“Here I am. Gerald Conway…oh, and I’m crazy.”
No, you haven’t tuned in to some demented Nickelodeon kids’ show conceived and illustrated by a crackhead (name a cartoon…any cartoon – Ed, Edd & Eddie? Pinky & the Brain? Dexter’s Laboratory? SpongeBob? The list is endless...). Because this is the world of Dark Shadows.
A series of tape recordings being scanned through reveals the ending of the story…not that you’d be able to figure that out till you get there.
It quickly becomes apparent that what we’re hearing is the audio diary of the aforementioned M. Conway and as it turns out, it’s the man himself…or perhaps the spirit currently inhabiting him, reviewing his recent history…
After his memorable if all too brief turn in October’s Beyond the Grave, I just had to find out more about this character. With his genial tones marked by a sinister undertone, within the course of one brief phonecall, this Gerald Conway quickly became apparent as being barking mad…if not downright evil.
Hinting at an occult comprehension of the underlying forces unleashed by the foolish investigative crew at Eagle Hill cemetery, he accomplished in the span of…perhaps two or three minutes? more menace and hair raising terror than the entire remaining cast was able to convey throughout the course of the (quite excellent) audioplay.
And of course, it didn’t hurt that those dulcet tones clearly belonged to none other than one of “my” Doctors and the one living iteration thereof whom I identify with and appreciate most, none other than the esteemed Colin Baker.
So it is that we come to the man’s sole prior appearance in the general environs of Collinsport, namely last March’s House by the Sea.
Aficionados of the long running and rather unique soap opera should be well aware of the history of said domicile, which was promised to Victoria Winters and Burke Devlin by Elizabeth Collins as a belated wedding gift (there’s more to that story, as one might expect from the twisting, turning, endlessly delayed world of the soaps, but we’ll leave it at that).
Of course, Burke did not survive to marry Victoria (we’ll pass on the lady’s fate for the time being as well…suffice to say, it’s Dark Shadows – you know it’s going to be outside the norm), and the house remained unused before being given as semi-permanent quarters for Cassandra Collins’ ostensible brother Nicholas Blair. Of course, Cassandra was really Angelique, and Nicholas was a warlock sent to audit her…it gets really complicated from there.
In any case, as we get past the usual background and introductions, it becomes apparent that poor Gerald was led to the location by a series of dreams of this very house and locale. He meets with Elizabeth, who informs him that Caleb Collins’ hundred year proviso about sale of the house (which kept it within the Collins family and barred its falling into the hands of outsiders) will be ending within a matter of weeks. Convenient, that.
He tells of a visit to the Blue Whale, where he chats with Carolyn Stoddard and Dr. Julia Hoffman about some unusual phenomena he’s been experiencing since moving in to the house: mysterious knocking at the door at all hours, a bizarre and ghastly pattern of teeth being discovered all around the house, howling noises, disembodied voices and a letter from none other than Danielle Roget… Even his visit to the Blue Whale is marked by spectral presence, as the full bar of staring patrons turns out to be an empty one, with the three of them the only denizens…
Why did Caleb Collins set such an odd caveat in his will, nearly a century agone? Why was a much beset upon expat Briton called to the house, mere weeks prior to the hundred year deadline? And what horrible secret awaits in the locked basement of the House by the Sea?
Colin Baker delivers a one man show and tour de force that proves him once again to be a consummate actor. I found that I was a fair way through the proceedings before even noticing that not a single voice actor had joined him in this project, even for the smallest of incidental roles. Well, living ones, at any rate…and yet, it never once felt “audiobook”.
Moreover, the acting was seldom unsubtle, as tends to happen all too often with these sort of affairs. His Caroline comes off as dizzy enough, and he even gets that absurd propensity towards hesitating at every syllable Grayson Hall’s Dr. Hoffman was marked by. While still clearly Colin Baker doing an impression thereof, both characters prove recognizable enough in his takes on each. Even Barnabas makes a brief appearance, with Baker’s version clearly marked by Jonathan Frid’s haltingly caressing modalities and delivery.
About as noticeable as it gets is his odd choice of a Blanche duBois style Southern belle for matriarch Elizabeth Collins-Stoddard. Now that was unintentionally amusing enough, but easily overlooked when answered by Baker’s own warm and expressive tones and taken amidst the appropriately omnipresent rain and wind sound effects by David Darlington (who does a quite admirable job of creating a terrifyingly claustrophobic atmosphere throughout).
Writer James Goss has crafted a tense, eerie script quite reminiscent of Aaron Lamont’s Beyond the Grave last month, albeit in a completely different format and milieu. This is the more sedate, isolated horror of M.R. James, not the more in your face ensemble oriented version of a Richard Matheson – both excellent and chill inducing masters of the style, but as different in approach as they are alike in effect.
I’m unsure as to what level director Joseph Lidster contributes to the affair – this is a strong, well written script and a top notch actor of several decades experience, so it probably wouldn’t take much effort to get a positive result. Nonetheless, the final result speaks for itself, so hats off to all involved.
In sum, all I can offer is that given the notable quality of his two appearances thus far, I for one look forward to hearing far more of Ni…Gerald Conway in future Dark Shadows releases.
A more welcome and chilling presence I cannot envision.