Cody Quijano-Schell Dark Shadows: The Flip Side (2013)
I was something of a Big Finish junkie until around 2005, bagging more or less everything up until LIVE 34 which featured Andrew Collins whom I've long regarded as Philip Schofield with a Ned's Atomic Dustbin album, and whose turning up on one of their Doctor Who audio plays significantly contributed to my general impression of the company as having somewhat lost it. The main CD range hadn't really yielded anything I'd regarded as exceptional since possibly The Natural History of Fear, and all these new subsidiary series - Dalek Empire, Gallifrey, The Further Adventures of Man Sweeping Floor from Episode Two of Claws of Axos - all felt somehow akin to a cynical exercise in squeezing all of the milk from the cow before Russell T. McDavies turned her into cheeseburgers. Of course, there was doubtless some good stuff there, but then how much sodding Doctor Who does one person really need? Additionally, I'd begun to associate Big Finish with a certain genus of fan mentality, specifically the type which would slaver over the revival of yet another crap and rightly forgotten 1970s kid's show because there was a fucking space rocket in it, and yet would not be induced to read a book that wasn't a tie-in to something or other. Who is this Michael Moorcock? they whined and bleated upon hearing of The Coming of the Terraphiles, for one example. Is he good enough to write an eleventh Doctor novel?
None of which necessarily reflects on Big Finish itself, or on their audio plays, or has much bearing on anything beyond my ability to overcome certain prejudices regarding the culturally impoverished.
I'd not heard of Dark Shadows until roughly two years ago when I moved to Texas and married a woman who had narrowly escaped being named after one of the characters, such had been my new mother-in-law's love of the supernatural television soap of the late sixties and early seventies. I've now seen a few episodes, and although I like it, I'm still not entirely sure why or what to make of it. Nevertheless, here I am listening to a Big Finish audio play continuing the story of some culty old telly show when I could be reading a book...
My Dark Shadows background knowledge doesn't extend much further than vague impressions of a spooky house and a man named Willie Loomis throwing anguished poses; so I have no real idea who the people in this play are supposed to be, but thankfully The Flip Side seems to stand on its own merits. Most of the story occurs in The Blue Whale, the bar from the television series, or at least it occurs within the thoughts of those found drowning sorrows in that bar. The narrative is sometimes disorientating, a parapsychological drama spun on choices made and alternate realities - all deftly employed in moving the story forward rather than as showy continuity points. In places it's confusing, but it works as a sort of darkly psychedelic Harold Pinter, and the listener is absolutely drawn in. Well, I was.
Whining reservations aside, I've always found Big Finish to be exceptional in terms of production values, and The Flip Side is true to their established high standards - expanding on the series from which it is drawn whilst remaining absolutely faithful to its spirit. Cody Quijano-Schell is a writer whose ambition has sometimes outstripped his ability on the printed page, and his uniquely vivid imagination blooms during this excursion into a different medium. The Flip Side is an hour well spent of anyone's time - good enough to be a book.