“The thought of what he might be frightens me as much as it did you.”
Well, there are books here, that’s something that I know. There are books on shelves, and they’re dusty, so this is probably an interior set. That’s a place to start.
The walls are made of stone, with big stone columns, and there are plaques on the wall that look like gravestones. Lots of cobwebs, naturally. Very dark, very shadowy.
There’s an old man with glasses who’s carrying a book. He shuffles over to the wall with the gravestones, peers at them, and then looks at all of the other walls, as if he suspects they might be up to something. Then he shuffles over to the bookshelves, and puts down the book that he’s holding.
I’m trying to describe this scene for you in as much detail as I can, because we’re currently one minute into this episode, and I have absolutely no idea what we’re looking at.
But here comes a vaguely familiar face — the recently-recast Dr. Woodard. In yesterday’s episode, Woodard talked to the ghost of Sarah Collins, and now he’s on the trail of the deadly secret hidden in the basement of the Old House.
So he’s come here, wherever this is, to talk to this old guy, whoever he turns out to be.
The old guy shuffles back in, holding another book, and Woodard says, “Good evening.” The man registers surprise.
Old guy: Who are you, and what are you doing here?
Woodard: We met once, at the Eagle Hill cemetery.
Old guy: Eagle Hill?
Woodard: Yes, I was on my way to the Collins mausoleum.
Old guy: Oh, yes. I remember.
So this is the crazy old caretaker that Woodard met last month. He’s a recast, too; it’s been a weird week.
You see, in September 1967, there was a strike against ABC from the broadcast technicians’ union, and the actors had to cross the picket line to appear on the show. To keep the show on the air, executive producer Dan Curtis offered to personally pay the fines imposed by the actors’ union.
But two actors wouldn’t cross the picket line, and had to be replaced — Daniel Keyes, who played the caretaker, and Robert Gerringer, who played Dr. Woodard.
So, looking at these two, let’s think for a moment about the time and expense that the show has taken — casting two new actors with no notice, paying $3,500 in union fines just for Woodard, and building this weird new “cemetery archives” set — all of that work, just so these two thespians can appear in this action-packed thrill ride of a scene.
Oh, and by the way — “We met once at the Eagle Hill cemetery”? That implies that the building they’re currently inhabiting isn’t in the cemetery. So where the hell are we?
Dr. Woodard says, “You told me that there was a curse on the Collins family tomb. Do you remember?”
The caretaker probably doesn’t remember, but it sounds like the kind of thing that he’d say, so he goes along with it.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t know what the curse is. He says, “No one living can tell you why there is a curse on the Collins’ family tomb. Only the dead can do that. Only the dead.” And then he wanders off to the other side of the set.
Over here, there’s stone columns, and more untidy heaps of books. What’s going on with these books, by the way? It looks like a pack of timberwolves came through here several decades ago, and the place never really recovered. Doesn’t the caretaker ever clean up the books, and put them away? What’s he been doing down here all this time?
Woodard, bless him, keeps trying to communicate.
Woodard: You said that Joshua Collins had written something about the curse in a family journal.
Caretaker: Yes, that’s true.
Woodard: Is it still here?
Caretaker: Somewhere, in the family archives. I haven’t looked at it for years.
Well, take your time, I guess. We’re already four minutes into the episode; it’s too late to turn back.
Woodard says that it’s important — he needs to see the records of the Collins family.
Caretaker: It’ll take some time for me to get them all. The Collins’ records have not been disturbed for many, many years.
Woodard: You take all the time you need. I’ll wait.
Yeah, evidently. And then there’s another 45 seconds of silently shuffling around and touching books.
The problem, really, is that the writers are running out of juice. Dark Shadows usually has a three-person team writing the episodes, but two months ago, Malcolm Marmorstein was fired, and he hasn’t been replaced yet. Ron Sproat and Gordon Russell have been trading off consecutive sets of five episodes apiece, and it’s got to be wearing them down.
They’ll get some temporary relief next week from Joe Caldwell, who comes back every once in a while to write a few episodes. But they need a third writer on the team. There are only so many caretaker scenes that you can do before the audience starts to investigate other entertainment options.
But this is a Gordon Russell episode, and Russell always tries his best. Here, he takes the opportunity to flesh out a little more of Barnabas’ backstory. Once the caretaker’s found the right book, it has some interesting information.
The caretaker reads aloud: “Sarah Collins, age ten, a child of singular cheer and enduring virtue. Departed this life after sickening with a fever. Deeply mourned by mother, father, and grieving brother.”
It doesn’t mention how much she loved singing “London Bridge”, but maybe that was a post-mortem development.
Woodard finds another reference: “It says here that ‘Barnabas Collins suddenly went away to England, after surviving a brief siege of the fever which did most seriously deprive him of his strength and alter his personality.'”
Then he says, “It’s strange that both he and his sister were afflicted by the fever,” which is a very odd thing to say, especially for a doctor. Why would it be unusual that two members of a family had the same illness? I believe that’s fairly common; it’s called a contagious disease.
They finish the story — after Barnabas went away, his father ordered the mausoleum to be built in the Eagle Hill cemetery, separated from the other Collins graves. Barnabas went to England, and never returned.
And that, sorta-kinda, is the story that we see later on, with some tweaks to the timing of events.
Anyway, Woodard finally tears himself away from the dangerous charisma of the Eagle Hill caretaker, and visits David at Collinwood. He reassures David that he believes everything the boy said about Barnabas and Sarah.
David is delivering a rock-solid performance, especially in this moment:
David: Do you think that Barnabas is…
Woodard: Is what, David?
David looks down.
David: … dead?
Woodard: I don’t know. The thought of what he might be frightens me as much as it did you.
It’s good. Woodard is quietly hollering as usual, but the ten-year-old is selling this whole crazy situation.
And then Woodard makes a shocking rookie mistake.
Woodard: David, I want you to promise me one thing.
David: What is it?
Woodard: That you won’t tell anyone about our talk tonight. I want it to be our secret, until I can get some more proof.
So there you have it; he’s doomed. He might as well say, “Let’s split up,” or “Don’t you worry, nothing’s going to happen to me.”
David: Dr. Woodard, you’ll be very careful, won’t you? I wouldn’t want anything terrible to happen to you.
Woodard: Don’t you worry, David. Nothing’s going to happen to me.
Oh, man. How redshirt can you get?
Then Dr. Woodard goes over to the Old House to visit Barnabas, just to make sure that he’s the undisputed front-runner for America’s Next Vampire Victim.
He doesn’t really have any questions for Barnabas; he just sits down in an armchair and makes oddly-phrased observations, like “Perhaps part of the terror that David feels for you, and the fear, might stem from the remarkable resemblance to the original Barnabas Collins.”
Barnabas finally gets exasperated, and tells Woodard to leave. Woodard pauses, and then — in a move that would clearly have been a Columbo reference if it wasn’t for the fact that Columbo premiered four months later — he says, “I saw your sister Sarah tonight.”
Barnabas visibly starts. Collecting himself, he says, “You know as well as I do that I have no sister.”
Woodard smirks. “I might have been wrong,” he admits. “I thought she said ‘sister’. Maybe what she really said was ‘ancestor’.”
And then he sh-booms out the door like a diva. Dude is not long for this world.
Meanwhile, out in the real world, they find a new writer.
Sometime around this period, Grayson Hall throws a party at her midtown apartment, to celebrate going back into production after the strike. At the party, Dan Curtis meets Grayson’s husband Sam, a playwright who, several years earlier, had written for the CBS soap The Brighter Day.
Curtis says that Dark Shadows needs another writer, and he offers Sam the job. Sam knows not to take a job offer too seriously, if it’s two in the morning and everyone’s drunk, so he tells Curtis to call him the next day and make the offer again. Curtis does, and Sam takes the job.
And so — in a strange, unpredictable chain of events — the technicians’ strike inspires the party, the party introduces Dan Curtis and Sam Hall, and Curtis hires Sam to replace Malcolm Marmorstein.
And then Sam Hall saves the show. Really, he does. Just wait and see.
Tomorrow: Think Like a Woman.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Dr. Woodard has the largest share of the dialogue in this episode, and he stumbles several times, including:
I’m not quite sure what I’m looking for, and what I’m doing here, but — well, I just know that… I’m reasonably sure that… well, that, uh, I’m reasonably sure that the — the secret of the Collins mausoleum has some bearing on some crimes that have been committed around here recently.
Well, David’s never given you any reason to… he’s never given any reason… you’ve never given him any reason, rather, to hate him. Have you?
He felt that perhaps part of the — the terror that David feels for you, and the fear, might stem from the remarkable resemblance to the original Barnabies Collins. (sic)
You can hear someone in the studio coughing during the caretaker/Woodard scene, just after Woodard asks the caretaker about Joshua Collins’ journal.
When Barnabas sits down in his armchair, one of the candles in the candelabrum next to him falls onto the table.
Behind the Scenes:
Last week, Julia’s description of a picture of a little boy and little girl implied that Barnabas and Sarah were close in age, and that he was a young boy when Sarah died. The backstory that Woodard and the caretaker uncover in today’s episode establishes that Sarah died around the same time that Barnabas became a vampire — so he must have been a grown man when she was a ten-year-old. This revised backstory is the one that’s used in the 1795 flashback.
Peter Murphy, the replacement actor for the Caretaker, begins a run of stand-in appearances. Over the next few weeks, we’ll see him as a ghost haunting Julia, Burke lying on a bed in Vicki’s dream, and the back of Barnabas’ head.
Tomorrow: Think Like a Woman.
— Danny Horn