“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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
— Danny Horn