Episode 475: Witch Doctor

“The witch will look at your body, and think that you have escaped by death — when, in reality, you will have escaped — by living!”

It’s another stormy night on the Hellmouth, where vampires and witches battle over the fate of mad scientists and their secret experiments.

Tonight, Barnabas has invited a guest over — it’s Professor Stokes, who first appeared two weeks ago, looking to buy the haunted portrait of Angelique. He’s an academic — apparently an expert in a diverse and uncertain discipline — and I’m not entirely sure that he realizes he’s on television. He’s loud, and disruptive, and he plays to the balcony. Not this balcony, naturally; I mean the balcony in the theater next door.

475 dark shadows rains stokes barnabas

Things kick off quickly today.

Barnabas:  Professor Stokes, how nice to see you. Let me take your coat.

Stokes:  Thank you. The moment anyone sends for me, it rains. Why is that?

Barnabas:  I wouldn’t take it personally.

Stokes:  Oh, but I do, of course. I have a cat complex. Aside from that, I take everything personally, it’s the only sensible thing to do.

Right from the start of the scene, Stokes is knocking Barnabas off balance, in several ways. We’re going to have to unpack this line by line.

475 dark shadows eccentric stokes barnabas

Let’s take it again, from the top.

Barnabas:  Professor Stokes, how nice to see you. Let me take your coat.

That’s two standard pleasantries in a row. This is just basic good manners, setting up the fact that Barnabas is pretending that this is a normal social engagement. But, as I noted on Wednesday, it’s impossible for Barnabas to have a normal scene, where he doesn’t have some kind of crazy agenda. So right from the start, he’s lying, and Stokes knows it.

Stokes:  Thank you. The moment anyone sends for me, it rains. Why is that?

This takes the conversation in an unexpected direction, seizing control of the scene. Right away, Stokes makes himself the central topic, which is hard to do in a Barnabas scene. Barnabas is an intensely selfish character, constantly preoccupied with his own plans and anxieties, so focusing the attention on someone else takes him out of his comfort zone.

Plus, Stokes’ hypothesis — “The moment anyone sends for me, it rains” — posits an unearthly connection between his personal experience and the weather patterns. I mean, it’s a joke, obviously, and not meant to be taken literally, but the kernel of truth in there is that Stokes has a special, mysterious relationship with the rest of the world.

And the tag for the joke — “Why is that?” — extends that assertion, and implies that Barnabas is aware of Stokes’ special gift, and may even appreciate and understand that gift better than Stokes does himself. Again, joke, obviously, but it sets the tone for the scene — the Professor is the important person, the interesting person, and the vampire is a sidekick.

What Stokes is doing here — grabbing and manipulating the social conventions in order to establish his dominance of the scene — is something that previously we’ve only seen Julia do, when she first established her camp credentials. And remarkably, he’s doing it at the beginning of his third episode. Even Julia needed a couple weeks to ramp up.

475 dark shadows ancestor stokes barnabas

But, crucially, Professor Stokes isn’t starting from scratch here, as far as the audience is concerned. He’s the unlikely descendant of Ben Stokes, the Collins family servant from 1795, who had an especially intense relationship with Barnabas during the early days of the vampire curse.

I believe that Ben is universally beloved by the Dark Shadows audience, and rightly so. He followed the three steps of how to make the audience like a character, which are: make a joke, make a friend, make a plot point happen. So when the same actor shows up in the present day, and right out of the starting gate he’s witty and self-aware, then he automatically inherits all of the positive associations that we have with Ben.

475 dark shadows comedy stokes barnabas

But why am I wasting time like this, when we could be listening to more Stokes?

Barnabas:  Well, Professor Stokes, did you bring the talisman with you?

Stokes:  Oh, dear. One would like to think one was asked for one’s self.

Barnabas:  Well, you have been, of course. As a matter of fact, I was just reading your monograph on Witchcraft in American History.

Stokes:  Oh, that. It was dreadfully cut. Never trust scholarly magazines, Mr. Collins. They know only too well how easily bored scholars are.

475 dark shadows professor stokes barnabas

Once again, Stokes has maneuvered Barnabas into a line of conversation that’s entirely based on Stokes’ personal experience, as if Barnabas would have any need for advice on academic publishing. This leaves Barnabas, the man of a thousand monologues, with exactly nothing to say.

And there’s a detail in that exchange which establishes why Stokes has an important role in the future development of the Dark Shadows mythology — his monograph on Witchcraft in American History.

When Dark Shadows began, it appeared to be set in the more-or-less real world — or at least the “real world” of daytime television, which is about as more-or-less as you can get. There may have been a ghost or two who popped up at unexpected times, but nobody believed in them. It was the world of “There must be a logical explanation,” and if spirits really did exist, then at least they were contained on the grounds of the Collinwood estate. Nobody on the outside had any reason to think that supernatural forces roamed the Earth.

And even when somebody went and opened the mystery box, releasing the ancient and unfathomable evils into the world, the effects stayed fairly localized. There was a witch, and a couple of ghosts, but they all lived here, on the Hellmouth. Sure, Reverend Trask was known as a witch hunter from Salem, but he picked on innocent girls; it’s possible that he never met a real witch in his life, until he came to Collinsport.

The first real evidence of the powers of darkness existing anywhere farther away than the Eagle Hill Cemetery was the house call made by Bathia Mapes, who was psychically summoned from who-knows-where, to exorcise the spirits at Collinwood. But she was a withered old thing, mad and lonely, and it’s hard to imagine her wielding any sort of real magical power.

475 dark shadows brought stokes barnabas

But here’s Professor Stokes, manifestly a sophisticated and worldly man, who has actually gone and studied Witchcraft in American History. He didn’t “study” it as a practitioner, either — he’s an investigator, with access to quite a few inconvenient truths.

Stokes:  I have really brought the talisman — quite a famous one. It kept one family safe from witchcraft for over five hundred years. Truly.

This is an extraordinary thing to say, for many reasons. For one thing, American history doesn’t even go back five hundred years. The story he’s referring to goes back to at least the late Middle Ages, and that’s assuming the family just gave him the talisman recently.

Who knows where this powerful, ancient artifact has been on its dark journey through time? How many tragedies has it averted? How many histories has it shaped?

475 dark shadows sherry stokes barnabas

Stokes has it in his pocket, by the way, because he’s a rock star.

Barnabas:  May I see it?

Stokes:  Oh, come, come. I’m used to considerably more amenities. Usually, I’m asked if I prefer port or sherry. Usually, I say sherry.

475 dark shadows nervous stokes barnabas

Barnabas says, “I’m sorry,” and pours Stokes a drink. The professor watches him, carefully.

Stokes:  You are not sorry. You are nervous.

Barnabas:  Indeed? I know my own anxieties only too well.

That doesn’t actually mean anything, but never mind; there’s no rule that says that everybody in a Dark Shadows scene has to make sense. Quite the opposite, actually.

475 dark shadows now stokes barnabas

Barnabas hands Stokes a glass, and says, “Now. May I see it?”

475 dark shadows of course stokes

Stokes takes an unhurried sip of sherry. “Of course, Mr. Collins,” he smiles. “Of course you may see the talisman… when I see the witch.”

475 dark shadows titles

And then the opening theme starts up, because at this point the show hasn’t even actually started yet. This is what Professor Stokes brings to the table.

475 dark shadows sip barnabas stokes

And that’s what our television show is like today, just Professor Stokes smiling and lecturing and sipping someone else’s sherry, while the undead psychopath who kills people with his teeth sits awkwardly in a chair and waits for somebody to get to the point.

Barnabas is offering Stokes money for the talisman, but the only thing Stokes values is information. He wants to know who the witch is, and why Barnabas needs this charm so urgently.

475 dark shadows table stokes barnabas

Barnabas stalls, trying to guard his secrets, so Stokes takes off in another unexpected direction.

Stokes:  My dear fellow, I believe you’ve got an Oliver Bennett table there. You don’t mind, do you?

475 dark shadows drunk stokes barnabas

Without waiting for an answer, Stokes moves a vase of flowers aside, and flips over the table.

Barnabas:  But, Professor Stokes, the talisman.

Stokes:  Yes! It is Oliver Bennett, I knew it. Greatest cabinetmaker Marion, Massachusetts ever produced. Pity he was drunk when he made this.

475 dark shadows monster stokes barnabas

So here he is — a new and utterly terrifying monster who knows absolutely everything, up to and including the dark secrets of your occasional furniture. He gives Barnabas the talisman eventually, of course, because Stokes is far too cool to be a storyline speed bump.

475 dark shadows kaiju stokes barnabas

But he’s inquisitive and dangerous, a friend and a threat in equal measure. This scene establishes him as one of the kaiju, the giant creatures who stomp through the show and battle each other for dominion over this world.

We’re exactly a year into the vampire story this week, and this is now the model for introducing new characters — big, theatrical, high-concept lunatics who couldn’t appear anywhere else on television but here. They don’t do small anymore. I think they’ve forgotten how.

Monday: Monster Mash.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

When the opening voiceover ends and they fade from the establishing shot of the Old House, a crew member’s voice can be heard saying, “And cue,” indicating that Barnabas should begin the scene.

Barnabas trips on a line:

Cassandra:  I don’t know what you mean.

Barnabas:  You dare say that to me — you, who cause me this curse!

In the final closeup of Dr. Lang’s lifeless creation, you can see the body breathing.


Behind the Scenes:

There are four speaking characters in today’s episode — Barnabas, Cassandra, Dr. Lang and Professor Stokes. It’s the first present-day episode not to include any of the original characters from 1966.

The monster under the sheet in Dr. Lang’s lab is Duane Morris, who appears in nine episodes on the show, never showing his face. Morris appeared as a member of the company in the original Broadway cast of Sweeney Todd from 1979 to 1980, and can be seen in the 1982 TV-movie recording of the show.

Morris has one more credit listed on IMDb, in a 1973 movie called Badge 373. Morris’ character is listed in the credits as “Gay at Casino”. But who isn’t?

Monday: Monster Mash.

475 dark shadows stomp stokes barnabas

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

22 thoughts on “Episode 475: Witch Doctor

  1. Your analysis of this incarnation of Stokes is just spot on and very insightful! The professor was always one of my favourites, but as you pointed it, much of his appeal is spillage from our fondness for Ben. But Stokes, like Julia, is one of those rare people who yes, seem to know everything and assert themselves without apology… yet instead of wanting to punch them in the face for being so bloody arrogant, you instantly love the hell out of them because they’re so damn awesome. I’ll bet the Tardis is waiting for Stokes outside…

  2. Professor Stokes can be forgiven for dominating scenes in which he appears and in record time since the introduction of his character, for he has what not even the supernatural creature Barnabas has–the means of thwarting Angelique. He is the power broker, and, until the arrival of Nicholas Blair, for the moment he is the show’s most formidable character.

  3. Don’t forget the Stokes have a skeleton in their closet, former Collins multi-purpose handyman Matthew Morgan. No two unrelated families can have members that look like Thayer David…

    1. Which gives rise to a slight continuity error – when Vicki sees Ben Stokes in 1795 she comments on his similarity to Matthew. When she sees Professor Stokes in 1968 she comments on his similarity to Ben – which by extension, means he also looks like Matthew. But that’s never referenced. I can understand why they don’t feel the need to bring it up since they’ve moved way beyond Matthew, but still kind of funny.

      1. Agree – I can’t help it but I find the lapses in continuity very annoying. I prefer to have stories that add onto what had happened previously, or at least make an attempt at closure on plots and characters that the show decides to drop for one reason or another. I think it adds an extra level of interest and satisfaction for the viewers. One example comes from the Daphne/Gerard ghost story which I’m currently watching. When the ghost of Daphne ‘returns to life’ there are several references to Victoria Winters by Barnabas and others but for really no reason. It would have been a better story to have Vicki and Daphne related in some way in order to bring relevance to these references. The writers missed (or ignored) many opportunities to ‘tie in’ many stories with each other in a way that would have provided much more excitement to the audience.

        1. I was 11 years old in 1966 when Willie Loomis came upon the chained coffin in the mausoleum. I watched Dark Shadows as it was meant to be watched, once a day, with commercials, until it went off the air. I was aware of some “lapses in continuity,” but they did not annoy me in the least. The writers (or more precisely, Dan Curtis) would neither have missed nor ignored “tie-ins” if they had ANY notion the show would be watched and making money over 50 years later under radically different circumstances.

            1. I agree completely about enjoying the show just as it is. It IS only upon rewatching 3 times, and reading the different opinions and examining the details in minutiae, which I must say I mostly enjoy, that the discrepancy of different storylines or characters or whatever are brought to the front. Without overshadowing my basic LOVE of this wacky, scary, entertaining, cheesy, and occasionally exasperating show. I wouldn’t change a thing! Except Craig slocom and the dream curse and…….

          1. I agree with you and really, I don’t let those discrepancies ruin my enjoyment of the show. I’m a fan of other soaps, sci-fi shows and comics so I’m used to contradictions in storylines. BUT I will say that the non-completion of Victoria Winter’s storyline does stick in my craw and that is the one thing I find virtually inexcusable. Now, I know the show had morphed quite a bit since the early days and she was no longer the main character, but the search for her identity was such a crucial part of the show for the first year that it really should have had some closure (and with a little bit of tweaking, they could have easily tied it into the show’s new approach).

        2. I think Danny and others have made the point well elsewhere in the blog–This was a show that was written by the seat of the writers’ pants to keep up with a daily schedule. They certainly didn’t have the time or luxury for detailed research into past continuity to make sure it all lined up. On top of that, this show was seen once a day and never again by the audience, and it was never meant to be preserved in the way we now view it. Most audience members wouldn’t really remember a lot of details about precise continuity, and they certainly didn’t have any reference to look back on to check anything out. The very nature of what this program leads to some slapdash storytelling.

  4. They mentioned Matthew Morgan in only one episode, I believe, from the 1795 storyline when it was useful to portray Vicky as disoriented from her trip through time as she keeps running into all these people that look familiar.

    But it should be noted that by the time of the Matthew Morgan storyline ratings for the show were already at an all-time low, as this was pre-Barnabas–and even before the Phoenix, which was the storyline that helped get the show renewed. Original viewers might have gotten the Matthew Morgan reference a year later when it was made in that one episode, but by 1968 there was a whole new audience, mostly of very young viewers, who probably were not watching before Barnabas and the subsequent supernatural themes came along to capture the imagination of that demographic. The legend of Dark Shadows is built on this post-1966 popularity of the show, and is likely the reason why the original DVD series and the most recent run of the show on Sci-Fi began with the arrival of Barnabas.

    Come to think of it, this might explain the decline in popularity from 1967 onward of the show’s original main character, Victoria Winters. Among the cauldron of spooks and ghosts that attracted young viewers beginning with Barnabas, they may have found the wistful innocence of Vicky a bit ponderous and about as interesting as a Charlotte Brontë novel. The younger viewers wanted spooks and chills and thrills, rather than Jane Eyre, and by this time the writers were actively catering to that audience and finding increasingly less to write about for the show’s flagship character.

  5. Tellingly, in this episode when Cassandra shows up at Dr. Lang’s house she introduces herself as “Miss Blair”. And this is quite a while before the arrival of Nicholas Blair, which seems to indicate that some storylines were planned out well in advance of the usual two-week window typically discussed at writers’ meetings.

  6. I just watched this, and I’m surprised you didn’t mention how wildly Addison Powell over acted in his scene with Cassandra. It shot straight past his usual “hammy” into parody. Subtle it was not!

    1. It was like some awful drama school exercise!

      “Your hand’s trembling! Now the other one! Now you’re in pain! Terrible pain! More terrible! More pain! MORE TERRIBLE PAIN!

      “NOW YOU’RE A DUCK!!!”

  7. In the moment where Stokes says: “You are not sorry, you are nervous,” Thayer David has his back entirely turned from the camera and is adjusting his upper denture, perhaps a partial plate, which has somehow slipped. His voice even bears a slight muffling as he does it. Thayer David doesn’t bat an eyelash, but Frid must have seen it full on. In spite of this, the scene continues, like a Collinsport thunder storm, unabated.

  8. I thought the voice at the end of the voiceover was Barnabas saying “Thank you” to some unseen delivery person at the door who had just handed him the missive from Angelique.

  9. I agree with everything you say about Stokes, and the change in the show, and pretty much everything in general.

    I’ve always thought it interesting that we expect fiction to exist in one particular version of reality – something light and frothy where the biggest problem is whether dinner will be ready when the vicar arrives, or something gritty with guns and Vinne Jones and naughty words; a mostly real-world soap where vaguely supernatural things are fine if they’re ambiguous and go mostly unbelieved, or a crazy mash-up with vampires, mad scientists and people that write monographs. It’s true we hold fiction to that either/or standard, but it’s odd since obviously all these things do actually co-exist in our world.

    I mean, not actual vampires, as far as I know – but this reality includes sleepy cul de sacs where kids play in the streets, drug trafficking, people who believe in vampires, unethical doctors, heroic medical pioneers, people who think they are vampires, people that can’t bring themselves to litter, and people willing to kill for money. It’s one of those curious things – like plot structure, not acting out of character, and incidental music – that is completely unrealistic, but we absolutely need in order to accept a fictional world as real…

  10. A minor (not to say trivial) point: Barnabas calls Prof Stokes’s work a “monograph,” and then Prof Stokes implies that it appeared in a “scholarly magazine.” But a monograph is generally taken to be a study (fairly in-depth and fairly long) of a particular topic by a single author. It is published stand-alone; the only time it would appear in a scholarly periodical is when it constitutes an entire issue or number of the journal. An article appearing along with other articles (by other authors and on other topics) would never be called a monograph.

  11. I am curious if anyone knows whether or not anyone wrote or had written any fan fiction about this ancient talisman to protect against witchcraft. If you do, can you reply with the link? I did see that Big Finish did some kind of audio drama, “The Voodoo Amulet,” which has Cassandra and Tony having an adventure in New Orleans, but I don’t think that relates at all to this Talisman. Or does it? I am curious about the back-story of this talisman. What family did it belong to? How did Prof. Stokes ultimately obtain it? After Tony stole it from Dr. Lang’s desk, it was never mentioned again, and Prof. Stokes never asked for it back from Barnabus. And exactly how does it work? I read that there actually is a (legendary) Catholic saint, St. Comba (she has different names too, I believe), and she is both the patron saint of witches as well as can supposedly protect people against witchcraft. If she had a “medal,” like Saint Christopher, would that provide anti-witchcraft protection? Any thoughts, anyone?

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