When photojournalist Don Tierney (Patrick Mower, playing a character inspired by real-life war photographer Don McCullin perhaps?) reluctantly accepts a travelogue assignment on the Greek island of Rhodes he becomes fascinated by the medieval castle which overlooks the town, but when he breaks into the castle after dark Tierney is killed by something far nastier than curiosity. Still trying to reconcile herself to his death, Tierney’s widow Anne (Emily Richard) travels to the island and not only discovers her own awakening psychic powers but also unlocks the terrible secret of what destroyed her husband, a secret wrapped up in the Knights Templar, deals with the Devil and a mysterious French Count called Lavalliere (Peter Egan) with a centuries-old past.
It's very good to see The Dark Side of the Sun arrive on DVD. Made at a time when the BBC still allowed people with an imagination to write the occasional script (courtesy of Who Pays the Ferryman scribe Michael J. Bird), it was obviously given a sizeable budget; there is plenty of location work, some impressive set design, and despite the occasional costume faux-pas (most of Mower’s wardrobe) and Emily Richard’s distractingly weird hairstyle, the series has barely aged at all.
True, the story itself is probably more convoluted than it should be – although this isn’t remotely a vampire story there are undoubtedly shades of Dracula in Lavalliere, including a Dracula/Mina-type reincarnation subplot that feels a bit tacked-on and unnecessary. And, as expected for a 1980s-era TV serial, the few special effects (brief flashing images of a demonic mask and ropey multiple overlays of Lavalliere’s victims shaking their heads and screaming) detract-from rather than add-to the tension, although there is an impressive man-on-fire moment in one of the later episodes.
The cast are all outstanding – Emily Richard starts off a little wet and unsympathetic as Anne but becomes steelier and more likable as the story continues, Peter Egan glowers beautifully and occasionally seems to channel Julian Glover’s character in City of Death (sadly without Catherine Schell to accompany him) and even Patrick Mower puts in a halfway decent performance although, after making Incense for the Damned (aka Bloodsuckers) a decade earlier, he was no stranger to horror in the Greek Isles. Supporting actors Christopher Scoular, as the friend who just happens to have the academic connections to find out more about Lavalliere, and Betty Arvaniti, as the psychiatrist / medium who helps Anne come to terms with her psychic abilities, also deserve a big mention.
As for Eureka’s two-disc DVD, The Dark Side of the Sun looks exactly as it did when it first aired on TV more than thirty years ago. The picture is soft (there is an obvious and sometimes jarring discrepancy between the sunlit locations and the flatly-lit studio interiors) but the audio is clear (Stavros Xarhakos’ music is particularly good) and in our opinion the series still holds up so much better than other occult/supernaturally-themed shows of that period (i.e. The Omega Factor, which has dated horribly).
All in all, The Dark Side of the Sun is an engrossing, intelligent and atmospheric piece of storytelling you really shouldn’t miss. So watch it now, before some talentless hack decides that it’s due for a remake.
THE DARK SIDE OF THE SUN / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: DAVID ASKEY / SCREENPLAY: MICHAEL J. BIRD / STARRING: PATRICK MOWER, PETER EGAN, EMILY RICHARDS, CHRISTOPHER SCOULAR / RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 14TH