Published on May 21st, 2014 | by Dapper Dan0
Penny Dreadful – Episode 1 “Night Work”
Victorian London? Gothic Horror? Enigmatic & dangerous female lead? I’m in!
Last night saw the UK premiere of Penny Dreadful, the new drama collaboration from the US channel Showtime and the UK’s Sky Atlantic. When I first heard about the show, I saw it was being produced by John Logan and Sam Mendes, responsible for arguably the best James Bond film of the past 30 years; Skyfall. To say I was excited would be somewhat of an understatement. I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Victorian-set fiction. From Flashman to Frankenstein, it’s a wonderful period to explore in fiction.
With a very recognisable cast including Bond alums Tomothy Dalton and Eva Green, Penny Dreadful is an extremely good looking show. From the cast, to the costumes, to the sets and the locations, you can see where the money has been spent. The opening credits remind me of other US cable hits such as The Walking Dead, True Detective, American Horror Story and True Blood. Very stylish, very atmospheric and aimed at telling the viewers that they are about to watch something special.
If you’ve ever read Kim Newman’s excellent Anno Dracula book, then you might feel like you’re on familiar ground, here. Set in Victorian London, after the Ripper killings, Penny Dreadful weaves together a number of characters that should be instantly recognisable to you with a number of new ones you’ll get to know. That it does so in such a way as to not feel wholly forced, is a real credit to the script. We do not find out a great deal about our cast in this first hour, but I feel like we are shown enough to be drawn in and want to learn more.
In-keeping with the best of TV, the season is going to be relatively short, at only 8 episodes, but this should mean the plotting will be tighter and we won’t have to suffer through filler episodes. (One of my personal bugbears are 22 episode seasons that DRAG. Agents of SHIELD, I’m, looking at you here…)
Here be (minimal) spoilers…
Josh Hartnett’s down-on-his-luck gunslinger, Ethan Chandler, is recruited by the mysterious Vanessa Ives (played with wonderful poise by Eva Green) to aid in a missing person case. Sir Malcolm Murray is trying to locate his daughter, Mina, and needs someone with Chandler’s particular skillset to aid in this endeavour. Those of you with an eye for detail will have already realised that Sir Malcolm’s daughter is Mina Murray, heroine from Stoker’s Dracula.
A surprisingly gory and fast-paced encounter below London leaves our heroes with a very peculiar corpse and the realisation that the person or creature they are looking for in connection with Mina’s disappearance is not a one-off. Chandler specifically is flabbergasted by the events he has found himself in. For a man who has travelled the world, he has never seen anything like this before.
When faced with a body you need examining off-the-record in Victorian London, one finds oneself resorting to the more shady side of the surgery business. In a period where medical students had to purchase grave-robbed corpses to practice on, Sir Malcolm takes his prize to a man who seems to be Penny Dreadful’s answer to Dr Gregory House. This young man, for who expected social niceties seem a step too far, is called Victor and has a fascination in understanding why and how the human body works. His examination of the corpse yields several discoveries, some expected, but more that are not.
The remainder of the hour sees plots being weaved for the season. Sir Malcolm visits the British Museum to seek clarification on details of the corpse he showed Victor. An almost offhand reference to a possible return of The Ripper to London’s streets, coupled with a rather graphic shot of two dismembered corpses suggests someone will stand revealed as a monster. We see Chandler returning to Sir Malcolm’s home and having an electric meeting with Ms Ives, after the events below London. Honestly there’s palpable chemistry here, almost as much as young Victor’s laboratory, which brings us nicely to: What Victor Did Next.
Young Victor is (not surprisingly) confirmed to the viewers as being Victor Frankenstein, and has his famous experiment in a secret lab. The seconds to the end of the episode tick ever closer… There’s a power surge in the lab…
Next week, the game is well and truly afoot as we meet one of Oscar Wilde’s most famous creations and Billie Piper joins the cast. Oh yes, and one hell of a cliffhanger!
Penny Dreadful? Penny Awesome, more like.