The Confessions of Dorian Gray: The Spirits of Christmas (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 31 October 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
The Confessions of Dorian Gray: The Spirits of Christmas (Credit: Big Finish)
Written by Tim Leng and Alan Flanagan

     Produced and Directed by Scott Handcock
 
Cast: Alexander Vlahos (Dorian Gray), Guy Adams (Peter Jameson), Sophie Aldred(Sally Jameson), Tom Allen (Camberwell Haines), Samantha Béart (Catherine), David Blackwell (Simon Darlow), Lisa Bowerman (The Woman in the Woods), Jacqueline King (First Neighbour), Bruno Langley (Ben), Tim Leng (Second Neighbour), Colin McFarlane (The Narrator), Katy Manning (Isadora Rigby), Sarah Ovens (Teddy Quigley), Sakuntala Ramanee (Stella), Miles Richardson (Harry Wotton), Laura Riseborough (Holly), Hugh Skinner (Tobias Matthews), Bianca Stephens (Newsreader), David Warner (Santa Claus), Gabriel Woolf (The Man Upstairs)  

Big Finish Productions -  Released December 2015    

The Confessions of Dorian Gray first appeared four years ago in October 2012, originally as a weekly download only series. This seemed to be something of a risk for Big Finish to produce an original series created by Scott Handcock based upon a reimagining of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, with (at the time) relatively unknown actor Alexander Vlahos in the lead role.  However, the resulting series quickly gained a firm following amongst Big Finish listeners which has subsequently resulted in a further three series and several special episodes including appearances alongside Sherlock Holmes in 2012’s Ghosts of Christmas Past and 2015’s celebratory release The Worlds of Big Finish.

However, it seems all good things must come to an end, and Halloween 2016 sees the release of the fifth and final series of Dorian’s adventures across his long life from Victorian London through to the present day. It therefore seems apt to first review this penultimate release in the popular range which consists of two stories both set in December of 2015 which serve to set the scene for the impending finale.

First up we have the gloriously macabre Desperately Seeking Santa by Tim Leng. Only Big Finish’s casting couch could provide a release which opens with Doctor Who alumna Sophie Aldred being viciously murdered by no less stellar a guest actor thanDavid Warner, whose portrayal of the eponymous Santa is at the heart of this story. Warner shares some great scenes with Vlahos, who has continually excelled in his portrayal of Dorian. The story returns regular listeners to early December 2015, following on from the present day setting that linked the whole of the third series before series four resumed the series’ original anthology format with stories set at various stages of the 20th Century. Dorian has been reunited with the true love his life, the vampire Tobias Matthews, sensitively portrayed by Hugh Skinner, who was first introduced in one of the standout stories of the first series, The Heart That Lives Alone. Dorian and Toby are preparing to celebrate their first Christmas together but the activities of Warner’s evil Santa threaten to cause problems. There is also a brief reappearance by another of Dorian’s former lovers which seems to a hint of things yet to come. The proceedings are given an extra sinister edge with narration by Colin McFarlane. Overall, a great start to this set which indicates that Dorian and Toby’s Christmas is clearly going to be memorable for all the wrong reasons and not just because of some really bad carol singing.

Events take an even more sinister turn as we rejoin Dorian and Toby on Christmas Day itself for All Through the House by Alan Flanagan. Toby and Dorian arrive at a very old and mysterious hotel (although those familiar with Lerner and Loewe musicals will guess the significance of its name) where they start to experience some very strange goings on when they encounter characters who bear a startling resemblance to Dorian’s old friend Harry Wooton (Miles Richardson reprising the character from Big Finish’s adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray) and more intriguingly his sister Isadora, once again brilliant portrayed by Katy Manningwho previously appeared in series one’s The Twittering of Sparrows. Without wanting to give too much away this is very much an adventure story which is as dark and twisted as the series has ever managed. It becomes clear that events are being manipulated by the mysterious Man Upstairs about whom this reviewer will just say that he could only have played by Gabriel Woolf. There are surprises in store which guarantee that this story is compulsory listening for all fans of this series, especially If you have any intention of listening to series five. Basically, this second story is excellent and will justify buying this special release.

Overall, the two stories which comprise this special release continue to push the envelope as part of a great series of audio dramas. The second story in particular sets the scene for the impending release of the finale. Big Finish clearly gambled a lot in commissioning this series but four years on it’s clear that the gamble has continued to pay off with the combined creative talents of Handcock and Vlahos providing some of Big Finish’s finest output.

 

The Spirits of Christmas is available to buy now from amazon.co.uk





Survivors Series Four (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 21 October 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Survivors - Series Four (Credit: Big Finish)
 

Written by Ken Bentley, Louise Jameson, Christopher Hatherall,  and Matt Fitton

Directed by Ken Bentley 

Cast: Ian McCulloch (Greg), Lucy Fleming (Jenny), Louise Jameson (Jackie), Fiona Sheehan (Molly), Zoë Tapper (Evelyn Piper), Ramon Tikaram (Theo), Jane Maud (Mildred Sanderson/Sarah), Paul Panting (Colonel Stephen Adams), Jonathan Oliver (Lewis Bartholomew MP), Terry Molloy (John Redgrave), Sean Murray (Dr Stewart/Terry Levinson), Alex Lanipekun (Roy), Vinette Robinson (Davina), Laurence Dobiesz (Michael), Enzo Squillino Jnr (Stan)

Big Finish Productions – Released June 2016

With the release of Series Five only a few weeks away, it seems an appropriate time to catch up on the fourth boxset of Big Finish’s extremely successful, dark, gritty and powerful audio revival of Terry Nation’s original 1970s TV series Survivors. It is terrible thing to admit, but when contemplating this release this reviewer finds himself to be at a loss for words. The problem being that whilst, taken on its own merits, this box set is just as strong as the three box sets that preceded it, there is a real sense of déjà​ entendu in terms of the repetition of the format which links the four stories of this box set.

That being said, The Old Ways by Ken Bentley is a very strong opening entry which takes us back to the original outbreak of “the death”. As well as providing a welcome cameo from Terry Molloy reprising his character of John Redgrave from the first audio series, this gives a great introduction to new character Evelyn Piper, played by Zoe Tapper who starred as Anya in the re-imagined Survivors of 2008-10. A neat way of squaring the circle by uniting actors from both TV versions. There is also a strong central turn in this episode from Jane Maud as the Prime Minister’s widow Mildred Sanderson. Having had a paramilitary group of thugs calling themselves the “British Government” in the last audio series, it is a neat contrast to now discover the fate of the surviving remnant of the actual government. It is however to be hoped that having revisited the starting point of the original TV series now in the opening stories of three separate box sets (with only series two having opened several months later), Big Finish will allow the series to move on a little in future releases.

For the Good of the Cause by Louise Jameson returns us to original series regulars Greg and Jenny (Ian McCulloch and Lucy Fleming on great form throughout) who are visiting a potential ally community with a quasi-religious outlook, The Belief Foundation, headed by an idealistic leader called Theo, played with great charm as charisma by Ramon Tikaram. As someone who was a teenager in the 1990s, Tikaram’s performance as Ferdy in the series This Life was extremely influential, and so this reviewer is delighted to hear this actor being regularly employed by Big Finish. I was also go as far as saying that of the four principal antagonists who have appeared in the audio series to date, Theo is by far the most compelling performance and after the chilling performance given by Paul Thornley in series three that is really saying something. However, herein the thorny issue of repeated formula begins to raise its head. Before moving on, some praise for Jameson’s excellent portrayal of Jackie, particularly in the scene where learns of the death of her friend Daniel whose loss is still felt by this reviewer.

The third episode Collision is a welcome contribution from a new writer Christopher Hatherall, who played Tyler in last November’s third series. It starts to become apparent that all is not quite as it seems in Theo’s utopia (this will ring bells for those who remember the villainous Gilligan from series one) as the survivors of the Tartarus bunker from the opening episode struggle to integrate with the Foundation. Meanwhile a young man called Michael seeks to make amends but a revelation about his past sets the scene for confrontation as Theo’s true motives become more apparent (although not especially surprising). There is a still plenty of tension as events build.

Forgive and Forget  by Matt Fitton brings about the expected crescendo. Perhaps the highlight is that the listener may not necessarily find themselves always supporting the decisions of the protagonists. There is, as expected, a predictably enjoyable confrontation between Greg and Theo but also some powerful scenes for Fiona Sheehan as Molly who continues to impress as she confronts her past head on.

Overall, this is another very strong entry to this audio series. However, having ended up with a very similar story arc to the three previous series each revolving around a single antagonist, it ends up losing something. It is to be hoped that the next couple of series can be less formulaic whilst maintaining the powerful storytelling and strong characterisation which continue to mark this series out as a must listen.

 

Survivors Series Four is available to buy now from amazon.co.uk





Dark Shadows: Echoes of the Past (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 6 October 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Dark Shadows: Echoes of the Past (Credit: Big Finish)
 

Written by Jerry Lacy, Ian Farrington, Philip Meeks & Paul Phipps

Directed by Ursula Burton

Cast: Jerry Lacy, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Lara Parker & David Selby

Big Finish Productions – Released June 2016

Echoes of the Past is the second of two special releases to mark the 50th anniversary of the original television series of the supernatural soap opera Dark Shadows. Unlike the full cast anniversary tale Blood and Fire, this is a collection of four separate, standalone stories, each narrated in character by a surviving member of the original cast.

Big Finish’s previous Dark Shadows audiobooks have usually featured two characters in a semi-narrated format similar to their Doctor Who range of Companion Chronicles. It is perhaps a slight disappointment that for this and the next release expected later this year, they have only used a single narrative voice for each story.

The opening story Trask the Exorcist is both written and narrated by Jerry Lacy, who probably knows the corrupt Reverend Trask better than most. It is an enjoyable tale of temptation with some great dialogue between Trask and a possessed girl which the author/narrator delivers with great relish.

The second story is The Missing Reel by regular Big Finish scribe Ian Farrington and read by David Selby as Quentin Collins, a character much missed from the previous anniversary release. This story finds the long-lived werewolf in 1950s Los Angeles on the trail of a missing reel of film from a horror film, only to cross paths with a super-fan who is determined to see the footage from his favourite film. This is another enjoyable well-told tale if not hugely original.

Next up is Lunar Tides by Philip Meeks. This finds Kathryn Leigh-Scott as Maggie Evans in the aftermath of the departure of Barnabas Collins during the period of the original 1970s series, struggling to make sense of strange events caused by unusual tidal behaviour and coinciding with the arrival of a young English girl. Again, whilst Leigh-Scott gave a strong portrayal of matriarch Patience Collins in Blood and Fire, this is a very welcome opportunity to hear her back in her usual character role.

Last, but by no means least of these four stories is Confession by Paul Phipps, narrated by Lara Parker as the ever popular witch Angelique Buchard. Angelique is alone apparently writing her final confession, but as ever the witch is not always to be trusted. This is a neatly twisted final tale and definitely the highlight of this particular boxset.

 

Overall, it is a pleasure to have four of the most memorable original series characters appear in these stories. It also serves to remind that whilst all four actors appeared in the full-cast anniversary special Blood and Fire, only one of their original characters appeared in that story meaning it was perhaps not as much of a celebratory release as it might have been. It might perhaps have been nice to have a set of stories with a linking thread (although this reviewer notes that something similar was accomplished with an earlier anniversary release, The Crimson Pearl  in 2011) but this is still good stuff and bodes well for the next release, another collection of short stories entitled Haunting Memories, just in time for the Christmas ghost story season.

 

Echoes of the Past is available to buy now from amazon.co.uk








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