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Episode 986: Down in the Science Dungeon

“Why? Why alter a human being?”

“Let me begin,” the doctor says, “by saying that man is chemical in his composition.” Oh boy, here we go.

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce the simpering Dr. Cyrus Longworth: a man, a plan, an apparatus. That’s him back there, behind the equipment, workshopping his defense attorney’s closing arguments.

We’re in another weird basement science dungeon today, one of those makeshift conceptual sets made of equal parts brick, stone and middle school classroom. There are wire cages holding a rabbit and a guinea pig, quietly munching on carrots and wondering why they ever got into show business. The apparatus isn’t bubbling and nobody’s having their head removed yet, but give them time; they’re just getting started.

But I’m interrupting Dr. Longworth, who has a theory to expound that you may find difficult to swallow. Still, people used to believe that the sun was flat.

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So man is chemical in his composition, is Dr. Longworth’s point. “Now, if the proper compound was distilled and administered to a human being,” he says, “this chemical composition could be radically changed — radically altered — and I’ve been working on this composition.”

“Why?” his friend Chris sighs, because you have to say something. “Why alter a human being?”

“Now let me also say this,” Cyrus continues, refusing as usual to acknowledge a reasonable sanity check, “that man is not one person. He is two. One is good, and the other is — well, let us say for scientific conversation — the other is evil.”

Naturally, this is not actually science talk; it’s mad science talk, which is a whole other department. It’s also a little hard to take seriously, because I’ve known several men, and as far as I could tell, there was one apiece, thank goodness. Dealing with one man is hard enough. Still, I’m game for a recount. Somebody go out and get me a man.

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Sorry, Cyrus is still talking. “Now, these two people are within each of us,” he says, posing next to a mirror for metaphorical purposes, “and they are always fighting against each other. But if these elements could be separated — just imagine the possibilities! Evil could go its own way, completely free of any aspirations or remorse that are foreign to it, and good — good could have its own life, free of any struggle against evil impulses or hostile thoughts!”

And that’s it, that’s the whole plan; everything after that is just bookkeeping. We separate the two men, and evil goes its own way, with good, presumably, following behind him, offering apologies and paper towels.

It’s hard to think of a practical use for this technology, unless you want to disrupt the philosophy industry, but presumably Dr. Longworth has some kind of an idea how to monetize this. Evil does seem to be pretty lucrative, especially these days.

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So it’s another narrative collision, is what I’m saying, where they take another story and throw it head-first into Dark Shadows, just to see what happens. This time, it’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the 1886 Robert Louis Stevenson novella about a worried lawyer.

The weird thing about adaptations of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is that nobody has ever actually produced one, after 130 years of trying. The story is about Gabriel John Utterson, a lawyer who’s perplexed by his friend and client, Dr. Henry Jekyll. The doctor appears to be under some obligation to a despicable little man named Hyde, and nobody knows why Jekyll appears to be cleaning up, every time Hyde’s criminal behavior creates a mess. Utterson engages in a kind of low-speed chase for clues to help him understand Jekyll’s behavior, which goes on for a year and a half, until he finally breaks into Jekyll’s laboratory and finds him dead on the floor. That’s the first three-quarters of the story.

The final quarter of the story is a letter — Henry Jekyll’s Full Statement of the Case — which finally tells his version of the story, 74 pages in. This is presented as the killer’s confession in a murder mystery — a way to explain how the clues all fit together, and to tie up the loose ends. The reader hardly sees Jekyll “on-camera” in the story itself, and even less of Hyde; besides a few choice examples, most of Hyde’s wickedness is presented as suggestion.

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But that’s not very good box office material, so literally every adaptation ignores the first three-quarters of the story and just dramatizes the conclusion, doing the whole story from Jekyll’s point of view. In Dan Curtis’ 1968 telefilm version, there isn’t even a character named Utterson.

So all this time, they’ve basically taken the last two pages of a mystery novel, and made that the story. It’s kind of like if Star Wars only made the three prequels, and they never had the moment where Darth Vader tells Luke, “I am your father,” because a) everybody already knows that, and b) they forgot to make a movie with Luke in it.

That being said, Jekyll and Hyde is a great choice for Dark Shadows source material, because it’s got a lot of the features that a soap opera needs: rising action, mysterious wills, deceit, costume changes, sporadic outbreaks of violence. It’s got arresting visual hooks, and crazy props. It’s amazing that they haven’t done it already, it could’ve fit into 1897 with no questions asked.

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So bring on the mad science, boys; it’s been a year and a half since we had any, and it’s great to see an apparatus again. The only things that can really compete with an apparatus are a werewolf and a magical severed hand, and unfortunately, we’re not going to see those on the show anymore.

Bring on the beakers with colorful fluids, the chemistry words, the villains and victims and unintended consequences, the transformations and the audience-pleasing slide into decadence. Most of all, bring on the bunny, who is actually two bunnies, the good bunny and the evil bunny, except one of them is a guinea pig, and you’ll never guess which. Stay tuned for more on this story as it develops.

Tomorrow: Truly Two.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

In the opening narration, Michael Stroka trips over the word “dissolute”.

In the first scene of act 1, the boom mic doesn’t pick up one of Quentin’s lines very well: “Forgive my abruptness.” The mic picks him up fine in the next sentence.

At the top of act 2, a studio light is visible as the camera pans from the clock to the drawing room.

Quentin dials eight numbers when he calls Maggie’s sister.

When Quentin slams the cottage door, the wall shakes.

Bruno asks Amy, “Who do you know — how do you know who I came to see?”

Amy is listed as “Amy Jennings”; she’s actually Amy Collins in Parallel Time.


Behind the Scenes:

There’s a multi-colored afghan in Parallel Time, too, and today we see it on Bruno’s piano. We last saw it in November, when Megan was using it as a blanket.

Tomorrow: Truly Two.

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Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

30 thoughts on “Episode 986: Down in the Science Dungeon

  1. Cyrus’s mad science lab needs one more crucial prop – a wisecracking mynah bird like Jerry Lewis had in The Nutty Professor. “Dan Curtis said that mustache looks like a t*** – SQUAWK!”

  2. It seems that the Jekyll and Hyde story was a popular subject for film treatment in those days. There was the Hammer Films version, The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, in 1960:

    https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/M/MV5BNzUzNjU5ODI0Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTM4MTUyMQ@@.V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL.jpg

    Then there’s the Amicus Productions version, I, Monster, from 1971:

    https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/M/MV5BMTIzNzkzODQ1NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzI2NjcyMQ@@.V1_UY268_CR3,0,182,268_AL.jpg

    I feel that the Longworth/Yaeger character(s) is where Christopher Pennock really comes into his own as an actor on the show. His debut as Jeb Hawkes was a bit precarious, caught up in a meandering storyline playing a hollow creature with no soul and with no precedent to draw upon for guidance. No wonder he was breaking shopfront doorbells.

    But now the story theme and character are both clearly delineated, with plenty of conflict to build on. He can at last find a comfort zone and play with a bit of range; his Cyrus Longworth is convincingly mousy, and his John Yaeger is done with great gusto and style.

    1. I was thinking, too, that some of Christopher’s best acting is in this time frame. And really, Cyrus with his little glasses is just so darn cute!

  3. Quentin dials eight numbers when he calls Maggie’s sister.

    Not necessarily a blunder. From Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven-digit_dialing

    A long distance call within the same area code could often be dialed as 1+7D, without using an area code. The scheme relied on the second digit of an area code being 0-1 and the second digit of a local exchange being 2-9. This dialing plan was broken by the introduction of area code 334 and area code 360 in 1995.

    I have always wondered about the morality of anyone who would split a person into 2 personas one all good and one all evil. Are they really happy that a completely evil person is just running around committing chaos? Why do that? Just so you can lose any reason to feal guilty? So as a moral issue Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde never made much sense to me.

    1. Dang, that’s right! I’d forgotten that, but i remember doing it myself. Oh well, I like the parallel-time-has-more-digits theory better.

  4. I’m amazed no one brought up one of the best and funniest (in my opinion) adaptations yet of Jekyll-Hyde story, “Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde” (1995) with Tim Daly and Sean Young. The non-gratuitous story-line-related shots of Tim Daly’s exquisite posterior are not to be missed — it’s on youtube in full as of this moment at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFf9khNkOtc . In fact, youtube appears to have quite a variety of Jekyll-Hyde adaptions, including a silent 1920’s version.

  5. BTW. Tim Daly’s orbs of exquisiteness, the magnificent mounds themselves, can be seen at 58:15 and 59:20 for those of you who may be interested. God bless youtube!

  6. On the subject of adaptations, the 1953 Classics Illustrated version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is as true to the source as can be (save for Hyde being maybe a little too ugly). It’s superb. (The earlier version, from 1943, is probably the all-time worst CI adaptation–just horrible beyond imagination. So, of course, I love it…)

    The 1953 comic got me reading the original, so it did its job.

  7. Stevenson’s brilliant novella was an allegory of drug addiction. The Jekyll/Hyde personality split described in the story–to say nothing of Jekyll’s addiction to evil–is typical of drug addicts and alcoholics (maybe that’s redundant, since alcoholics are drug addicts).

    Just think of the novel as a late 19th century public service message (“This Is You on Drugs”).

  8. “There are wire cages holding a rabbit and a guinea pig, quietly munching on carrots and wondering why they ever got into show business.” I’m gonna have to use that quote, somehow, somewhere. Or, rather, my inner John Yaeger will do it for me.

  9. I remember reading somewhere that Robert Louis Stevenson actually had a dream/nightmare (maybe drug induced?) in which he saw the start of the first transformation of Jekyll into Hyde. His wife was concerned and woke him up. Stevenson was mad at her for waking him up – he wanted to see how the transformation would go. I believe it was this dream which inspired his story…

  10. Another version is one of Abel Salazar’s Mexican horror adaptations, “The Man and the Monster” (1958) (El Hombre y el Monstruo), in which a concert pianist turns into a Hyde-like monster I believe when certain music is played. (This was in exchange for the pianist selling his soul to the devil.) Some of these great classics of Mexican horror were sometimes inadvertently comically dubbed into English by K. Gordon Murray. And of course, who can forget the wonderful comic mash-up of Jekyll-Hyde, “My Fair Lady” and “Mary Poppins” (and possibly some other classics), the Gilligan’s Island dream sequence in the episode “And Then There Were None,” in which, in the dream, Dr. Jekyll/Gilligan becomes Mr. Hyde whenever food is mentioned… see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kITTN0k4u9k

    1. I’m glad someone mentioned that one. Even though it’s very good, I have a real bias for Mexican horror films IN GENERAL. Especially I guess late ‘ 50s to mid- ‘ 60s ones, which are thought of as a “Golden Age” of them (people are always comparing them to ‘ 30s and early ‘ 40s American horror films, because they’rs so full of “atmosphere”).

  11. In case anyone might find it of interest – and if it’s OK to mention my own writing in here – i, rather coincidentally, did a review of a rather interesting version of the Jekyll and Hyde story a week or so ago: http://wearecult.rocks/fear-with-udo-kier-part-three-bloodbath-of-dr-jekyll

    Now, i shan’t try to compare Chris Pennock (much though i like him) with Udo Kier of course – and certainly not Henry Kaplan with Walerian Borowczyk – but these little serendipities in life do so amuse me.

  12. I remember reading that one of the reasons the Granada TV versions of Sherlock Holmes were as faithful to the Conan Doyle stories as they were, was that Jeremy Brett insisted on it rather forcefully. (One time tipping the writers’ table over in frustration.) He kept a copy of Conan Doyle on set for reference. He quite rightly pointed out that people kept saying this or that had to be changed for a screen adaptation, but they really had no way of knowing that since a faithful filmed version had never even been attempted before.

    You can really tell when Brett’s declining health robbed him of the energy to care so much about that particular fight.

  13. I must admit I’m confused about my own motivation for watching this show: is it because I want to partake in a cultural phenomenon or because I enjoy hate-watching? I think it might be the latter because this show has so many elements that really frustrate me. It’s a mammoth undertaking for me to suspend my disbelief as much as this show asks.
    The faux-Jeckyll/Hyde storyline is another in an ever-growing list of examples. It’s never really clear how much Longworth knows or remembers the actions of his alter-ego. Sometimes he appears genuinely surprised to learn that something bad has happened and wonders if he is responsible. Sometimes he seems aware of what Yaeger has done and tries to cover it up.
    I’m glad that they decided to get rid of that atrocity of a rubber nose that Yaeger wore in his first few appearances. I have to laugh at the way his transformation to and from his alter-ego occurs: almost instantly and with a complete change of clothes.

    1. …his transformation…occurs…almost instantly and with a complete change of clothes.

      Well, I suppose that clothing IS chemical in its composition. Those are his evil clothes (though I had no idea that clothes could be good or evil).
      See? You CAN learn things from TV… 🙂

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