The Dance of the Dead

Posted in Audio by - August 03, 2018
The Dance of the Dead

Released October 2002

In the aftermath of the special release ‘The Plague Herds of Excelis,’ Bernice finds herself hung over and wishing for death when the spaceship she has been smuggled upon meets disaster in Stephen Cole’s ‘The Dance of the Dead.’ Barely alive and forced to team with a party of Ice Warriors and a curt steward to find a way off the ship before it breaks up altogether, Bernice soon finds that trust is difficult to earn and to gain when memories and emotions are not one’s own.

The peace conference backdrop is the perfect setting for the Ice Warriors given their history within the televised medium, and Matthew Brenher gives a poignant and deliberate performance as Grand Marshall Sstac who comes to form an insightful relationship with Bernice as the truth becomes known. The Ice Warriors exude a certain disquieting menace that other foes simply lack, and Brenher captures the necessary tone perfectly. Unfortunately, the story presents no real reason for the Ice Warriors themselves to be involved aside from Bernice’s well-known fascination with Mars, and no insight into their culture or new information is provided along the way aside from the presence of the female General Azzar which represents a first for the species but one that is only superficially relevant despite Vivian Parry’s solid performance and the political angle that the character represents.

Ultimately, ‘The Dance of the Dead’ becomes a fairly straightforward possession story, albeit one that makes use of strong performances in what amount to multiple roles to bring it to life. Jewelry on board the ship is deemed worthless on the open market, but to the Culgarian race that uses this technology it is priceless and represents a means of remembering the dead forever. With jewels shattered and a poisonous gas released as the hull is breached, two spirits in love who were unable to settle their differences in life intermittently take control of Bernice and Sstac to reconcile. With these emotions from the past stimulated by different emotional reactions in the present, the increasingly dangerous atmosphere and tone are anything but stale and predictable, though the wild veering from hatred to love can sometimes be a bit jarring along the way.

Stephen Cole, of course, penned the final Excelis tale as well as this tale, and it’s intriguing to note just how vastly distinct the pacing between these two is as ‘The Dance of the Dead’ is exceedingly deliberate with its revelations and twists. This is not a detriment to the story, however, as it allows the very visual and bombastic concept to play out very effectively even with such a small cast involved as the relationship between Musjana and Asnabi comes to the forefront. With a few surprising character moments along the way, especially from Francis Magee’s Karter, ‘The Dance of the Dead’ makes exceedingly good use of its claustrophobic environment and the mystery of the past living once more in the unknowing present to deliver a simple but powerful tale that resultantly reveals a very dignified and introspective side to Bernice who wishes to speak with the spirits’ next of kin and to once more find Sstac to see if he feels like she does with a piece of him missing now that he is wholly himself once more. It’s a small character moment in this enjoyable tale, but discussing this emotional fallout is a tremendous stepping stone to where this franchise may continue to meaningfully expand in future stories.

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