The first two series of The Confessions of Dorian Gray stand as one of the best series’ Big Finish has ever produced, and quite likely my favourite radio drama. I gushed about those series here, and had Series 3 on pre-order as soon as I could.
The series opens with Blank Canvas (by James Goss)
which is something of an audacious opening: having caught up to present day, this episode seems to retool the series with a nasty horror turn. Even more impressive, this episode barely features Dorian at all, concerning itself with a bunch of people who have broken into his home only to find it not quite as empty as they thought. I can’t really overstate how bloody brilliant a piece of radio drama this is.
The darker, horror tone continues into the next two episodes, firstly with The Needle (by David Llewellyn) which reinvents the ‘Indian burial ground’ trope through the lens of corporate London, and chucks in a set of creepy villains. We Are Everywhere (by Roy Gill) is something akin to Oscar Wilde rewriting the Saw films, if you can picture that, and it’s a strong conclusion to the series’ opening salvo.
Echoes (by Gary Russell) takes something of a detour; there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with it, but the first three episodes felt like a fresh take on the series whereas this feels very much like a first-series episode, with the ghosts of Dorian’s past ganging up on him on the last train home to drive him to madness. It’s not that it’s bad, but it does feel like I’ve heard it before.
In fact, the rest of the series does carry on in this vein, returning to the ‘big bad’ style of season arc and a lighter tone. Thankfully, they’re still pretty good episodes, but I did infinitely prefer the opening. Pandora (by Xanna Eve Chown) takes a pop at tarot and new age mysticism. It’s pretty funny, and the mystic is Mother Slitheen, so what more can you ask for? And of course, it’s final moments feature the return of Toby, the vampire with whom Dorian found love. Heart and Soul (by Cavan Scott) reunites the pair, with a vampire ex thrown in, and a mysterious circus enchanted by the call of a siren. It’s actually a highlight of the series, but I’m a sucker for both circuses and Sean Biggerstaff.
The finale of the series is Displacement Activity and The Darkest Hour (by Scott Handcock)
in which Dorian undertakes the theft of an artifact from an exhibition that doesn’t quite happen, only to be double-crossed by the villainous Victoria, who uses a sacred gem to give life to the portrait version of Dorian. Who, of course, promptly proceeds to kill all in his way and attempt to murder Toby. The villainous speechifying and general carnage is classic Big Finish, but this is really all about the underscoring of the love story of Dorian and Toby with an emotional hammering in the last ten minutes.
It’s great to have the series back, and I hear a vague whisper that it will be returning again, which is great. The series is never short of great, and Series 3 contains its fair share of out-and-out brilliance – it would be nice to see some of the ingenuinity and experimentation of the series opening though.