Starring Lara Parker, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Mitchell Ryan, Joanna Going, Andrew Collins, Daisy Tormé, James Storm, Lisa Richards, Christopher Pennock, Marie Wallace, Nancy Barrett, David Selby, Matthew Waterhouse and Jerry Lacy, with John Karlen, Ursula Burton, Alexandra Donnachie, Scott Haran, Walles Hamonde, Daniel Collard, Michael Shon and Natalie Britton.
Written by Roy Gill, Directed by Ursula Burton and Joseph Lidster
In which the witch Angélique (Parker), banished to Hell once more, is given an offer she cannot refuse by her Dark Lord – travel back in time to 1767 and “unpick” the Collins family “from history’s tapestry, before they’ve even begun”…
For the 50th anniversary of Dark Shadows, Big Finish has elected to follow the popular full-cast drama format recently exemplified by Bloodlust, rather than the series of vignettes that comprised their 45th anniversary celebration, The Crimson Pearl. And whereas The Crimson Pearl was perhaps best appreciated by die-hard Dark Shadows fans, Blood and Fire can be enjoyed by listeners both veteran and new to the range.
By setting Blood and Fire in 1767, author Roy Gill allows listeners to discover characters from the 1795 storyline – like Joshua and Abigail Collins – in their youth and acting quite unlike their middle-aged selves. Both siblings are passionately in love (not with each other – this isn’t Game of Thrones!) and chafing under the iron will of their father Caleb, who values respectability almost as much as he cherishes the colossal mansion that he’s having built atop the hill for his family – an edifice he hopes will stand through the centuries as a monument to the Collins family, and serve as a suitable wedding gift for Joshua and his bride-to-be, a delightful (and wealthy) young widow named Laura Murdoch Stockbridge…
As ever, the veteran Dark Shadows actors seem to relish playing new characters both prominent and minor, while the Big Finish Era actors each add something special to the proceedings. Daisy Tormé, for example, achieves the near-impossible in making listeners feel sympathy towards Abigail Collins as we learn how this sharp-witted (and sharp-tongued) young woman starts on the path to becoming the Bible-thumping battleaxe every viewer loved to hate in 1795. Then there’s Joanna Going, who played Victoria Winters and Josette DuPrés in the short-lived 1991 Dark Shadows revival, making a memorable Big Finish debut as Laura. And as the lynchpin holding it all together, Lara Parker enchants yet again as Angélique, chafing at having to do the Dark Lord’s bidding yet again, and contemplating betrayal as the womenfolk show kindness and charity to “Mrs. Cassandra Peterson”.
Roy Gill has said in interviews how daunting a prospect writing the celebratory story for Dark Shadows’ 50th anniversary was for him. It turns out that he needn’t have worried, because Blood and Fire is arguably the purest distillation of Dark Shadows since the show went off the air on 2 April, 1971. Maybe it’s the welcome increased use of composer Robert Cobert’s iconic incidental music; maybe it’s the way characters do the wrong thing for entirely the right reason; maybe it’s the combination of Gill’s tightly-knit writing and the Colonial Gothic setting. Whatever the reason, the result is sublime, tragic and triumphant.
To say anything more would risk venturing into spoiler territory, so let me leave you with a simple admonition – if you consider yourself a Dark Shadows fan, then go and purchase Blood and Fire immediately. You won’t be disappointed.
Verdict: Kudos to all involved in this smashing celebration of five decades of Dark Shadows! 10/10
John S. Hall