Dracula Who? The Lessons Moffat should learn from his days with the Doctor

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Jun 26, 2017

Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, the showrunners behind Sherlock and Doctor Who (clarifier: Gatiss is only a writer on Who), are trading in a detective and a timelord for a vampire. The vampire, really: Dracula.

As a Dracula fan and someone who has certainly consumed a lot of media written and produced by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss over the years, I thought why not start a conversation here at SYFY WIRE about what might be, what could be, and what absolutely should NOT be.

Based on my familiarity with Moffat and Gatiss's work on Doctor Who and Sherlock, here be a list of Dos and Don'ts for the next Dracula TV Series...

DO: Let Dracula be a creep

This might seem obvious, but considering how sexy vampires can be, it's important to remember that Dracula is not a very nice person. Like Sherlock Holmes, Drac is not really meant to be the entry point for a story on account of the fact that he's not terribly relatable or decent. Dracula has three wives, man, and he doesn't like ANY of them.

I'm not saying go full 30 Days of Night, but keep in mind that, even in the original book, Dracula, like Sherlock in the beginning of the BBC series, is engaging to some, but still mostly a creepozoid. In the Hammer movies, he mostly turns women into vampires to get revenge on their dads and boyfriends and such! While I'm not sure anyone should go so far as to take all those women's agencies away, I think Moffat and Gatiss were smart to make Sherlock a real ass#$%!, and I think Dracula should be at least a little worse. I mean, he's Dracula.

DON'T: Make it all about Dracula

There are a lot of characters to pull from, especially if you're looking at the full Dracula oeuvre. And if there's a common complaint about both Doctor Who and Sherlock, it's that there's a tendency with both Moffat and Gatiss to make them the most specialist special in all the land and focus on them more so than anyone else. And that, friends, is a huge mistake. You need a world to believe in and care about if you're going to be impressed by the Doctor or Sherlock or Dracula. If the Doctor can do literally everything (even ride a motorcycle), then what is the point of his companions? And Dr. Watson is supposed to be the entry point with Sherlock Holmes, so if he's sidelineed, then what's the point of him? Dracula has a host of characters who who should share as much, if not more, screen time as he does.

There's Lucy and Mina and Jonathan and Van Helsing and, again THREE WIVES, and a host of others to focus on, which all adds up to: just let Dracula be a part-time player, especially at the beginning when you're world-building.

DO: Play up Dracula's wives

So, generally speaking, Dracula often has three wives who he kind of treats badly while seeking out even more women to canoodle with. And I will say this: I think most adaptations do not give the wives their due, especially considering modern storytelling.

I talked about this back when I revisited Hugh Jackman's Van Helsing because those Dracula wives were pretty solid. Moffat, though, has a somewhat infamous tendency to make what's called "Moffat women" who are all sexy and snarky, and whose lives are totally tied up with the Doctor's.

It has occurred to me that at least the first two bullet points there are probably fine (and maybe even good) for a wife of Dracula. I mean... they are probably going to be at least a little sexy and almost certainly they will be manipulative and sly. Really, the only thing I'd hope Moffat and Gatiss would be mindful of is that the wives could very easily exist outside of Dracula's purview; they can be doing their own thing. More River Song from "Silence in the Library" and less River Song from "The Wedding of River Song," I guess is what I'm driving at here.

DON'T: Fixate on long-form narrative

I feel like I should be addressing this statement to most showrunners these days, but most certainly both Moffat and Gatiss have really flung themselves overboard with the desire to have every single thing connect with every single other thing. Moriarty doesn't need to secretly be directly responsible for every crime Sherlock looks into, and Dracula shouldn't be the only vampire in town, either.

Much like Sherlock Holmes, I think a Dracula series would be better served by being more procedural and episodic rather than being overwhelmingly serialized. Rather than a soap opera, the story could be about Lucky, Mina, Jonathan, and Van Helsing looking into strange cases and otherwise living their lives. This links up with the "Don't make it all about Dracula" bullet point, in that the more the show is about just Dracula, the more everything weird happening in his world will be primarily tied to him.

DO: Be scary

This is effectively the most obvious thing to say. The Weeping Angels, the Silence, Cybermen coming out of graves... Moffat likes to creep people out. And, yes, absolutely a Dracula TV series should make you jump clean out of your skin, at least on occasion. There will always be an element of the Gothic Romance in a Dracula story, but it should also be incredibly ghoulish at times. I think Renfield as a character, especially, could be one of the scariest characters to come to TV in a long time.

Dracula is, again, kind of a creep. And he's not always just a creep of the sexual deviant variety, either. Sometimes he's a psychic creep. And the idea of him invading someone's mind could also lend itself to some great psychological horror.

DON'T: Mess with the origin

Have y'all seen BBC's Jekyll? It is very interesting, but it gets more and more ridiculous as time wears on. It is also a Moffat series, and is yet another example of him taking on a well known ficitonal character. Dr. Henry Jekyll, in this case, winds up being created by a secret society and is a clone and also his mother is a Mr. Hyde type and... oy, it just goes on and on and on. It would've been enough to have Henry Jekyll make a serum and, in his hubris, release a dangerous side of himself he denied existed. But, instead, it's conspiracy theory central. And then it got canceled before all the set-up could be explained.

I know that Dracula is a known element, but I think most people would agree that they don't need conspiracy theories to make him more interesting as a result. Don't Dark Universe Dracula. Universal is already doing that. Just let Dracula be an especially powerful vampire and leave it there. We don't need to know that Dracula is part of a secret society that even he doesn't know about, or some such.

And that's about it from me! If you have some advice for Mr. Moffat and Mr. Gatiss (I'm sure they're SYFY WIRE regulars), feel free to post your own thoughts on what you want from them (and what you don't).