29 December 2015

Audio Review: Dark Shadows - The Curse of Shurafa

At the heart of The Curse of Shurafa is, like predecessor Panic, a very personal love story. Unlike Panic, however, here it is told quietly against the noisier backdrop of the main narrative. Barnabas Collins has decided to tell the newly-arrived Harry Cunningham a story about his time in Egypt, but it has unexpected consequences for the present...

The central story itself is set in Cairo and features Barnabas along with Dr Julia Hoffman and Professor Timothy Stokes as they encounter an supernatural force attempting to force its way back into our world. Its name is of course Shurafa.

The story begins with Stokes taking the others to witness an internment first hand, which is where they first sight the main guest character Nazira. Soon after, they're being pursued by a pair of mindless figures, who seem to be the undead. After further investigation, it turns out Shurafa was imprisoned by his slaves three millennia after a long spell of unspeakable inhumanities. But in order to trap him, naturally an incantation was necessary and one of his former slaves volunteered his bloodline to keep Shurafa at bay. Unfortunately it was Nazira's brother's internment that Barnabas witnessed, meaning she is the last of the family. Shurafa is returning.

I mentioned above that there's a romantic tale bubbling under this thrilling action-oriented surface, and it doesn't take a genius to figure out it's between Barnabas and Julia. Like all the best writers, newcomer Rob Morris shows us this blossoming relationship rather than just telling us about it. I have no experience of the original Dark Shadows television episodes so can't comment on the pair's friendship there but to me it seems deeper-rooted than that throughout this particular story. Unlike Quentin and Lela in Panic, though, neither party acts on their feelings. Amy Jennings, popping up at the conclusion, seems to have changed Barnabas' mind on that one though, so could we be looking at a recast Julia popping up in time for Amy's wedding to David Collins in August?

Speaking of the end, Morris finds an interesting way of tying the framing device of Barnabas looking after Harry to the main narrative, but I'm not entirely sure it actually serves the play as a whole for the better. Spoilers if you've not heard it, but this part of the play in particular is difficult to discuss without going into the details of what happens. It turns out Shurafa has embedded himself in Harry's consciousness in the hunt for Julia, to free himself of the curse, and Amy has been using her magic to expel him - not going out for a drink as we thought. It marries nicely with the impression of Shurafa we already had, but it does undermine him a little that he can be vanquished with such ease, particularly if he is to reappear, as would seem to be the case. We're not told the exact nature of what Amy does, but from the resulting calm it would appear the immediate threat has been dealt with.

The Curse of Shurafa continues a new strain of Dark Shadows stories for me. I thought much of it was going to be like Bloodlust, with factions of morally-ambiguous supernatural beings fighting each other and/or a villain from the dawn of time. To an extent, that's true for Panic and Shurafa but the protagonists of each have acted just as much in the interests of another as themselves. If this is what Dark Shadows is (and for my money it need not be set in Collinsport to be Dark Shadows) then I'm all for it. With its mix of Hammer Horror movie thrills (the zombies and flies are particularly disturbing) and touching romance, it's hard to believe this is Morris' first professional writing credit. A round of applause to him and script editor Alan Flanagan.

This is a really exciting tale which absolutely flies by. It places more emphasis on action-adventure than the psychological emphasis of Panic but that's not to its detriment. Andrew Collins at times feels like he's misdirected on certain lines but considering how much of this story he has to carry, he does very well overall. Needless to say the production values are as impressively high as always. Dark Shadows always feels like a breath of fresh air compared to other Big Finish productions and long may it continue while stories this engaging, thought-provoking and exciting continue to be made.

You can buy The Curse of Shurafa here.

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