Reviewed By: Eiphel
Review Date: 5/23/12 8:57 am
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I'm another who came to this series without having seen any of its previous incarnations, but I was aware that the audio series had a resoundingly good reputation with fans and non-fans of the original series alike. Having heard the first of Big Finish's Sapphire and Steel dramas, I also knew they were fully capable of making a series accesible to newcomers. A very good value sale was all it took to sway me.
This story is indeed a fine introduction for a newcomer, wisely choosing not to exposit too heavily on details of the past, but merely to define the threads that will be important going forward, whilst making it very clear there is much history to this place. It's a wise move - often in any story aiming to introduce new fans, the temptation is to run through shopping list of previous plot points. Far better I feel to explain only that which is relevant to the ongoing story, and to refer to the rest only in allusion.
As an added bonus this tack thickens the already dense fog of mystery and dread that performers, producer and director have all imbued the tale with. Every action, every conversation, hints at a dark past going half-spoken. Collinswood is haunted, in the literal sense, but also in the figurative.
Having never seen Dark Shadows before, I was unsure what form, exactly, the stories took. I still can't judge if the House of Despair is a standard sort of plot, but it was certainly an amicable one, and well paced. Much of the story is given over to character and atmosphere scenes, with the more mechanical aspects of the narrative and the action kept fairly simple. It's far from superficial though, as the extensive dialogues add great richness to the world. Rather I'd call it an elegant and eminently satisfying tale.
The characters are delightfully rich. From Quentin Collins' first sombre tones, each performer is a joy to listen to. Like a classic screen villain, there's a twinge, just a twinge, of campness and pantomime which succeeds in rendering Collinsport and its people larger than life without undermining the drama. John Karlen makes Willie a pitiful creature, and Lara Parker is inscrutable as Angelique, but David Selby really owns the proceedings. What a fantastic voice he has. Every moment of Quentin is a joy.
Based on this opening, I second everything that has been said by others about this series. Certainly a suitable jumping on point, and well worth hearing even if you're not already a Dark Shadows fan. 8/10