Big Finish’s reinterpreted rapscallion immortal Dorian Gray returns for a festive special, in a pair of hour-long episodes invoking the spirit of Christmas horror, an appropriate seasonal tradition given the long dark evenings of the time of year. Now established in a relationship with Toby and happier than at any point in his century-plus long existence, these two narrated full-cast audio dramas comprise the story of perhaps Dorian’s greatest ever fall – and it isn’t like there hasn’t been some stiff competition.
Tim Leng’s first disc takes a recognisably grim if unusual premise and attempts to spin a ghoulish tale from it, in an instalment filled with familiar voice cameos and macabre imagery – imagery too ghastly for a visual medium to be sure. Desperately Seeking Santa begins with a grisly presence waking up in someone’s attic, wreaking bloodshed upon the house’s owners. It’s not long before Gray becomes involved in a typically fitting fashion, but unfortunately any authorial thoughtfulness isn’t carried through into the plotting; in spite of David Warner’s suitably gruesome Santa Claus, there’s a sense here that Leng couldn’t work out how to carry his characters from one circumstance to the next without allowing them to drive one another between situations, and in spite of some great acting, extraordinary ideas and the kind of sinister atmosphere these sets have made us accustomed to, Desperately Seeking Santa is a slightly unfulfilling affair, never quite earning its resolutions. Fortunately it serves perfectly well as an aperitif to disc two, wherein the real meat of this pairing is to be found.
In All Through the House by Alan Flanagan, Toby and Dorian fetch up at the Hotel Brigadoon just in time to celebrate Christmas itself, but when Gray spots his long-dead sister (Katy Manning having the time of her life) at a neighbouring table, it’s just the first indication that something supremely sinister is taking place – something that Dorian and Toby ultimately find themselves right in the very heart of. Featuring a sublime performance from Gary Russell soundalike Tom Allen as the hotel manager, and Gabriel Woolf in at last the role he was born to play, Flanagan’s episode takes another familiar scenario and builds it around the central character’s distinctive characteristic in a beguilingly compelling manner, the extended running time of these Christmas specials allowing for a little extra sinew on the usually taught Confessions format – until the double twist at the end that will leave most listeners thoroughly satisfied.
Of the two plays included here, Flanagan’s is easily the more accomplished, but taken as a whole there is plenty of colour and a rich palette of characters to enjoy far beyond the star turns by Warner and Woolf. If you’re of the persuasion that the midwinter festival is a time for the partaking of something spooky, then The Spirits of Christmas might be just the treat you’re looking for.
Special Features: Interviews / Isolated score / Bonus short story “Frostbite”
THE CONFESSIONS OF DORIAN GRAY: THE SPIRITS OF CHRISTMAS / DIRECTOR: SCOTT HANDCOCK / AUTHOR: TIM LENG, ALAN FLANAGAN / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / STARRING: ALEXANDER VLAHOS, HUGH SKINNER, DAVID WARNER, GABRIEL WOOLF, COLIN MCFARLANE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW