After last night’s Doctor Who steered things back in the direction of the Russell T. Davies’ era, fellow former-Who writer Steven Moffat doubles down on his trademark style and time jumps with the second episode of Dracula. Now aboard the Demeter, the claustrophobic tone and slasher-film vibe combines beautifully with some witty dialogue as a reminder of how good this writer can be when he’s at his best, especially alongside Mark Gatiss.
Episode 2 of Dracula begins with the Count sitting Sister Agatha down and discussing his long and complex journey to England. We then jump to the Demeter, a ship en-route to London that stops to pick up some cargo, including strange boxes containing soil. Among the passengers however, is Count Dracula himself. Out at sea, he coughs up thick globs of fog from his lungs and casts an ominous passage ahead, while hostilities continue to grow between the passengers.
While the Count tells his tale, we cut back to Sister Agatha who adds light bites of commentary, while Dracula gets to know a lot of his ship-mates. As he discusses killing different passengers, Agatha continues to move the pieces in their chess-game, knocking out different pieces to signify the deceased shipmates.
Back on the boat, Count Dracula continues to deceive and manipulate his fellow passengers, including a particularly interesting conversation with Piotr. The young boy’s banter with Olgaren continues to be a high point of the voyage but it’s a fleeting moment of joy, especially given Dracula then turns his attention to Lady Ruthven who’s out alone on the deck. He’s charming and eventually tells her the truth – he’s a vampire. As he chows down on Dorabella, blood soaks the deck as night turns to day and the remaining survivors contemplate what to do next. Eventually their attention turns to the mysterious Cabin Number 9, which they suspect holds the clues to what’s happening.
Eventually, Sister Agatha snaps out of her trance and questions just how she’s arrived at the chess game and this cursed place. And that place, as it turns out, is inside Cabin Number 9. As the Count swings open the door, he invites everyone inside where he presents Agatha to them and calls her the murderer. With blood stained over her and the woman clearly weakened from her ordeal, the Count watches in glee as the group contemplate whether to hang her. Only, Agatha tells them she’s a vampire and eventually the secret is out. The real secret that Count Dracula is the real vampire. Unfortunately he manages to slip away, but not before Agatha takes control of the voyage and the mission.
Dr Sharma unfortunately finds himself in the company of Count Dracula instead and as it turns out, he’s struck up a deal with Count Ruthven and together they work to control the balance of power on the ship. In the ensuing carnage, Dr Sharma is shot and his daughter sacrifices herself and drinks poison to prevent being turned into one of the undead.
Out on deck, Sister Agatha tries to ward off Dracula as the remaining passengers huddle together. Only, they realize that Piotr has been possessed and after convincing him to step out their warding circle, he turns back into Dracula and kills again. Agatha manages to stave off the threat of Dracula, burning him with a lantern and setting him alight. As they arrive closer to England, she convinces the other survivors that they need to sink the ship to prevent any trace of Dracula arriving in England. Agatha defiantly refuses to head to shore with them either, especially given she seemingly has the vampiric curse.
Only, before Agatha can kill herself with the ship, she learns with horror that Dracula in’t actually dead and he invites her up with him to deck to share in a drink. With his final breath, the Captain encourages her to keep Dracula talking. As they do, the Captain claws his way up in a bid to stop Dracula, who spouts chess and checker quips at her, before seeing England on the horizon and preparing to land. Before the ship can however, Agatha manages to distract him long enough for the hull to blow and the ship to go up in flames. Piotr and Olgaren survive and as they head for shore, at the bottom of the ocean Dracula punches his way free from his coffin and walks across the sea-bed until he makes it to England in one piece.
As his feet crunch through the sand, he wipes his mouth and prepares for the buffet ahead. Suddenly, helicopters buzz overhead and police cars arrive and the momentary confusion lands us at one very real possibility – we’re now in 2020 and the Count now has modern-day England to contend with.How will the Count fare now? Will there be a lot of media attention? Or is this a world devoid of Dracula knowledge? Lots of unanswered questions remain here and there’s certainly plenty to sink your teeth into ready for tomorrow’s final part.
Utilizing the claustrophobia and aforementioned wit from the first episode, Dracula does well to keep things consistently entertaining and dark. Things are tied nicely into the first episode too and although it’s not a wholly faithful adaptation of the book, it’s good enough to make for a unique and original tale nonetheless. Sister Agatha is a decent character and easy to get behind, surprisingly full of some of the more witty lines in the season.
It won’t be for everyone but given how much I love the book, I’m actually quite surprised that I’ve taken so kindly to this adaptation. When Steven Moffat is grounded and has restraint with his scripts, he’s unrivaled on the small screen. Some of the early Sherlock work is fantastic, and Blink is up there with one of the best episodes of TV too. While Dracula doesn’t quite match that same level of excellence, this is a consistently great and unusually original adaptation all the same, and one that leaves things wide open for the third part.