“Or you stay here. In a dead town…alone.”
“Then that’s what I choose.”
Picking up directly where October’s Beyond the Grave left off, we rejoin a despondent Maggie Evans…last living resident of Collinsport.
Wait…what? Did the demonic forces unleashed at Eagle Hill truly devastate the entire population of our favorite Maine seaport?
In despair over the suicide of sheriff Jim Hardy and with officialdom passing off recent events as an entertainment-based publicity stunt, the once sassy flame-haired waitress cum governess and apparent reincarnation of Josette duPres finds herself at the end of her rope, popping a succession of pills in a typically feminine approach to self-annihilation.
Thankfully, the Collinsport Inn coffee shop gets a surprise visitor just in the (Old) Nick of time…her savior being none other than…Gerald Conway!?!
In the Harvest of Souls, the secrets of author James Goss’ earlier The House by the Sea and the horrors of Aaron Lamont’s Beyond the Grave are tied together and brought into a whole new arena, with a 1970-timeframe storyline and old nemesis coming very much into play.
Attempting to dance around the surprises here is more difficult than the reader may imagine, but suffice to say this story provides both (apparent) ending and (more likely) new beginning to what’s become my breakout favorite Big Finish Dark Shadows character, the mysterious English expat Gerald Conway (essayed by the inimitable Colin Baker).
Projecting a surprising warmth and sensitivity for a character intended as anything but (spoilers…), Baker’s stentorian, logophilian tones deftly transition from sweetness and concern to a more sinister tonality and back again within the course of a single line delivery.
Like the original actor to portray the role he’s taken on (spoilers again…), Baker shows himself more than capable of putting across the suave geniality a certain cultured form of malevolence bears as its greatest defense and snare, killing with kindness and ensnaring with sugar rather than venom. If anything, Baker engenders even greater conflict in the listener than his progenitor, with less oiliness and a greater sense of warmth to his delivery throughout.
Who are the mysterious forces in the waters surrounding Collinsport? Where have all the town’s residents, bar Evans and Conway, gone? And what is the titular Harvest of Souls?
Kathryn Leigh Scott continues the more hysterical modality of “Mad Maggie” she brought to Beyond the Grave here, albeit in a somewhat more subdued fashion (as appropriate to a woman sufficiently in the grasp of depression as to attempt suicide).
There’s an odd subtext of memories mingled with pie in the sky romantic dream scenarios that allows the late Jim Hardy (Jonathon Marx) and Maggie Evans to follow their abortive story through to fruition, which results in a portrayal of their more youthful shared experience and allows the two to finally find the happy ending they were cheated of.
Well, sort of.
The most amusing part of all this comes when we pay a visit to a similar bored housewife Harlequin happily ever after sequence for Barnabas and Julia Hoffman, as portrayed by Baker and Scott.
While Colin’s Barnabas is perhaps a bit less on the nose than it was in the earlier House by the Sea, losing much of Frid’s trademark sibilance in the process, Scott’s Hoffman is positively hilarious, at least briefly capturing the stammering and constipatedly hesitant line readings and pained William Shatner by way of Theresa Russellesque breathy and awkward pauses the character was infamous for.*
*In due fairness to the late Grayson Hall, this appears to have been a deliberate affectation of the Hoffman character – compare her Julia Hoffman to subsequent and intervening performances as the delightfully brusque gypsy Magda, haughty Countess duPres or her unforgettable non-Shadows role as “Pepe” in Satan in High Heels.
Recurring director and composer David Darlington once again keeps events moving along at a comfortable pace (none of the expected soap opera drag things out for a month where an episode would do business here) and seamlessly integrates his own atmospheric touches to the classic Robert Cobert cues we all know and love.
As noted earlier, it’s difficult to say much more without giving away a few very important secrets the story hinges upon, so we’ll call it a day here. But fellow fans of Dark Shadows and Colin Baker’s ever expanding repetoire of Big Finish performances would be well advised to check this one out – those who appreciated the aforementioned House by the Sea and Beyond the Grave in particular.
Because a very important character in the Dark Shadows universe is back. Long may he remain.