DRACULA (2020) S01E03 “the Dark Compass” review

Dracula airs new episodes across three nights on BBC One this week in the UK and will air internationally on Netflix.

Synopsis

Count Dracula has made it to England – a new world pulsing with fresh blood – and lays his plans to spread his foul vampire contagion. But why does he set his sights on the seemingly ordinary Lucy Westenra?

Review

After two episodes of 19th Century action, Dracula did not end anywhere near how I expected it to. Even during the cliffhanger of episode tow (reviewed here) I thought I knew where Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat were going to take us next, but I was very much wrong!

I have to give a huge round of applause to both writers for being able to take the story in a bold new direction which honours Bram Stoker’s original text, but tells an entirely unique story.

Regardless of whether I feel “The Dark Compass” successfully landed the series or not it has has to be said that Moffat and Gatiss did an excellent job of not just re-telling the same story we see every time a “new” Dracula is made.

“The Dark Compass” is easily the most frenetic of the episodes, it has much more in common with Sherlock than it does the preceding two episodes. Most likely this was done on purpose to reflect the contemporary setting. It further emphasises that all three episodes of Dracula could be classed as a different genre with only Dolly Wells and Claes Bang tying the narrative together.

This episode is very much the gothic romance that I had not expected as Dracula and Zoe Van Helsing, descendent of Agatha and also played by Dolly Wells, goes head-to-head with Dracula who is now very much the fish out of water.

During the 120+ years that Dracula has been asleep a lot has changed. It seems that Mina Murray (not seen since episode one) was ver busy after Dracula let her escape the convent. She setup the Jonathan Harker Institute alongside the Van Helsing family and has been preparing for Dracula’s eventual return.

If you thought, like I did, Dolly Well’s character on the beach was a vampire version of Agatha Van Helsing who had been waiting all this time then you were sorely mistaken.

At this point the story of “The Dark Compass” reached a tipping point. It seemed that Dracula was about to position the titular character as the victim and Van Helsing the aggressor. The series almost created a mirror image of its first episode by having Zoe Van Helsing wield power over Dracula. If only he hadn’t cracked the wi-if password!

Despite running at breakneck speed for much of the episode there was still plenty of room for humour and horror. Dracula’s reasons for escaping the Harker Institute were brilliantly comical yet rooted in real societal rule. He, technically, is human and therefore does have human rights.

On the horror side of things the mix of a zombie-like child and a charred Lucy Westenra (Lydia West) wandering around London. Once again the special effects makeup is outstanding and I fully expect some awards nominations for the series in future.

Where I take issue with “The Dark Compass” is in its decision to lean in to part of the story I hadn’t even perceived up to this point. A sexual tension between Agatha Van Helsing and Dracula. With very little life left due to cancer, Zoe drinks a sample of Dracula’s blood and suddenly a plot thread which has been dangling all season comes to the fore.

“Blood is lives.” Dracula says.

He’s said it in all three episodes and suddenly it begins to make sense. As much as Dracula takes on personality traits of those he feeds on, part of their soul remains in his blood. Through some crazy, but logical, science that means Zoe and Agatha get to meet and become one though I’m not really sure what the overall point of it was other than to make poor Dolly switch from English to Dutch accents mid sentence and ensure the Dracula/Agatha relationship is resolved.

The final sequence ties together all of the remaining plot threads and finally answers the lingering question of what ties together Dracula’s fear of crosses, sunlight and his inability to enter without an invitation. The logic for it felt a little contrived but was in-keeping with humanities opposing ideas about vampires. Likewise as Dracula bites Zoe one last time their combined deaths feel a little hazy within the narrative but stands as one of the most visually striking moments of the series.

Verdict

“The Dark Compass” is not the ending I was hoping for but is an undeniably huge gothic fairytale filled with bold twists and turns.

6/10

Dracula stars Claes Bang (The Square), Lyndsey Marshal (The League of Gentlemen), Chanel Cresswell (This Is England), Matthew Beard (An Education), Lydia West (Years & Years), Paul Brennen (Happy Valley), Sarah Niles (Catastrophe), Sofia Oxenham (Poldark), John McCrea (God’s Own Country), Phil Dunster (Humans) and Millicent Wong.


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By Neil Vagg

Neil is the GYCO Editorial Chief. He has a BA in Film & TV and an MA in Scriptwriting; he currently works 9-5 as an office manager and 5-9 as a reviewer/web designer. He has been subscribing to comics for around nine years but has been reading them as long as he can remember. Favourite comics: Batman; Nightwing, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and All New X-Men Favourite films: Batman (any apart from & Robin); Star Trek Generations, Underworld, Beetlejuice Favourite TV shows: Fringe; Buffy, Arrow, TBBT, Being Human UK and Star Trek TNG