They're call­ing 'In­di­ana Jones, but scarier..." Ian Ber­ri­man is on set for ITV's thrill-packed new take on Jekyll And Hyde

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ITV’s new take on the tale.

Not of­ten does some­one snag a showrun­ner job by ac­ci­dent, but that’s pretty much what hap­pened to Char­lie Hig­son af­ter he was called in for a chat by ITV. “I pitched it by mis­take!” the au­thor/ for­mer Fast Show star ex­plains. “ITV wanted their equiv­a­lent of Doc­tor Who, their own in- house fam­ily drama. They said, ‘ We want some­thing big and bold with el­e­ments of fan­tasy, hor­ror and ad­ven­ture. It needs to be a known brand, some­thing quintessen­tially Bri­tish, but some­thing you could do a twist on. I said, ‘ So some­thing like Jekyll And Hyde?’ and they said ‘ Bril­liant! Can you write us a treat­ment?’ I said, ‘ I’m not pitch­ing the bloody thing, I’m just try­ing to work out what you want!’ And they said, ‘ That’s ex­actly what we want.’”

Hav­ing ac­ci­den­tally landed the gig, Hig­son had to fig­ure out an ap­proach that would work in what we’ve come to think of as the Doc­tor Who/ Mer­lin/ Primeval times­lot. The key to un­lock­ing it: con­sid­er­ing Robert Louis Steven­son’s 1886 novella The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde as the source from which su­per­hero sto­ries stem.

“It was the birth of so many things which are still cur­rent now,” Hig­son says. “That whole idea of the al­ter ego, the se­cret per­son­al­ity – it feeds into all that su­per­hero stuff.”

Tom Bate­man stars as Robert Jekyll, a de­scen­dant of the orig­i­nal doc­tor whose pow­ers – su­per- hu­man strength, speed and near- in­vul­ner­a­bil­ity – are the re­sult of a ge­netic in­her­i­tance he ini­tially has no knowl­edge of.

“I came up with this idea that the Jekylls have al­ways had this abil­ity to change who they are, but it’d laid dor­mant,” Hig­son ex­plains. “Through tak­ing po­tions the orig­i­nal Jekyll awoke some­thing la­tent within him, and the grand­son’s in­her­ited the same thing. He starts to change in the first episode and doesn’t know what the fuck’s go­ing on!”

There’s an ob­vi­ous is­sue with spin­ning fam­ily- friendly fod­der from Steven­son’s con­cept, of course. Though the book’s dis­creet about Hyde’s crimes, he’s cer­tainly a mur­derer. We’re also given an ac­count of him bru­tally tram­pling a child un­der­foot.

“Per­fect idea for a kids’ se­ries,” Hig­son laughs, “the most evil man in the world! He can’t do too ter­ri­ble things. Here it’s more about let­ting go of re­pres­sion, do­ing all those things you’d like to be do­ing but think, ‘ I’d bet­ter not, I’m a nice re­spectable per­son.’ Jekyll and Hyde have the same aims but go

about it very dif­fer­ently, and once Hyde’s let out of the bag he’s hard to con­trol. It’s that In­cred­i­ble Hulk thing re­ally, in that he’s des­per­ately try­ing not to let the Hulk out and you as the au­di­ence are go­ing, ‘ Come on! Go green!’”

Find­ing some­one who could master both as­pects of the part was a chal­lenge. Pro­ducer Foz Allan ex­plains that Bate­man won out be­cause he was one of the few au­di­tion­ees who could – and yet still re­main like­able.

“It’s a big ask,” Allan ad­mits. “We saw 40 or so young ac­tors, but very few could do both. Then we had a cou­ple who could, but their Hyde was too dark. Tom is fan­tas­ti­cally af­fa­ble, and you sense that in his Hyde. You want to spend time with this guy. You couldn’t have cast An­thony Hop­kins in The Si­lence Of The Lambs, some­thing gen­uinely hor­ri­ble and cold. It would have de­stroyed the show.”

Another key as­pect of the set- up is the time pe­riod. Rather than “do­ing a Sher­lock”, Hig­son plumped for lo­cat­ing the se­ries in the ’ 30s – an era he knows well from his Young Bond books.

“I felt there was a lot we could feed into that,” Hig­son says. “The great thing about the ’ 30s is it was the birth of the mod­ern hor­ror film, so I’m try­ing to put in my ver­sion of all those Uni­ver­sal mon­sters. There’s a ver­sion of Franken­stein, a Drac­ula fig­ure, zom­bies and were­wolves…”

For Foz Allan, the se­ries also has a flavour of another fran­chise ini­tially set in that era: “I think it’s In­di­ana Jones, but scarier.”

Time to take a quick stroll around some of the sets at Jekyll And Hyde’s stu­dio base. First up, part of Jekyll’s Lon­don home. A por­trait of his grand­fa­ther hangs on the wall, as do mounted boars’ heads – a sub­lim­i­nal re­minder of the fam­ily’s strug­gle to over­come beastly im­pulses?

Next, a swish art deco of­fice which would suit any high- rank­ing civil ser­vant… if it weren’t for some of the more out­landish or­na­ments, like a cab­i­net crammed with an­i­mal skulls. A doc­u­ment on the desk de­tail­ing “Op­er­a­tional Com­mit­ments” is stamped “TOP SE­CRET”. This is the ter­ri­tory of Richard E Grant’s Sir Roger Bul­strode, head of MI0, a shad­owy gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion whose modus operandi re­calls Torch­wood, or Be­ing Hu­man’s Men in Grey.

I’m try­ing to put in my ver­sion of all those Uni­ver­sal mon­sters

“Their job’s to re­move mon­sters and any­thing supernatural from the public do­main so peo­ple know noth­ing that’s go­ing on,” Hig­son says. “In the first episode there’s this young guy join­ing who says, ‘ Are you pulling my leg? There aren’t any mon­sters!’ And Richard E Grant says, ‘ That’s be­cause we’re so good at our job…”

In keep­ing with the du­al­ism at the heart of the tale, MI0 is just one of two di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed or­gan­i­sa­tions that Jekyll/ Hyde be­comes en­tan­gled with, the other be­ing Tene­brae ( Latin for “shad­ows” or “dark­ness”) – ba­si­cally a league of mon­sters.

“These two or­gan­i­sa­tions are com­pet­ing for his soul,” Hig­son ex­plains. “If he goes to his Hyde side he’ll lean to­wards Tene­brae; if he goes to his Jekyll side he’ll lean the other way. But he doesn’t trust ei­ther.”

In­ci­den­tally, not all of those mon­sters are up­dates of the Uni­ver­sal hor­ror pan­theon, as Foz Allan re­veals: “There’s a7’ 4” man with a huge lob­ster claw. There’s peo­ple who kiss you to death. The Harbinger is a dog with a man’s head. Then there’s Mr Wax and up­side- down- face lady…” If noth­ing else, it sounds like this se­ries has the mak­ings of a fan­tas­tic range of ac­tion fig­ures.

Step­ping into Jekyll’s lab, a dingy, faintly Bat­cave- ish subter­ranean space, we dis­cover that du­al­ism’s ex­pressed in the sets too, when de­signer Ca­trin Meredydd points out some­thing we hadn’t spot­ted: “We de­cided that one half was very much tiled and or­dered and like the Un­der­ground sys­tem, and the other was rock face, un­hewn, a wilder side of him.”

It also ex­ists in the form of not one but two love in­ter­ests. On the one hand there’s “nice girl” Lily, played by Stephanie Hyam.

“She be­comes the em­bod­i­ment of ev­ery­thing pure and good that Jekyll wants to pre­serve,” Hig­son ex­plains. “But the trig­gers for Hyde are hor­monal – fuck or fight – so any­thing that might arouse him too much he has to back off from. So he’s con­stantly get­ting into sit­u­a­tions with Lily where he has to pull away be­cause he doesn’t want Hyde to emerge.” Then there’s Bella, played by Natalie Gumede. “She runs this crim­i­nal em­pire from a pub, and is deal­ing with crime and vi­o­lence ev­ery day, so he can re­lax and be him­self. When he’s Hyde he goes and hangs out with her. But she doesn’t just ac­cept that – it’s like, ‘ You only turn up when you’re drunk!’ So there’s a lot of fun to be had with that.”

The im­por­tance of in­ter­weav­ing be­liev­able re­la­tion­ships with the fan­tas­ti­cal el­e­ments is some­thing Hig­son came to ap­pre­ci­ate af­ter his pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence of genre TV, the 2000- 2001 re­vival of Ran­dall And Hop­kirk ( De­ceased).

“I loved do­ing Ran­dall And Hop­kirk, but I didn’t quite man­age to pull it off,” Hig­son re­flects. “What Rus­sell T Davies man­aged to do with Doc­tor Who, re­ally clev­erly, was keep all the fan­tasy and sci- fi, but marry it with a very real, strong dra­matic core with Rose and her fam­ily. So I’m try­ing to make the re­la­tion­ships strong and in­ter­est­ing so you can buy into that, and then ac­cept all the more fan­tas­ti­cal stuff.”

If rat­ings are good, Hig­son has plenty of ideas for where the show can go next: “I had to do rough sto­ry­lines for se­ries two and three to prove it has legs.” So why should peo­ple tune in?

“Be­cause it’s the sort of thing that I’d have loved to watch when I was 14. There’s a lot of fight­ing, lots of mon­sters, a lot of CGI and stunts. It’s a big, bold, ex­cit­ing, fan­tasy ac­tion- ad­ven­ture se­ries of the type that

we don’t make enough of here.”

Hyde was known to over­re­act to spilt beer.

Tom Bate­man plays the re­spectable Jekyll, and the un­con­trol­lable Hyde.

Richard E Grant heads up MI0, the gov­ern­ment’s mon­ster- con­trol di­vi­sion.

The new show is set in the ’ 30s for a mod­ern hor­ror, In­di­ana Jones feel.

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