Thursday, 5 June 2014

Dark Shadows: The Phantom Bride written by Mark Thomas Passmore and directed by Darren Gross & David Darlington

What's it about: “I'm Tony Peterson and this is my wife, Cassandra.” A liner sailing across the ocean to London. Happy couples enjoying a relaxing few days of fine food, fine wine and the fresh sea air. Until they start dying. Because also on board is a ghost seeking vengeance. A ghost of a woman who died in 1929. Private detective Tony Peterson and the witch Cassandra find themselves embroiled in yet another mystery. Can they solve the dead bride's murder before they, themselves, become her latest victims?

PI: How amusing to have Tony and Cassandra posing as a lovesick couple going on holiday together. It means that they can indulge in some physical interplay that they have clearly been longing to do ever since they were reacquainted but without any consequences. Apparently he has been calling upon her more recently rather than the other way around. Whilst the two of them are dancing Tony admits there is no one he would rather have with him solving these disturbing cases and even proposes a holiday together in England. Is he starting to go soft on Cassandra? The succubus attempts to poison Tony against Cassandra by reminding him of Angelique's murderous past but he remains steadfast in his dealing with the ghost. 

Witch: Cassandra really has to hold her tongue when one passenger swears that the ghost is probably a witch casting a spell and elaborates about how vengeful and ugly they are. They might have set down some pretty clear ground rules about their investigations but it is clear from Cassandra's 'do what I like' attitude that she is in charge. She has to spell out to Tony that Cassandra is just a cover for who she really is but admits that with him she has found something she has never had before: a friend. She doesn't want to ruin that by turning their working relationship into a romantic one. It's been noticed that Cassandra has become too human, losing her powers too easily to a voodoo queen, failing to recover the amulet that she has been charged with protecting, stealing relics for herself, destroying ghosts, banshees and having fun. Whatever will the Dark Lord think?

Standout Performance: I'm not entirely sure why this story is a full cast drama given that the bulk of the work is still performed by Lacy and Parker, even some characters who aren't Tony and Cassandra. Don't get me wrong they give their usual strong performances but the additional actors that are brought in to bulk out the crew are only slightly utilized. Frankly the regulars could have played these roles (as they successfully managed in The Death Mask) with just as much efficiency.

Great Ideas: Built in 1922 to cater for more intimate cruises to and from England, The Reverend Queen cruise liner is our setting for this paranormal adventure. 1970s transatlantic cruises with a 1920s theme. A phantom bride has been reported stalking the passengers but there is no record of deaths, murders or suicides on board. A discerning ghost with expensive tastes, the phantom bride is only targeting rich newlyweds on their honeymoon. The idea of using a diary written about events in the past to shed light on supernatural disturbances in the present is not an original one but it is one that is re-used because it works. Another cliché (albeit a good one) is having characters from the present re-enacting scenes from the past (via a séance or other unearthly means), dramatising the tragedy at the heart of the story. As soon as Tony says that the setting is like stepping back through time it was obvious that the story would embrace that, dramatically speaking, before the end of the story. A dead electrician, mummified by the ghost. The identity of the ghost is revealed fairly on, George Mayfield's wife, Passmore not leaving that reveal for the climax. It means we can delve further into the pass throughout the second half of the story and discover why she is so resentful. A succubus is a demon who takes the form of a woman to tempt men resulting in the decline of their health until death. The succubus is a novice witch using the crystal as a focus to increase her powers.

Audio Landscape: Cheers, the ocean smashing against the harbour, ships horn, a ghastly scream, flicking through a book, a storm.

Standout Scene: The twist that there are two ghosts was entirely unsuspected, the phantom bride mourning the loss of George and Leona who is a ghost succubus, killing people in order to live again. It's typical, isn't it? You wait around for one ghost to appear in an audio series...and then two turn up at once!

Result: The Phantom Bride reminded me of both Doctor Who's Curse of the Black Spot (a ghostly figure stalking a ship at sea) and Buffy's I Will Always Love You (a tragedy from the past being re-enacted by characters from the present). Fortunately it is much better than the former (an average Doctor Who romp at best) and almost on par with the latter (it doesn't quite have the same emotional punch). The Tony/Cassandra relationship is given a great deal of focus, a common trait of Passmore's scrripts and it feels like they are closer than ever by the climax despite Cassandra's rebuff of Tony's advances. It's a fairly engaging mystery with one or two surprises up its sleeve but I have to say it doesn't have the fear factor that the first three Dark Shadows had up their sleeves which means that whilst I was entertained, I wasn't wholly satisfied. Passmore works in a number of clichés inherent in this kind of story but manages to give them a new spin and the whole piece skips by at a fair old lick. What's clear from The Phantom Bride is that the Tony and Cassandra relationship is a strong enough one to ensure a great deal of entertainment, even if the central narrative isn't quite gelling. I wonder how much longer Cassandra can enjoy this frolicsome life living as a human being and having adventures...there is a strong hint in this story that all of this frivolity is about to be torn away from her and she will be made to pay. I wanted to be properly spooked by the latest instalment (the blurb seemed to promise as much) but it was a story that got me thinking more than quaking: 7/10

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