Another Year..Another New Set of Series from BBC..And it’s ALL good. Yes. You Heard Me, Correctly. ‘I’m not unreasonable’..
BBC: They get a lot of flack (that means bad press not the lovely, beautiful presenter, Caroline..who is also in news of late and looks as radiant as ever). Should they scrap the service /licence fee? No. It’s an institution. Should they differentiate the fee, reduce it, cut the organisation size: yep. No question. Equally no question is that they ARE trying to win and help and entertain viewers. Doctor Who IS improving in visual scope quality, certainly. And the other major flagship show: DRACULA..winning rave reviews and rightly so.
What’s the connection here, for better / worse? Well..
- Custodian of The Classics:
It’s nice to have a BBC that even pretends to care and produce old school entertainments. Is it a BIT cheeky to do Dracula AGAIN after just 12 years? Sure. All too easy, and one should not be lured by what is essentially money for old rope both in the new vampire tale and the made-over Timelord antics of Doctor Who. Beeb: when I JOKED about giving Mark Gatiss an ‘In Search of Dracula’ documentary..it was not meant as serious suggestion.
Once again, you DID that, 25 years previously, with Christopher Frayling and that series remains definitive. Gatiss invented Royston Vasey / League of Gentlemen and he part edited Little Britain: genius in both cases. He was also one of the founding fathers of a relaunched Dr Who, under Russell T Davies / Steven Moffat. But his current in house elevation as resident literary expert in chief / professional fan is a bit rich, given that countless (!) academics have done the same thing before and arguably, better..same way David Walliams’ childrens’ books in no way at all got a subconscious association marketing boost from a Quentin Blake illustrated cover, in turn not so much inviting as demanding comparisons with Roald Dahl.
Mark: GREAT that you love James Bond, Sherlock Holmes and now Dracula. So what? Don’t we all? Great that you think ‘Dorabella’ a cute name and keep sneaking it in everywhere (stop it). On the other hand, yet again, better that Gatiss /Moffat et al keep up the tradition, albeit vampirically (draining old source materials to grow strong in media novelty?) than that the tradition and its BBC ship sink altogether.
Well done, keep it up: don’t take Dracula and Doctor Who for granted. Whatever meta (love that word btw) objections one might raise, these are quality, accessible, communal products and should be cherished as such. And they ARE good, well made and FUN pieces of television this time: budgets up there on screen, innovations in style /structure despite playing on old brands and performed by dedicated crew /cast at top of their games. Speaking of which..
- Cream of the Casting Crop:
Boy oh BOY does Dracula get its casting just RIGHT! Claes Bang is a STAR. He is THE perfect embodiment of Dracula; a kind of fusion of Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi and James Bond. Dash of an old law tutor I had years ago (it’s a compliment: charismatic, charming, uber-competent..women loved him and he got results, bit like Bang as Dracula..but I digress).
The drawback to Bang being so charming and also funny is that one rather sort of..well..not just sympathises with but actively roots FOR the titular baddie? You want him to win the girl (Dolly Wells: lovely, btw!) rather than have her drive a stake through his heart. Those he drains of blood are, at best, walking into it and those he semi-spares, reveal some trace of hidden humanity to the character, without ever truly compromising his menace or darkness.
Indeed, there is a visceral, animal, primal rage in this iteration, whilst marrying that to the refined elegance and tragic irony of the mythological blood sucker. So, whether one likes this new version or not, you WILL be charmed by Bang and it’s a shame he has been hidden from us for so long, bit like the eponymous villain he is bringing to such vivid life.
Christopher Lee once said of Dracula that he must be ‘demonic, erotic, aristocratic, hypnotic’ and Bang is all of those things, whilst throwing in a few visual nods to the Gary Oldman version, too.
Oh! What Bang COULD have done with Doctor Who! There are direct hints and not surprisingly so, given he is being written by Moffat /Gatiss. But it’s fairly direct, too. A supernatural, timeless, historical name dropper, with aristocratic title, who transcends physical dimensions and drops in and out of peoples’ lives? That IS both Dracula AND Dr Who, albeit from differing moral angles. Heck, the Doctor even fought vampires on numerous occasions.
Is Bang a woman? No. Not even a trace of androgyny. Very much a MAN and refreshingly so. But would he have brought something NEW to the Timelord AND thereby reignited the OLD, as he has done with the Vampire? Undeniably.
My theoretical Claes’ as The Doctor pitch? Think: raw masculine force of nature AS the misunderstood persona and outsider. He must somehow appeal to a new world, bizarrely un-trusting of its previously revered moral templates whilst chasing the golden calf of virtuous hypocrisy and online validation. Just a thought, like..
- WOKE UP!
Great television can and indeed, should be about teaching / reminding us to look beyond ANY stereotype. Sometimes, inclusion is not inclusive.
Indeed, so keen are writers to be ‘modern’ / ‘relevant’ that they forget how counter-productive that mission can be, playing directly to the brands of villains who seek division and conquest like real life political vampires.
Notice that Dracula includes multiple references to homosexuality. Fine! Great! Throw a party! Except it’s done at the expense of the HETERO content, imho, and is REGRESSIVE because its gay characters are presented largely as weak and insipid next to Dracula’s macho prowess.
Typical Steven Moffat: great style /structure and comedic lines; compromised by a moral / social politic he simply never gets quite ‘right’. It was that confusion which crept into Doctor Who under Moffat’s tenure, initially, before Chibnall took over and made things even worse. A kind of misplaced fusion of prudish puritanism, delivered through pernicious prurience, packaged in talky ‘banter’.
The very ESSENCE of the Doctor as character and brand is about far more than any jumping around, jittery thinking aloud word play and moral shouting. We MUST move beyond this post Tennant paradigm of how the Doctor should be played. It is now harming the brand, irreparably, same way the obsession with scarves and question marks did after Tom Baker left.
See, I shan’t dismiss the talents of Jodie Whittaker here. She’s the current Doctor and one can see her potential, still, unrealised. Those who slag her off online frankly need a kick in the arse. This is an hard working, talented, decent actress who plays the game well in promoting a beloved brand. A classically trained, beautiful stage and screen presence. And but for her being written and directed as a David Tennant clone, rather than being gifted her own interpretation of the Timelord? I suspect she would be fabulous. As it is? Sadly, the take is just unwatchable. Notice, I said the take and NOT the actress!
A ruddy rotten shame; because the story and script quality HAVE improved (lazy James Bond motifs aside: if you must go there, at least have the Dr meet Ian Fleming?). Equally: very impressive effects, visuals and playful casting choices / twists for supporting roles. But the viewing figures are not that great and I still suspect Chibnall’s show-running will come in for critical scrutiny, even though the rot set in long before he took over.
Just IMAGINE if they had just RESTED Doctor Who for a few years and relaunched NOW? With Jodie maybe playing HER version of the hero..or better still..why did they not just cast HER as the next MASTER /Rani with Claes Bang as the new Doctor?. IMAGINE..Jodie vs Claes!
Sadly, ‘imagine’ is one thing they just have NOT done enough here. But that’s not to say you cannot enjoy either Doctor Who OR Dracula as BOTH are well made, entertaining, beautifully polished products. Both available on BBC I-player and yes, recommended, albeit with reservation / suitability warnings.