GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST by Tony Lee

Dorian-and-Holmes-Big-FinishThis new audio play by Tony Lee brings together two (fictional) icons of Victorian England – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s immortal consulting detective Sherlock Holmes and Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray, that perverse satyr, sensualist and scoundrel whose own narcissism led to a Faustian pact to make him immune from the ravages of time. This seasonal release – part of a new range of full-cast audio productions from Big Finish entitled The Confessions of Dorian Gray -is set in 1912, with Holmes now a somewhat elderly gent while Gray is seemingly as sprightly as ever despite his dissolute ways.

The Plot: In December 1912 Dorian Gray returns to London where his portrait is stolen and held to ransom. In order to get it back, he is blackmailed into committing a terrible murder. And the only man who can help him is the man he has to kill: Sherlock Holmes.

“London misses you, Mr Holmes”

The play opens in a melancholy mood at the funeral of Lord Henry Wotton, the man whose hedonistic worldview (the character was patterned by Wilde upon himself) indirectly initiated what would become the corruption of Dorian Gray. While there he spies a woman who looks exactly like Sybil Vane, the young girl who killed herself after Dorian threw her over, some thirty years ago … Holmes is also thinking of the past as he returns to 221b Baker Street for the first time in 9 years to celebrate Christmas with his brother Mycroft. He too seems someone from his past, someone who he is certain must be dead …

“I’ve seen that man before, not in the flesh but in photographs, photographs of a young man yet to become the villain he was destined to be. That man looked exactly the same as Professor James Moriarty ten years before we ever met” - Sherlock Holmes (Nicholas Briggs)

The plot is set in motion when Dorian, back in London after an absence of several years, arrives at his hotel and discovers that his previous painting, the one that ages while he does not, has been stolen. Instead he find a message – the get the picture back he must commit a murder

“By midnight tomorrow, as Christmas Eve becomes Day, I must kill a legend” – Dorian Gray (Alexander Vlahos)

Dorian asks Holmes to help recover the painting but the detective is unimpressed by impossible sounding story, even when it becomes clear that the two men have in fact met before. In Wilde’s original novel, the artist Basil Hallward, painter of the eponymous picture, is killed by his subject. Dorian blackmailed Alan Campbell into helping him dispose of the body. In this play it seems that Holmes was called in and concluded, erroneously, that Campbell murdered Hallward – and that when this was reported in the press, the man killed himself.

“And this is how it ends – staring down the barrel of a revolver”

Ghosts of Christmas Past coverUltimately Holmes agrees to help Dorian even though he refuses to accept the supernatural explanation for his unchanged appearance so many decades after their previous encounter. As in his previous performance in the role, The Adventure of the Perfidious Mariner by Jonathan Barnes, Briggs proves particularly adept at playing the older and wearier Holmes now resisting both the pull out of retirement and possibly the lure of ever-lasting life in a development reminiscent of Robert Bloch’s classic tale, ‘Yours truly, Jack the Ripper’, which is explored more fully in the other episodes of The Confessions of Dorian Gray, which leaps from decade to decade (they are available for download at only £2.99 each from Big Finish here). This is part of an encounter with James Moriarty, who it turns out may not have died at Reichenbach Falls after all, which is particularly well-played, all leading to an explosive climax and a satisfactory (if slightly wordy) conclusion that proves that all was truly not what it seemed. This is a thoroughly entertaining excursion into Victoriana which comes across as pretty authentic despite occasional anachronistic lapses (the phrase ‘yae big’ was definitely not in common usage) – a working knowledge of the original Wilde novel is a help, but not crucial to one’s enjoyment.

To order this production for a mere £5 as a download visit the Big Finish website at: www.bigfinish.com/ranges/released/the-confessions-of-dorian-gray

Author Tony Lee’s blog can be found at: www.tonylee.co.uk/

Director: Scott Handcock
Producer: Scott Handcock
Script: Tony Lee
Music: James Dunlop
Sound Design: Robbie Dunlop
Running time: 64 minutes
Cast: Alexander Vlahos (Dorian Gray), Nicholas Briggs (Sherlock Holmes), Rupert Young (James Moriarty), Rebecca Newman (Sibyl Vane), Richard Nichols (Alan), Seán Carlsen (Billy), Wilf Scolding (Receptionist), Lorna Rose Harris (Maid), Antonio Rastelli (Messenger), Alexander Griffin-Griffiths (Man), Sophie Melville (Woman)

***** (3.5 fedora tips out of 5)

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11 Responses to GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST by Tony Lee

  1. Sergio – Well, this one gets innovation points from me. I’m not one for supernatural elements in stories unless they’re very well done, but it sounds as though much more’s going on here. And the look at Victorian life is interesting in and of itself. Good to hear you enjoyed it.

    • Thanks for that Margot – I initially approached this with a touch of wariness as I am not automatically a fan of mixing and matching of characters and genres as this is too often slapdash and disappointing. Having said that, there is little as enjoyable, for me, as coming across something that manages to have its cake and eat it too and I think this one largely succeeds. Previously Briggs’ Holmes had already encountered Dracula (in The Tangled Skein) and starred in Holmes and the Ripper too, so perhaps a crossover with Dorian Gray seemed inevitable. I really loved the Titanic story they did earlier this year (The Perfidious Mariner) and this, while perhaps not quite as good as that (they are in fact a bit too similar in some respects) is very close in my estimation, keeping the potential supernatural elements and the pure detection quite separate, which is my idea of how to do this with the greatest possibility of success. There certainly seems to be a fairly largely industry now devoted to Sherlock Holmes pastiches, which presumably one can trace back to the success of Nicholas Meyer’s The Seven Percent Solution, which combines real and fictional characters into Doyle’s universe.

  2. Looking forward to this, but should I have listened to the rest of the Dorian series, or just the ones set pre-1912?

  3. Fascinating post, Sergio. I have never listened to audio books or audio plays before and you make GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST sound really interesting. This is a concept I am entirely unfamiliar with. Thanks for a well-told review. And a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your family, Sergio! I hope you have a great year ahead.

    • Hope you enjoy the festivities too Prashant – I’m a big fan of audio /radio drama (as opposed to spoken books, which I never really listen to) – really glad you enjoyed the review.

      • Todd Mason says:

        The UK has (and until the last decade or a little more, Canada had) a strong continuing audience for audio drama that the US has mostly lost (not by any means entirely)…I’m not sure if I’m surprised that you haven’t had any imported or domestic radio drama come your way over the years, Prashant…I was kind of hoping this would be a BBC item, but a paid download isn’t too much more hassle….

        • Thanks Todd. I have occasionally listened to some recent US radio drama including tributes to Norman Corwin as well as some of the work for radio by J. Michael Straczynski, who a great personal favourite (yup I’m a ‘Lurker’). Big Finish do a lot of work producing commercial material under a BBC licence like radio continuations of Doctor Who, Blake’s 7 (and my favourite, the Who steampunk spin-off, Jago & Litefoot) though they also have made dozen of radio spin-off from Dark Shadows (I reviewed a rather clever one, The Eternal Actress, here). I like to support them as they do really great work and are geared up completely for the international market as well as offering both CD copies and downloads. You can find them at: http://www.bigfinish.com/

  4. Pingback: Joining The Dots On IDW’s Doctor Who – Bleeding Cool News | The Fanatics

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