Released just as the bleaker weather and receding daylight hours announce the arrival of autumn, Big Finish’s latest original audio drama is a classy, quality chiller. This immersive and atmospheric tale of ghostly spectres and ‘spirits from beyond the grave’ unfolds as winter takes hold of an isolated and eccentric country estate and long-buried secrets resurface.
Writer Guy Adams has revealed that the scheduling is nothing more than a happy Halloween coincidence. It’s still an ideal time of year to unleash what Big Finish describe as a “Gothic horror”, but what might be more accurately labelled as a tale of creeping, escalating dread (albeit one punctuated by occasional outbursts of murderous violence).
Blind Terror: The Gods Of Frost was commissioned in response to a request from Eve Myles to star in a new and “proper scary” audio drama, completely different from her acclaimed work on the extensive Torchwood range. Myles takes full advantage of the opportunity that this new leading role offers to deliver an acutely well-judged and emotionally literate performance.
Recently widowed housekeeper Kathryn Ellis (Myles) arrives at a rambling Gothic residence in a rural hinterland, to take up the vacant post of housekeeper in the hope that she can move on from the grief of her husband’s loss. The heroine of the piece is someone whose life experiences have left her damaged but undefeated. Her predecessor left the post in unexplained circumstances, something few of those she encounters seem willing to discuss.
Kathryn soon realises that Hodder House is a melancholic and dysfunctional residence; a place where the neglected small group of staff are left largely to their own devices. The master of the house, Isaac Hodder, is a distracted would-be academic, preoccupied by his pseudo-scientific studies, while his sister Clarissa is a disconnected, mentally unbalanced individual who is lost in a world of her own shifting fantasies. All members of the household – above stairs and below – are in some way grieving or have been overwhelmed by loss.
The scale of the challenge facing Kathryn in bringing the house to order is daunting, all the more so because her bosses’ expectations are so ill-defined. Isaac suggests only that she ensures that the residents don’t die of starvation and that she stops the house from falling down around them. Even more unsettling is that so many of those living at Hodder Hall have personal familiarity with ghosts, and are unfazed by the idea of things passing from the realm of the dead back into the land of the living.
The presence of spirits permeates the unfolding story, as the barrier separating the physical world and the afterlife becomes more blurred. One of scriptwriter Adams’ very effective story conceits is not to cast Kathryn as an unbeliever or sceptic about the existence of ghosts, but instead to reveal that she lives with the companionship and guidance of someone close to her who died in cruel and tragic circumstances.
While this is clearly Myles’ vehicle, Blind Terror remains a fantastically strong ensemble piece, full of first-rate and well-honed performances. Joseph Tweedale is suitably intense as the driven and self-absorbed Isaac; Bethan Rose Young shines as the delightfully deranged Clarissa; Kerry Joy Stewart finds heart and warmth in her portrayal of no-nonsense cook Dolores Cutler.
Adams makes very effective use of the beats of this layered and increasingly alarming (in the best of senses) six-part story as the mysteries and dangers of the Hodder Hall estate are gradually exposed. He conjures up some extraordinary, evocative audio ‘images’ along the way, although the spectral figures revealed as the drama reaches its climax are left enigmatically under-described. Director Scott Handcock judges the pace and tone across all six instalments with great care. Sound design is excellent throughout, with an edgy musical score greatly adding to the sense of mounting fear.
There are no huge explosions of terror, the dark forces of the piece remain unseen for the most part, and there is little reliance on jump scares. Instead this is a well-constructed, richly-layered story of dislocation and rising dread built around Myles’ compelling performance. Kathyrn is a passionate young woman determined to do her duty, and to uphold her own moral code, even as the world around her conspires to frustrate her ability to do either. Deliciously, unnervingly dark, and confidently unformulaic, this foray into the macabre is both edgy and enthralling.