Starring David Ames, Nancy Barrett, Nicola Bryant, Ursula Burton, Roger Davis, Nigel Fairs, James Goss, Lizzie Hopley, Jerry Lacy, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Alex Mallinson, Lara Parker, Christopher Pennock, David Selby, Alisdair Sladen, Rebecca Staab, Roy Thinnes, James Unsworth and Matthew Waterhouse
Written by James Goss and Joseph Lidster,
Directed by Joseph Baker, James Goss, Darren Gross and Joseph Lidster
In which a freak blizzard strikes the ship bringing Isaac Collins and his family to America in 1690, leaving in its wake a beautiful crimson pearl – a treasure that will bring luck both beneficial and baneful to Isaac’s descendents and their friends (and even enemies) for centuries to come…
A celebration of 45 years of Dark Shadows, The Crimson Pearl isn’t so much one story as it is an ambitious series of vignettes spanning the decades – and even other realities – that chronicles how the pearl affects the Collinses and other families. If nothing else, this helps explain why the Collins family has always been a magnet for unhappiness and the supernatural (although building their estate on an apparent “weak point” in reality – which would explain the portal to Parallel Time found in one of Collinwood’s disused parlours – didn’t help matters much either)!
And for perhaps the first time in the series’ Big Finish run, this story is explicitly designed for long-time fans with detailed memories for Dark Shadows minutiae; The Crimson Pearl’s flitting from time period to time period, and often involving obscure characters, may leave casual listeners scratching their heads, and even dedicated fans might find a scorecard helpful to keep track of the 30 characters encountered over three hundred years!
Unsurprisingly, the acting and soundscapes are up to their usual high standards, and original castmember Christopher Pennock makes his audio debut here. However, Marie Wallace and John Karlen are absent from the proceedings, and considering his involvement with Big Finish since Dark Shadows debuted in audio form, Karlen’s non-participation is puzzling indeed…
Still, the vignettes that comprise The Crimson Pearl are hugely enjoyable. While many seem specifically designed to “fill in the gaps” and/or patch up cracks in the show’s continuity, others seemingly exist solely to chill the listener, and succeed admirably in that respect. What seemed like a throwaway line in The Blind Painter – and has been tantalising listeners in snippets after the “coming soon” previews ever since – can now be enjoyed in all its ambitious splendour.
Verdict: As a forty-fifth anniversary present, The Crimson Pearl will be something for Dark Shadows fans to treasure for all the days and nights of their tomorrows… 10/10
John S. Hall