Starring Stephanie Ellyne, John Chancer and Murray Melvin, with James Lawrence, Lucy Scott, Lisa Richards, Nancy Barrett, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Dilek Latif, Michael Shon, Greg Patmore, William McGeough and Barra Collins
Written by Adam Usden, Directed by David Darlington and Darren Gross
In which appendicitis sends Amy Jennings (Ellyne) to Collinsport Hospital, where she and her new boyfriend Simon Turner (Chancer) discover that death has seemingly taken a holiday – and for those unfortunates in the morgue, there truly are fates worse than death…
First of all, let’s get the obvious out of the way – yes, it’s Dark Shadows meets Torchwood: Miracle Day. But whereas Miracle Day didn’t exactly dwell on the graphic nature of some people’s normally-fatal injuries and the continued agonies they suffered, The Happier Dead pulls no punches with this. Through a combination of clinical readings by hospital staff and lots of screaming, this audio manages to be more harrowing than a post-watershed drama – no mean feat!
Continuing the Torchwood connection is guest actor Murray Melvin, whose elegantly sinister Bilis Manger was a highlight of the show’s first series. A seeming amalgamation of William Hartnell and Quentin Crisp, he’s a welcome addition to the Dark Shadows universe as amiable old duffer Edwin Beadle, a fellow hospital patient and friend of Professor Stokes who gamely assists Amy and Simon in their investigations.
Thankfully, The Happier Dead is a far more successful outing for Amy Jennings than the dire Lucifer Gambit. Here, she gets to poke, pry, deduce, discover the perpetrator and righteously vent her spleen – all while recovering from an appendectomy (still serious surgery in 1973) and keeping her boyfriend Simon out of harm’s way.
Ah, yes – Simon… Where to begin with him? Well-intentioned but rather wet, he initially seems cut from the same cloth as so many other hapless boyfriends with whom otherwise competent female characters seem to get lumbered. But author Adam Usden knows this, and between his ministrations and the actors’ chemistry, Amy and Simon just – just – manage to come across as a believable couple instead of the twee one they could’ve so easily been.
Verdict: An unsettling production (especially for those who suffer from nosocomephobia), The Happier Dead also contains Lisa Richards’ best work for Big Finish yet as she delivers a heartfelt monological coda to the proceedings… 7/10
John S. Hall