The Confessions of Dorian Gray - X1. Ghosts of Christmas Past
When I reviewed This World Our Hell, I mentioned anticipating the possibility of a more lighthearted pulp take on the Confessions series, and part of that anticipation was set up by Big Finish’s Holmes series. The BF Holmes is a bit more in this vein; a bit freer with its source material, and with a bit more of a televisual feel than literary. That’s a valid choice, and it can lead to stories that might otherwise not be told. Ghosts of Christmas Past is one such story that Confessions might otherwise not have told, save for the tonal shift of marrying up with Holmes. Ghosts has exactly the feel you’d expect of a Christmas special crossover, and that feel isn’t exactly the feel of Confessions' standard. Still the differences can provide an alternately entertaining take in their own right.
The hour long format allows more space for plot and as such the plot gets more focus than in a typical Confessions episode, the character and themes a little less. Thematics are not absent, though; there are titular ghosts in both Dorian and Holmes’ pasts, and Ghosts explores several of them, looking at the different literal and figurative meanings of that term.
Dialogues with these phantoms - explorations of the past for Holmes and Dorian - form the brunt of the story. One such phantom is James (played by Rupert Young). Appearing to both characters, he feels like he should be central to the tale, yet oddly lacks significance; both to the plot, and in the weight of his dialogue. The scenes are good, but they lack a certain moment that I felt was meant to have been present.
Though she only appears to Dorian, Rebecca Newman’s Sybil is more successful in this regard. Her conversations with Dorian are more heavily steeped in character insight and backstory. The difference in tone between the series and the special is evident here, in the way Sybil and Dorian’s dialogue unveils the characters. I say that character gets less focus than usual, but in a way it gets more; the insights and explorations are delivered far more directly than in the rest of Confessions, without the ambiguous subtlety with which the series delivered its fleeting hints. The character work in Ghosts is much more emphasised, but I believe the series’ elegance and restraint exhibits a greater degree of focus. For this story, though, the straightforward approach is correct - the softly whispered allusions of Confessions wouldn’t be suitable to support the more traditionally story-based plot of Ghosts.
The plot itself is probably where the Holmesian side of the story is most evident. Holmes stories typically being more intricately plot-mechanical than Dorian’s. In this case the mechanisms of plotting beget a degree of retcon that I wasn’t completely onboard with, but as I say, the pulp style that Ghosts has allowed as being a ‘special’ affords a certain wider liberty with the source material. The Holmes formula, as Tony Lee has clearly identified, typically situates one diabolical character at the center of events, and from their particular connivance spins an intricate plot (in both senses of the word). By using said diabolical character(s) as the common point of the two worlds, Lee has married the plotting of Holmes to the thematics of Confessions in a way which works perfectly well - just not quite in the same way that Confessions works.
It may not confound expectations, but neither does Ghosts fail to meet them. It was a pleasing seasonal listen, delivering a definite ‘Christmas Special’ crossover feel, and I enjoyed it as a story in and of itself, rather than as a continuation of the Confessions series. In ordinary context, I’d probably rate it a 7/10, but listening in the seasonal spirit, I’ll give it an 8.