We are cordially invited as guests of the Count to see where the story began. And wonder where it leads to…
Extract from the journal of reviewer John “Jack” Ryan.
February 5th, 2020…
I write here, unsure. Unsure if my thoughts regarding this are… acceptable… to the minds of those who may see this as another slice of entertainment to digest upon. Or if… if it is something more… Perhaps I shall start at the beginning, to give more clarity to my process of thought…
The day following completion of the most recent, and very divisive, visual re-imagining of the infamous lord of the undead, Count Dracula, Messrs Briggs and Haigh-Ellery, who produce auditory tales, set forth that they would be releasing upon us, a prelude set of tales, set prior to their own adaptation of the vampire’s outing, released near four year prior. I do recall a particular interest that drew myself towards transcribing my experiences with it, when it came upon release.
Yesterday, I listened to them all… And with hope, my writings here might explain or cure my unsure nature…
The Artist’s Tale
The release is separated into three distinct but connected tales, each focusing on one of the three major players in the narrative. The first, titled The Artist’s Tale presents us with the journey of one Jeremiah Hart, portrayed in this narrative by David Bamber. Hart is revealed to be a noted artist of middling but respected repute, and hopes for the best for himself and his good wife, despite his… well, indulgences in other personages. But his luck seems to have taken a good turn when he is commissioned by a noble Count to paint their portrait, but to do so, Hart must travel to the Count’s homeland of Transylvania, and on his route, he encounters a terrifying, and potentially fatal, experience…
Of course, knowing the subject of this set, it was fair to assume who the mysterious subject of Hart’s commission was, but rest assured, as the narrative continued, more surprises presented themselves. To begin with, the prequel short story written by Stoker, from which this set takes its name, is faithfully adapted in this first part by the talents of Mr Johnathan Barnes. Much akin to the style of the original author, for the majority of time, the titular Count features very little, and it is Bamber as Hart who imparts the tale upon us, generating the most vivid descriptions, that I daresay no modern visual production could hope to replicate.
That said, the adaptation is only part of the tale, as given the new fleshing out of this character, we are given their backstory and setup, alongside the ultimate destination at Castle Dracula. Amongst these scenes, the supporting players of Niky Warderly, Ellie Darvill, Fanos Xenofós, David Sibley, Timothy Blore, Hannah Arteton and Atilla Akinci all help to ground the world of their characters and, when the time calls for such, heighten the tension…
The Vampire’s Tale
That tension was heightened immensely once I began the following part, The Vampire’s Tale. Now that we have entered the domain of the Count of our own free will, the narrative shifts from the story of a terrified artist, who now joins us mortal listeners as the Transylvanian imparts a legend from the history of his own people. A legend of his ancestor, the Voivord. The dangers and evils he faced as the Turkish Empire laid siege to Romania. But as the tale unfolds, those who listen are left to wonder where the evil truly lies? And how the Count knows of these stories in such detail. As if he was there…
As the story progressed, I began to let my mind wander as to the inspiration for this inclusion. It seems obvious that with an allocation of three hours to fill and only the content of a single short story, some elements would need to have been concocted to be attached to what already exists. For this piece it seems that further inspiration has been taken, this time not from the works of Stoker, but from the expanded mythology his creation has garnered over the last century. Particularly the well utilised concept of the fictional vampire being a descendant of, or even the undead reincarnation of, Vlad Dracula; the historical figure more knowingly titled Vlad The Impaler.
Although not confirmed by either narrator, it certainly presents the implication that Vlad, or in more certain terms this universe’s representation of Vlad, regardless of if the name is shared, has followed that timeline of becoming the undead prince of darkness and continuing existence until this moment. What the tale also imparts is that despite the passage of time, the Count’s methods of persuasion are still as demented as ever. Rich, evocative, and downright disturbing imagery being conjoured within mine own imagination, let alone who ever else may cast their ears upon this.
The cast continues to exemplify their talent within this story with Fanos Xenofós, Atilla Akinci, Simon Ludders, Glen McCready, Niky Wardley, David Bamber and Hannah Arterton giving their all across all plot points provided. But if I had to point out one performance amongst the sea, Mark Gatiss’ talents both as narrator and as the titular count would be the pinnacle of this section and the entirety of the release. Evoking charm, menace, wonder, and pure abject horror, all in a single breath…
The Detective’s Tale
The last grand rambling we are subjected to within this collection takes the name of The Detective’s Tale. It focuses on the recent exploits of Detective Inspector R. M. Renfield. Yes, THAT Renfield. He imparts upon a physician who will listen to the happenings of the last few days. Days which he investigates missing persons and murdered madams. The days which have driven Renfield to madness, turning him into the rambling madman we see in Stoker’s novel. Days in which everything comes together…
I fear however that I cannot speak much about this plot, as to do so will impart secrets that any listener should discover for themselves upon listening. But what can be said is that it has to balance quite a lot, being an original tale, expanding the backstory of one of the novel’s major characters, and attempting to tie not just the plot threads of this set together, but set everything up for our players when they enter in the original adaptation.
In these instances, it can be said to succeed, giving each character and element their moment to prosper. All prior cast members make their return, with the greatest commendation given to Mr Ian Hallard as the titular detective of the episode, R M Renfield, perfectly showcasing his understanding of the character and his descent into madness.
Aside of the three tales, the talents of Robert Harvey and Joe Meiners cannot be understated. An appropriately gothic soundtrack is expertly crafted alongside the sound design. Sometimes it is perhaps too skilfully assembled. I assure you, this is not a criticism, merely my own squeamish nature. But alongside them, the writings of Master Barnes, the directing of Master Handcock, and the performances of the cast, it can be said that this prelude to the infamous tale of the vampire not only succeeds as a release, but opens up a new light on certain characters from the novel’s lore…
Of course, this is what I would say, my dear friend, if this was some mere normal release. But I cannot be sure if there is something else behind my infatuation with this collection. Something unnatural. I can only hope that when this letter with my thoughts finds you well. I am still here to discuss them with you, and have not yet become another plaything for the Count…
The night calls, and so does sleep. But sleep must wait, as work must now begin… as the War doth call to us…
Dracula’s Guests is now available to purchase on collectors edition CD and Download from the Big Finish Website, and will be available from other stockists later in the year.
Sitting in his castle like a spider in its web, Count Dracula is setting his plans in motion. Soon he will travel to England, there to cut a bloody swathe through polite society and pit himself against a dedicated crew of vampire-slayers. Yet before then there is much to be done. A certain artist must be brought to him and a certain portrait painted. An old tale must be told, drawn from the darkest recesses of Transylvanian history. And in faraway London an honest police detective must be corrupted and set to work in the service of the Count. The vampire king is making preparations. And his survival will be assured – no matter the cost.
Inspired by a story by Bram Stoker, Dracula’s Guests is a prequel to the original novel and the first in a three-part connected series from Big Finish Productions, continuing in Dracula and concluding with Dracula’s War.
- Mark Gatiss (Count Dracula)
- David Bamber (Jeremiah Hart)
- Ian Hallard (RM Renfield)
- Atilla Akinci (Sunduk)
- Hannah Arterton (Sabine)
- Timothy Blore (Johann)
- Silas Carson (Evelyn Skinsale)
- Stephen Critchlow (Jackson Petrie)
- Ellie Darvill (Charity Hart)
- Simon Ludders (Dr Emmanuel Cray)
- Glen McCready (Abraham Van Helsing)
- Murray Melvin (Clove)
- David Sibley (Herr Delbruck)
- Niky Wardley (Madeline)
- Fanos Xenofós (Nelu)
- Cover Artist: Tom Webster
- Director: Scott Handcock
- Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
- Music: Robert Harvey
- Producer: Scott Handcock
- Script Editor: Scott Handcock
- Sound Design: Joe Meiners
- Written by Jonathan Barnes
- Based on the works of Bram Stoker