Written by Cody Schell, Directed by David Darlington and Jim Pierson
In which Maggie Haskell (Scott) should be celebrating her honeymoon with Joe; instead, she’s woken up in a snowbound cabin in the woods. Her only company is the cabin’s owner, a man with a familiar face – that of a man who died in a South American plane crash over a decade ago: Burke Devlin…
What better way to celebrate the fiftieth Big Finish Dark Shadows audio drama than featuring two characters that both appeared in the show’s very first episode? Why, by making one of those characters Burke Devlin – the show’s first anti-hero – and getting the original actor to reprise his role for the first time since 1967.
As Burke Devlin, Mitchell Ryan brought a raw, alpha-male intensity to Dark Shadows which contrasted beautifully with his arch-enemy Roger Collins’ effete menace. Unfortunately, Ryan’s alcoholism got the better of him, and within a year he was sacked for turning up too drunk to perform one day. (The part was recast with Anthony George, an actor who looked a good decade older than Ryan; had little chemistry with Burke’s love interest Victoria Winters; disliked the entire Dark Shadows experience; and left as soon as his contract expired. This sudden departure led to a hasty write-off for Devlin through one of the great clichés of soap opera writing – a plane crash in a faraway locale.) Fortunately for Ryan, he sobered up and resumed a solid career as a character actor, specialising in paternal roles like Will Riker’s father on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Greg’s dad in the sitcom Dharma & Greg.
But as always, I digress. Yes, Ryan sounds noticeably older – especially at the start of the story – than he did almost fifty years ago (no surprise there), and sometimes seems to be giving a cold reading of the script. Kathryn Leigh Scott, on the other hand, still sounds like the Maggie who waitressed at the Collinsport Inn and dyed her hair blonde. The vocal contrast is slightly jarring at first, but soon doesn’t make a jot of difference.
Cody Schell’s layered script has Maggie and the cabin’s owner – who maintains he’s the late Burke’s cousin Finn – at the mercy of some shadowy South American business associates of Burke’s who have come to collect a long-overdue debt. Known only as the Ink, these associates are an unsettling addition to Dark Shadows lore, and offer an explanation as to how the disgraced businessman was able to get back on his feet so quickly after serving a jail sentence for manslaughter. In an interesting twist, the listener is never 100% sure whether the Ink actually have supernatural abilities, or have merely drugged their captives with hallucinogenic substances.
For me, this story’s highlight was a scene in which, with all the surreal intensity of a fever dream, we learn how Burke survived his Amazonian plane crash; I, for one, will never look at a common piece of airplane signage in quite the same way again. The rest of …And Red All Over passes in a similar state of phantasmagoria as a certain celebrated artefact makes an exquisite return, and the spectre of Victoria Winters (and her abrupt disappearance) once again haunts the proceedings. And then there’s that phone call at the story’s end, which will leave many longtime fans with tear in their eyes…
Verdict: A near-perfect evocation and celebration of Dark Shadows’ earliest days. 10/10
John S. Hall