Warning: Dracula spoilers ahead.
Dr Jekyll. Sherlock Holmes. Count Dracula. Between them, screenwriters Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have dramatised three of the best known 19th century literary characters from the UK and Ireland. Might a fourth be on the way?
A crafty Easter Egg in episode three of Dracula may suggest so. Around 56:00 into the final episode, Mark Gatiss’ character Frank Renfield is seen sitting in his car completing a cryptic crossword. He reads aloud the following clue:
‘Unscrupulous doctor deployed tanner’s knife (12)’
The solution to the clue is Frankenstein (‘unscrupulous doctor’ is the definition and ‘deployed’ is the anagram indicator for tanner’s knife, which rearranged, makes the name Frankenstein), not that Renfield knows it. Under Dracula’s thrall, he fills the entire grid with variations on ‘Dracula is my lord.’
Adding significance to the reference is the fact that said crossword is no mere prop. It’s only glimpsed in the scene but was created in full by a pal of Mark Gatiss. Look closely and you’ll see that the puzzle was set by ‘Sphinx’, the crossword-setting pseudonym of writer-actor-director Steve Pemberton (The League Of Gentleman, Inside No. 9).
Cruciverbalist Pemberton played a character who set crosswords under that name in Inside No. 9 series three, and the very puzzle he set in that episode appeared in The Guardian newspaper on the day it aired.
The rest of the Dracula crossword (try it for yourself here) features solutions largely related to the classic vampire: Bela Lugosi, exsanguinate, cross, disinters and so on. ‘Frankenstein’ is the only other reference to another 19th century literary character. Could it be a hint for Gatiss and Moffat’s next BBC miniseries? (That said, another solution is Loose Woman. Perhaps a gritty remake of the ITV lunchtime chat show is really what’s next on the cards for these two…)
Speaking at the launch of this year’s three-part BBC One Dracula, Moffat joked that the pair were working their “way down the list of plagiarism”, having moved from the most-filmed literary character of all time in Sherlock Holmes, to the second most-filmed in Count Dracula. Victor Frankenstein and his creature would make a fine addition to that set.
Next up for Steven Moffat is a four-part BBC crime thriller Inside Man, due to go into production in late 2020. His adaptation of The Time Traveler’s Wife was also announced by Hartswood Films in autumn 2018, and there’s a big screen version of Jekyll also in the pipeline.
Mark Gatiss has a couple of film performances on the way, with The Father starring Olivia Colman, and John Madden’s WWII drama Operation Mincemeat. It’s also become tradition for him to adapt an M.R. James ghost story for the Christmas BBC Four schedule.
Their next joint project though, is yet to be announced. Could this sly hint be the first indication that a Moffat-Gatiss take on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is secretly in the works? If so, it’d be the first major TV adaptation since Jed Mercurio’s 2007 version for ITV starring Helen McCrory as Victoria Frankenstein, a modern-day update to the original tale, and the Sean Bean-starring reimagining The Frankenstein Chronicles.
Watch Dracula on BBC iPlayer here and on Netflix outside of the UK.