Dark Shadows: Review: Big Finish Audio 44: The Darkest Shadow

44_thedarkestshadow_cover_mediumStarring David Selby and Donna McKechnie, with Denis Nickerson, Alexander Vlahos, Wally Wingert, Richard Halpern, Richard Crowest, Walles Hamonde, Zeynep Sandi, Jamie Zubairi, Emma Carter, Ross McNamara and Jan Chappell

Written by Nev Fountain

Directed by David Darlington and Joseph Lidster

In which “Olivia Corey” (McKechnie) is offered the acting role of a lifetime – that of Amanda Harris, a woman created from a magical painting – in the movie The Curse of Collinwood, written and remotely directed by wealthy recluse D. Curtis, adapted from his best-selling exposé! Once recovered from the shock, she has to accept the part – if for no other reason that to find out who’s gone to such great lengths (and expense) to recreate the Collinwood of 1897 on a Hollywood sound stage and why…

As the above abstract indicates, Nev Fountain has gone to great lengths to make this sprawling story as self-referential as possible. The previous Amanda Harris audio (The Eternal Actress) had a lot to say about the nature of celebrity, fame and obsessive fans. The Darkest Shadow continues in a similar vein, but focuses its mordant wit on the peculiarities of film-making, the Hollywood system and the nature of reality as Charles Delaware Tate’s multiple legacies are brought to their next logical step, culminating in a memorable cliffhanger on disc one.

That’s right – disc one. A love story across the ages as convoluted as Quentin and Amanda’s couldn’t be contained on just one compact disc, now, could it? (Mind you, this bumper-length story was originally intended as a 2013 Christmas present to Dark Shadows fans until scheduling complications pushed back its release until July 2014.) Filled with more twists and turns than an apoplectic anaconda, The Darkest Shadow flings intriguing concepts and then-contemporary pop culture references galore at the listeners (who are advised to fasten their seat belts for a bumpy ride).

At first it seems like Fountain is poking fun at hammy actors (like Denise Nickerson’s Elspeth Gardner) declaiming their two-dimensional characters’ portentous dialogue – something detractors have long accused Dark Shadows of – but as the story rattles on, I realised my own shallow expectations were being subverted through a very clever conceit indeed. Apologies for the oblique nature of this review, but at the risk of going into full “River Song mode”, it’ll be far more satisfying for listeners to experience this story on their own than for me to ruin them for you…

Ultimately, The Darkest Shadow may be a bit too clever for its own good – it requires careful listening and occasional re-listening; sometimes the characters act slightly out-of-character for the sake of the plot; and the ending feels a bit shoe-horned in order to fit into already-established Dark Shadows audio continuity – but far better that it be criticised for attempting too much rather than simply regurgitating more of the same. Plus, any story that establishes both Dorian Gray and Andy Warhol as part of the Dark Shadows canon is all right in my book!

Verdict: I never “meta” self-referential story I didn’t like, and The Darkest Shadow is no exception… 8/10

John S. Hall

Click here to order The Darkest Shadow from Big Finish

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