Written by Roy Gill
Directed by Joseph Lidster and Jim Pierson
In which Quentin Collins (Selby) teaches his great-great-grandson Tom Cunningham (Shon) how to make French toast and is persuaded to reveal the circumstances under which he met his wife Lela (Sullivan)…
One of the bigger surprises in the recent Dark Shadows mini-series Bloodlust was the offhand revelation that Quentin – the eternal ladies’ man and breaker of hearts (among other organs) – had married again. Now, in newcomer Roy Gill’s Panic, we learn how and why this unexpected event happened.
Living a quiet life in London as the owner of Pandemonium Antiques, Quentin thinks he’s left the chaos of his old life behind him. He quickly learns the error of his thinking when he crosses paths with a formidable English professor, Doctor Lela Quick (whose name must surely be paying homage to pioneering Dark Shadows director/producer Lela Swift). A forthright rationalist, Lela wastes little time letting Quentin know what she thinks of him when he refuses to sell a vintage recording to her. (The recording contains a musical refrain that keeps haunting Lela’s dreams, but Quentin has never laid eyes on it before and is understandably reluctant to let a “civilian” purchase such a suspicious item.) But when she and her teaching assistant Robin (Askew) decide to take matters into their own hands that evening after the store has closed, it quickly becomes apparently that Quentin knew what he was talking about when he warned her that some matters are best left alone…
A veteran actress currently co-starring in Castle, Susan Sullivan had a one-episode Dark Shadows stint as a ghost, but spent many years as David Selby’s wife in the long-running soap opera Falcon Crest. Selby and Sullivan quickly re-ignite their chemistry, despite the script’s insistence that they be at odds throughout most of the proceedings. If anything, Sullivan’s Lela comes across as Quentin’s equivalent of Dr. Julia Hoffman; Lela constantly challenges Quentin and brings out interesting sides of his character in much the same way that Julia initially sparked and clashed with Barnabas before ultimately becoming the vampire’s closest friend and confidante. In fact, throughout this story, I kept thinking that Susan Sullivan could’ve been a great “New Julia” if it weren’t for the current Dark Shadows producers’ understandable reluctance to recast the part, given how much Grayson Hall inhabited and invested in the role on television.
But, as usual, I digress… Panic is a decent debut for horror novelist/Big Finish Dorian Gray scribe Roy Gill, who populates his story with memorable characters as well as a gruesome-yet-apposite name-related fate that befalls one of these individuals. Some of the tale’s twists and turns can be seen from quite a distance away, but are realised so enjoyably that this scarcely matters. The pairing of Quentin and Quick works so well that – like the chemistry between Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen in Doctor Who – it papers over virtually all of Panic’s minor shortcomings. I look forward to the dynamic she’ll bring to future Big Finish Dark Shadows audios.
Verdict: An effective, if somewhat lightweight, “season opener” of a story. 7/10
John S. Hall