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Big Finish Audio Drama "The Christmas Presence"
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Cover artwork by Stuart Manning
image @Big Finish productions and is used WITH PERMISSION

The Christmas Presence
Synopsis & review by JMW

It’s Christmas time at Collinwood and Quentin has invoked the paranormal to invite “all those who have been loyal to the Collins family, across time and space, to come to Collinwood and spend Christmas….” Apparently this is his latest attempt to find and reunite with the missing members of the family, presumed dead due to the events of The House of Despair.

There is then an interlude with a young boy and his grandmother, then a voice that he hears, whom he thinks is Santa. “I could be, if that’s what you want.” The little boy, for some reason, wants to see the inside of Collinwood, and is told by the entity “it doesn’t exist” and is offered instead a blue bicycle with a bell. Then, oddly enough, he turns down the boy’s offer of the traditional mince pie, and asks for something “more substantial to feast upon”. The boy sounds disappointed, realizing this is NOT Santa, and asks who he is. “Are you sure you want to know?” Upon the boy insisting, the entity says, “Then I’ll show you”. There is a scream, which fades neatly into the familiar DS theme.

Back at Collinwood the weather is so cold that Quentin says he can never remember anything like it, and Willie has brought in extra firewood. Angelique is still puzzled by the purpose of decorating a tree with orbs and baubles without any ceremony. (This puzzlement is an excellent touch. What fans often forget is that both Barnabas, and Angelique, both as herself and especially as her earlier incarnation as Miranda DuVal, were born and lived their lives in America in Puritan times. Thus, they would never have experienced Christmas as a celebration at all. Quentin, on the other hand, was born in the height of the Victorian age, and it would have been during his childhood that customs such as trees, caroling and most of the other Dickensian traditions of Christmas first became the norm. ) Quentin then explains to her the difference between the “Magic” of Christmas and the magic with which she is so familiar.

Maggie has also been invited to Collinwood for the holidays and though she is very comfortable with Willie, and trusts Barnabas (despite a clear warning from Willie that “he’s not all he’s cracked up to be”); she distrusts Quentin and Angelique and feels uncomfortable around them. The feeling it seems is mutual – Angelique does NOT want her at Collinwood and makes no bones about it. Quentin tells her flatly that if she doesn’t like it, she’s free to leave; however she insists she can’t, as the house is still not safe. Quentin then goes on to tell her about the troubling news from the village – 5 children have disappeared, and, as always, the suspicion is centering on Collinwood.

Angelique then takes this information and uses it to torment Willie with the rumors about his past, and explain that he’s the prime suspect in the children’s disappearances. THEY know that it was really Barnabas, but to the town he’ll always be mad Willie Loomis. (I found this a discordant note in the productions, as Angelique in the series was seldom cruel for cruelty’s sake to anyone who’d done her no harm, but usually had a reason – even if understandable only to her -- for her actions.)

Meanwhile Quentin is seeing to the preparations for his Christmas lunch and finds that, despite him sending Willie to invite the whole town, not ONE family was willing to take a meal with the Collins family. “How times change,” he sighs, likely thinking of the large scale Victorian entertaining of his childhood. As he is thinking, Quentin thinks he hears singing, possibly coming from outside; however when he asks Maggie, she hears nothing. Angelique also hears children, which distract her from her baiting and tormenting of Willie. He on the other hand, doesn’t hear it, and takes it as just one more way she has of playing with his mind. And, again, when Barnabas and Angelique are talking (and he pleads with her not to spoil Quentin’s joy in this holiday) she takes him off to a plane of existence where he can be with her in daylight, yet again the children’s voices follow.

Finally a guest arrives at the door of Collinwood – Elliot Stokes. (The voice actor doing this role makes a credible try at approximating the voice of Thayer David. While not an impersonation, the tones and speech pattern are enough alike so that you believe this is Professor Stokes.) He had left around the time everyone else fled, and had now heard that the house was inhabited again. That, along with Quentin’s summons is the reason given for his return.

Angelique has been contacted once again by the children, singing their Christmas Carols. She questions them, and is told that the songs are the gateway into her mind for them and for their master.

The children’s presence is now becoming more menacing. The turkey that Barnabas had provided for Christmas dinner suddenly came to life and attacked Maggie. Quentin treats the whole thing as a joke, at least in front of Professor Stokes, who appeared just after the attack. And now, Barnabas is visited by a dream about his switch of bodies, and in speaking to Angelique in his dream, the dream is joined by the carol singers, who have helped her bring this about. Just in time Maggie’s voice breaks into his dream and he is able to escape. She had previously banged on Angelique’s door; then, when she got no response, sought help from Barnabas. He explains to Maggie that the strange occurrences are connected, and that the singing children do exist, but are ghosts, and they head off to Prof. Stokes. Barnabas had heard him speaking to the children earlier, and has the bad feeling, later confirmed, that this is NOT Elliot Stokes.

The entity, who describes him self as “quite literally your worst nightmare”, explains to the party what happened to Elliot Stokes. Stokes, through the supernatural, tried to find a solution to the darkness that had possessed Collinwood. He tried to find allies, and had found a way to cross dimensions – thus meeting this entity that took him over. This entity reads all thoughts, feelings and desires and feeds off them – especially the dreams of the innocent.

He then takes Quentin on “a little journey” – the destination of which is based on Quentin’s thoughts – and turns out to be the cemetery, where he is trapped in a coffin. As he begins to be buried alive, he surrenders to the creature, and hears Angelique’s voice telling him he has made the right decision. (To me this was a rather weak way to get a character with no plot function out of the action. Aside from being “overkill” – since after all Quentin was buried alive THREE times during the series – it also seems this threat makes him submit way too quickly to the entity. This seems “off” for a character whose behavior pattern has been to resist, even if sometimes only out of sheer contrariness and pigheaded stubbornness. It also doesn’t seem to be sufficient to fit the implication that this entity controls people by becoming their worst nightmares. Gruesome though it is, does being buried alive really compare in horror to some of his other experiences, such as, perhaps, being forced to relive the mindrape done by Petofi? )

Barnabas and Maggie are meanwhile trapped in the house, snowed in. Barnabas doesn’t feel Quentin needs their help, as “He has enough neuroses to keep that creature occupied for quite a while.” So, they head off (through the passageways under Collinwood) to Professor Stokes cottage to try to stop him from keeping the creature’s pathway open.

Maggie thinks she is lost and calls for Barnabas, but hears the children’s voices instead. As they are starting to close in on her, Willie arrives - and soon behind him is “Professor Stokes”, whom Maggie warns him against, but too late to protect them both.

Barnabas is the only one left, and Angelique tries to help him from her imprisonment, but he refuses to trust her. They find the real Stokes, asleep, and Barnabas tries to wake him to break the spell. The Stokes entity arrives, and promises Barnabas all his dreams for his help – apparently the vampire’s powers contrast with and enhance his own. Faced with the captive souls filed away, Barnabas threatens to kill Stokes if need be to stop this. As a final gambit the entity promises him what he longs for the most – the ability to love again – and promises to restore Josette to him. Barnabas then refuses, and cuts Stokes throat, which makes the entity retreat through the link. As the entity slowly drifts away, Elliot returns to his body, but the wound is now a minor scratch. Apparently in trying to save itself, the entity kept healed Stokes – not enough to be useful to it, but enough for him to survive (and perhaps to return in a forthcoming adventure?)

Now that all is over, Quentin is sitting by the fire and Angelique comes to talk to him. He is depressed because his attempts to contact the family “by more esoteric means” have gone to naught. Angelique, however, brings to his attention a message left at the door, which encourages him that the family is not dead, and will one day return – signed by Carolyn. Barnabas is meanwhile at Josette’s grave, and he speaks of their love sometimes seeming like another life. He has gone to her grave with holly, symbolizing eternal life, to set her free, and let her know he would never forget her.

All in all this was still a satisfying story, despite the weaknesses mentioned. Using Christmas as both backdrop and plot device addresses the peculiar lack of any holiday references in the original series. It also gives the opportunity to drop more background and character development into the series as a whole, without hitting the audience on the head with indigestible lumps of back story. The entity was an interesting choice for a Dark Shadows story, since the protagonist chosen was a staple of both literary and media science fiction (an entity that feeds off of a particular emotion) often used in such series as Star Trek and Blake’s 7.

The new incarnation of Barnabas is developing into quite an interesting character. He falls somewhere between the ravening psychopath that was the early Barnabas, and the kindly do-gooder of the later character. He is callous enough to completely blow off any consideration of an attempt to rescue Quentin from the entity – even though he has no idea what the entity may or may not be capable of doing to a captive. Yet on the other hand, when offered the thing he longs for most, he has the strength of will to turn it down and do the right thing to destroy the entity. Blasphemy though this may be, I am finding this character MORE interesting than the Barnabas of the series – because you DON’T know which way he will turn, and what behaviour he will choose. (Please note that this is NO reflection on Mr. Frid, just on the writing he was given to work with most of the time. Had a lesser actor been given the extremes of character that he was forced to make plausible, the series might well have died then and there.) Finally, a round of applause for Barnabas FINALLY putting Josette in the past where she belongs!

Synopsis and review@2007 by JMW and may not be quoted elsewhere without permission and credit

This website is @2004-2013 by JMW. No original article or photograph may be reprinted in any form without prior written permission from JMW