Thursday, 22 January 2015

Bloodlust Episode Four written by Alan Flanagan, Will Howells & Joe Lidster and directed by Ursula Burton & David Darlington

What's it about: Some describe it as the town at the edge of the world. When Melody and Michael Devereux come to Collinsport on their honeymoon, they don't know the secrets that are hidden behind closed doors. But those secrets will be unearthed when an innocent is viciously murdered. Collinsport will be a town divided. One woman's rise to power will lead to further death and destruction. Families will be ripped apart. Blood will be spilt. And the dark forces that wait in the shadows will wait no more. For in Collinsport, death is never the end...

Andrew Cunningham: A control freak and a misogynist, Andrew convinces Amy that she doesn't want to have a night out so he can head out and have a game cards with the lads. He patronisingly calls her a 'good girl' and stops shy of patting her on the head. The more they build this arsehole up for a fall, the more delicious it is going to be when it happens. He is so deluded that he thinks he can control a spirit like Angelique, offering her the less than flattering terms of doing what he wants or else. I bet he was the little boy in the playground that reflected the sun through magnifying glasses and burnt ants alive. If he wants spells that will make him the big man about town then he has to earn it the hard way. Andrew knows his wife's secrets, her dabbling in the paranormal before she met him. It might be borrowed knowledge but he has rummaged through her books and acquired a little dark power of his own. Enough for it to go to his head, certainly. Like a lot of relationships there is an awful lot unsaid or fabricated and just as Amy has left her supernatural past a blank, it appears Andrew has been stacking up the lies to his wife too (specifically about his redundancy money). This is a marriage that is starting to unravel, where both parties have their secrets.

Angelique: The spirit in the cave has lived centuries. She has loved, lost and loved again, transcending time and space and death. She has known great darkness and great power and there is little that can surprise or frighten her now. It appears like a charitable act when she releases Andrew but I am certain his torment has only just begun.

Standout Performance: Matthew Waterhouse continues to impress, he's attacking this material with the sort of passion you don't expect in audio drama. Andrew is a piece of work and then some and Waterhouse isn't afraid to make him as despicable as possible. They say villains are the most enjoyable roles and he is living up to that maxim with relish.

Great Ideas: Nobody knew Melody Devereaux so who would kill a complete stranger? A random attack? A maniac? Maybe somebody was visiting that did know her? Her husband is practically a choir boy and doesn't seem capable. How do you proceed with a case when you have absolutely no leads whatsoever? When you have been through all the probable causes of exsanguination do you then turn to the supernatural as a possibility? We finally get to participate in one of Maggie Evans' late night congregations but her endgame is far from clear. 

Audio Landscape: A thriving pub atmosphere, doors opening and closing, hands clapping, telephone ring, Angelique's screams, flames crackling. 

Result: I'm starting to really fall in love with Matthew Waterhouse's deliciously twisted turn as Andrew Cunningham. There is simply nothing remotely likable about this man and the tides are gathering about his head. The games between Andrew and Angelique are the highlight of this episode, his insane notion that he has the power to harm her and the way she playfully lets him believe that he has conquered her. I have so many questions about both of these characters that have yet to be answered but there is still a long way to go yet. I want to know what Maggie Evans is planning, I want to know who killed Melody and I want to know why Angelique let Andrew go...like all good soap operas the treads are trickling through the serial, gathering momentum, teasing us with anticipation. The cliffhanger ending to this story was completely unexpected - where do we go from here? It feels like in Collinsport, anything could happen and that is an exciting feeling: 8/10

The Romance of Crime written by Gareth Roberts, adapted by John Dorney and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What's it about: The TARDIS brings the Doctor, Romana and K9 to the Rock of Judgement; a court, prison and place of execution built into a rocket-powered asteroid. When involved in an investigation by the system's finest lawman, they find they must seek answers to some disturbing questions.

Teeth and Curls: 'Me? Wear your face? Not on your Nelly!' So daft and so smart, the Doctor of the 17th season is simply a joy to be around. He'll trick you into thinking that he is as mad as a hatter and no threat at all and then when your guard is down he will make his move and destroy the foundations of your dastardly plan so they are irreversibly damaged. He's sly, madly intelligent and very funny. He's the ultimate Doctor. According to K.9, the Doctor is 2.9% more likely to need assistance when leaving the TARDIS. I can well believe that. The Doctor is so used to people suspecting him of whatever sabotage/murder/fill in your own word that when Spiggot offers him in automatic cover story he is momentarily befuddled. He's soon in investigative mode, excited by the challenge to walk around unquestioned. When he can't read he can sure read an awful lot (remember when he flicked through that novel in City of Death?). If there is one thing he hates it is a lot of guards jogging somewhere together in unison - that suggests something's afoot. Strangely enough I find the fourth Doctor of his latter seasons far more easy to take seriously when he declares that something terrifying is afoot because his warnings are a slap in the face after all the comedy. He jolts you back to reality with a shock unlike the moodier fourth Doctor of the Hinchcliffe years who was pretty much a walking black cloud. The Doctor calls himself a willing amateur but I'll bet a Talmar to a toffee he runs rings around Spiggot. He talks about the horror of immortality as though it is something that he himself would not want to experience. Xais can see right through him, talking like an idiot when it is clear that he is not. Romana wonders whether the Doctor enjoys being interrogated, he has made it an occupational occurrence.

Aristocratic Adventurer: I can't think of anything more joyful than reuniting the fourth Doctor and Romana II (if not Tom Baker and Lalla Ward if rumours about them recording their dialogue separately are true) and them having further adventures in the season seventeen mould. The Graeme Williams era is one of my favourites in the shows original run for so many reasons but high up on that list is the incredible relationship between these two and the chemistry between the two leads. I was not on the same page as JNT at all when he wanted to tear apart this trio to bring in Adric, Tegan and Nyssa claiming that it had all gotten a bit smart. What he did was to underestimate the audience whereas Williams treated them with respect and assumed we would be able to keep up with two dazzling Time Lords at the height of their powers, rattling around the universe, desperately in love and having jolly scrapes. Despite the budgetary restrictions, it was a very happy time for the show. Big Finish manage to tap into that beautifully and the first scene featuring the Doctor and Romana playing games in the console room (the Doctor losing terribly, of course) took right back to the holiday spirit of season seventeen. When they land it means there is twice the brains figuring out where they are...although the Doctor is far too busy being facetious to truly help out and it is mostly left to Romana to do the deductive work. Very season seventeen. She's described as having pert lips, a noble brow and milk-white skin...to which the Doctor objects. Well of course he does, he's head over heels for her. She's resigned to the fact that they are always in danger. Romana gets lumbered with Stokes as her unwitting companion in the latter episodes, a fawning imbecile that she nonetheless takes it upon herself to look after. His bumbling nature and her razor sharp wit makes for a very enjoyable combination. Romana takes objection to the Doctor stating that he is the only person who can stop Xais. How nice to hear Romana acknowledge the influence the Doctor has had on her life.

Standout Performance: Given that she has just been cast as the sixth Doctor's latest audio companion now is a good time to listen out for Miranda Raison's turn as Margot. Not an easy role to play, a character having a nervous breakdown in a Doctor Who story because the urge is to overdo it (especially given the tone of the era) but Raison offers a sympathetic and twitchy turn, a character that it is awkward to be around because you're not quite sure how she is going to react. To her undoubted amusement, she gets to chew the scenery outrageously as Xais too. Of interest is also Michael Troughton, an actor with a very discernable lineage. Clearly the note he received was to play down the role of Menlove Stokes because he hits so many subtleties as he is climbing the walls, raving about his death art and accusing the entire universe of being jealous of his talent. 'You are several degrees closer to cretinessness than I had previously credited!'  Lalla Ward delights, especially when she gets all bossy and maniacal which gets me all hard and soft at the same time. Oo-er.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Don't worry, I'd imagine you've induced several nervous breakdowns in your time' 'Oh really? How kind of you to say so.'
'Either he's too clever by half or he's very, very stupid.'
'Child prodigy. I never liked early achievers.'
'From the look of these scene of crime photos the devastation does seem total. The cost of that damage must run into pennies!'
(Upon seeing K.9) 'This is your weapon? Do you expect the Nisbitt's to die laughing?'
'We're all going to die!'
'I'd rather be scattered into the ether than have my spleen squeezed until it pops by a gang of psychopaths! Farewell my angel, I wish your sanity was equal to your attractiveness! Doctor, you're as mad as you appear!' - I could pretty much quote everything Stokes says. 
'Crime isn't what it was. It's rather lost it's romance.'

Great Ideas: An asteroid housing The Rock of Judgement, not only a court but also where they doll out judgement to the very worst criminals. Most people here are very dangerous and very keen to get out but a few million miles of vacuum makes for a pretty strong deterrent to escape. The recreation area is set up for the workers with suppressants available to endure such long spells off planet.  Like Shada, this is a dark backdrop for a comic story, resulting in some very black comedy. It would be so easy to present a silly location with daft aliens and lots of crazy happenings but the fact that the atmosphere of the asteroid is one of darkness adds an extra layer of substance to the story. Stokes is the in-house artist and has devoted himself to capturing the souls of the criminals that will meet their end, a rather macabre affair suited to his creepy personality. The security system on the asteroid is degrading, somebody is sabotaging it deliberately and Spiggot has been sent in to investigate. He's your bog standard gumshoe, married to the job and having lost his kids as a result. He thinks he's the central character in his own noir thriller, the dope. Xais killed over 2000 people in 2 years, all before her nineteenth birthday. I bet Romana will have a field day psycho-analysing that one. I'd blame the parents. Her particular talent was crushing people where they stood. Xais saw the family killed, destroyed the man that murdered them, stole a ship and escaped. She went on a revenge attack spree on Five, buildings, people, random attacks. She can splat somebody to the state of a stepped on watermelon just by looking at them. An expert in computers and bomb making, pretty much a genius. Tying together the Stokes and Xais threads, he cast a mask out of helicon of her face, an artistic endeavour which could very well tear a hole in this corner of the universe. What a shame that they appear on the cover because the Ogrons would have been a terrific surprise (it's still a great moment for how big Tommy B pronounces their entrance so spectacularly). Appropriately Big Finish have afforded some of the more engaging alien races that are only featured in Doctor Who once or twice a chance to expand upon their original appearance. In their attempt to give every story a sequel there isn't that many species that haven't had a second airing and they usually (despite my protestations of late) benefit from the extra attention. The Draconians (Paper Cuts) the Wirrn (Wirrn Dawn, Wirrn Isle) and the Zygons (a superb pair of 8DAs, Zygon Hunt) in particular. You can hardly argue with the success of the Ogrons. Visually they were spectacular and their lack of intelligence made them the perfect comic foil (they clashed hilariously with Roger Delgado's Master and have a similar culture clash with the Spiggot's in this story) and yet after Frontier in Space the show chose to ignore them as it passed on to new creative hands. I'm pleased to see them get a fresh appearance in The Romance of Crime and they translate to audio extremely well. Once the Ogrons struck fear throughout the universe but now they have become the butt of every joke in the human Empire. Cleverly the story chooses to introduce a new set of characters in it's second half (albeit ones who are set up in the first) to keep the story ticking over. Somebody had to be Xais' contact at The Rock of Judgement and it comes as no great surprise that it is Pyrepoint (given he has mostly been a background character). He used her as a walking weapon, to kill anybody that gets in his way and she used him to satisfy her hatred of humanity. They were going to mine an enormous quantity of Helicon together but she was arrested and so they devised a plan to have Stokes create the mask in her image and release some of her power into liquid Helicon.

Audio Landscape: Heavy breathing, footsteps, chatter, bar atmosphere, the computer exploding, bullets bouncing, Ogron blasters, force field, pouring tea, hissing gas, horrible squishing sounds as Xais does her business.

Musical Cues: A pleasing mixture of authentic Dudley Simpson and a more modern day pace, The Romance of the Crime took me back to the Halcyon days of 1979 but Howard Carter still provided the sorts of thrills and spills I would expect from a main range soundtrack. I loved the cute noirish touches when Spiggot was indulging in some detective-based clichés and get ready to clap your hands in delight as the tension ramps up at the end of episode three and Carter attacks the piano.

Isn't it Odd: I have been less than complimentary about Big Finish's obsession with nostalgia of late in their Doctor Who ranges and their unwillingness to forge ahead with anything original. This is a note to say that the novel adaptations get a reprieve on the grounds that their very existence is to capture the glories of the past, that was the entire raison detre of the Missing Adventures. But do you know what is odd?  Within that remit of trying to so successfully emulate season seventeen both Gareth Roberts (and John Dorney who adapted this) have managed to create something that is packed full of great ideas, wonderful dialogue and enjoyable characters. It so far surpasses tripe such as Eldrad Must Die!, Revenge of the Swarm and Mistfall that a comparison is barely worth making. Maybe that is because the mid seventies was an era of invention and creation and to produce something this engaging is a given (although the 4DAs would seem to counter that argument). Maybe it is because the Missing Adventures were better at creating original stories within their remit to capture the glories of the past?

Standout Scene: The thought of an Ogron failing to dock a ship airlock to airlock made me laugh like a loon. Every time I think about it it does the same trick.

Result: A glorious evocation of season seventeen complete with pleasing science fiction ideas, a sinister setting, vibrant characters, sharp dialogue and an attempt to make the Doctor Who universe a crazier and more exciting one. I can remember being less than impressed with The Romance of Crime when it first came out in paperback, the fact that it so perfectly replicated the style of season seventeen was a definite plus but the story felt as though it lacked any substance. How different it feels on audio, ticking all of my boxes and then some by providing a rollicking good time, giving the actors a chance to strut their stuff and juggling enough threads to keep the whole thing moving fluidly for it's entire length. There's far more of note than I thought at the time and it took a dramatisation to make me realise that. The cast of characters brings a smile to my face just to think of them; two knockabout Time Lords at the height of their powers, an officious administrator, a madly eccentric and pusillanimous artist, an insane, histrionic villain with a penchant for squashing people to death with a thought, a detective who adores indulging in all the clichés and two lively thugs with Ogrons in tow. With actors of the quality of Miranda Raison, Michael Troughton and Marcus Garvey bringing them to life it is a pleasure to spend a couple of hours in their company, bringing the pacy adventure together with the passion of a cast who are having a blissful time. We've flirted with stories that flirt with the idea of bringing together Tom Baker and Lalla Ward before (the madly enjoyable Babblesphere and a handful of lesser agreeable companion chronicles) but this is the real deal and I don't give a damn whether they attended the same recording or not, it's still a delight to hear the two characters knock against one another. It's one of my favourite Doctor/companion partnerships and Gareth Roberts (and John Dorney) understand precisely how to get the best out of them. After listening to The Romance of Crime I am gagging to hear The English Way of Death and The Well Mannered War and it has made me even more excited for the fifth season of 4DAs. If all Doctor Who was as pleasurable as this, we'd never get anything else done: 9/10

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Dark Shadows: Bloodlust Episode Three written by Alan Flanagan, Will Howells & Joe Lidster and directed by Ursula Burton & David Darlington

What's it about: Some describe it as the town at the edge of the world. When Melody and Michael Devereux come to Collinsport on their honeymoon, they don't know the secrets that are hidden behind closed doors. But those secrets will be unearthed when an innocent is viciously murdered. Collinsport will be a town divided. One woman's rise to power will lead to further death and destruction. Families will be ripped apart. Blood will be spilt. And the dark forces that wait in the shadows will wait no more. For in Collinsport, death is never the end...

Andrew Cunningham: What a piece of work this guy is turning out to be, controlling his family with an iron fist and expecting them to jump to his every whim. It was pointed out to me on the blog how apparent it is that the one actor who was always chided for his portrayal in the 80s (Waterhouse) is now giving a far more powerful and passionate performance than his cohorts at the time (check out Mistfall and you will hear Davison, Fielding, Sutton and Strickson sleepwalking their way through the tale). Like Bonnie Langford on audio, it just goes to show that the passage of time can sometimes be very kind on an actor. Andrew is not going to be reporting on any of the juicy stuff until he has familiarised himself with Collinsport. He's vicious when he cannot get his own way, insulting and violent and he wants something from Angelique Bouchard. And now his son knows precisely why they have come to Collinsport...and has initiated a relationship with the seductive witch.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Maggie Evans is beginning to gather her troops...'
'I will string pieces of his soul across the universe!'
'The greatest tragedy is for a parent to outlive his child.'


Great Ideas: Amy and Mike went to college together, in the same class studying the same 'subject matter' at Salem University. Salem is historically famous for one thing...could we be seeing an element of witchcraft turning up in Collinsport? Ed Griffin has been heard talking to his dead wife in the shadows. The investigation into Melody's death is in full swing now, everybody is a suspect, nobody is exempt. Harry Cunningham has started doing work experience for Kate Ripperton. The manifestation of Angelique was terribly exciting for those of us who know her back story. She is a witch, confined to the cave and stripped of her place in the world all because of Maggie Evans. Clearly Andrew has not come to Collinsport on a whim. The cave at the base of Widow's Hill is screaming with the cries of lost women who threw themselves to their deaths. Michael is resolved to stay in Collinsport and find out whoever or whatever murdered Melody...a decision he will no doubt learn to regret.

Audio Landscape: Alarm clock, drill, mine workings, baby gurgling, rain pattering, crinkled newspaper.

Musical Cues: There was a time when I grew a little tired of David Darlington's scores. Never because he wasn't very good but after a long stint working on the main range it felt as if he was a little exhausted. He hopped across to Gallifrey where I he gave that series a very distinctive musical style and has now transferred across to Dark Shadows with similar ease, taking up directing duties. as well. That certainly seems to be where his talent lies, he has an aptitude for creating a sinister atmosphere that is almost second to none in Big Finish. And whilst Bloodlust has yet to dip its toes into the inky red waters that some of Dark Shadows audios do, it is brewing up a ominous spell all of its own.  His music for this story is inspired too, with snatches of what sounds like the apoplectic choir that brought us Children of the Stones but similarly inspired by Twin Peaks. Never underestimate the power of music in an audio drama, it can make or break it.

Result: 'There's nothing wrong with being different...' Now things are really moving. Despite the large cast, this piece of the puzzle belongs to Andrew Cunningham and his motive for coming to Collinsport in the first place. An arrogant foolish opportunist, he's a really nasty piece of work and as such it is an absolute delight to listen to him dig a hole and get in over his head. I think bad things are coming for the character and I cannot wait. The murder mystery angle begins to take dominance too and it is starting to feel that anybody could be responsible. With the supernatural pumping through the residents of Collinsport like blood, who knows who can be trusted? Hints of Maggie Evans being an important player are very intriguing too and something that would be very welcome because Kathryn Leigh-Scott is such a delight to listen to. Like a locomotive that has already chugged away from it's starting point, we are really gathering steam now: 8/10

Monday, 19 January 2015

Dark Shadows: Bloodlust Episode Two written by Alan Flanagan, Will Howells & Joseph Lidster and directed by Ursula Burton & David Darlington

What's it about: Some describe it as the town at the edge of the world. When Melody and Michael Devereux come to Collinsport on their honeymoon, they don't know the secrets that are hidden behind closed doors. But those secrets will be unearthed when an innocent is viciously murdered. Collinsport will be a town divided. One woman's rise to power will lead to further death and destruction. Families will be ripped apart. Blood will be spilt. And the dark forces that wait in the shadows will wait no more. For in Collinsport, death is never the end...

Amy Cunningham: Amy was finishing up her studies in Salem and keeping Carolyn on the straight and narrow and eventually she managed to snatch a position at the British library. A year or so later she was taking a beginners Spanish class and Andrew walked in and it was love at first sight. Andrew's first wife bolted and left him with a six year old and a mortgage that would make your eyes bleed.

Standout Performance: Scott Haran's voice is so distinctive from his role as Tom Clarke in Wizards vs. Aliens that I had a little trouble distinguishing him from that role at first. I guess that is the trouble that any actor has when they have played a popular role for a long time. Matthew Waterhouse doesn't have the same problem since his voice has noticeably matured since his stint as Adric and he plays Andrew Cunningham with something approximating his own natural voice as opposed to the lilting, child-like tone of Adric in the Doctor Who audios.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'This is Collinsport...it's never the wind.'

Great Ideas: Melody Devereux's body was entirely drained of blood...I'm sure I am not the only person to make the obvious connection.

Audio Landscape: Car screeching off the road, screaming baby, rain lashing, a car rushing past, doorbell, smashing glass, whispering voices.

Isn't it Odd: It might have been naive of me but I was expecting a Twin Peaks style investigation into the murder of Melody Devereux to kick start from the beginning of the second instalment. I was a little confused when another set of newcomers came to town because it feels like a replay of the events of episode one.

Result: 'Remember me?' On par with episode one, this episode feels lacking in some respects because it feels a little like a retread with new characters heading to Collinsport but there are enough hints of excitement for the rest of the story to keep the interest levels high. Bloodlust features a large cast for an audio drama (especially for Big Finish) and is adhering to the rules of a soap opera to tease the answers out each week and never offer too much, too early. As such this is playing out much like a current American serial style TV show, you have to wait to be completely satisfied and take in the manifest of subplots and hope that they all tie together satisfactorily in the end. We've found our way back to the cave, there is an intriguing link between the Devereux and Cunningham plots, a Beyond the Grave presenter is introduced and the murder investigation is underway...there is an awful lot going on and plenty to sink its claws into you. Less introductions next time and more embellishments of the characters already introduced and we will be in fine shape: 7/10


Sunday, 18 January 2015

Dark Shadows: Bloodlust - Episode One


What's it about: Some describe it as the town at the edge of the world. When Melody and Michael Devereux come to Collinsport on their honeymoon, they don't know the secrets that are hidden behind closed doors. But those secrets will be unearthed when an innocent is viciously murdered. Collinsport will be a town divided. One woman's rise to power will lead to further death and destruction. Families will be ripped apart. Blood will be spilt. And the dark forces that wait in the shadows will wait no more. For in Collinsport, death is never the end...

Newcomers to Town: Melody Devereux, once a lost and lonely child. She never knew her parents, they died in a car accident when she was very young and was brought up by the head of an Orphanage, Mrs Rosenthal.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'I just relaxed and let the forces guide my hand...' - Melody on how they happened to choose Collinsport. Those forces probably brought them here for a sinister reason...
'It hit her hard when I died...'

Great Ideas: You know there is trouble ahead for Melody when she steps off the train at Collinsport and declares the town the perfect place to relax - not only because the story is called Bloodlust and it is a Dark Shadows story but because that follows the convention of all horror stories where the innocent visitors wax lyrical about an apparently idyllic scene. Like Snowflake, the first episode of Bloodlust features two newcomers coming to Collinsport. It gives newcomers a chance to enter this world with them and meet all the regulars, a smart move on the part of the creators who might wish to attract a new audience. What's lovely is that the audience overhears little snippets of sinister subplots going on, spoken in gossip at the local tavern, along with Melody and Michael, ramping up the suspicion that all is not what it appears to be in the town. As soon as you hear 'don't go out after dark' you should know precisely what genre you have wandered in to. The newlyweds learn about the Collins', described as founding the town and pretty much owning it, scuttling about Collinwood like cockroaches. What a charming image. I have a feeling we are going to build up to a trip to Collinwood as the serial progresses, with the Collins' taking a central role in the story.

Musical Cues: David Darlington taps into the excellent children's TV serial Children of the Stones for his music, an eerie, unearthly choral soundtrack that is bound to set your teeth on edge. He probably hasn't seen it but it does have a similarly ghoulish atmosphere.

Result: 'Take my advice...honeymoon somewhere else!' Collinsport is a town with secret, that is my abiding impression of the first episode of Bloodlust. They are hiding in every shadow, whispering on the breeze, rolling in with the sea...everybody is keeping something and it is going to be our pleasure to watch them creep into the light over the next thirteen episodes. Wisely, Joe Lidster and his creative team choose to introduce new characters to the town and allows us to meet everybody afresh. It gives this serial a very fresh 'new beginning' feel and the soap opera nature of the show gives it the same kind of impetus and hook as classic Doctor Who, each episode closing on a cliffhanger designed to lure you back next week. I could see fans of Dark Shadows finding this a little bit of a time filler insofar as it is introducing elements that they recognise but once the introduction to the setting is out of the way the juicy stuff can get going...and that has already begun in the second half of this episode. The first murder has already occurred and any one of this sinister lot could have been involved. Roll on episode two: 7/10

Snowflake written by Joseph Lidster and directed by David Darlington

What's it about: “It's this town. It's Collinsport. It's broken." Victor Frost, a private investigator, is visiting Collinsport to find out whether the people there believe in ghosts. After meeting many of the townsfolk, he's in no doubt that they do. But will he survive to tell his tale?

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Death is coming to Collinsport. An innocent die and we will all suffer. Blood will have blood.'

Great Ideas: An ideal jumping on point for beginners Snowflake is precisely what newbies to the Dark Shadows range need to listen to in order to deliver the basics of the series so they can delve into further parts of this critically acclaimed series. What a truly bizarre assignment for a detective to be given? To be sent to a coastal town in America and find out if the people there believe in ghosts. Collinsport is described as a place where time has stood still because it is afraid to move forwards. Like a school a night; waiting, frozen. Stories of vampires, werewolves and ghosts run through the town like writing through a stick of rock but none of them can be substantiated. There have been so many unexplained deaths and disappearances that you cannot help but put your faith in some of them. Widows hill gets its name from the fact that over the years women have thrown themselves from it. Lidster paints a very forbidding picture of the location, the worst place to take your vacation but the best place to tell a scary story in. In the cave at the base of Widows Hill lies secrets...Snowflake is waiting for you.

Audio Landscape: Rain lashing on the window, wind howling, screams howling, rumbling thunder, whispering voices...

Result: This couldn't have come along at a more opportune time. My husband and I went out for a meal with a friend last night and then came home to watch a horror movie that turned out to be the worst film that any of us had ever seen (a million kisses if you can guess what it was). My friend said that we would have been better off turning the lights out and telling each other ghost stories...and I pointed out that I did have a story that we could listen to, one that kick started the latest Dark Shadows range. And so we listened on... Needless to say it was a massive improvement on the movie and we were all left intrigued because this isn't so much a horror story in its own right but a prelude to the Bloodlust serial that Big Finish are about to embark on. It promises dark and twisted events in a freaky location, a story that not only fans of the range can enjoy but anybody can embark on. There isn't much substance to this release because that isn't it's purpose...but it manages to pack in some real atmosphere in a short amount of time. The Dark Shadows range is one of the best ranges at the present for atmosphere, innovation and fresh talent and this is your chance to jump on board. Snowflake is a freebie too so snatch it up: 8/10

Community: Introduction to Film


What's it about: Jeff learns how to seize the day....

Ensemble: Another great episode for Jeff who we come to realise cannot behave in a spontaneous fashion (and therefore fails to impress Mr Whitman) because everything about him is image-driven and pre-planned. It's even more apparent when he tries to seize the day by enacting a number of life changing events. The guy who appears to be the loosest member of the ensemble and appears to run through life like liquid is in fact the most uptight and regimented. Go figure. Jeff is putting some serious work into trying to impress Whitman and prove that he can live life to the full...but the simple answer is to truly achieve that you don't have to put any effort in at all. I love how this show explores Shirley as a loving Christian (with all the warmth and forgiveness that comes with that) but also staunchly intolerant at times of any other perspective. It's her imperfections that make her so interesting. Britta learns an important lesson about involving herself in other peoples lives in this episode, how thinking you know what is best for other people can sometimes be damaging (I have heard a very persuasive argument elsewhere that passive left wing enforcement is actually more frightening than a forceful right wing dictatorship - telling everybody what is best for them with a smile is far more insidious). Britta involves herself in the Nadir family machinations, paying for Abed to take a film course that his father expressly forbade. Gobi has always had to break into Abed's fantasy world and now he has a camera between them recording everything. Britta thinks she has been kind to Abed but she has made Gobi's job as a parent ten times harder. One of the joys of any ensemble show is the mix and match approach. How you take a group of diverse characters and stick any two of them together and get very different results each time. One of the least used double acts on this show - Troy and Pierce - gets it's inaugural outing in this episode as the older statesman of the group teach the youngest how to assert himself with a sneeze. It's hardly the most thrilling of subplots but bringing together these two still produces something rather unique and enjoyable.

Introducing: Eustice Whitman - an eccentric (which seems to be the employment requirement at Greendale) teacher who runs what appears to be the ultimate blow off class (which naturally attracts Jeff). He'll get you to throw away your textbook, stand on your table and burst into moments of exclamatory love. He doesn't care who you seize the day and live your life in the now as long as you do. That pretty much makes him Jeff's nemesis because he is somebody that he cannot impress. The sad truth of the matter is, no matter how appealing it might be to seize the day as many times as possible, Whitman's lifestyle simply isn't sustainable. Unless you wanted to be certified ('I want a birthday cake!').

Great Gags: 'All media is western propaganda that negatively stereotypes Arabs' 'Then he should see Aladdin. Jaffa was a badass!'
Pierce thinking that Shirley and Troy are mother and son is both hilarious and horrifically racist.

Funniest Moment: This was the point that I realised that this show could literally make anything funny, even a girly sneeze. Poor Troy.

End Tag: Abed, Troy and Jeff indulge in a bit of crumping. Which is basically dancing like you are standing on an electrified carpet. So exactly how I dance normally.

Tonal Shift: The Abed storyline walks a fine line between being very funny and achingly poignant to anybody who has had difficulties with their parents (yes) and disconnecting fantasy and reality (yes too). We learn that Britta and Jeff are both estranged from their fathers and that neither of them are particularly suited to playing that role, especially with Abed (who joyously is pretty much unmanageable). The piece de resistance of Introduction to Film comes at the climax where Abed shows his assembled group of parents the film that he has been making. With a heavy heart we realise how Abed sees the world (everybody running out on him and blaming him), Gobi realises how he has treated his son and Jeff and Britta learn something profound about how being a parent isn't the walk in the park they imagined it to be. Considering the film is pretty sloppily put together it generates an astonishing response from the audience. Suddenly Community goes from being a show that entertains to one that really makes you feel.

Result: The most confident episode yet, despite the nonsensical subplot about Troy and his girly sneeze. You've got two superb plotlines running side by side; Jeff attempting to learn how to be spontaneous and discovering the heartache that lies in Abed's family history. It's quite daring to open up your characters this early in the run and show what makes them hurt but it pushes Community to another level of comedy, one that has the ability to say very profound things about its characters. I'm making this all sound very serious but the Whitman plotline ('I have to plan in advance how to live in the moment!') is laugh out loud funny in parts. Jeff is really rather rubbish at letting fate take care of things and taking risks despite his image screaming that is his lifestyle choice. He's outwardly so relaxed but he's the one person in the room who has plotted his entire day. McHale plays both sides of his character with ease and it is clear that he is far more complex than he first appeared in the Pilot. Plus he gets his first snog from Britta. Engaging, heartbreaking and chucklesome, Introduction to Film highlights Community at it's best: 9/10