Dracula is one of my favourite books. It also happens to be free on the Kindle Store for anyone interested in discovering the real legend of Dracula. The BBC’s adaptation of this age-old legend isn’t really a faithful interpretation of Bram Stoker’s gothic horror but it does take some influences from the novel, especially in regards to its letter-format and early-episode ideas; this is very much a modern spin on the legend itself. Those expecting a classically charged, methodically paced horror will be left disappointed but to be honest, the changes actually work quite well and the series itself has a strange wit and humour to it that works well alongside the gory horror elements.
We begin our tale in Hungary, 1897. Mr Harker sits in his room watching a fly buzz around until Sister Agatha arrives to talk to him. She unveils a bag of letters, requesting he sit with her. As they talk, he explains he’s only safe there as it’s a house of God. She watches as a fly buzzes on his eye and burrows itself behind his pupil. Something is not quite right here and eventually Sister Agatha asks if he had sex with Count Dracula.
It’s here we cut back in time and see Jonathan Harker traveling to Transylvania, reading a letter from Mina, his fiance, en-route up to Dracula’s mansion. Rapping on the door, he cowers in fear as a swarm of bats swirl around him before the doors open. He makes his way to the dining table, pouring himself some wine before sitting with Dracula and discussing plans to move across to England. Before he does however, Harker receives the bad news – he’s to spend a month with the Count, as agreed by his superiors.
Shown to his room, Harker cuts his hand open prompting Dracula to struggle controlling himself at the sight of blood. Eventually though he bids him good night and leaves Harker alone, to the strange sounds and sights of the castle. In the morning, Harker wanders through the cold, unforgiving corridors, aware that he’s not alone, as a voice-over narrates his journey through the labyrinth of doors and passageways.
That evening in the dining room, he sees Dracula changed, less disfigured and younger. He outright asks if there’s anyone living in his castle and as he sits forward, an impish smile crosses his face. “No Jonathan. There’s no one….LIVING here.”. A chilling line and one that sees Jonathan slowly start to see his life-force drained and absorbed by the Count who becomes younger.
After being forced to write three letters home and meeting one of Dracula’s brides, it’s here we learn Harker is actually dead, killed at the hands of Dracula on his rooftop but the sight of the sun reflected from the cross wards him away and allows Harker to escape. As we soon learn, Mina has actually been among them the whole time, posing as a nun. Unfortunately their reunion is short-lived as Harker stops himself from going mad and drives a stake into his own chest.
Outside meanwhile, Sister Agatha uses her wits and humour to confront Count Dracula, who transforms from a wolf into a man, and stands at the gates awaiting entry. The sisters though, stand with stakes and it’s here we learn she’s Van Helsing. Agatha Van Helsing.
Unfortunately it turns out Harker is not actually dead. Given he staked himself, he’s in pure agony and as he’s inside, Dracula manages to invite himself in. A bloody, grotesque slaughter ensues as the nuns are killed, one by one. Thankfully, Mina and Agatha manage to slip away and pore over the legends in her workshop to try and find a way to kill Dracula. As they do, the undead, staked Harker stumbles into the room, prompting Mina to invite him in. Only, he’s not actually Johnny. He’s Count Dracula.
With a big cliffhanger ending and plenty of scope for the second part to grow into, Dracula begins as a faithful interpretation of the book and quickly grows into something far more bold and original. There’s clear Moffat influences here and the dialogue is witty and full of humour. It works well though in the context of the episode, and the 90 minute run-time gives the show enough room to breathe and grow. Of course, book lovers will undoubtedly be a little disappointed that the episode doesn’t revel in the early-book unease that long but to be honest the changes actually work quite well here and it’s clearly been adapted for a modern audience.
I’m certainly intrigued to see what they do with tonight’s episode and given what we’ve seen so far, Count Dracula is finally being portrayed as the monster he always was, which is good to see. I’m cautiously optimistic to see what they do with this one in the future and whether we’ll see the Count flee to England and continue his murderous rampage. Thankfully we haven’t got long to wait but so far, Dracula is getting 2020 off to a bloody good start!