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“Well, dammit, why do ghosts always have to be so cryptic?  Why can’t they just come out and say what they want?”

And so we come to the last of the five (well, really four, as The Last Stop was more of a Lacy solo story) Tony Peterson/Cassandra Collins adventures still to be addressed.

The second to last of the run chronologically, falling directly prior to the series finale The Devil Cat, 2013’s The Phantom Bride, oddly enough, also turns out to be the least of the highly entertaining batch.

Let’s take a leaf from their casebook and investigate…

Tony (the irrepressible Jerry Lacy, also known for his wonderfully over the top Reverend Gregory Trask, as heard in The Wicked and the Dead, The Carrion Queen, and Fall of the House of Trask) is hired by one Philip J. Hardman to investigate The Raven Queen, a recently restored Roaring 20’s cruise ship noted for catering to wealthy patrons seeking an offshore “dirty weekend”, whose nostalgia-market revival is being haunted by a seemingly benevolent but unquiet spirit targeting rich newlyweds.

“What’s with the insults to witches today?”

Despite a running gag where random cast members keep dropping disparaging comments about practicioners of the black arts and a setup wherein Lacy and Parker get to pretend they’re married (including a brief spin on the dancefloor and a vaguely “walls of Jericho”-esque shared cabin scenario), the sophisticated romantic comedy of The Death Mask, The Voodoo Amulet and The Devil Cat seems a bit more strained and obvious, and significantly less playful and coy this time around.

“I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have with me, Cassandra…I don’t give up that easily.”

Perhaps it’s arguable that this core shift is attributable to the simple fact that this is the story where things begin to turn a bit more serious, in terms of the characters’ steadily growing relationship.  But the impression left by the installment is more uncomfortable than that assertion would imply, with author Mark Thomas Passmore reaching far more deeply into the realms of melodrama and, yes, soap opera than the lighter, snazzier fare on display in the other three tales comprising “canon” in the Peterson/Collins affair.

It’s welcome in a sense (after all, it would be a bit of a stretch to go directly from the level of connectedness displayed in The Voodoo Amulet to the out and out love affair of The Devil Cat), but something’s definitely and noticeably off.  It’s certainly narratively and dramatically correct, but that doesn’t make it particularly fun…

While the difference in tone is a subtle one, it’s a noticeable one nonetheless, and makes The Phantom Bride a bit of a disappointing note to close out on (regular listeners would of course end on The Devil Cat, simultaneously one of the best of the all too brief run and more unfortunately boasting its sole truly unhappy ending).  And what was with that rather tongue in cheek slurping kiss?

“What turns a previously harmless ghost into a killer?”

Without getting too deep into things and spoiling it for those who haven’t yet indulged, suffice to say that there’s some confusion as to whether they’re dealing with a simple haunting, with a lovelorn spirit bound to the ship by regret and unfulfilled happenstance, or something far more sinister and infernal (here oddly conflated with a sort of Asian take on the “hungry ghost” and an ersatz view of Wicca rather than proper attribution as to source).

“You fool!  Can’t you see the witch is using you, letting you darken your soul by the use of witchcraft, while she seeks the power of the crystal for herself?”

Most eye openingly, Cassandra actually has Tony performing ceremonial magick – not in the sense of sitting in as she does her thing, but as a direct and active participant(!)  (Un)holy crap…

“I’m sure you’re an excellent lawyer.  But you’re a very bad warlock…you forgot to perform the last incantation!  You fool!”
“uh oh…”

Boasting the largest cast of any of the Tony Peterson / Cassandra Collins stories, the cast even boasts a fellow named Simon Kent.  But before you start scratching your head as I did, this isn’t the late Simon Gipps-Kent (of Tomorrow People, Tom Baker-era Who Horns of Nimon, Noah’s Castle and Midnight is a Place fame), but serial murder groupie “Alfie Chapman” from Beyond the Grave.

In fact, there are an inordinately statistically skewed number of cast member ties between The Phantom Bride and Beyond the Grave.  Let’s tick them off, and I can snicker as your collective mouths begin to slowly but inevitably drop towards the floor…

Probably most notably, Asta Parry joins us once again as the erstwhile Kate Ripperton (presumably before that character’s fall from grace and blackballing from the industry which the latter story resulted in).  Just as obviously, her partner, the ill fated Tom Lacey, appears in the same role herein.

That same tale’s Mad Jack himself, Jack Chapman also stars (albeit in a rather different role here).  Similarly, Christopher Ragland, the sinister Jonah Rooney of The Flip Side, who also essayed the “real world” version of that same character in Beyond the Grave, appears here (but once again, in a different role).

Brigit Lohrey, the sensual if frightening Danielle Roget of House by the Sea and one of the night train to Boston passengers heard briefly in The Last Stop, was also heard in Beyond the Grave as Simon Kent’s overexcited murder junkie ladyfriend Emma Finney.

And if all that weren’t enough, Craig Daniel Adams and the presumably related Evelyn Adams provide two further direct links between the two otherwise wholly unrelated stories…go figure.

In fact, probably the only cast member outside of the two leads not to appear in Beyond the Grave is a Big Finish Dark Shadows regular, Barra Collins (of The Harvest of Souls, Carriage of the Damned, Curtain Call, The Happier Dead and The Devil Cat)!

“She will betray you.  Just like she has so many others…do you really believe she’s playing detective without an ulterior motive?  You’re no more than a pet to her…”

Even so, The Phantom Bride is something of a mixed bag in the end: a necessary rung on the ladder of character development and story progression in the at the time still ongoing partnership of Tony and Cassandra, yes.  But a darker, less smile inducing and comfortably romantic one nonetheless.

While all involved deliver the expected creditable job, particularly the always delightful Jerry Lacy and Lara Parker, who seldom fall short of spot-on in their delivery and portrayal of what have become two fairly well rounded characters here in their Big Finish incarnations, in the end, The Phantom Bride is best thought of as sort of an ersatz stopover along the way, necessary but easily forgotten in light of several far superior installments that surround it.

And I’m still waiting for that one where they fight a banshee in a high rise…

 

http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/the-phantom-bride-847

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