Jekyll, a British television series that ran for one season on BBC One in 2007, presents a modern-day continuation of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic story, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
The series follows Dr. Tom Jackman (James Nesbitt ), who does not realize that he is a descendant of Dr. Jekyll . Jackman is concerned by his inexplicable transformations into a dangerous, maniacal alter-ego (Hyde, also played by Nesbitt). Though Jackman initially manages to keep these changes secret from his family, he soon learns of his true identity and trouble ensues.
Synopsis for Episode 1
The first episode introduces Dr. Jackman, who is experiencing transformations that render him violent and unpredictable, and Katherine Reimer (Michelle Ryan ), a nurse hired to help him. Later, Dr. Jackman is shown arriving home and being confronted by his wife Claire (Gina Bellmann ) for leaving her and their twin sons for no apparent reason. She knows he is not having an affair because she has had him followed by a private investigator. Jackman will not tell her why he disappeared but realizes this information explains the mysterious black van that has been following him.
Jackman then confronts the private investigator, Miranda (Meera Syal). She reveals that the black van following him does not belong to her before running away from him in fear. Shortly thereafter, the audience gets their first look at Jackman's alterego--a manic, hedonistic sadist. After transforming back to his normal self, Jackman follows the private investigator and learns that she was paid a considerable sum of money to stop following him. She establishes his connection to the original Dr. Jekyll. Jackman had assumed the character was fictional, but Miranda shows him photographs of Jekyll, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Jackman. However, she reveals that Jekyll died before the publication of Stevenson's book because of his condition and that he had no surviving relatives, so Jackman's own background as an abandoned foundling needs to be investigated to discover why these transformations are occuring.
During this conversation, Jackman transforms into Hyde, who then learns of Jackman's family and tracks them down. The episode concludes with Jackman listening to a message from Hyde on the tape recorder they use to communicate with each other. In the message, Hyde claims Jackman's family as his own and strongly suggests that Jackman will soon be gone. Distraught, Jackman records his own message, emphatically telling Hyde that they are not his family and that if Hyde approaches them again, "it's war" between them.
The series is blatantly postmodern, especially in how self-referential it is to its original source text.
Self-Referential Acknowledgement of Original Story
In the first episode, two minor characters make direct references to Stevenson's novella. When Hyde becomes confused and antagonistic after Benjamin, a mysterious man who offers to tell Hyde about who he really is, addresses the former as Hyde, Benjamin mentions the book. He scoffingly asks if Hyde really doesn't know his own name and hasn't read the book.
Later, when Miranda and Jackman are discussing his condition, Jackman asserts that his problem is "unprecedented." Miranda responds by presenting him with a copy of Stevenson's text. Jackman admits that he had considered the possibility but dismissed it because the story was fiction. Miranda then reveals to him that Jekyll was real.
In both of these scenes, the series playfully but directly acknowledges its source text. These scenes serve as a rebuttal to naysayers who would dismiss the adaptation simply because it is an adaptation. In these scenes, the creators are acknowledging that is is ridiculous to claim an adaptation of the famous story is "unprecedented." Nevertheless, the series does bring its own unique spin to the tale, and in that way, some of the particulars of this adaptation are unprecedented within the world of Jekyll and Hyde adaptations.
Despite the identification of the source text within the series itself, the show features some significant differences in its portrayal of the characters. For instance, in the original story, Jekyll and Hyde look nothing alike. In this series, the two do look similar, with some slight appearance differences. Many of these changes, though, are acknowledged within relation to the original story.
For instance, in Stevenson's novella, Jekyll's transformation into Hyde is induced by drinking a potion. In the series, however, Jackman's transformations into Hyde are not wanted and are not triggered by anything. Indeed, he and Katherine discuss what could be causing the attacks, positing stress as a possible reason, and he explains to Miranda that he was beginning to wonder if he was cursed or was a werewolf. Rather than just tweaking the storyline for this modern-day adaptation, though, the series directly acknowledges this difference. In fact, Jackman tries to argue that he couldn't be connected to Jekyll precisely because of the absence of a potion.
Another significant difference that the characters acknowledge within the story is the perception of Hyde. In the book, Hyde is portrayed as a ruthless monster who exists for Jekyll to act out his darker impulses. In the series, Miranda directly questions whether Hyde fills this function. When addressing Jackman/Hyde, she argues that Hyde is not by default a "monster" who functions as a release for Jekyll's destructive or shameful impulses. She directly tells him that Hyde is actually a child and that "he can be anything he wants to be."
Again, rather than skimming over this changed detail, the television show directly addresses it. These acknowledged ties to the original connect the series to the tradition of Jekyll and Hyde adaptations. At the same time, these directly acknowledged changes expand the mythos surrounding the story. In a sense, the creators are telling the audience that they do know the original story and changes to it are not errors but intentional attempts to modernize the story and to put a unique spin on it.
These character changes also introduce key themes that recur throughout the series. For instance, the cause of the transformations are explored further in later episodes and Hyde's character also begins to develop in unexpected ways in the course of the series. By acknowledging these differences in relation to the original source text in the very first episode, the series establishes itself as a postmodern adaptation and perhaps encourages viewers to judge the show on its own merits, rather than just in relation to its fidelity to the source text.
Themes of Anxiety
Beyond the modern-day setting and the postmodern aspect of the series, this adaptation of the original novella also conveys 21st century anxieties that are not as evident in the original text.
Anxiety about Surveillance
This series especially conveys modern day society's anxiety with surveillance. Throughout the first episode, the notion of surveillance from multiple parties is evident.
In the very first scene, Jackman explains to Katherine the items that Hyde always carries with him--a digital recorder that is on at all times, a GPS tracking system that can be checked against the recorder, and a tape recorder for communication. He also acknowledges that he carries the same equipment with him, a system that Katherine teasingly refers to as "mutual surveillance."
To further emphasize this aspect of the story, Jackman is then seen driving home. In the process, he records on the tape recorder the time and location and that he will not be recording for 3 hours and that he will remain the same location. Later, as Jackman knows he is transforming when threated by Billy, a young tough, he sternly warns Hyde through the tape recorder to use "minimum necessary force" and that he will check to be sure that is the case.
As the episode progresses, the surveillance extends beyond what Jackman and Hyde have dictated for each other. Jackman learns that he was not just being followed by a private investigator hired by his wife but also by a myserious black van. He also notices his former boss, Peter, watching him as he attempts to conduct research and even complains that the latter could just approach him rather than lurking and watching.
In Discipline and Punish, French philosopher Michel Foucault discusses his theory of the panopticon . He argues that the panopticon in prisons enforces discipline among convicts because it makes them paranoid about being watched. Not only are they constantly being observed by a guard, who may or may not be present, but they also can watch each other all the time. Ultimately, Foucault believed this constant surveillance caused individuals to police their own actions. He also extended his theory outside the walls of prisons to modern life in general. He believed modern life was carceral because it functioned much the same way as a prison.
The series Jekyll supports Foucault's argument. Though the surveillance from the private investigator and the mysterious people in the black van exceed the same level of constant official scrutiny many may experience, it is simply an exaggerated form of the surveillance many experience every day. In addition, Jackman's enforced surveillance of himself and Hyde--a self-policing effort--reflects Foucault's arguments about the effect of a carceral society on the individual.
In the original novella, Jekyll is able to act out his socially inappropriate fantasies through the guise of Hyde. In a sense, he was avoiding the constant surveillance of polite society. In the modern day retelling of the story, Jekyll's counterpart, Jackman, is not using Hyde as a means of acting out forbidden desires. Instead, Jackman is a true product of a carceal society. He seems to have no desire to escape the watchful eye of society. Indeed, he is always being watched and is always watching himself, no matter what form that self takes.
Anxiety about Modern Life
Another reason Foucault deemed modern society carceral is the role of regimentation. Just as constant surveillance helps enforce obedience, regimentation within societal institutions also echoes the features of prison that help enforce "good" behavior.
Jekyll includes many references to the regimented nature of modern society. For instance, when Jackman is explaining to Katherine the function of the tape recorder, she jokingly asks if he uses it to remind Hyde to pick up milk. He replies, in all seriousness, that sometimes they do use it to convey such mundane messages. Throughout the episode, Jackman is shown to use the tape recorder far more than Hyde and to take its function more seriously. As a result, it is logical to assume that Jackman is likely the one using the tape recorder as an electronic grocery list.
Furthermore, when he is returning home, Jackman records a precise note to Hyde that he will be in the same location for 3 hours. This scene especially reveals the regimentation of modern life. Jackman knows ahead of time how his time will be spent, to the extent that he is able to give an exact accounting of it before the action even occurs. With such a precise schedule, there is little, if any, time for spontaneity. Later, Jackman records a message for Hyde in which he complains that the latter never records where he parks. The line is played for humor, but it does indicate how regimented Jackman's life is and how much he tries to impose regimentation on Hyde. Just as he meticulously records where he is and for how long he will be there, he expects the same of Hyde.
As gleefully anarchist as Hyde seems in his behavior, he does often comply with many of the regimented measures that Jackman has imposed. For instance, he carries with him numbered condoms, which he explains to a potential conquest as stemming from an "agreement." He is also noted by both Katherine and Jackman as being exceptionally punctual, especially concerning his scheduled visits. Indeed, the visit schedule the two adhere to almost seems like a custody arrangement at times. When Hyde makes an "unscheduled visit," Jackman is owed time--naturally, he has calculated the exact number of hours he lost--and decides to use it on a set day for a meeting. Considering Jackman's insistence on regimentation and Hyde's surprising adherence to the rules, it is perhaps little wonder, then, that Hyde refers to Jackman derisively as "Daddy." In calling Jackman "Daddy," Hyde further emphasizes Jackman's role as the lawgiver of the relationship. Jackman is the one who decides the rules and the punishments. He expects and receives obedience from Hyde, even if the latter is vocally annoyed by these restrictions.
Though some of this regimentation is directly tied to the surveillance Jackman uses to exact good behavior from Hyde, much of it also reflects the regimented nature of modern life itself. Jackman is obviously a very regimented man--yet another indication of how thoroughly he has been interpellated by his society's expectations. The potentially devastating effect of such carefully regimented behavior is portrayed in Jackman. His behavior is so moderated that his own wife complains that he is too "repressed" to commit adultery on her. Jackman, for this reason, is certainly a modern-day rendering of the original source's Jekyll, who also outwardly conforms to his societal expectations. The difference is that Jackman doesn't seem consciously dissatisfied in doing so; whereas, Jekyll in the original novella finds these expectations repressive, and he seeks to subvert them through Hyde.
In both the original novella and the television show, Hyde is offered as a menacing alternative to this conformity. In the series, he does adhere to many of the rules that Jackman sets for him, but as the episode directly suggests in a phone conversation between Benjamin and an unnamed female, Hyde will not always be so easily controlled because he will not always follow these rules. Besides, Hyde is menacing even when he operates under Jackman's elaborate rules of conduct, which prevent him from hurting anyone. Jackman may be repressed because of his adherence to societal expectations, but Hyde is dangerous even within this system. The thought of Hyde operating without rules is one the other characters don't wish to consider.
Though the show is a modern retelling of the story, this aspect of the television series also ties back to Stevenson's original. Within the novella, Jekyll initially wanted to be Hyde because of this lack of restriction, though he eventually regrets this decision and is unable to control his alterego's actions. In the series, however, Hyde never represents escape from society for Jackman. The series seems to hint that the latter could relax somewhat, but Hyde still remains a cautionary warning about the danger of lack of restriction. As a result, the series's portrayal of modern life simultaneously critiques and affirms the importance of regimentation within a carceral society.
"Episode 1." Jekyll. BBC One. 16 June 2007. Television.
Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage Books, 1995. Print.
CONTRIBUTER: Shirley Rash (original)