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Initial thoughts on Dracula episode 3

Hahhh, yeah... I was up for a modern setting. It's worth remembering that Stoker's novel departed from the early Gothic tradition in using what for him was a modern setting complete with all the latest technology (wax cylinders, telegrams, Kodaks, etc). And of course my love for Dracula: AD 1972 knows no bounds (and was appropriately recognised here in Bob the disposable boyfriend, the boarded-up church outside the night-club and the sign reading "AD|072 Oncology" in the hospital where Zoe Van Helsing lies). In practice, though, and wholly inevitably, this felt almost indistinguishable from an episode of Sherlock featuring the Torchwood Institute, complete with the inevitable Mark Gatiss self-insertion.

Equally unsurprisingly, here comes the misogyny. Poor Lucy seems to have been designed wholly to be made a fool of for her vanity, and I am just tired of that story. Even worse, what for plot purposes should have been her main note - no fear of death - was under-developed by contrast. Yes, it was there in their conversation in the graveyard when she didn't really care about the sentient dead knocking on their coffin lids and was quite happy to wave hello to the zombie child. But all of that came across to me as more of a naive disbelief in death than a genuine, open-eyed absence of fear. That could have been developed and sustained so much better. Imagine, for example, if she'd been an undertaker or a grief counsellor or something like that. Someone who had faced and come to terms with the realities of death. Or indeed a member of the armed forces or the police or fire service, who had accepted the risk of death in action, just like (as Zoe points out) all Dracula's relatives had done. Imagine showing her as more curious about the process than anything else when she realises she is on her death-bed, followed by us seeing her in the mirror after she has died fascinated with her own changing body, instead of screaming for help as she actually did. It could have been really dark, poignant and unsettling. But no - instead we got the Torchwood Institute and the misogyny. Of course we did!

I was also disappointed that after the strong emphasis on the construction of stories used in the first two episodes, this seemed to have been completely dropped for the third. Jack Seward, for example, was in a position to witness personally or hear at second hand about almost everything which happened throughout the entire narrative - so it could have been book-ended as his attempt to compile and make sense of everything that had happened during those strange few months, maybe even as a report to the Torchwood Institute if necessary. Though I'd prefer to just cut out the Torchwood Institute altogether, and I may watch again to see if there would have been a way to do that while still fulfilling the key plot points of explaining how Dracula was reawakened from the ocean bed and giving Zoe a phial of his blood to think about and eventually decide to drink. That's all it really achieved in the end, and removing the rest of the scenes involving it would have freed up a lot of time for Lucy the undertaker and Jack the narrator.

That isn't to say I hated all of it. I still love Claes Bang's approach to the character. And actually for once I thought the final pay-off about the true reason for his fears and curses worked really well. I had no hopes for that at all when Sister Agatha began picking away at it in the first episode, but her great-great-niece Zoe's (and I love that their names went from A to Z, alpha to omega) revelation that he is really just afraid of death, and ashamed of that, wholly made sense and sat beautifully within the extended Dracula mythos. Lucy's role as his supposedly perfect unafraid bride may have been botched, but in the closing moments the way Claes Bang and Dolly Wells played their confrontation with his central vulnerability was beautiful, and did a great deal to redeem the rest of the episode.

In the end, seen in toto, I think this is where this version of Dracula sits for me:
1. The whole Hammer opus (including The Unquenchable Thirst of Dracula)
2. Stoker's original novel
3. The Northern Ballet version
4. The Mystery and Imagination version
5. This version

And you know, that's not bad going given how many versions there are. Not bad going at all.


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  • 8 Nov 2020, 11:32
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