given this was the inspiration for the upcoming Wildthyme Reloaded, I'm really looking forward to it.

You can buy The Worlds of Big Finish here.

1 comment:

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