Claes Bang in Dracula (2020)
Claes Bang is Count Dracula in the BBC Adaptation. PC: BBC and Netflix.

 ‘Dracula’ Review: It Sucks

The BBC and Netflix adaptation is an abysmal adaptation with lazy writing overusing ‘The Doctor’ character archetype for the umpteenth time this past decade. A disservice to the mystery and allure of the titular vampire, as wit is not the same thing as charm, as Moffat and Gatiss fail to comprehend.

Let me begin by saying I have followed the works of both Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss as a fan for over a decade. So, this hatred for this particular work is not entirely unwarranted, as I have given both many chances and for the most part, enjoyed their works up until as of late.

When they’re on point, I think the duo know how to utilize funny wit, playful bickering, and traditional heteronormative romances (and think when they try and be ‘edgy’ they completely fail in cringeworthy fashion). I also think they understand modernization and fast-paced twists in fun short form (I’m not a fan of their longer story arcs. The two should stop at 2 seasons of anything).

Steven Moffat’s years as showrunner on Doctor Who were my introduction to the infamous timelord. I enjoyed the run so much that I had spent a weekend watching all of ‘Coupling’; a hip British sitcom from the early 2000s —available on Netflix years ago — which was, for more or less in its official run at the time, Steven Moffat’s attempt at making his version of ‘Friends’.

And while I haven’t seen as much of Mark Gatiss’, I had thought his performance as Mycroft Holmes was nothing shy of excellent; Their modernization in adapting BBC’s Sherlock; Particularly, seasons one and two, proving some of the best TV of the decade spanning the 2010s.

This is why when the duo paired again to adapt Dracula, the Bram Stroker classic which I personally absolutely adore — I thought the series would be a fun retelling of an old classic. Especially, given BBC’s longstanding and faithful history in adapting the old tale in decades past, and the fact that it was marketed as an old school Dracula: with no hints of modernization or the story being set in the present.

This assumption was entirely wrong.

Which was an infuriating marketing mistake because the show’s constant bending and inevitable breaking of the source material in both lore and characterization was atrocious and downright insulting.

Down to the point where liberties of adaptation were so loose that this Dracula should have been marketed more as a Blackula or even Doctor Dracula, which while being a very loose adaptation, would have made a lot more marketing sense and not disappointed the purists out there like myself.

Mostly, it also would have forgiven the poor world development and ability choices which made no sense except it a nonsensical, suspension of reality way that only works in the magic of a Doctor Who universe or the mystery in a Sherlock Holmes case — Dracula being neither of these things.

I want it to be known by everyone reading this:

This is a bloody butchering of Dracula.

With ideas that run out so quickly that it moves into the modern era out of nowhere despite copious amounts of source material (There were many, many more short stories like on the ship the Demeter, that could’ve been adapted) and falls into pure Doctor Who territory. Going full science fiction in a blatant and unoriginal ‘Torchwood’ rip off for any Doctor Who fans can recognize by episode three.

Which again, has nothing to do with Dracula. Atop of being layered in atrocious homophobia and some of the most poorly written women in TV.

So, without further ado here’s why Dracula Sucks.

 

Dracula BBC
This sums up exactly what’s wrong. Needing to emphasize, it’s the creators of Sherlock immediately.

It Immediately Abandons What Dracula is About.

When I think of faithful adaptations of Dracula, I think the film Nosferatu, Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee’s performances as the Count, Coppola’s 1992 Film, and the BBC’s 1977 adaptation — which to date, is the most faithful adaptation.

I also really give credit to the Coppola and BBC versions for using the crazy gung-ho (Yep, Dracula’s actual killer is an American from the south) suitor of Lucy from Texas: Quincy. Who not only delivers a killing blow to the count along with Jonathan but also gets mortally wounded by an angry mob of Gypsies — which is omitted save in the most faithful adaptations.

Now, over the past hundred years, there have been many adaptations of Dracula. Each of which has taken several liberties with the story. Character relationships are often switched between Lucy, Mina, Jonathan, and Renfield.

Themes are often changed and made relevant to the era the story is being told, though it inevitably gets back to the plot of the story which is: Dracula and Vampirism is a mystery, bad things happen to those around it, reluctant heroes come together and against all odds put together the facts, and in the end they stop the Vampire and its acolytes — or at least, try to.

This version doesn’t do any of that. Instead, it’s self-indulgent masturbatory fantasy focusing solely on Dracula and a bit of Van Helsing, though more in the light of her obsession with — in an uninspired life obsessed with the vampire. A man whom she has no reason to be this obsessed over as they’ve completely omitted the years of medicine school and replaced it with a convent, nunnery, and dedication to the cause — Dracula.

And while there are some hints that there’s more to Agatha Van Helsing (Dolly Wells), we never learn about it because the audience only learns anything about her character through her works obsessions with Dracula. His motivations. His histories.

Effectively, shitting on everything that Made Van Helsing a separate person. One who is reputable and smart and a mentor to some of the side characters.

This gets me to my biggest flaw I see in this series:

 

It Only Focuses on Dracula.

This irritates me to no end. Not because Claes Bang does a poor job, he’s actually excellent through and through. But because the original is written with multiple narrator points of view and journal entries. The events that conspired, being a mystery that the reader is supposed to put together via the various notes.

Dracula’s not meant to be a linear film following the monster – which I think only Coppola gets correct. The monster is learned about and handled from a distance. Granting the characters and perspectives to take on standalone lives of their own while unraveling the great mystery.

Jonathan and Mina are getting married and developing their business and lives, Van Helsing, serves as a wonderful yet mysterious mentor to one of Lucy’s suitors; the three of which, becoming oddly good friends despite the grim situation. Renfield is a psychiatric character who spoke a lot about mental illness of the time and the themes of nature and ‘life imbibing in life’. Humanity in its animalistic drive and cruelty, which is a big theme about what Dracula represents, particularly sexually.

And Lucy, well, she’s subverting the Victorian woman. The ideal wife seeking a suitor to be churned out in the culture and become yet another idealist mother; all of which is tainted and twisted when turned into a child-eating monster.

None of this is explored in this adaption as we indulge in just Dracula and only Dracula. Which irritates me. And while I’ll admit, journals and notes are not the most compelling narration for film, it does make what actually happened very mysterious and dark. Which I think every adaptation of Dracula to date severely lacks.

Because Dracula was never supposed to be the only focal point of the story. He was just the unraveling mystery that needed to be solved.

 

On a lighter note. If you’d like to see which version of Dracula was the most faithful. Checkout this video by Cinemassacre who do a great job analyzing Dracula and who’s in fact, the most faithful in adaption.

 

Why Dracula’s Story is Lazy Going for Sensation and Fake-Woke Themes

What the series does is take the barest of the original’s premises and subverts it about halfway through the first episode. Though I can’t tell you if it’s a more progressive or conservative type of story, because honestly, all this version of Dracula accomplished in doing was offending both of my sensibilities.

It begins when Dracula takes in Jonathan Harker (John Heffernan) in as his essential ‘life coach’ wanting to learn English culture. Jonathan sells him property. Dracula uses his cheesy:

“I don’t drink… Wine”

Line in his heavy Transylvanian accent.

All homages to the original. Jonathan gets trapped in the maze of the castle. He encounters a bride of Dracula who is later fed a tiny baby, as he’s slowly used as Dracula’s food and the Vampire de-ages over time.

Then, for some idiotic reason, Dracula drops the Transylvanian accent and becomes young and oddly British in a short amount of time. Though not just English mind you… but fast-talking English. With a wit and charm and a personality very akin to both The Doctor and Sherlock Holmes, despite not being this character just a few scenes ago.

This is the first blatant red flag and I should’ve stopped watching the series there. There’s also no explanation for it. At least, other than the fact that Moffat apparently can’t write a character that isn’t this trope.

Then it gets a lot worse.

Jonathan explores the castle and finds other boxed undead: zombies in fact, hidden away as creatures locked within coffin boxes. And sure, some will argue they’re vampires and undead victims that haven’t yet fully died, but for the sake of aesthetics, I’m going to call it for what it is:

Zombies only added in for sensation and dramatic effect.

Mind you, this is all being revealed as the real Jonathan, an escaped and almost Renfield look-alike undead victim, confesses what happened to himself in Dracula’s castle to a series of nuns taking care of him in a convent/hospital.

We think Jonathan’s backstory had already been unraveled through his journals but its hasn’t (as they’re revealed to be a blatant ripoff of ‘The Shining’s ‘All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy’) and so the real-time tension builds as we learn not only about his time with Dracula, but also what’s happening in the moment as the real Dracula has come to infiltrate the convent.

This is somewhat okay. Especially, when we learn that the nuns overseeing his personal recovery are Van Helsing (made a woman) and Mina herself (Morfydd Clark) and when we get our first taste of hope for this story.

Which is immediately snuffed and made irrelevant. Its purposes being that Van Helsing is introduced as Dracula’s rival (Though really just a convenient way to explore his motivations), and Mina is meant to create a foundation after her husband — later serving as this story’s ‘Torchwood’.

Though the story’s greatest sins happen almost immediately in the pilot.

First, by having Dracula take ‘Jonathan Harker’, the original novel’s protagonist, as his wife… which seems progressive move but then emphasizes that Dracula is not gay… then spends literally the next three episodes sexually voracious with female victims and in orgasmic sexual embrace. Though never touching the queer thing ever again or addressing it personally. Unless you consider episode two’s queer couple a subject, though even then it’s a closeted affair that’s also proven irrelevant once Dracula murders all the parties involved. A convenient ploy the narrative uses a lot in the three-episode series.

Why is it avoidant? Because this Dracula is fake-woke. And I’m definitely not a ‘woke’ person myself but I can definitely call bullshit when it wreaks in the air.

 

Other Plot Holes and Sins

There’s a lot of these. Some more forgivable than others but in total: overall make a pretty piece of shit total story.

If you thought that “I don’t drink… wine.” was bad then be ready for other cringe-worthy one-liners such as: “You’re Killing Me.” or “It’s Fast Food.” when talking about Dracula murder victims. And no, in context it’s not any better than out of context, so I’ll just leave them here.

There’s also a really bad message about Lucy, not only slut-shaming the girl but also making her only desirable and obsessive attribute: her beauty. Which is upsetting compared to the original storyline I mentioned above. Also, surely enough, there’s a big error where Lucy is accidentally cremated and forced to live as an undead charred to a crisp monstrosity of which Dracula takes no responsibility for — a common aggravating characteristic he plays with throughout the series.

There is also a lot of scientism behind Dracula in this one, but with little actual science. British Atheism being a popular talking these days, the series denounces religion, then does a shite job looking into Dracula’s avoidant behaviors through fear-based psychology.

It inevitably proves his vulnerabilities to be less causal or chemically related and more psychological. Which makes a little sense and would be compelling… except for the fact that turning into dust via stakes are still quite real, sunlight is still avoided, and the rules for Dracula, for some reason, are the exception in a lore filled world that establishes undead and other vampires? All also real. All also seen in the Lucy’s episode 3 storyline.

So why or how the rules are different for Dracula compared to other undead vampires and zombies? Yeah, I have no idea.

That’s what we call a BIG GAPING PLOT HOLE.

Which is very annoying because 75% of the series is dedicated to answering, or should I say, half-assed answering, these very questions. And while it may seem interesting FOR DRACULA, it again makes no sense given how we use the other creatures such as the little vampire boy, Staking Lucy, The Zombies, and Dracula’s Bride (who doesn’t disintegrate like Lucy does by the way?), all for convenient sensational storytelling.

With science about as accurate and akin to logic, as much as say a person jumping out of a drifting moving car is in the fast and the furious franchise.

BBC’S AND NETFLIX’S DRACULA MAKES AS MUCH SENSE AS A FAST AND THE FURIOUS MOVIE

Let me also say that in the novels, Blood is symbolic for classism and power. It’s very religious and tied together with the Jesus Christ symbolisms: Dracula’s obsession with blood and the whole Sacred Wafer/Body of Christ element being the object which purifies Dracula’s Coffins throughout England.

Inevitably making his 50 coffin beds null and void. All of which is useful in the plot and probably serves better in The Fury of Dracula board game than it has in any relevant recent Dracula story.

 

For a fun video on that. Check out one of my favorite episodes of Tabletop. Yes, I’m plugging this. Mostly to get me through writing this review

I mention these because it is important in the good/evil battle, King versus King, Royalty and Bloodlines, all in Dracula, but not this version as it’s all thrown out the window for the sake of convenience. Especially, as it doesn’t interest this adaption. Which I can forgive, as many others have also omitted it in their Dracula adaptions.

There’s just one very stupid world-destroying element that the show relies on which I think is what ruins the series for me personally.

I want to bring back a problem I mentioned earlier. That Red Flag I talked about in that first scene. Probably the most offensive and conveniently stupid device that I should’ve realized was ruining the story.

We see Dracula as a Transylvanian with a heavy accent. Who, after feasting on Jonathan for a prolonged time… slowly becomes… British for the sake Steven Moffat doesn’t know how to write NOT THE DOCTOR.

Why is this bad?

Because when we introduce this, we now introduce the rule that when Dracula feasts, he is gaining the skills and knowledge when sucking on someone’s blood. Something which they lavishly use in this series.

For any iZombie fans, you’ll sort of see why this is sort of a big problem. Dracula REALLY SHOULDN’T be able to pick up on thoughts, ideas, memories, and cultures this easily. Especially just to fit in Steven Moffat’s traditional Whimsical fast-talking character he likes writing. Why?

Because it’s a MAJOR FOIL in the overall theme of Dracula.

The vampire must learn to adapt to the times. It’s a problem of immortality. This has always been the case in his story: to break loneliness it seeks companionship, friendship, and those who can teach him to be relevant in the current age.

It’s a major trope not only in Dracula but has become one established in Vampire Fiction. Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. And even dare I say it: Twilight. Dracula needs a companion and the themes of toxic masculinity and a man forcing himself upon others becomes prominent all throughout.

All because of a lack of education and a desire to adapt culture. You don’t need companionship, or knowledge for that matter, if your victims are also your knowledge pool. Your internet on crack.

YOU CAN’T MAKE IT SO CONVENIENT THAT A VAMPIRE JUST NEEDS TO EAT TO UNDERSTAND.

This is fucking stupid. Because then, we now have an unhinged Dracula who doesn’t need companionship to grow as a person: he just needs to eat.

All the time. The End. No Story.

But for some reason this story, still heavily reliant on the loneliness themes of the vampire and his ‘feeding’ in which inherently preys on victims… still utilizes it without realizing making Dracula This Degree British killed his own story. Completely destroying character with convenient Blood Knowledge.

Thus, making vampirism, on the whole, make absolutely no fucking sense. Just eat, live, and be happy. Which we sort of see by episode three, especially after Dracula gains a lawyer (Renfield) to defend his… civil rights?

I’m not even going to start why this is incredibly fucking stupid.

Worst of all, is that when you remove that level of needed intimacy from Dracula… it’s just solely focused on him. Which is indulgent and boring and often, severely over sexualized. Especially between Dracula and Agatha (Really? Even their names rhyme?! Jesus, this is lazy writing).

This is in fact, revealed to be the point and pinnacle of the story in a very Sherlock and Moriarty or The Doctor and The Master type of way.

Which is nice… Except it’s been done before. By Moffat. In everything he’s ever done the past ten years.

And if you’ve seen his other two shows… Sherlock or Doctor Who, you’ll soon see this is the EXACT. SAME. THING. Same dynamic. Same characters. Lazy writing.

 

Final Take

It’s maddening because the first show of the new year I’m reviewing is starting on an awful note and I strictly blame BBC for setting this up as an easy post-holiday binge.

Let me save you time by saying it’s better to watch The Witcher or Mandalorian for the 5th time than ever watch this drivel again. This show needs to be burned at the stake.

Atop of this, I’m in agreement now that Moffat has shown to be an utter failure in learning how to adapt his writing as he is a one-trick pony. Writing the same exact character for the past ten years.

He also has no idea how to write women — their greatest accomplishments in every series he’s ever produced — are almost always overshadowed in support of a male leading character. Serving as the both object of his sexual affections and often inevitable conquest — with no room for independent growth or development on their own.

This has been the case in both Doctor Who (With Amy Pond, who grows an immediate infatuation with the doctor only to become another love object for Rory) and Sherlock (With Mrs. Watson whose great narrative arc serves as a poorly developed plotline of loss for John Watson by series finale).

This show being a perfect and most toxic example of why Moffat needs to go back to writing school. As I can barely name a single woman in Dracula who isn’t his food or sexual object. Agatha Van Helsing’s being the worst example: yet another strong woman becoming an object for sexual gratification in yet another Moffat project, using a final utterly unnecessary sexual tryst with Dracula in her final dying breaths as he metaphorically and quite literally… eats her to death… for both of them.

But hey, it’s The Doctor as Dracula.

Final Score: 1/10

One point for being a ‘Dracula’. That’s it.

 

You Can Watch How Awful Dracula is on Netflix. But seriously, don’t.

 

 

About Christian Angeles

Christian Angeles likes to watch the moving pictures. He also listens to words on the page and writes in ways that make people feel things. All on a laptop. Sometimes from an app on his phone. You can follow him on Facebook or Instagram. Read his literature reviews on goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/xnangeles. Or read his articles in NewBrunswickToday: http://newbrunswicktoday.com/author/christian-angeles

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One comment

  1. Wow. So I saw this…

    Usually I’m defending Moffat against rabid criticism, but here I just can’t. For years he bent over backward to accommodate (only to be slammed anyway for not bending enough), but here I feel he has bent himself all the way around, winding up with his head wedged up his rectum. Perhaps, though, he has finally satisfied those social-radical “fans” he was always chasing.

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