3 out of 5
Written by the same people who wrote Sherlock for BBC, Netflix and BBC just released Dracula, a new spin on a story that has been told many times over the years — starting with the 1897 book by Bram Stoker with the same title.
If you watched Sherlock, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, then you probably were just as excited for this limited series as I was. That show was simply addicting. Cumberbatch and Freeman were perfect together, and the way the stories were adapted and brought forward into modern times was simply brilliant. The bar then, was set very high for me on Dracula. I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth (sorry) into this show and see what writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gattis had come up with.
The series is just three episodes, with each clocking in at about 1.5 hours — so for binge watchers the limited number of episodes will be a bit disappointing. The same was done with Sherlock however, as the series or seasons, had limited episodes. For the writers I imagine a giant obstacle to overcome in writing the show would have been the difference in the amount of source material. Stoker’s Dracula was just one book, written as a novel — but done as entries into a diary, ship logs and newspaper clippings. On the other hand, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle authored at least 43 Sherlock Holmes books. The sheer difference in stories between the two was a red flag going into the series for me, and I wondered how much different the overall story could be from Bram Stoker’s Dracula released in 1992. As it turns out — Sherlock for my money, was much better done, and if there are any future plans for Dracula — I hope that the episodes can return to Stoker’s original story.
The first two episodes of the series are by far the best of the three. Starting in 1897, we are introduced to Jonathan Harker, an attorney who is sent to Transylvania to assist the reclusive Count Dracula in purchasing an estate in England, and helping him acclimate to the English lifestyle (though the latter is sprung on Harper, who really only planned to stay with the Count for one night). The first episode is all told from Harker’s point of view as he recovers in a convent away from the Count’s castle. Here we are introduced to Sister Agatha (played by Dolly Wells), who nearly steals the spotlight entirely from Dracula for the entire series. Moffat and Gattis do a wonderful job of giving her character weight, a razor sharp wit, and a few hilarious lines in an otherwise dark story.
Dracula is played by Claes Bang, who often times reminds me of Christopher Lee and his portrayal of Dracula so many years ago. He is not the monstrous vampire we’ve seen in many iterations of the character throughout the years. He is a nobleman; smart, charming and many times I found myself thinking: “He’s not so bad.” Of course, then he would prove otherwise. The point is, he is not overwhelmingly intimidating the entire time. He simply is what he is, and he enjoys being that way. The second episode, which features Dracula making his way to England on a ship called the Demeter, is where Bang really gets to shine.
It is the third episode where the show goes a bit sideways. Here the writers failed at what they so brilliantly did with Sherlock. Titled “The Dark Compass,” the third chapter attempts to bring Dracula into modern times — 123 years later to be exact — to 2020…And it just doesn’t work. There really needed to be another episode in between to explore him figuring out when and where he was, instead it is all crammed into one episode, in which Dracula figures out how to use a tablet, crack the wifi password, skype, e-mail and text. Of course, there’s a reason he can do all of this — but it would have been much better to explore that a little more, than to just have it happen. Sister Agatha is back (which you’ll have to watch to find out how), as she assists her great, great niece (also played by Dolly Wells) in attempting to take Dracula down. Set against current times, the show’s creators ultimately fail to make it work. Whereas the first two episodes felt like something special was being set up, the third entry ruins all of that goodwill with a story that just doesn’t fit.
No official plans have been announced for another season, as you have to imagine everyone is waiting to see how this one is received. If there is though, it would be good to go back to the source material and attempt to bring it all forward with the same level of detail and voracity that was done with Sherlock. Unfortunately, the third episode might ruin any future plans though — seriously, it was that off. If it all does end with this short run — it would be a shame — as Claes Bangs really is fun as Dracula, and I would like to see him dig deeper into the role.