Go here to access all of the episodes of the Frankenstein, MD series.
Frankenstein, MD is a scripted multi-platform web series adaptation of the classic Mary Shelley novel, Frankenstein. Developed by Lon Harris, Brett Register, and Bernie Su; produced by Pemberley Digital; and distributed by PBS Digital Studios, the series aired episodes every Tuesday and Friday on the PBS Digital Studios YouTube channeland the wrapped it's first season on October 31st, 2014.
The series reimagines the title character of Frankenstein as Victoria Frankenstein (Anna Lore,) a PhD/MD student focused on her career and asserting herself in the male-dominated realm of science. With help from a colleague, Iggy DeLacey (Steve Zaragoza), she creates a YouTube science show in which she explains complex biological and medical concepts to a general audience. As she conducts her research, the story unfolds to reveal unexpected dangers for everyone involved.
Victoria’s blog gives extra background information and further explores topics from the show, while videos from her friends on Pemberley Digital’s channel are also available alongside Victoria's twitter, facebook, tumblr, and instagram accounts, all adding to the multi-platform experience.
The series starts off with Victoria Frankenstein and her colleague, Iggy DeLacey, introducing their new Youtube series: Frankenstein, M.D., where Victoria explains a different scientific or medical concept each episode and conducts experiments according to the topic. She uses her colleague, Iggy, or two of her childhood friends, Eli Lavenza and Rory Clerval, in many of her experiments. The first hint of a story arch emerges when Victoria is questioned by the ethics committee of the university, who consider whether or not to expel her for breaching certain ethical standards in her experiments. However, she is defended by Dr. Abraham Waldman, who serves as both her advisor and her foil--attempting to ground her in reality when it comes to her zealous attitude towards the possibility of great and lofty scientific advancements, and he reminds the committee of her contributions to their program.
During a sleep-deprivation study it is revealed that the show's camera operator and editor, Robert Walton, has gone on an adventurous mountaineering expedition to Alaska, leaving Victoria and Iggy to conduct their show temporarily unaided. During the end of the study, Victoria receives a phone call informing her that Walton has had an accident in Alaska and consequently died.
Continuing her series, Victoria deals with the emotional aftermath of Robert's passing while simultaneously medically explaining his cause of death. She does not accept the finality of his death, however, and states: "Hundreds of years of bad theories and junk science have made us think about life and death as an either-or proposition. But as we've already seen, life isn't simply black or white. Biology is messy. I'm cleaning up after it all the time. To blithely declare Robert beyond saving without even considering other possibilities...It's like dumping his remains in a shallow grave." She goes on to propose that they consider the steps a "more adept, ingenuitive" practitioner might have taken in order to save Robert's life, despite the fact that he was pronounced dead on the scene. Dr. Waldman confronts Victoria about this idea, telling her that Robert is now beyond the limitations of science and medicine, to which she responds: "Then science and medicine need to expand."
In the following episodes, Victoria tackles the concepts of 3D-printing bones, skin grafting, and raising body temperature without damaging tissue, practices that she proposes could have been used theoretically on Robert. Skin grafting is the topic of discussion when Victoria reveals to Iggy that her intention in these recent experiments is to revive Robert's corpse. Through the following experiments, Victoria attempts to prove her concept of being scientifically able to reanimate Robert, though she claims she knows that this reanimation will merely inhabit Robert's body and not be the old Robert, but an entirely new life.
Before attempting to reanimate Robert, Victoria and Iggy succeed in thawing a frozen rat and restore it to life. It's motor functions seem to be in order, but when they place the reanimated rat in with the other lab-rats to test its social ability, they are alarmed to find that after a short period of time the other lab rats begin to attack the reanimated one which results in its death.
Finally the day of Robert's reanimation attempt arrives and Victoria and Iggy document the process. The experiment is successful, leaving Iggy fearful of what they've created and what is to come, while Victoria remains driven to complete the process by educating and providing therapy to the Creature. But when Iggy returns to the lab, while Victoria is teaching the Creature to walk, and switches on the lights, the Creature becomes frightened and reacts violently. Victoria takes an injured Iggy to safety, assuring the Creature that she will return for him but the Creature destroys her lab and Victoria returns to her home in Geneva as advised by Dr. Waldman.
Victoria hypothesizes that the part of the brain that controls fear and aggression may have sustained injury in Robert's original accident or during the thawing process and that may explain the reason for his irrational, emotional state, aggression and lack of impulse control. No one has reported seeing the Creature and Victoria assumes that he has died, as he doesn't have the resources or knowledge to sustain himself. Both Clerval and Lavenza attempt to persuade Victoria to take some time away from science, but she insists that what she really wants is to get back to her lab.
Over the next few days, Victoria and Lavenza spend time together tracking reported sightings of the Creature and Victoria begins to worry that the Creature may still be alive and dangerous. Iggy and Dr. Waldman have begun their own search for the Creature independant of Victoria. At the same time, Clerval goes on a camping trip, is separated from her friend during the trip, and her body is later found. While the police come to the conclusion that Clerval's death was a fatal accident, Victoria is convinced that her Creature is behind it.
Dr. Waldman calls unexpectedly to warn Victoria to flee Geneva, asserting that she doesn't have all of the facts and that the Creature is coming after her. He also sends Iggy to check on Victoria and Iggy confesses that he and Dr. Waldman had been keeping the Creature alive in the beginning. He reveals that the Creature had come back to the lab after Victoria left for Geneva and Iggy and Dr. Waldman had given him the transfusions and antibiotics he needed to survive. Victoria is outraged that Iggy did not let the Creature die, but Iggy asserts that he did it for her--so that she would have a second chance at the success she so desperately wanted.
She decides to search for the Creature together with Iggy, but while Iggy hopes to sedate and recapture him to continue their work, Victoria decides she will kill the Creature when they find him. Instead, the Creature finds her first at her home and she attempts to injure him using a syringe but it has no effect. He also surprises Victoria by referring to himself as "Robert" and having learned how to speak. While not incredibly coherent, the Creature still manages to relay his request: he doesn't want to be alone. He asks Victoria to make her recently deceased friend, Clerval, into a new friend like himself.
While Victoria and Iggy prepare a random corpse for reanimation, to serve as the Creature's friend, Victoria decides that she can't go through with the process. She, in reflecting on her prior actions and their consequences, decides that she is no longer the same person and could never repeat the process that resulted in death and destruction. She decides she is going to abandon a career in science altogether and destroy all of her documentation of the process leading to the Creature's creation. She also prepares to flee the country with Lavenza, both confessing their feelings for one another. However, merely seconds after the new couple's first kiss, the Creature appears demanding his "friend like him" and murdering Lavenza when he tries to defend Victoria. The series concludes with the Creature, leaving Victoria crying over her deceased boyfriend, saying: "Frankenstein and Robert, alone. Together."
Science and its limitations
It becomes clear within the first few episodes that Victoria does not believe that anything is impossible within the scientific realm. "We've mapped the human genome!" she asserts to Dr. Waldman in episode 2, "We've grown human ears on rats, and we've cloned sheep... The only limitations on science are the ones people put there because they're scared, or weak." It is her zeal and refusal to take 'no' for an answer that makes her both a great scientist and a terrible scientist. The series illustrates that while her attitude of no-limitations enables her to do what no other scientist has before, it also blinds her to the dangerous consequences of those actions.
Dr. Waldman confronts Victoria on her worldview of science with no limits in the same episode, saying, "Artificial blood aside, you shouldn't pretend there aren't limits. I would hate to see you bang your head against indestructible walls [...] I am confident that you're going to go on and do great work just as [your mother] was going to. That's why it's so important that you apply your skills where they're most needed. Where your intelligence can do the most good." Dr. Waldman, rightly, worries that Victoria's unbridled zeal will lead her away from, rather than towards, a successful career in science.
Victoria hears very little of his concerns, stating at the end of the episode, "The point is, everything is impossible...until someone figures out a way to do it. And when I say someone, I mean me." It is a combination of optimism and ego that support this worldview, a worldview that will lead to the creation of Frankenstein's Monster and prove Dr. Waldman's original worries to be right--as Victoria abandons science altogether as a result of her experiment gone awry, rather than having a long, successful career in science and publishing results that would better the world.
Women in science
The transformation of the original novel's Victor into a female incarnation ,Victoria Frankenstein, opens the series up to explore issues that women in the science field encounter. Victoria finds it extremely important to become a successful scientist, not only for her own ego, but to prove in the male-dominated fields of medicine and science that women are just as capable.
When confronted by Dr. Waldman about the head of the ethics committee's worries, she retorts, "That fossil doesn't think women have any place in advanced research [...] When my mother was a student, he told her she should forget research and focus on starting a family." Even Waldman betrays a bit of a shared view with that of the head of the department, which suggests that the view is one running deep within the the structure of the scientific fields, when he responds that, to be fair, women have the trouble of trying to balance research with a family life, but trails off in the end and concludes, "It was a different time," when Victoria squints back at him.
Victoria, in episode 15 of the series, shows how deeply her feminism plays into her zeal to succeed when she declares, "Then they'll have to admit that a girl, just like the ones they ignore, and ostracize, and belittle, unlocked the mysteries of life and death."
The theme of community is one intrinsic to the original novel, so it is no surprise that the idea of community is presented through this adaptation. Victoria struggles with community precisely because it is community that tries to put restraints on her fervour for experimentation. Both Clerval and Lavenza try to convince Victoria that she spends too much time alone in her lab and bring up times from their childhood spent together that seem happier, by comparison, because she was with them and not isolated.
Throughout most of the series, Victoria rejects the idea that she needs community. In episode 15, she states, "Sure, you might alienate friends and colleagues...But in the end, the quest for knowledge--humankind's intractable struggle to know, and by knowing, conquer the natural world--well, that makes it all worthwhile." To Victoria, community must take a backseat to scientific advancement and whatever the consequences of that prioritization will be inconsequential to the results her hard work will undoubtedly produce.
However, after the Creature's escape, Victoria comes to realize over time how important community is to her. She lives in her father's house and spends her days with Lavenza by her side, helping her track the Creature. Before her untimely death, Clerval often drops by and the three reminisce about their childhood together. Victoria has turned to community in her darkest hour, rather than running away to be alone again.
Victoria comes to conclude in the final episode that in dealing with the Creature she's created, she needs her community more than her genius. "I can't stop him by myself," she says, "I understand that now."
There have been some criticism of the series in regard to the application of safety guidelines not being followed throughout the series and that this disables the audience's 'suspension of disbelief' while watching. Gloves are rarely used while conducting experiments, even when handling a deceased lab rat; no protective gear for the scientists' ears are used while a handgun in fired in the lab as part of an experiment; Rory brings food in for them to eat in the lab, etc. Some viewers also complain that inconsistencies in the format lose the show's credibility. For example, in episode 18 Victoria and Lavenza don't seem to be recording a vlog at all--as in the previous 17 episodes--and the episode seems shot entirely without anyone's knowledge. The format then resumes the vlog format in the beginning of the next episode and seems to abandon it again by the end. This inconsistency contributes to an audience grappling with the necessary suspension of disbelief.
Despite these criticisms, the series has been received moderately favourably. It scored an 8.1/10 on IMDB and has received a good deal of interaction from fans over social media who can even interact directly with the developers to gain insight into some of their choices for the series.
Significance of the Series
Notable changes to Mary Shelley's original novel, new and borrowed, have been made to this adaptation of Frankenstein and make it a successful and engaging retelling for a digital age. The gender-swapping of Victor Frankenstein to Victoria Frankenstein and Elizabeth Lavenza to Eli Lavenza may be one of the most apparent changes the show makes and it opens up a dialogue for the female scientist and her place in the field as well as the struggles female scientists today endure to garner as much respect and acclaim as their male counterparts.
The addition of Iggy as Victoria's assistant is a direct nod to former adaptations through time which introduced "Igor" as
Frankenstein's assistant, though the character is absent in the original novel. Iggy serves as comic relief in the series and often breaks the fourth wall in his allusions to the Frankenstein story, such as his "Yes, Master.." comment made in jest, and suggesting that Victoria just call the monster Frankenstein, in reference to a modern audience who have come to know the Creature by the name of Frankenstein over time.
In this way, the adaptation opens a space for both the Frankenstein reader and the viewer who may only be familiar with Frankenstein of pop culture. Severals nods are made to the novel and previous adaptations but never the series never falls into the trap of alienating an audience that may be unaware of them.
Victoria's emotional journey and conclusions differ greatly from the original towards the end of the series, as she seems to come to conclusions that Victor never could about her need of community and the danger of her ego, and these conclusions seem to borrow heavily from commentary on the original novel over time. After all, the production team responsible for this series is no stranger to adaptation. They are responsible for similar projects: The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved which adapted Jane Austen novels to similar formats. What makes these adaptations so engaging is that, in this media, they are taking on a new form of adaptation.
There is an educational aspect to the show. While deeply rooted in fiction, a lot of the simple science checks out and may be intended to get young consumers interested in science while being entertained by the story. But rather than simply being a video series to passively watch, the project aims to become an interactive and engaging experience for the audience. They can follow the story in the videos alone, but they can also read Victoria's blog and memos to university students distributed by Dr. Waldman, they can follow Clerval on twitter, and they can check Victoria's instagram updates and comment as if the viewer is a part of their fictional world. In this way, the adaptation communicates in a unique way that may especially resonate with young consumers who are deeply engaged with social media in their day-to-day lives.