The writing/producing team of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss bring to their new show, “Dracula” (a BBC/Netflix coproduction), the same style, flair and love for source material that they displayed in their very successful “Sherlock” series. If you’re a fan of that show, then “Dracula” should feel very familiar. While the story takes place in its original period (mostly), it’s got a modern sensibility, is laced with generous bits of humor and has at least one Hard Left of a Twist per episode.
This season of three 90-minute episodes (the same format they used with “Sherlock”) roughly follows the original Bram Stoker novel’s path of the Count: lawyer Jonathan Harker travels to Transylvania, where he encounters Dracula; Dracula boards a ship to get to England; he arrives in England. But as is Gatiss and (especially) Moffat’s wont, this new series injects some fresh blood into a classic. Part of the fun of the show is spotting all the elements from the classic story in their surprising, sometimes updated forms; another part is how the writers actually use that familiarity with the elements against the audience. Something you have every reason to expect doesn’t occur, or is presented in a novel, interesting fashion. Again, this is something they also did with great aplomb in “Sherlock.”
Count Dracula is played by the dashing and charismatic Claes Bang, who may be familiar from Ruben Ostlund’s Cannes winner “The Square.” Bang’s performance is tremendous, and if there’s any justice should make him as big a star as “Sherlock” did Benedict Cumberbatch. He gracefully, effortlessly shuttles between the different dimensions of the Count: aristocrat, warlord, horndog. He can be terrifying, sensuous, and at the drop of a hat, surprisingly funny. No mean feat. His character is ably challenged by Sister Agatha (Dolly Wells), a no-nonsense nun who specializes in the occult. They make a great pair, and you can see Dracula relishing the opportunity to interact with an intellect equal to his.
The three episodes also have different tones. The first, “Rules of the Beast,” is closest to the original novel in its gothic locale and desperate, hopeless atmosphere, though framed in a nonlinear interrogation that sets up its Big Twist and confrontation at the end. The second, “Blood Vessel,” is a bit of a bottle episode; the entire thing takes place on the ship Dracula takes to England, and is partly a sly take on an Agatha Christie-type mystery, except the audience knows exactly who the killer is. The last episode is the one that really takes a bold, ambitious, risky swing for the fences, and while thrilling, bites off more than it can chew. Overstuffed, some of the wholly new ideas introduced, capable of supporting an episode on their own, get sidelined for the main engine of the plot, which is mostly set up for the season’s final Big Twist, though one that isn’t especially impactful.
There are definitely enough dangling threads left should the creators (and audience) wish for more seasons, and it would certainly be interesting to see where they can take the new mythos of Dracula now that the deck is mostly clear as far as tackling the original novel. Time will tell if we get those stories, but it would be a shame if this were Bang’s only outing as the undead Count.