Before I begin, let’s get this obligatory message out of the way first: the series we are about to review is intended for mature audiences. It contains adult themes and strong language throughout.
Ok, with that out of the way we can discuss the latest in our Six Degrees of Who articles.
As most of you know, the idea behind these articles is to find connections with other shows that have some links to Doctor Who and then explore those themes. Sometimes that is done simply by the actors involved while other times, it is a thematic link. With that in mind, Jekyll has both. It stars James Nesbitt who you may recognize from The Hobbit and Gina Bellman who you may recognize from Leverage (which is also chock full of Doctor Who references!) Meera Syal and Fenella Woolgar play private investigators. You probably remember Meera from The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood as Nasreen Chaudhry and Fenella as Agatha Christie in The Unicorn and the Wasp. Lady Christina De Souza, from Planet of the Dead, played by Michelle Ryan, is Dr. Jackman’s assistant. Paterson Joseph, from the game station in The Parting of the Ways, is one of the villains of the piece. Mark Gatiss appears as Robert Louis Stevenson, too, tying the reality to the fiction in a way we’ve seen Doctor Who do on many occasions. Oh, and the entire six-part story is written by Steven Moffat. Well, that covers the stars. What about concept?
We’ve seen the Jekyll/Hyde story done time and again. Doctor Who has plenty of references to it in its long history, but perhaps one of the best is Planet of Evil where Professor Sorensen goes through a very painful metamorphosis after messing with antimatter. His greed for notoriety controls him and changes him. But Jekyll has never been done like this. Never have we been behind the good guy and the bad guy! Nesbitt shows that we can root for both without betraying either. Gina Bellman’s Mrs. Jackman gives us a new and frightening realization about love and it’s probably one of the scariest realities of the story. Paterson Joseph is a man who gets a new understanding of pride while trying to manipulate Hyde. The entire story surrounds the mystery of Jackman: who is he and why does he have this affliction? Its part action, part mystery, all drama, and loads of fun.
I found the series in 2007 five weeks into its original broadcast. Since the subject of duality has always fascinated me, and the story of Jekyll and Hyde was always the epitome of that concept, it felt like a show worth watching. And by that time, I was well aware of what an amazing writer Steven Moffat was, having loved The Empty Child, The Girl in the Fireplace and Blink. The best part was that I found it right after episode 5 aired. After getting caught up, I only had a day to wait to see the final episode.
The story follows Dr. Tom Jackman who coexists as Edward Hyde. But within the opening moments of the story, the subtle music, the tension… it pulls you in like a fly in a web. And it’s nearly impossible to stop watching it. There’s too much to say to give the story all the credit that it deserves, but I’ll acknowledge a handful of relevant things. First, Nesbitt is fantastic. His performance as both Jackman (Jekyll) and Edward (Hyde) is amazing; in some ways his performance is subtle; in others it’s wildly different. I’d rather not elaborate on that so I don’t ruin the surprise when you see it. The first interaction with the Hyde character paints him a certain way, but as all good writers know, no character is really one-dimensional. And remember, Moffat is a good writer!
It should also be noted that, like Sherlock, this is a modern day telling of the Jekyll legend but during the exposition sequence in the final episode, everything makes sense bringing the legend into the picture as well. I think it’s important to say too, the exposition is not the typical talking-to-explain-it-to-the-audience that has become so common place. It is brought together visually.
The thing we often forget is that we are always juggling personalities. We will act differently with children than we do with adults; friends vs coworkers, equals vs superiors. It’s important to acknowledge why we do it: to some extent it’s a survival mechanism and we do it automatically. It’s a part of our nature: we adapt! When Robert Louis Stevenson wrote the original story, he was telling a story, allegorically, about the repressed social norms and what might happen when they are unleashed. This story continues that tradition with a caveat. When The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen came out, that formula was part of the plot: it was sought after to create more of Mr. Hyde. But what if the formula was a fluke; a flawed batch of a chemical that cannot be repeated because it wasn’t what it was supposed to be? Or what if there’s more to it altogether? Again, I’ll leave the surprises to your viewing habits.
I decided to write this because over dinner with some colleagues last week, I brought it up. One of them decided to watch the first episode last Friday night. She completed the whole series before going to bed. It dawned on me that it had to be recommended. But it is important to remember, this is an adult drama. Syal and Woolgar are lesbian detectives. There is quite a bit of vulgarity and there is a scene between Tom Jackman and his wife that is definitely for a mature audience. But the miniseries is intense and almost impossible to stop watching and, unlike so many American shows, it knew when to stop. It told the story and then was done. And the ending does what a good story should: it makes us wonder. That’s something that will always be on my good side! ML