Written by James Goss, Directed by Joseph Lidster
In which Gerald Conway (Baker), a lawyer plagued by recurring dreams of the House By The Sea, rents it from Elizabeth Collins Stoddard and decides to find out all he can about the mysterious property and its previous inhabitants…
Given Dark Shadows’ propensity for conspicuously “playing homage” to (i.e., gleefully pillaging) just about every classic Gothic horror trope imaginable, it’s only fitting that the audios should continue this hallowed tradition with more modern horror tales – in this case, The Blair Witch Project.
With the entire story told from a newcomer’s point of view – through Gerald’s evidently found audio dairies recorded for his psychiatrist Dr. Bradley – The House By The Sea actually makes a very good “entry point” for new fans as Gerald meets various Collinsport residents and shares his sardonic opinions and observations of them. (Dr. Julia Hoffman, for example, “looks like she enjoyed a good frown.”) Long-time fans will enjoy this fresh perspective on familiar characters, while neophytes will share Gerald’s journey into this “holiday home for Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Addams!”
This allows Colin Baker the opportunity to stretch the ol’ vocal cords via imitations of various characters. He nails Jonathan Frid’s Barnabas cadences splendidly, but his Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (“every bit as grand as her name”) sounds uncannily like the late female impersonator Divine more so than Joan Bennett…
And while some may have expressed trepidations at the thought of a non-Dark Shadows actor headlining this audio, Colin Baker’s performance should quickly allay any such qualms. Unquestionably the Doctor Who actor who has most benefitted from Big Finish Productions, Baker brings over a decade of audio experience with him, and the results are superb. His Gerald Conway runs a gamut of emotions here, starting with copious sarcasm and he relates the path that brought him to Collinsport, then moving on from drunken musings to vigorous excitement, followed by bafflement, and then determined resolve before culminating in terror as he plumbs the depths of his rented abode and the secrets it contains. The lack of background music means that The House By The Sea depends wholly on Baker’s deliveries, and deliver he does!
Verdict: A bold experiment, which succeeds admirably both as a character study and a genuinely unsettling “haunted house” yarn. Hopefully Mr. Baker will return to Collinsport? Please, Big Finish? 9/10
John S. Hall