The conclusion of the Gregory Trask storyline kicks off in a rather bizarre fashion.
Opening (and closing) on Princess Bride style narration by satan himself (double duty from composer Nigel Fairs), the story is presented as if this were some sort of weird fairy tale.
Picking up where The Carrion Queen left off in 1941, Trask meets his beloved daughter Charity for the first time since his being walled up in Quentin’s room by a vengeful Judith Collins-Trask. Of course, Charity is still possessed by the spirit of Pansy Faye, which will bring things to a grim conclusion…
Surprise guest stars Marie Wallace and David Selby (and non-Shadows veterans Roy Thinnes and Louise Jameson) fill out the running time, with Wallace’s hopeful then grieving war widow taking the most prominent role.
Sadly, despite the ever-expanding casts and scope of the overall story, the Big Finish saga of the right Reverend Gregory Trask actually seems to diminish as it goes on – a sort of inversely proportional ratio of scale and roster to quality.
Where The Wicked and the Dead was an excellent coda to 1969’s lengthy 1897 flashback, featuring two quite theatrical character actors doing their best to outdo and upstage one another (meant in the very best sense of that statement) in what amounted to a two man show exploring some deep existential issues about the character, The Carrion Queen was actually more small scale at heart, its point being the direct parallels between the ostensibly evil Angelique and the supposedly righteous and ‘holy’ Reverend Trask. And this came despite and by contrast to its forcedly ‘high drama’, somewhat comic book concept trappings (the devil sends the two to the middle of the Civil War in a contest for resurrection, where they encounter…well, that would be telling) and bombastic scoring.
With The Fall of the House of Trask adding a much larger, ‘name’ cast to the proceedings and giving the whole affair an unusual, ‘event’ feel, you’d expect the folks behind it were intending to go out on a bang. But this assumption is built on an essential misconception, one all too common to the modern ‘entertainment’ industry: the fallacy that bigger and louder is somehow better.
If anything, all the bluster, flying bullets, and big name star power hides without appreciable success what is in essence a quite surface level story with few layers to unfold. Where Yang is all bluster, obvious, loud and obnoxious energy, Yin is quiet, feminine, soft…and yet dark and full of depth. A chamber group or string quartet bears a far stronger heft and impact than the most blowhard of Wagnerian orchestrations, the most “dramatic” of Beethovenian symphonies. Louder actually tends to be lesser, in terms of dramatic and emotional impact, to the intelligent listener (or reader, or viewer – wherever you choose to adapt and apply the metaphor, it holds true regardless).
Along the way, we get to meet a heretofore unknown sister for Pansy Faye (played by Leela herself, Louise Jameson), who’s apparently involved with Quentin Collins (David Selby). Trask (the inimitable Jerry Lacy) succeeds in exorcising Pansy from Charity (Nancy Barrett). And Trask tries (and fails) to kill the mother of the son of satan…no, not Daimon Hellstrom or Damien Thorn, but Cyrus Longworth.
Wait...huh? You mean the Jekyll and Hyde guy, who turned into the murderous, kidnapping John Yeager? He barely qualified as evil, at least prior to his experiments…much less the devil’s own son! I have no idea where they’re going with this particular thread…
In the end, both Gregory and Charity arrive at a rather grim conclusion. To say more would spoil the plot, but suffice to say the story lives up to its title. But has anything really been said in all this?
Fairs provides more Cradle of Filth by way of Nightmare Before Christmas style eerie choral/keyboard bits for the satanic (and brief battlefield) sequences, keeping things more subtle and cueing up vintage Robert Cobert character themes at appropriate points in the “real world” portions of the narrative.
Author Joseph Lidster continues his tradition of providing grim tales for Big Finish, following in the wake of the McCoy/Ace rave culture exploration The Rapture, the rather dark McCoy solo adventure Master, and the let’s torture poor Peri “you can’t go home again” oddity The Reaping. Either the fellow’s a Charlie Bukowski cum ‘Papa’ Hemingway type or he really knows how to channel hopelessness and despair into his art…either way, it does appear to be a consistent trademark of his writing.
Sadly, as noted earlier, there’s further little or no substance underlying this tale, no grand message, no “moral” or subtext with applicability to the listener’s own life and course of action…unless hopelessness and suicide are what you consider such!
Given all that, despite the usual high quality of performance from all involved, I have to give this one the thumbs down. While it does provide a “final” conclusion to the long running post-televised adventures of the Reverend Gregory Trask and his beloved daughter Charity (“Pansy Faye”) Trask, it is by far the least of the three stories to date, with sadly little more to recommend it but the glitter of seeing so many name performers and Dark Shadows veterans in the cast list.
And there’s simply no more apropos aphorism to describe The Fall of the House of Trask than “all that glitters…is not gold.”