What’s this Jekyll malarkey?

Everyone loves Steven Moffat's Doctor Who episodes. So should we be getting excited about Jekyll?

Jekyll

There’s a Hyde in all of us, truly. Unfettered by the constraints of social acceptability are versions of ourselves best kept hidden. That was the concept behind Robert Louis Stevenson’s original Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and now explored in the BBC production Jekyll.

Steve Moffat, fresh from a number of acclaimed Doctor Who scripts and previously successful Coupling, has unleashed the scenery-eating James Nesbitt as our modern equivalent to the infamous Dr Jekyll. From episode one it was clear that this wasn’t another outlet for the BBC costume department, or a vehicle for visually obscured make-up changes.

Jekyll puts forward the idea that Dr Jekyll was a real person, befriended by Stevenson, and related – somehow – to Nesbitt’s Dr Jackman. One major divergence is that there is no formula that Jekyll takes to become Hyde, it’s not an addiction but a battle in a bipolar sense between two warring personalities trapped in a single body.

Having forgone the tedious ‘I was experimenting, and something happened’ phase, the first episode jumps straight in with Jackman attempting to curb Hyde’s excesses by a regime of locking himself in an underground flat during the hours of darkness. To aid in this scheme he’s employed the implausibly attractive Michelle Ryan, who acts as a PA to both sides of his personality. She’s lovely to look at, but ultimately an obvious target for Hyde’s base desires, as transpires in episode two. Later this year we’ll get to see what she’s really made of when she returns better, faster and stronger as Jamie Sommers in the new Bionic Women TV series.

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Other strong support comes from Meera Syal as a private detective, and comic relief with her self promotional sideckick played by Fenella Woolgar. Denis Lawson plays the family friend with dubious motives, but the best of the supporting cast is undoubtedly Gina Bellman. She was famously ‘Blackeyes’ in the Dennis Potter play, and 18 years later she still got my heartbeat racing as yummy-mummy Mrs Jackman.

But this is Nesbitt’s gig, and he gets to strut his stuff as both the edge-of-insanity Jackman and the Lion King-loving Hyde. The physical changes between the two are minor, so it’s down to Nesbitt’s acting to make the transformation work. Despite descending into high-camp on occasion Nesbitt’s Hyde personality is remarkably watchable, and at his scariest when being courteous and controlled. Hyde is an overly coiled spring, eminently ready to unleash its energy on those who threaten him, or to be accurate Jackman.

In one scene he asks a disposable character, Benjamin, if he’d ever killed anyone, on being given a negative response Hyde replies with some relish, “You’re missing out. It’s like sex. Only there’s a winner.”

Moffet is obviously on form, and gives Hyde, and others, some great lines.

Episode one set the scene, two explored the potential of Hyde, three explains the super-secret organisation interested in the genetic implications of Jackman’s condition, and four presents a back-story to the changes that befell him.

By far the strongest episode so far for me was the second, including a remarkably bizarre and yet enthralling trip to the Zoo. While most of the action here is implied rather than shown, Hyde’s strength and speed is revealed when saving Jackman’s son from the unfortunate fate of Albert Ramsbottom. The retribution Hyde pursues on the person responsible demonstrates that there are no limits to what he’s capable of, or boundaries he won’t cross.

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We’re on the cusp of episode five, so what’s the prognosis? Overall, with the exception of episode four I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been different enough to make it stand out from previous interpretations, but it needs a real nail biting ending to have made the journey worth taking. There’s a danger it will go Carry On Screaming, where I’d really like to see it end like an adult Hulk… but without the green colouring.