Episode 734: The Tragedy of Tim

“Children are animals, but with one important difference.”

The schoolteacher sighs. “Ah, Jamison, why?” he says to a recalcitrant pupil. “Why did you do this? To hand in a blank sheet of paper… I know that you knew some of the spelling words, and the mathematical sums really were very simple.”

It’s a sad moment, but not because of Jamison. I mean, if the mathematical sums are really that simple, then I’m sure he’ll pick it up somewhere. Jamison will be fine.

The problem is Mr. Timothy Shaw, the mild, fussy tutor at Trask’s malevolent punishment school. Tim is played by werewolf teen idol Don Briscoe, who used to be the hottest thng on the show, breaking new ground in afternoon sex appeal by regularly tearing off his shirt on camera.

They spent all winter building Don up as a tormented bad boy serial killer, and then when the 1897 story started — nothing, for two months. He just disappeared from the show.

This week is his return, and it’s a damp squib if I ever saw one. His shirt is buttoned all the way up to his chin, and he’s got wire rim Benjamin Franklin spectacles.

And worst of all, as far as the young set is concerned, he’s scolding a child about not doing his math homework. This feels like deliberate sabotage of a once-rising star.

So it looks like it’s time for another round of our backstage guessing game: Did He Fall, or Was He Pushed?

734 dark shadows tim spectacles

Because it would be difficult to think of a role that’s less likely to appeal to the children of 1969 than Timothy Shaw. He’s a former student at this Dickensian prison camp for children, and he served his time along with Rachel, the Collinwood governess and current Josette lookalike. When they were old enough to graduate, Tim and Rachel were both signed up for a non-elective tour of duty as teachers.

They managed to escape the school and make their way in the outside world, but while Rachel’s been building a new life for herself, Tim’s gone back to his old job, working for the odious Reverend Trask.

734 dark shadows tim rachel sellout

When Tim was introduced on Monday, he’d come to Collinwood to collect the children and bring them to Worthington Hall. That’s when Rachel found out that on the night they left, Tim accidentally killed Trask’s brother-in-law — you know how these things can happen, when you’re in a hurry — and Trask threatened to turn him over to the police unless Tim returned to his duties.

Tim:  So I just decided to go ahead and fulfill the rest of the contract. I think it was really a good thing.

Rachel:  A good thing, how can you say that? That man is a sadist!

Tim:  But you and I were very good for the children, and as long as I’m there… Besides, I’ve decided to take a new attack with him, anyway.

Rachel:  And what is that?

Tim:  Well, I know you can’t persuade him to change his mind, it’s impossible for anyone to do that, but I am trying to temper him. I think perhaps I can get him to be more tolerant with the children.

Rachel:  But you’re not succeeding, are you?

Tim:  Oh, I’m making some progress. Rachel, listen: Isn’t it better to light even one candle than to curse the darkness?

Rachel treats this platitude with the scorn it deserves. Tim isn’t just a math teacher, which is bad enough — he’s a sellout, and in 1969, that really meant something. Back then, a sellout was even worse than a narc, or somebody with bad vibes.

734 dark shadows trask tim lenient

And in today’s episode, we see that Rachel’s worst fears are true. Tim isn’t changing the system from inside, he’s just another brick in the wall. Trask finds Tim talking with Jamison, and accuses him of being soft on the boy.

“You have a tendency to be lenient,” he barks. “Guard against it. Children are animals, but with one important difference: they can be taught. But not by talking! They learn through fear.”

Tim’s response to this Bond-villain pronouncement is to sigh, and sit down on a stool. Tim sucks.

734 dark shadows tim trask shout

So it’s not just the hair and the tie and the spectacles; it’s the fact that Tim is a completely unromantic figure. Chris Jennings was a moody bad boy who periodically snapped his chain and howled at the moon; Tim Shaw can’t even keep up his end of a difficult conversation.

Although, honestly, the hair is a factor. Those whom the gods would destroy, they first give that hairstyle.

734 dark shadows tim trask what happened

So what happened to Don Briscoe? This is a problem that we’ll see play out over the next twelve months, until he’s unceremoniously bundled out the door and replaced with a day player. Somehow, the teen idol in training has fallen from favor, and he lands on the carpet with an audible thunk.

I’ve heard some people suggest that Don was taken down a peg so that the show could build up David Selby as the show’s new heartthrob, but I don’t think that theory makes sense.

For one thing, they don’t need to do anything to build up Selby, except turn the camera on. That’s not an issue. Selby is a nonstop charisma machine.

And the idea that you could only have one popular heartthrob flies in the face of everything that we know about teen magazines. There’s an entire wing of the publishing industry devoted to asking over-stimulated teenagers which boy is cuter out of any conceivable pairing of cute boys. You could set up a love triangle between Quentin Collins, his younger brother Chris Collins and any female you have lying around the studio, and it would be the soap opera sensation of the decade. Instead, they gave him a two-month vacation, and then brought him on as a quisling with spectacles who doesn’t even live at Collinwood.

734 dark shadows briscoe drugs

So here’s a thing that I know: Don Briscoe smoked pot. Now, don’t get me wrong; that’s not a shocking thing to do, especially in 1969. Lots of people smoke pot, it’s relaxing and fun, and we’ll see a couple more passionate smokers later on in the series. But for Don, it was a problem.

In the book Dark Shadows Memories, there’s a short piece written by David Henesy, who played David and Jamison. He says, “Don Briscoe was a real buddy of mine. Is it true that pot smoking hurts a performance? He made better werewolf transitions in an altered state.” Louis Edmonds also has a smoking-pot-with-Don story in Barnabas & Company. It’s kind of the only thing that anybody ever says about him.

When Don leaves the show next year, it’s because of a bad LSD trip, similar to the way Mitchell Ryan had to be replaced in 1967 when he showed up for work too drunk to go on. When Don leaves, they have to hire another guy to come in and say his lines for a few episodes.

Now, I don’t know if any of these problems showed up on set this early in his run. But the two-month hiatus, followed by a demotion from sexy werewolf to fussy schoolmaster, makes me wonder what was happening behind the scenes.

Don Briscoe brought a much-needed jolt of energy and sexuality to the show at a time when they really needed it, and he was an important part of bringing Dark Shadows out of the doldrums of the late Adam and Eve storyline. But this week is pretty much the end of his tenure as a major force on the series, and I for one will miss him terribly.

Tomorrow: The Punishment Book.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

In the teaser, the mausoleum gate opens without its usual squeaky sound effect. The secret door opens silently as well.

Magda tells Rachel that Barnabas and Angelique deserve each other, but we haven’t seen that Magda and Angelique have even met.

When Trask walks into the schoolroom, the camera focuses on a random shadow for two seconds.

Tomorrow: The Punishment Book.

734 dark shadows trask tim liar

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

25 thoughts on “Episode 734: The Tragedy of Tim

  1. Tim has an interesting story arc, one that could easily be described as tragic, but it’s true that he’s no longer a major force on the series.

    From a televisual literacy standpoint, you’d think Briscoe’s return to the show would mean something big because Chris as the werewolf was one of the two major cliffhangers before Barnabas went to 1795, but yeah, nothing.

    I am curious as to why Briscoe was cast as Shaw and not, say, Carl Collins, though perhaps it was just a scheduling matter with Karlen, who would leave the show to go do plays. I’m not sure what Briscoe was doing during his time away.

    And I agree that Briscoe was hardly demoted from Selby’s sake. Quentin was originally going to be the storyline’s major villain, so there was plenty of room for a dashing Chris Collins character. He starts to become more of an anti-hero protagonist and the person who suffers (?) from that is Barnabas. The (?) is because there are accounts that Frid was delighted to have some of the pressure taken off of him, but they are contradicted by some of his later admissions to Selby himself.

  2. I always assumed that Milquetoast Tim was a setup for his later return as Sexy Evil Blackmail Tim, but maybe I’m giving the writers too much credit for forethought.

  3. I do know that Sam Hall mentioned an incident with a actor “to handsome and intelligent for his own good” whom he left anonymous- coming to work on a bad trip- sitting in a trash can and refusing to get out.
    I could see that dinging one’s reputation in the work environment.

  4. In one of the DVD interviews, Christopher Pennock says something about Don Brisco being incredibly talented, but…and I can’t remember his exact wording. But it was along the lines of ruining his life in the way we were all doing back then, but he never pulled out of it.

  5. The banner across the top of the website of my nephew’s Christian Academy reads: WE WILL TEACH YOUR CHILD TO FEAR GOD. This isn’t from 1897 – it’s from 2015.
    Rev. Trask could easily get ajob there – he’d fit right in.

  6. I never focused on the teen idol aspect of Don Briscoe’s popularity, so I never noticed any decline at this point. I thought he played all his roles competently. It’s just that one day, his last episode on the show in Cyrus Longworth’s basement lab, where he seems distracted, just uttering his lines flatly as though thinking of something else, as if he were only half there. But come to think of it, in those screen captures for today’s post, he does appear somewhat unkempt, troubled even. Of course, it is true that what he was later diagnosed with would have been there all along, so who knows?

  7. We will never know exactly what was going on with Don Briscoe at this time. Bi-polar disorder often presents when people are in their late teens and twenties, so his issues may well have been because his illness was finally affecting him.

    As much as we laugh at movies like Reefer Madness, they were a part of the cultural consciousness of the era. Huge swaths of people believed that using pot caused mental illness. I had a step-brother who became clinically depressed and his mother was convinced that the reason was because his wife had given him pot. Today we know that mental illnesses are physical often with a genetic component and that people use drugs to self-medicate and cope with the illness.

    It is sad that Briscoe fell apart the way he did. Tom Jennings and Chris Jennings were interesting characters and Briscoe while never commanding the huge appeal of Frid and Selby could well have kept teen hearts throbbing for quite a while.

  8. At the risk of being a naysayer, I won’t miss Don Briscoe. I have found him to be a rather poor actor. He has a flat vocal delivery, even when the scene calls for strong emotion. His scenes of inner turmoil, e.g. when transforming into a werewolf, feel stiff and inauthentic. He doesn’t command the screen and arrest the viewer’s attention the way the series’ better actors do. Neither does he seem to have much range. Nancy Barrett, John Karlin, Grayson Hall, and others transformed their portrayals to suit their new characters in 1897. But Don Briscoe, also in a new role as Tim Shaw, just acts and sounds like flat-toned Tom/Chris Jennings.

    1. I see him the lower half of the middle tier.

      Top tier included the likes of: Nancy Barrett, Grayson Hall, Thayer David, Clarice Blackburn, Louis Edmonds, etc.

      Bottom tier: Roger Davis, Dr. Lang, etc.

      Middle tier: Alexandra Moltke, Diana Millay– and Don Briscoe. Because he was real-life sexy (at least as Chris Jennings), it was enough.

    2. I completely agree. He wasn’t awful but pedestrian. I don’t think he deserves anywhere near the praise that Danny gives him. For anyone to compare him to Selby is ridiculous. Selby is a genuinely talented, charismatic actor – he dominates every scene he is in. It’s not the ability to read lines, it’s the ability to create a character. Some actors excelled at that, some didn’t

  9. Okay, Don Briscoe wasn’t a transcendent talent – but he was good enough to get on DS. And though a lot of that was about his looks (because that’s what 99% of show business is about), he had some good moments acting-wise too. Even though his Tim Shaw character wasn’t as sexy as Tom or Chris Jennings, he was still nice to look at.
    Sometimes that’s enough. (At least until they gave him that dorky center part in his hair, and had him licking his finger while turning the leaves of a book…even man-pretty don’t help that.)

  10. Danny, i think there’s more to this story. Donald Briscoe never got over being gay bashed in Central Park. he was never able to get passed it, and whatever it stirred that may have been already torturing him.

    1. I’ve heard from two DS actors – one directly, one through a friend – that Brisco was definitely not gay. He dated one of the actresses, and told Louis Edmonds flat out that he wasn’t interested. Never heard the gay bash story. Is that true?

  11. Maybe it’s just me, but I think the addition of a cravat and spectacles doesn’t hurt Tim’s sexiness one bit…

  12. Briscoe was a mediocre actor at best. Jennings was a fun character because werewolves are fun characters. But Briscoe had no range. He said every line the same way. I’m not quite sure why Danny elevates him so much. He was nowhere near the acting ability of the show’s true thespians: David Selby, Thayer David, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Louis Edmonds and Jerry Lacy.

  13. It’s odd that there were multiple actors on Dark Shadows whose acting style involved fairly strict mimicry of movie stars of a previous generation. Jerry Lacy was first cast on the show in order to do his Humphrey Bogart imitation, an imitation which would land him a major part in a hit Broadway play. David Selby’s voice is eerily similar to that of Joseph Cotten, and his posture and gait evoke Cotten as well. Roger Davis looked quite a bit like Henry Fonda, and Joan Bennett famously said that he was show business’ answer to the question “What would Henry Fonda be like if he had no talent?” As for Briscoe, leave him on camera long enough and he starts talking like W. C. Fields. No matter what you think of his looks, there’s just no way a guy can go on indefinitely as a sex symbol if he’s never more than a few minutes away from calling his leading lady “My little chickadee.”

    1. I thought I heard a little W.C. Fields from him today! He also seems to be channeling John Wayne occasionally. Or at least, how Wayne would sound if he’d been smoking weed.

  14. It’s sad to read that Don Briscoe’s says are numbered. I agree he’s not that great of an actor but he is pretty.

    Trask is pure evil! It scared the shit out of me when he caught Jamison escaping from the closet!

    I’m still loving GH as Magda. I hope we never go back to Julia!

    This same night ABC aired Bewitched episode #169: “Samantha’s Shopping Spree” where Cousin Henry, Uncle Arthur’s son (it is implied), pops in an invites himself to go shopping with Samantha and Tabitha. Endora joins them and while shopping Henry gets annoyed and turns a store clerk into a mannequin. Sam and Endora have to find Henry to undo his spell but he’s gone to sulk on the moon. Finally little Tabitha admits to having seen the gestures used by Henry and the clerk is returned to flesh and blood.

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