Charlie Higson’s excitable take on the Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novella “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” has lasted all of ten episodes before being cancelled by ITV. It’s a real shame too because while the show had its flaws, it also had tremendous potential which will now go unrealised thanks to ITV’s inability to understand or support anything apart from prestige detective dramas, vacuous game shows and onanistic reality shows featuring their latest crop of seedling ‘celebs’ from their ITV2 talent battery farm. Oh, and “Downton Abbey”.
Chief amongst the show’s flaws was that it was deeply derivative. Our Dr Jekyll, the grandson of the novel’s original split personality, may as well have been called Bruce Banner given his condition’s parallels to “The Incredible Hulk” while the larger arc concerning the rising of a demon and warring factions of order and chaos is pretty much lifted directly from “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”. Jekyll even assembles his own ‘Scooby Gang’ over the course of the first few episodes.
Despite its obvious borrowed foundations, what Higson builds has enough intrigue and innovation of its own to merit watching. The mythology he creates around the Jekyll/ Hyde legend provides some good bones to support the meat of the story and the updated setting to the 1930s works really well, giving it a very British period charm. The creation of an occult government department – MIO – is a stroke of genius and while they and Jekyll work separately for much of the early episodes, their appealingly contentious relationship would have been good to watch develop over the course of further adventures. We’ll never know if Tenebrae were to be the big bad for a season or two or would turn out to be a more ubiquitous adversary like SPECTRE but the point is, I wanted to find out.
Sure, some of the acting could best (and most charitably) be described as broad with Tom Bateman himself struggling to imbue his Hyde with anything but the goofiest of menace while Richard E Grant chews the scenery with such ferocity that I’m surprised any of the sets were left after ten episodes. Many of the other cast members are a little stiff and forced but no worse than many other series’ first seasons *cough* “Star Trek: The Next Generation” *cough*. I’m not sure the actors are entirely to blame as it’s clear that subtlety was not a priority for directors Colin Teague, Joss Agnew, Steward Svaasand and Robert Quinn and while the period details are realised well, the special effects and action sequences are somewhat clumsy and basic.
And yet, despite all these problems, the series has real appeal. Many of the problems could easily be ironed out in further seasons and the longer it develops and expands its own mythology, the less its derivative aspects would be so apparent. Like series 9 of “Doctor Who”, “Jekyll & Hyde” was placed in the wrong time slot and, ironically, each would have done better with the other’s schedule. Probably the most frustratingly damaging event for the series was the ‘record’ level of complaints it received about the level of violence in an early evening programming, many of these no doubt from Helen Lovejoy wannabes who were desperate for someone to ‘please think of the children’ (of which they probably had none). ITV chose not to blink and move the show later (maybe assuming all publicity was good publicity) and after they were forced to postpone episode four in the wake of the Paris attacks, simply gave up promoting and supporting the show.
In retrospect it was never a good fit for show and network. For all its desperation to find its own enduring answer to “Doctor Who”, ITV just hasn’t got the patience or understanding to nurture and develop a genre TV show. I can only hope that Sky, Netflix, Amazon or even the BBC can be persuaded to do a deal with ITV Studios to pick up further episodes of the show or buy it out altogether.
In the meantime, the best way to encourage the production of more episodes is not by creating well-intentioned petitions (and certainly not petitions to OFCOM who have no power or influence to order more episodes or commission productions) but by watching the ten episodes we were given. Buy or rent the DVDs or BluRays, stream the episodes (legally, of course – they’re currently available on Amazon Video in the UK) and make sure you watch them if they’re repeated on any of the ITV or repeat channels like Dave, Gold etc. If you haven’t watched it yet, give it a go. Its goofy and occasionally clumsy but it boast a pretty impressive cast (Donald Sumpter, Sinéad Cusack, the aforementioned Richard E Grant) and some pretty nifty ideas that deserve to be developed further.