In its third season, Penny Dreadful plunges even deeper into Victorian horror literature. Joseph McCabe goes monster hunting
As horror fans know, nineteenthcentury fiction is the gift that keeps on giving. Novels like Dracula, Frankenstein and The Picture Of Dorian Gray have fuelled countless adaptations on stage and screen, and served as the foundation for creator John Logan’s ongoing monster mash Penny Dreadful. Now in its third season, the series has won an ever- widening global audience for its take on the characters of Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley and Oscar Wilde. And in year three, supervising producer Chis King tells SFX, Dr Henry Jekyll, as played by Shazad Latif, will join the show, when audiences are presented with a new take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s exploration of good and evil in The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde.
“When we first started looking at the idea of doing a show like this,” says King, “we read all the books. We read The Invisible Man and The War Of The Worlds. We really went through the treasure chest of Victorian horror novels. Just to sort of get a sense of how those stories were told. That’s why Dr Jekyll has always been on the list of characters we wanted to explore.
“But only when the opportunity provided itself. We never wanted to feel like it was a forced situation. We wanted to make it a slow process. Because I think that’s also a bit more fun for the audience. You just never know who’s going to show up next.”
As King points out, Penny Dreadful’s Jekyll
will differ in at least one key respect from the doomed scientist of Victorian literature…
“We still try to be true to the novel, to the character, but John wanted to make him stand out and wanted to give context for what drove him to want to work with chemicals to change who he was. What’s interesting is we play with race here, because the character is of Indian descent. And being a man of colour in London 1892 was a tough call. We get a sense of Dr Jekyll feeling like an outsider. Just like all of our other characters on the show. But he’s truly an outsider. He doesn’t belong and no one wants him there. So it’s an interesting dynamic as to why he’s pursuing things to make him different or make him better or change who he is.”
Jekyll will also share a history with Penny Dreadful’s Dr Victor Frankenstein.
“We play with the idea that Dr Jekyll was a student at the same time as Dr Frankenstein, so they have a history together as two young students growing up in the medical field. It was a fun way of bringing these characters together. But it created a whole new dynamic for both our Dr Frankenstein and Dr Jekyll.”
Where goes Jekyll, so goes his monstrous alter ego. So should horror fans begin looking forward to a smackdown between Mr Hyde and Frankenstein’s creation?
“I can’t reveal all our secrets!” laughs the producer.
enter dr seward
In addition to Jekyll, season three will introduce another physician pulled from the pages of Victoriana – Bram Stoker’s Dr Seward; played ( in a bit of gender reversal) by veteran actress Patti LuPone. As therapist to Eva Green’s Vanessa Ives, Seward is tasked with overseeing the enigmatic medium’s mental reconstruction in the wake of season two’s harrowing events.
“We saw at the end of season two when she dropped her cross into the fire it showed that she felt abandoned by everybody, including her god,” says King of Ives. “The one person that she had all the faith in. So she’s faithless at the beginning of this season. She’s alone. Sir Malcolm’s off in Africa burying bodies, Ethan has been taken prisoner and is on his way to the Americas. She just feels utterly alone and lost. She’s a completely shattered person from the Vanessa that we’ve known. This sort of strong, powerful, very well put together woman changes into a broken child.
“The thing about Dr Seward is she’s trying desperately to help Vanessa, but she’s a woman of science. So the idea of the supernatural and the occult are things that for her aren’t necessarily grounded in reality. But eventually she comes around to understanding who Vanessa is, and who is behind all of the darkness inside of her.” LuPone appeared in season two of Penny
Dreadful as the now deceased witch Joan Clayton ( aka the Cut- Wife). But, adds King, “when the idea of creating someone who helped Vanessa came up, John said, ‘ I have to have Patti back.’ It’s revealed throughout the season that perhaps she has some sort of blood relation with Joan Clayton, with the Cut- Wife, so you’ll come to understand why the same actor is playing two different roles.”
As for Ives’ other ally, Ethan ( Josh Hartnett), in season three the werewolf adventurer serves as a means of introducing yet another culture to Penny Dreadful – that of Native Americans.
“While the empire was taking over Africa and India and wiping out cultures, in America it was taking out the Native Americans. What happened to those cultures that were killed or forced on to reservations with their land taken away from them… Yeah, we do play on that this season, with a character played by Wes Studi. His name is Kaetenay, and he has a very troubled history with Ethan’s character. We learn a lot about what happened at the time with Sitting Bull and all these horrible things that took place with all the various tribes in America. It’s an interesting world to explore, and to compare that with what was taking place in the UK. There are some interesting stories in the Native American culture and we’ve been able to pull some of those out and be influenced by some of those as well.”
Despite the horror in which it’s shrouded, King believes that a large part of Penny Dreadful’s appeal lies in its exploration of family and the ties that bind people together.
“Season one was all about bringing this family together – a very dysfunctional, dark and twisted family, but a family nonetheless. Then by season two, at the very end, we saw that family ripped apart. They’re all separated and scattered across the world. This season is about them understanding how much they need each other. And it’s all about realising what their destinies are. That leads us to season four, understanding a bit more about them and then going off and battling more dark and sinister elements.”
Is there any literary character who’s not yet appeared on Penny Dreadful that King would like to see in future seasons?
“There’s so many other really fascinating characters from that time period that we can slowly reveal and explore. I’ve always loved the Dr Moreau story [ The Island Of Dr Moreau]. I think there’s something fascinating there as well… But time will tell. We only have eight to ten episodes per season to try to tell these stories, and we’re gonna take our time.”
There’s so many fascinating characters from the time period that we can slowly reveal
Don’t singe your hair, mate.
Sir Malcolm Murray ( Timothy Dalton) needs a drink.
“If only we had some baked beans to warm up.”
Billie Piper’s Lily copies the pose above.
How to make one actress go a long way.