I’m a big fan of the work of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, but I confess that I was a little wary of their new take on the Dracula story. The trailers for the new three-part serial made it seem rather knowingly camp and full of quips, which didn’t appeal to me at all. And I wasn’t at all sure about the casting of Danish actor Claes Bang in the title role.
It turns out that I needn’t have worried. Moffat and Gatiss know exactly what they’re doing and stir in a rich mix of jet black horror into the well known tale of the Transylvanian aristocrat, keeping enough of the original source material while at the same time giving it an energising new approach to bring it alive for a new generation of viewers.
The first episode, which aired on BBC One on New Year’s Day, concentrated on the story of solicitor Jonathan Harker who travels to Count Dracula’s castle in order to conclude a property transaction only to find himself a prisoner, his life draining away while his elderly host (strongly evoking Gary Oldman’s 1992 take on the role) gets younger and more virile by the day. The first hour is surprisingly faithful to the equivalent early sections of the book, setting up the familiar (and not so familiar) rules by which vampires operate. However it does have to navigate through a century of contrary lore so some changes are inevitable – for example, the literary Dracula had no problem being in sunlight. And while this Dracula clearly has an issue with crucifixes and symbols of religious faith, he teases us by saying it’s not what we think it is – suggesting a series arc and a big reveal to come in part three.,
By sticking with this one story instead of jumping around as Bram Stoker did only enhanced the growing claustrophobia and terror. Moffat and Stoker respect the epistolic nature of the novel by having Harker relate his story to Sister Agatha, a nun at a convent in Hungary played by Dolly Wells. It’s only in the final half hour that the show starts to go in a new and original direction with big revelations about both Harker and Sister Agatha that will catch out anyone who thinks they know the story.
Yes, this Dracula is a little camp and comes up some eye rolling quips (although Sister Agatha is a match for him in terms of getting the laughs) but given how full-on the horror is elsewhere the light touches are a welcome variation in tone that work far better than I’d expected and/or feared. While still a little too louche for my liking, there’s no question that Bang assuredly delivers the big bucks in the main role. In the end I was quite taken by the first part and very much looking forward to the second, which airs tonight with the finale on Friday.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Dracula is airing in three 90-minutes episodes on BBC One on January 1-3 2020. It will be available after transmission on BBC iPlayer and is a co-production with Netflix.
Contains spoilers for the 2017 Christmas special
The Twelfth Doctor has left the building. And in a passing of the flame ceremony not seen since New Years Day 2010, we also say farewell to much of the creative talent that had been driving Doctor Who forward for the last seven years, including series star Peter Capaldi, regular contributor Mark Gatiss, composer Murray Gold (or so it’s rumoured) and last but by no means least showrunner and main writer Steven Moffat.
They sign off with “Twice Upon A Time”, which is a love letter from them to the series itself. As well as characteristically outstanding direction from Rachel Talalay, it features performances of the highest order from Capaldi and Gatiss, from Pearl Mackie as companion Bill Potts, and especially from David Bradley as the First Doctor who was originally played by William Hartnell and who briefly returns here in archive footage from 1966. It’s also an example of Moffat’s writing at its highest quality, providing a thoughtful character-driven drama that delivers a perfect Christmas message while signing off an era of the show and clearing the decks for what’s to follow in Autumn 2018. Read the rest of this entry »
Contains spoilers for episodes aired to date.
If this is to be the final Doctor Who contribution of Mark Gatiss, as the writer himself has hinted, then at least he got to throw himself a fun and fitting farewell party in the form of this week’s episode “Empress of Mars”. While it’s normal for critics to say that no two Gatiss stories for the series are the same – and that’s still generally true, even about this latest offering – in this case it also feels like a medley of some of his greatest hits from over a decade of writing for the show.
I’m always a little wary of a Gatiss story, because they can go very badly wrong just as easily as they can be spectacular successes. The trailer for “Empress of Mars” with its comedic caricatures of 19th century British Empire army soldiers and cackling alien reptile queens made me fear this would be one of the former. Fortunately when it came to watching the episode I was swiftly reassured that actually it was trending more towards the the other end of the spectrum, albeit without ever really threatening to hit the heights of the deliciously arch “The Crimson Horror” from 2013. Read the rest of this entry »
Contains some spoilers
With the singular exception of Doctor Who I tend not to write more than one post on any given television show per season, unless something occurs that significantly changes my initial take on it, so I hadn’t intended to contribute any more thoughts about the latest series of Sherlock following my review of the New Year’s Day episode. But since it appears that this might be the very last we see of the Steven Moffat/Mark Gatiss incarnation of the consulting detective, an exception seemed called for in order for us to take one final look at the whole of season 4.
As regular readers might recall, I rather enjoyed “The Six Thatchers” which was the first of this run of three episodes, although some were put off by the Bond/Bourne overtures and pined for the time when the show ‘just solved mysteries’ (which was never the point of Sherlock.) I did however grumble about the final 20 minutes which seemed clunky and mis-paced after what had gone before. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s been almost exactly three years since the last ‘regular’ episode of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ modern Sherlock, not counting the one-off 2016 New Year’s special which took Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes and Martin Freeman’s Watson out of time and back to the original Victorian-era setting of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories.
When last we were with Sherlock, it appeared that his arch enemy Moriarty had risen from the dead to threaten Britain with a new crime. Three years is a long period over which to sustain interest in any cliffhanger, so you’d expect “The Six Thatchers” to waste no more time getting stuck into the long-awaited denouement, but you’d be gravely mistaken. Instead, the whole Moriarty aspect is quickly kicked to the kerb, used briefly as a plot device to get Sherlock reinstated after his cold bloded murder of Charles Augustus Magnussen in “His Last Vow” and thereafter as a distraction and a red herring to obscure the true crime that is underway, which is signalled by the destruction of six china busts of Margaret Thatchers in varying locations around the country. Read the rest of this entry »
As things turned out, there wasn’t enough time between the end of Doctor Who series 9 and the follow-up Christmas special for us to produce our now-traditional look back over the most recent run of stories featuring our favourite maverick Time Lord. Instead, we thought we’d allow the holiday festivities to well and truly settle down before finally turning our merciless combined fan gaze on the latest run of episodes. Plus, there was the small matter of John, self-confessed Star Wars superfan, experiencing an awakening of some sort…
Then, just as we were thinking of putting pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard and touchscreen), the news broke that Steven Moffat is to step down as showrunner after the next series and the torch is to be passed on to Broadchurch creator Chris Chibnall – himself a man with impeccable Doctor Who fan credentials who has contributed several stories to the show over the years, and also to Torchwood which he co-produced for the first two series.
Does the confirmation of his impending departure colour our perspective of Moffat’s fifth complete series in charge of our favourite show? Will we get misty-eyed and sentimental about the Grand Moff’s achievements now that the end is in sight? You’ll have to read on and see, as we embark on a particularly timey-wimey trip through the highs and lows of series 9.
Spoilers ahoy, Sweeties! Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve always been surprised by the runaway popular success of BBC One’s Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Doctor John Watson.
It really does take the mantra of ‘smart is the new sexy’ to a whole new level and goes places that are so supremely ambitious that they become indistinguishable from the pretentious and self-indulgent a lot of the time. That makes it very much my sort of show, but I’m surprised it appeals to the mass audience anywhere near as widely as it apparently does if viewing figures are to be believed. The latest 90-minute special entitled “The Abominable Bride” was certainly one of the biggest and most hyped attractions of the BBC’s 2015 Christmas and New Year schedules and its importance was reflected by a near-simultaneous broadcast in the US on the same day.
Co-written by the show’s co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, you can see the DNA contributed by both parents: the dizzyingly complex plotting we’re familiar with from Moffat that twists past and modern strands together with frightening ambition, and the more viscerally pleasing Gothic horror sensibilities of Gatiss who also appears on screen as Sherlock’s brother Mycroft – the smarter of the Holmes boys. Read the rest of this entry »
Contains spoilers to keep you awake.
Whatever else you might say about Mark Gatiss, you really have to admire his range and diversity when it comes to the stories that he’s written for Doctor Who across the years. From Victorian ghost stories guest starring Charles Dickens to haunted dolls houses on a modern council estate, subservient Daleks making tea for Winston Churchill to murderous BBC continuity announcers in the 1950s, not to mention reviving the Ice Warriors to a soundtrack of 80s pop classics and the real-life origins drama An Adventure in Space and Time. His most recent story contributions have been his most out-and-out comedic, although the gothic black comedy The Crimson Horror and the bright and the breezy historical romp Robots of Sherwood could hardly have been more poles apart.
Just when you think you’ve got a grip on what he’s going to do next, Gatiss tends to want to spin off in a whole new direction – and that’s exactly what he does with this week’s season nine entry. You might not think it would be possible to create a brand new story that is simultaneously equidistant from every single one of his previous seven contributions, but that’s precisely what he does with the highly experimental “Sleep No More” as he conjures up a pure science fiction horror story that’s singularly and surprisingly lacking in laughs despite guest starring his old League of Gentleman pal Reece Shearsmith in a leading role.
The one thing that is always consistent with Gatiss’ contributions is that he delivers an incredibly rich script packed full of ideas – some of them borrowed but equally as many of them fresh and original. There’s usually so much going on that the stories threaten to spin out of control, fizzing so violently that they fly apart or spontaneously implode and combust. As a result the stories rarely all manage to work completely for everyone, but they’re never dull. For the reviewer, however, there’s a risk that any analysis of a Gatiss story will end up becoming a checklist of influences and concepts in play rather than a proper look at the story as a whole. Apologies in advance if that turns out to be the case here. Read the rest of this entry »
The much-anticipated, no-expense-spared BBC television adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s multi-award-winning books about King Henry VIII’s advisor Thomas Cromwell hit the screens this week and achieved one of the largest audience figures for a new drama on the channel in a decade, together with near-unanimous praise from the critics.
It was good to be sure, but for myself I have to say I was slightly disappointed that it wasn’t even better, twisted and ungrateful though that sounds. I loved Mantel’s original book after which the series is named (the latter half of the six-episode run will be based on the sequel, Bring Up The Bodies) and found it one of the best books I’d ever read, whereas this all-star screen version is … merely excellent television. Read the rest of this entry »
Generation Star Wars‘ John Hood and Taking The Short View’s Andrew Lewin look back over the latest series of Doctor Who and come to a shocking verdict…
Before it started to air, Steven Moffat promised that series 8 of Doctor Who would be completely unlike anything we’d seen before – and he wasn’t joking. Peter Capaldi’s mysterious, unpredictable and at times downright unlikeable portrayal of the titular Time Lord at times evoked Colin Baker’s tenure as the Sixth Doctor. While he didn’t actually try to throttle his companion this time around, the latest Doctor certainly threw enough caustic barbs at Clara Oswald to provoke some of the most memorably heated confrontations between the show’s stars that we’ve ever seen in 51 years of the programme’s history, while at the same time in Danny Pink’s character arc there was a hint of the redemption found by mercenary Lytton in 1985’s über-violent “Attack of the Cybermen”. The eighth series certainly proved full of dark themes, challenging subjects, black humour and genuinely frightening horror to an extent that the series has never before attempted, but it also aspired to moments of pure visual poetry and took time to indulge in the silliest of comedy romps along the way. No wonder that Capaldi’s first year in charge of the TARDIS has proved almost as divisive and controversial as Baker’s did in its day.
With a few weeks now elapsed since the shattering climax, and just before we board the TARDIS once again for the 2014 Christmas special, John and Andrew compare notes about each episode of series 8 in turn with the benefit of distance and hindsight, and then gird themselves to debate the big question of the year: was it a triumphant hit or a disastrous miss? You might be shocked by how it all turns out… Read the rest of this entry »
Contains some spoilers for the aired episode.
Apologies, I’m a little tardy with my thoughts on this week’s episode of Doctor Who. And while I’d like to say this is down to having been really busy and not having had the time to put pen-to-paper/fingers-to-keyboard, the truth is more along the lines that I’ve been stuck for words and unsure exactly what to say about “Robot of Sherwood.”
The thing is, these sort of out-of-character, over-the-top, thigh-slapping high camp ‘romps’ injected into runs of otherwise series dramas make my teeth itch. You may have noticed this from my reviews in the past, where I took against stories such as “The Curse of the Black Spot” and “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” for example. And while you might think that my delight in 2012’s “The Crimson Horror” by Mark Gatiss (who also wrote this week’s story) is therefore an anachronism, the fact is that story was a deliciously black comedy of the darkest hue in which everything was still taken with deadly seriousness despite the laughs that ensued.
It’s not that I think Doctor Who shouldn’t be funny – of course it should. And nor do I object to the show’s unique diversity which enables it to go in quick succession from all-out science fiction action thriller to historical pastiche comedy to chilling ghost story (as apparently next week’s “Listen” will be). I don’t even mind when they do one just for the kids as “Dinosaurs” very much was – it’s a family show after all, and I don’t begrudge the fact that there will be some stories that just aren’t really aimed at me and that I’m not going to like so much. It’s just that this leaves me a little stuck when it comes to attempting to write a fair and balanced review of an episode that, at the end of the day, simply didn’t really click with me. Read the rest of this entry »
The all-too-brief series 3 of Sherlock is over, aired in just 11 days after a wait of nearly two years since the cliffhanger ending of the previous series. I’ve already commented on the first episode, “The Empty Hearse,” which I greatly enjoyed even though for many viewers it couldn’t live up to the impossible expectations that had built up in the interim.
The online griping really started with the second of the three instalments, “The Sign of Three,” which took time out from crime solving (or so it seemed) to focus almost exclusively on the wedding of John Watson (Martin Freeman) and Mary Morstan (Amanda Abbington) with Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) comedically out of his element after having best man duties imposed on him. The result was the nearest thing you’ll ever get to Sherlock Holmes: The Sitcom and I have to say that I loved it to bits and laughed throughout, the absolute highlight being the way that Sherlock’s ‘metatag wordcloud’ view of the world was completely compromised by too much beer on the stag night. Read the rest of this entry »
Christmas is over, the New Year has been seen in, but just before we exit holiday standby mode here are three quick reviews of BBC television festive fare from the last week. There are some mild, implied spoilers but nothing too overt.
Sherlock S3 E1 “The Empty Hearse” (BBC One)
The BBC’s high-quality modern version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous consulting detective finally made its long-awaited return to our screens two years after Sherlock Holmes’ apparently fatal plunge off a hospital rooftop. There had been much speculation about how Holmes cheated death and the episode had great fun in dodging and deferring that question, instead presenting some of the more outlandish Internet theories that have been bandied around in the interim (one of which included a lovely cameo by Derren Brown); when the real solution is finally rolled out late in the day, the in-show conspiracy theorist deflates and pronounces it “Disappointing” before immediately picking holes in it, refusing to believe the answer – just like the real-life social media reaction that followed after the show aired. Co-creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat know their audience, that’s for sure. Read the rest of this entry »
Having rather taken a knife to Doctor Who, here’s a quick palette cleanser with a more positive review of The Tractate Middoth penned by Steven Moffat’s Sherlock partner-in-crime Mark Gatiss, who also makes his directorial début with this adaptation of the MR James short story. Read the rest of this entry »
Cutting straight to the chase, An Adventure in Space and Time is without doubt one of the best dramas that’s been made this year.
Of course I’m biased, being a long-time fan of Doctor Who to which this biographical docu-drama is an emphatic and unashamed love letter (as it is also to the iconic BBC Television Centre building, so beautifully used as a location throughout.) The 80 minutes tell the story of how the world’s longest-running science fiction programme was created by the BBC in 1963, and of its first three years which starred William Hartnell in the title role. However you don’t have to be a ‘Whovian’ to appreciate just how good this drama is, just as I didn’t need to be a fan of a certain long-running soap to be wowed by the similar The Road to Coronation Street in 2010, which I still rate as one of the best things the BBC made that year.
To true Who fans, all the characters involved and a lot of the events of An Adventure in Space and Time will be as well known as one’s own family myths and legends, and writer (and life-long fan) Mark Gatiss tells them all with a lightness and deftness of touch which keeps everything both breezy and entertaining while at the same time also utterly true and reverential to the documented facts – a very hard high-wire act to pull off as successfully as he does here. For example, scenes showing Hartnell fretting about mapping out what each button on the Tardis console does – and refusing to follow the instructions of a director where it contradicts what he’s mapped out – are very much part of established Who lore and yet are included here as important character traits rather than being shoe-horned in to flatter the Who cognoscenti. Read the rest of this entry »