Claes Bang is the Dracula of this interpretation, met initially as an old man but ultimately all youthful charm and sneering evil as the flowing blood rejuvenates him, his veins pulsing with the promise of a sprawling London just waiting to have its circulatory system drained. Perhaps because of Gatiss’ well-known devotion to the genre, Bang is less of the Oldman vampire and much more closely tailored to Lugosi’s.
Poor John Heffernan’s Jonathan Harker, as with the original novel by Bram Stoker, seems nudged sideways in the story in favour of the infinitely more fascinating Sister Agatha Van Helsing, played by Dolly Wells. Vampires and nuns and Van Helsings, oh my! This is indeed both a Dracula for the modern world and the ages.
Wells is crisply written, and the series oozes with Gatiss in its veins. Though the Dracula story itself is steeped in drudge and seriousness – the novel is beyond dense – Gatiss seems to borrow a dose of camp from the larger horror genre and transfuse it nicely here. This Dracula is all charm, wry and dry, and while the series plays for very serious scares, it also knows how to milk a moment for its lightest touch.
There are also some brilliant smaller casting touches. Joanna Scanlan, who proved she can mine both mirth and pathos out of a moment, is brilliant as the mother superior. And Catherine Schell, a former 1970s-era science fiction postergirl, returns here as the magnificently aristocratic Duchess Valeria.
Just why this works and another interpretation does not – most recently, in the UK in 2006, and in the US in 2013, television adaptations were produced – perhaps lies less in how the larger strokes are drawn and more about the fine print.
There is no doubt that Gatiss and Moffat are brilliant writers, but that alone is not enough. The X factor here might be Gatiss’ devotion to the genre, generally, and to the character, specifically. Dracula the caricature is, by virtue of over-mining, a tiresome cliche. But Dracula the man, drawn here in three dimensions and an unsettling mixture of loathing and charm, is a masterpiece.
Dracula streams on Netflix.