Spoilers. Well, if it’s spoiling anything is really very much debatable.
The Conservative Party have, for a very long time now, been against the BBC. A nationalised institution making entertainment for the masses is not something that bodes well with free-market economics. Fortunately for the government, there is ITV. Unfortunately for us, it isn’t very good.
Charlie Higson’s Jekyll and Hyde, loosely based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella, follows Dr. Jekyll, living his life, when a shadowy organisation tracks him down and starts to interfere. But it isn’t Jekyll they’re interested in, it’s Hyde. That’s also the plot of this series, and also the BBC’s superior 2007 series, Jekyll, written by Steven Moffat and staring wee Jimmy Nesbitt.
Robert Jekyll (Tom Bateman) – the grandson of Henry Jekyll, also cursed with his own Mr. Hyde starts as a doctor in colonial India living with his surrogate parents Dr. Vishall Njaran (Ace Bhatti) and Gurinder Najaran (Lolita Chakrabarti), and their son Ravi (Michael Karim). Robert displays extreme strength (demonstrated by lifting a car) and is prone to rage and mood swings. Dr. Njaran tells him that his father’s secrets lie in London which is where he goes. His adoptive parents do as all surrogate parents do (Yes, Uncle Ben, he does have both power AND responsibility) and are promptly killed by the evil Captain Dance (Enzo Cilenti), who is the head officer for an organisation of monsters called ‘The Tenebrae’. You can tell he’s evil by his performance which is on full moustache-twirling.
Meanwhile in London, Richard E. Grant is having the time of his fucking life playing Sir Robert Bulstrode, head of a intelligence organisation studying supernatural phenomena, ‘MIO’. No scenery is safe from his jaws. They’re warned by a … dog- man-thing (which is actually a genuinely creepy bit of design) that something ‘Big Bad’ is coming. Robert Jekyll arrives in London where we meet the sweet but not very interesting love interest Lilly (Stephanie Hyam) and they are nice and not very interesting together until she gives him an erection and he goes snooker-bloody-loopy and tries not to turn into Hyde. She’s also a scientist and dropped out of Cambridge to look after her sick mother.
It’s refreshing to see a woman character be useful and not just a love interest/erection giver, it’s just a shame that she’s not particularly interesting.We also get Maxwell Utterson (Christian McKay) who was the original Dr. Jekyll’s lawyer’s son. I personally think McKay brings exactly the right feel to this character; he’s bumbling but not incompetent and is actually quite human. His assistant ‘Hills’ (Ruby Bentall) is a no-nonsense sort of gal who’s always resourceful but is far, far too jolly. She’s like a when you grate cheese and then you realise you’ve started grating your fingers.
While in Hyde-mode our protagonist frequents ‘The Empire’ night club in the East End, owned by Isabella Charming (Natalie Gumede) who is a kick-ass tart with a heart. She sometimes says things important to Jekyllwhen not flirting or kicking people. Garson is a barman there but was once an assistant to Henry Jekyll. He’s also Donald Sumpter, (He of everything, including the most recent Doctor Who finale – Subtle Plug by TV Ed.), and that’s enough. Tenebrae want Hyde to unleash a daemon while MIO want Hyde’s hide and Captain Dance is shot dead by supernatural snipers. He also has some skeleton slaves and MIO has a crab man. Oh, and Utterson gest killed by a weredog. Cheers.
This iteration also struggles with a theme that diminishes impact of the original book: it starts as a mystery. Jekyll and Hyde being one and the same is a twist we all know. It’s however, a major revelation in this series. Jekyll’s struggle with Hyde is, of course, a struggle that we keep revisiting throughout the series and it gets very dull very quickly because we’ve seen this before a thousand times in other iterations of this story (my favourite Jekyll and Hyde iteration is in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, specifically the second book. Not the film. Never the film). This Hyde is Jekyll with an evil smirk whilst impersonating a mix between Keith Richards and John Hurt.
The dialogue stinks. It’s like the first draft of a script; everything is very functional but people simply announce what they are thinking and no one feels real. Some of it sounds like Harry and Paul’s Mr.Cholmondley -Warner sketches, or their fantastic Story of The Twos. Charlie Higson is a marvellous comic writer and performer and his work on things like The Fast Show, was really outstanding and often hilarious, but this is far from that. Many of the characters are also rather irritating, such as Hills, or one dimensional, like Captain Dance, who wanted… A thing? Power? LAND?
There are also some bizarre directorial choices. For example, Hyde roars a lot, making him sound like, and annoying as, a cross between a lion and the Metropolitan making an emergency stop in between Liverpool Street and Moorgate. Hyde roaring is nothing new but it was never very good then either. The fight scenes opt for a speed-up slow-down effect repeated long after the point it’s useful, or constructive. In Episode Five they attempt an Evil Dead-esque tracking shot (a point-of-view of an unimaginable evil running at the protagonists, but this fell down when the camera panned round to reveal Amelia Bullmore running and yelling. She’s great, but no unimaginable evil).
There are some nice references, such as Isabella mentioning ‘The Shadow’ or Episode Five centring round Black Shuck, an East Anglian myth about a giant dog. However and suffers from the same weaknesses, namely bad dialogue, bad direction and just generally not being very good. This episode also suffered from underusing the actor, Kevin Eldon, who’s fucking brilliant.
This series does boast an incredible production team, who made something steeped in interwar and Victorian iconography. The opening titles, the backgrounds, props and costumes are all very impressive, and I think that just goes to prove that no one sets out to make bad TV. There are always scores of people working their arses off to make something. It’s a miracle if it pays off. The same with the actors; who all do their best to inject character into every line but most of the interesting ones are dead by now. At least Richard E. Grant is still having a ball.
One of the most reported issues with this show is that it may be too violent for younger viewers. There are monsters some may find scary if you’re small but then again most things are scary when you’re small, or nothing is. There is nothing wrong with a good scare every now and then. Unfortunately this is not good, if it were at least more entertaining, I could forgive its shortcomings but it quite simply, is not good. Instead of reading Jekyll and Hyde as a cynical grab by ITV for Doctor Who’s popularity, I read it as proof that the Conservative Government and the free market aren’t right about culture. Stick with the Beeb, they know what they’re doing, most of the time.