Don’t believe a certain newspaper critic! As well as “Doctor Who”, there is plenty to look forward to on television over the Christmas and New Year holidays. Much of it has connections with recent episodes of our favourite time-travelling drama, admittedly, but that’s by-the-by. To begin, Elisabeth Sladen is returning in her very own spin-off adventure series, reprising her role as Sarah Jane Smith, on New Year’s Day in an hour-long pilot episode entitled “Invasion of the Bane”. You can catch Billie Piper, once again seeking to answer the questions surrounding her father’s death, on this occasion as Sally Lockhart in Philip Pullman’s “The Ruby in the Smoke”, on 27th December, both on BBC1. There’s also the final three episodes of “Torchwood” premiering on BBC3 for the last time as next year’s second series has found a new home on BBC2. Noel Clarke’s episode, “Combat”, can be seen, initially, on Christmas Eve with “Captain Jack Harkness” and “End of Days” debuting on New Year’s Day. But, one of the dramas I’m most looking forward to watching, over the festive period, is BBC1’s new adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic vampire novel, “Dracula”, on 28th December.
“Dracula” has appeared on both the big and small screens on numerous occasions. I grew up watching Christopher Lee’s, for me, definitive portrayal of the Count in seven Hammer Horror versions of the saga. He began making them in the late Fifties with Peter Cushing as his nemesis Van Helsing in the original and best film. They were only reunited for the final two but set in the present day of the early Seventies! My personal favourite is the fourth, “Taste the Blood of Dracula”, which might even qualify as my favourite movie of all-time. The character did appear in an eighth Hammer outing, “The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires”, but not played by Mr. Lee. And, despite the title, the earlier “Brides of Dracula” does not feature the Count but still beautifully combines the gothic with the romantic. Many may sight Bela Lugosi’s interpretation as the one by which to judge all others. Eight years before he became the seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy appeared in the Laurence Olivier version starring Frank Langella with Donald Pleasance and Trevor Eve. And, more recently, Gary Oldman has played the part opposite Anthony Hopkins and Winona Ryder in Francis Ford Coppola’s operatic treatment of the story.
It’s been a while since the BBC last made a version of “Dracula”, nearly thirty years! The “Doctor Who” production team of the time had to shelve plans to make what eventually became the vampire story “State of Decay” to avoid a conflict of interests. Ironically, produced by ex-“Doctor Who” director Morris (“The Tomb of the Cybermen”) Barry, this 1977 television version of Stoker’s fable was directed by Philip Saville. It starred “Gigi” and “Octopussy” actor Louis Jourdan in the title role with Susan Penhaligon and Judi Bowker as his intended victims while Frank Finlay is out to stake him through the heart. In the BBC’s new rendering, directed by Bill Eagles, “The Vice” and “Hustle” actor Marc Warren takes the lead, forgiven for the dire “Love & Monsters” episode of “Doctor Who”, Lady Penelope and “The Girl in the Fireplace” actress Sophia Myles plays Lucy (pictured at the top under the mesmeric influence of Dracula) while her innocent friend Mina (pictured above with Lucy on the sands at Whitby) is played by Stephanie Leonidas. Timothy Spall’s son Rafe plays solicitor Jonathan Harker who travels to Transylvania to sell Dracula a London property but never returns and, topping it off, is “Poirot” actor David Suchet as archrival Abraham Van Helsing. “Love never dies.”