ITV’s Jekyll and Hyde series (2015) somewhat updates and definitely expands upon the themes of the classic story, being set in London and Ceylon during the 1930s. Tom Bateman plays Dr. Robert Jekyll, a grandson of Dr. Henry Jekyll. Robert has inherited his grandfather’s dark, superhuman alter-ego and, a la Bruce Banner, is inclined to transform into Hyde during times of great stress.
The series embroils Jekyll/Hyde in an ongoing “secret war” between two rival forces; the MIO (Military Intelligence: Other), a branch of Her Majesty’s Secret Service dedicated to hunting supernatural menaces, and Tenebrae, an order of occultists with a sinister agenda.
This review, however, concentrates on Jekyll and Hyde‘s Spring Heeled Jack storyline, which is spread across Episodes 6 and 7. This is of special interest because it represents the first time this storied figure of folklore has been prominently featured in a television series.
Having admitted that bias:
Episode 6 begins promisingly as Spring Heeled Jack appears, in all his hissing, steampunk/plague doctor glory, on the shadowy rooftops of London:
… before plunging down into the dark, only to re-appear a moment later, off in the distance, bounding or even flying along the roofscape by means of some sort of jet-propulsion. This is the image of Spring Heeled Jack that long-term fans have been waiting to see on series TV and it’s very satisfying.
’30s Londoners, of course, are shocked to learn that this Victorian ghost/demon has returned to haunt them, and are thrown into an actual panic when bodies begin showing up in the back alleys, seemingly eaten from the inside and missing vital organs. Jekyll/Hyde are both on the case for their own reasons, Robert Jekyll bringing his measured temperament and medical expertise to bear while Hyde employs more primitive means.
T(he)y do, in fact, track down the mysterious Spring Heeled Jack, and here the storyline, unfortunately, starts to disappoint SHJ fans. After being easily defeated and embarrasingly put on display by Hyde, SHJ is unmasked as a young engineer’s apprentice named Burton. The lad’s motivations are honourable; he is the grandson of the original Spring Heeled Jack, who was also an altruistic “monster hunter”, and Burton has been moved to bring grand-dad’s pseudonym and flying suit out of moth-balls to investigate the recent rash of organ-stealing.
Burton proposes to team up with Hyde in catching whatever monster is really to blame, but the characters have no chemistry and Burton proves to be of mediocre actual use in a crisis; he’s just a well-meaning, rather hapless young chap in a cool suit. The real villain, as it turns out, is Kephri, a supernatural insectoid parasite able to inject humans with centipede-like larvae that can control the victim’s behaviour.
No sooner do the heroes realise this fact than poor Burton is jabbed by Kephri and flies off, now under the demon’s spell; roll credits.
Episode 7 picks up some short time later, as a cheeky young newsboy who has just assured everyone that “there are no monsters” is instantly yanked into the sky by (we assume) Spring Heeled Jack doing Kephri’s bidding. Robert Jekyll and his brother Ravi investigate the scene and discover the victim’s dessicated husk on a nearby rooftop, along with the unconscious Burton, still wearing his Spring Heeled Jack outfit but now shrouded in a coccoon-like mass of silken threads.
Returning Burton to his laboratory, Robert swears to try to get rid of the monster within him, but before he can really help, Spring Heeled Jack re-awakens and escapes back to the rooftop, only to be shot dead by MIO agents moments later.
So; we’re just over ten minutes into Episode 7, and they’ve killed off Spring Heeled Jack, whose entire contribution to the storyline has been one cool rooftop appearance, losing a short “fight” with Hyde, being humiliated and exposed as a callow youth in grand-dad’s superhero suit and then falling under the control of a demonic grasshopper. It’s as if the writer realised he disliked the character, or was worried that he’d steal Jekyll/Hyde’s thunder; SHJ’s arc certainly suffers badly in comparison, plummeting from mysterioso rooftop badass to hapless sidekick to pawn to corpse.
Now, obviously there may well be practical reasons for this treatment – it must be difficult to do justice to Spring Heeled Jack on a relatively low budget, especially if your version of the character can actually fly, given the expense of elaborate stunt sequences and special effects. It’s entirely possible that the writer did the best he could with what he had to work with. Still, for those who have been waiting a long time to see Jack featured on screen, this outing was a let-down.
Nice suit, though.
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for Spring Heeled Jack fans
Only four ibangs out of ten for what comes across as a missed opportunity.
To be fair, the other elements of the show are passably entertaining, so if you’re not a Spring Heeled Jack fan, you may well enjoy it more than we did:
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for fans of ’30s-set fantasy/action/drama