Notes on Steven Moffat's JEKYLL / Part One

By way of an explanation, the material about Jekyll (BBC 2007) I'm presenting here started life as research for a chapter I'd been asked to contribute to the forthcoming book The Eleventh Hour: A Critical Celebration of the Matt Smith and Steven Moffat Era, edited by Andrew O'Day and to be published by I.B.Tauris next year.

Andrew had asked me to include Steven Moffat's 2007 series Jekyll in my examination of Moffat's very recognisable signature in Doctor Who and with one thing and another I amassed a close reading of Jekyll that amounted to about 8,000 words on its own. The only problem? Not enough room to include much of that in a chapter that was predominantly about Doctor Who. In fact, I could have written an entire chapter, possibly even a book, about Jekyll by the time I'd finished. With the chapter finished, it struck me recently that it seemed a shame not to share the Jekyll material with a wider audience.

The following is a partly combined, rewritten and edited version of two drafts of the material. It does look at Jekyll in context with many of the recognisable motifs that can be found in the Steven Moffat era of Doctor Who and it also touches on many other themes and ideas that the six-part drama explored that were outside of the remit of my original chapter. This is quite a long article so I'm going to split it into three parts. I suggest you put the kettle on, make some tea and take your time. Part One today and Parts Two and Three in the next few days. Enjoy.

Notes on Steven Moffat's 'Jekyll'

Part One: 'The child is father of the man' - Mummy, Daddy, Jekyll and Hyde

Before his appointment as showrunner on Doctor Who (1963-89, 2005-) and the success of his and Mark Gatiss' modernist Gothic reinterpretation of Conan Doyle in Sherlock (2010-), writer Steven Moffat developed and expanded many of the themes in his episodes of Doctor Who between 2005 and 2008 with Jekyll (BBC/Hartswood/Stagescreen 2007). His ‘sequel’ to Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde interrogates a number of familiar motifs, including Gothic horror’s preoccupation with the doppelgänger and identity, dysfunctional family relationships, the manipulation of the body by science and technology and the structuring of narrative and specific mise-en-scène that continues to figure prominently in Moffat’s authorship of Doctor Who as head writer and producer.

Jekyll is a dark satire on the male struggle to achieve the work-life balance as well as a tragi-comedy about masculinity, men’s and women’s attitudes to each other, and their commitment to family structures. Six episodes explore Hyde’s emergence from the tragic figure of Tom Jackman (James Nesbitt), Moffat’s reinterpretation of Stevenson’s ‘hero’ Dr Henry Jekyll, and how ‘evil’, in the form of Jackman’s uncanny ‘other’ Hyde, is repressed, controlled and eventually assimilated within masculine subjectivity and by the connections to wife and family. Hyde is depicted as a necessary evil and, in similar fashion to Moffat’s depiction of the monstrous in Doctor Who, is seen as a by-product of the misguided and misunderstood intentions of his genesis, created out of abandonment, victimisation, loneliness or by sheer genetic accident.

The drama explores the constructions of family, marriage, fidelity and particularly the relationships between adult and child. Hyde’s emergence is not only marked by physical transformation, where black eyes, pointed chin, ears and altered hairline signify immediate visual difference, but by the escape of Jackman’s repressed sexuality, a change in nature that has forced Jackman to close down his emotional responses to his wife, Claire (Gina Bellman) which leave her erroneously suspecting extra-marital affairs as the root cause.

Yet, it is an affair that Jackman is having with his ‘other’, his ghost, and a struggle between ‘daddy’ Jackman and his ‘boy’ Hyde. This internal parent-child battle is also reflected in Jackman’s relationship with his wife and two sons, his dysfunctional life at home, the domestic sphere that he attempts to protect from this doppelgänger. In the first half of the series this is symbolised by the juxtaposition of the cosy, domestic spaces of the family’s house and garden with the monastic prison cell of Jackman’s anonymous flat, a confessional space on the borderland between repression and release where he manages his transformation, and the brothels and disused houses that Hyde frequents.
‘a child with the body and drives of a fully grown adult’
Emphasising Moffat’s oft-used trope of narratives focusing on abandoned children, Jackman’s origins describe him as a foundling left in a railway station – subtly echoing the fate of Wilde’s Ernest Worthing and his double life in The Importance of Being Earnest – and raised by foster parents.  Hyde, similarly, is a rejected child, precocious and unpredictable, but obsessed with his estranged parent. When Jackman meets private investigator Miranda Callender (Meera Syall), she categorises Hyde similarly to how the Doctor described Jamie, in Moffat’s 2005 Doctor Who episode ‘The Empty Child’, as a child with the power to tear down and rebuild the entire human race. Miranda recognises Hyde as ‘a child with the body and drives of a fully grown adult’, ‘brand new’ and as a miracle mistaken for a monster, reflecting Moffat’s idea that the monstrous is often misunderstood, is not necessarily evil in nature and is often a side effect of a character’s status as victim.

Jackman’s wedding ring is also symbolic and is one of many objects, including the dictation machine, the telephone and the key, that define the vicissitudes of his dual existence as Jackman and Hyde. An emblem of the Jackman/Hyde and Jackman/Claire marriages in the drama, the ring is sloughed on and off as part of the containment routine that Jackman and Hyde doggedly follow until Hyde discovers Jackman’s family and he inveigles himself into Jackman’s domestic life, posing as a relative of the family called Uncle Billy. Jackman keeps defining his subjectivity as parent and husband in opposition to Hyde. ‘He’s not married, I’m married’ is how he differentiates himself and throughout Jekyll’s six episodes this difference is symbolised either by the voluntary removal or the loss of his wedding ring every time his evil side appears.

Claire similarly defines Hyde in contrast to her husband, ‘He’s like you…only alive’, suggesting the repressed Jackman has become unheimlich, the living dead or undead, ‘unhoused’ from his true self. However, Hyde is also defined by violence, debauchery and immorality and through an uncanny mise-en-scène that sets the world off-kilter through strange angles, blurred images, the use of rapid, overcranked or slow motion footage and where, momentarily, there are glimpses of him as a bestial, fanged monster. As Moffat offers, Jekyll is a story about ‘A man trying to be civilised and decent within the confines of a normal civilised marriage who still has this dreadful male part of him kept under a slab and he has to get out and rave at times otherwise he’ll go mad.’ (1)

Jackman’s status as father is quantified via the dictation machine that acts as the two-way communication between Jackman and Hyde. During the first episode, having discovered that Jackman has a family about which he was unaware, Hyde refers to Jackman as ‘Daddy’ in an audio log on the Dictaphone. How they regard each other recalls Jamie’s relationship to Nancy as his ‘Mummy’ in ‘The Empty Child’/‘The Doctor Dances’. Hyde positions himself as the new head of the household, as the leader of the pack, as the alpha male in control of Jackman’s wife Claire, with, ‘Do you know about lions, Daddy? Do you know what lionesses do when there’s a new head of the family?’ Jackman responds to this provocation by demanding ‘They’re not your family’ and attempting to re-authenticate his own patriarchal status. 

Later, from Claire’s perspective, this horrific secret is eclipsed by comedy. Claire is rather affronted to discover, out of all the characters in the series, she is the only one unaware of Jackman’s situation when she finds herself a prisoner of Klein and Utterson, the corporation with a long-term interest in Hyde's appearance. ‘No one think it was worth telling me I married a werewolf’ she snaps, indignant that a man’s prerogative not to tell women everything should also prevent him from admitting ‘I’m Dracula!’ This relationship between the female and the Gothic, although played as broad comedy in the scene where Claire is made aware of her husband’s condition, foreshadows Jekyll’s eventual return to the 19th century where Claire’s relationship with Jekyll and Hyde, and her own categorisation as ‘other’, acquires a more sinister and significant dimension.

Throughout the first three episodes of Jekyll, Moffat layers in many clues about the perilous state that Jackman maintains and the gradual incursion and domination of Hyde. The transformations become unpredictable and Katherine Reimer (Michelle Ryan), the psychiatric nurse that Jackman hires to manage his dual nature, begins to question the man’s identity during one scene where he wakes in the night and calls for her. ‘I woke up during one of his dreams,’ Jackman says, suggesting that there is now a blurring of boundaries between human and monster. As she checks the bolts on her bedroom door, a cut to Jackman/Hyde’s point of view outside her room clearly indicates that it is Hyde outside her door and he has successfully acquired the power to mimic Jackman, attempting to fool her into letting him in. One morning she also momentarily sees Hyde standing there after Jackman has turned and left the room.

When Benjamin Lennox (Paterson Joseph), Klein and Utterson’s henchman, uses Jackman’s child to trap Hyde as part of a plan he and his associates have been waiting 100 years to set in motion, a marriage, rather than a separation, between ego and id is indicated. It is the first collaboration between Jackman and Hyde that Moffat uses to hint at the importance of the symbiotic relationship between them. Small clues herald the dominance and power of Hyde before the climactic encounter with Lennox at the zoo. Jackman drives to his home to pick up his children and take them to the zoo and we see a shot where both he and Hyde are in the car as the two boys run towards him. Their cries of ‘Daddy’ turn to cries of ‘Uncle Billy’ and one of the boys, on finding that Jackman is alone in the car, claims to have seen Hyde’s Uncle Billy sitting next to his father in the car. Stopping at a café, Jackman again shifts into Hyde while admonishing his son Eddie to wipe his running nose. Jackman is unaware that he has shouted at the now traumatised child. As in the Stevenson novel, the distinctions between Jackman and Hyde are breaking down and Hyde is in the ascendancy. That ascendancy is also connected to the breakdown of relations between Jackman, his wife and children.

Katherine rings Jackman at the zoo and warns him that Hyde is awake and is ‘In your head right now.’ She recalls the recent moments when Hyde has emerged – in the car, in the café – and she tries to rationalise these encounters with Jackman. However, Katherine’s call is simply a manifestation of Hyde, another of his ghostly appearances and an example of his ability to inhabit those close to Jackman. Only he would know what happened in the car and at the café and like Jamie’s disembodied voice using the phones, the tape machines and the typewriter in ‘The Empty Child’ and the data ghosts of ‘Silence in the Library’, Hyde haunts his alter ego and projects himself into Jackman’s unconnected phone. He taunts Jackman, his voice descending in register until he whispers, ‘Daddy!’ Jackman throws away the phone and confirms ‘I’ve just taken a call from my own id!’

Jackman discovers that Hyde is hyper-sensitive to his own physical and mental state and can pull images from Jackman’s memory, blurring present and past, to unveil the threat from Lennox’s henchmen as they close in on him and his son Eddie at the zoo. In a neat visual parallel, Jackman argues with Hyde about the distinction between what is real and what is construed as fantasy only for Hyde to indicate he has ceased his ransacking of memory and for Jackman to turn and reveal that, out of focus in the background, Eddie is standing in the lion enclosure. Jackman becomes Hyde, the alpha male pack leader strong enough to challenge the male lion for supremacy over the pride. Accompanied by his singing of ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’, a song perhaps symbolic of the sleeping animal that lives within Jackman, Hyde invites Lennox and his men to confront him and he rescues Eddie.
'... a sort of ridiculous, metaphorical fable of masculinity.’
The dual nature of the man, one man talking to his own id, is expressed again in the scene where Jackman/Hyde attempts to extract information from Christopher (Al Ashton), one of Lennox’s security men who like Lennox and, later, Colonel Hart (Malcolm Storry) and the mercenary Carver (Julian Lewis Jones), are all symbols of pure masculinity ranged against Hyde. In a dingy, candlelit derelict room Jackman warns Christopher of his unstable nature: ‘Don’t annoy me. That’s not a good way to go. You’ve heard of good cop, bad cop? This is the movie.’ He points to himself, underlining the fact that his dual nature has become unstable and now merged. During another supernatural phone call, where Hyde projects himself into a phone without a connection, Jackman reasons with his other self. Hyde suggests that he kills Christopher to send a message back to Lennox. When Jackman deliberates, Hyde warns him that his children will die. ‘You don’t care about my children’ rages Jackman. The image of the child devouring monster so prevalent in Moffat’s Doctor Who emerges here, ‘I love children, me. Snack-sized people. Always leave you wanting more’. But it is also a trope that Moffat subverts because as we discover later, Hyde matures enough to understand that he must protect Jackman’s family.

Later, Jackman feels remorse about Hyde’s violent attack on Christopher and returns to the hospital where Hyde abandoned his victim, unaware that Katherine, Lennox and a woman who appears to be Jackman’s mother Sophia are waiting for him. Sophia Jackman (Linda Marlowe) reveals that she was the one who left him in the railway station forty years ago and refers to Jackman and Hyde as ‘both my boys’, just as Amy similarly refers to both the Doctor and Rory in Moffat’s tenure on Doctor Who. She tells Jackman that Hyde is his ‘brother’, a sibling who ‘reduces you piece by piece, all the easy options. He’s evil, that’s what evil does.’ Mrs Jackman also confirms that Hyde is a creature who will drain the life from Jackman, he will ‘get stronger, you’ll get weaker. It’s always the same, every Jekyll, every Hyde.’ This reinforces Moffat’s exploration of masculinity as a form of sadistic relationship with the self, between Jackman and Hyde, and told as ‘A particularly masculine sort of story… a sort of ridiculous, metaphorical fable of masculinity.’ (2)

The significant relationships between children and their parents, between a husband and wife, and the binaries of male and female become very skewed in one of the more disturbing sequences in Jekyll. Jackman, suffering from lack of sleep after attempting to keep Hyde at bay, phones his wife from a train, fearing for the lives of his children and implores her not to tell him where his boys are, believing that the emerging Hyde will attempt to kill them. As he falls asleep, the train carriage becomes an uncanny space, the mise-en-scène is dominated by lights flickering on and off, images becoming abstract and blurred and the carriage is briefly transformed into the cell containing the restraining chair in Jackman’s flat.

Claire appears, as if in a dream, enticing Jackman to sleep and drift away but Jackman realises that Claire is actually Hyde attempting to trick him. His demonic presence is projected onto the figure of Claire as she admits, ‘Of course, it’s me Daddy! Who else lives inside your head?’ Claire and Hyde become a single entity attempting to seduce him and subvert Jackman’s grasp on reality. ‘Let me dream for you. I know what you want. I know what you like’ she/he offers, with Hyde adding a suggestion that he has explicit, voyeuristic knowledge of Jackman’s desires. ‘Sleep, Daddy. Sleep with me,’ implores this sexually ambiguous figure, content to explore a dream-like Oedipal, incestuous and narcissistic form of marriage.

Jackman challenges Hyde to look inside his head to understand how he feels, how much he misses Claire and reasserts himself when Hyde, only driven by lust, fails to understand the nature of Jackman’s feelings for Claire and the concept of idealised, pure love and the emotions that he associates with it. Hyde is again categorised as an immature child, the untempered male hiding inside Jackman, unable to fathom complex emotions and moralities and who shrivels away when Jackman informs him that the adult world is ‘Nothing you’re ready for, stupid child’. However, just as Moffat exposes Jackman’s bond with his wife and family, giving him power over Hyde, he also foreshadows the journey that Hyde undertakes to avow his uncanny nature in the last third of the drama, using the familiar Moffat motif of the child acquiring the maturity to better understand the adult world. Hyde’s increasing closeness to Jackman’s family, his growing desire to protect them, is also Hyde’s weakness in juxtaposition to Jackman’s strength.

Jackman gradually begins to understand that there was a real Dr Jekyll. He is in some way related to the Jekyll that Miranda presented to him, a Jekyll who experimented on himself and whom he bears an uncanny similarity to. He sets out to confront his friend and boss Peter Syme (Denis Lawson), who is revealed to be Jackman’s minder, hired by Jackman’s employers Klein and Utterson to monitor the emergence of Hyde. After Syme is attacked by Hyde and is thrown into a cellar, Jackman’s wife Claire comes out of hiding and witnesses his transformation from Jackman into Hyde. Syme confirms that Jackman, Hyde and the Uncle Billy figure that visited her children are the doubling identities of the same person.

Hyde tells her that he is not her husband, about the schedule he and Jackman have arranged and that recently Jackman has repressed him and kept him contained, frightened that Hyde would revisit his home and kill his children. This marital debate between Hyde and Claire, which heightens her fears and apprehensions about Jackman’s identity, offers another example of Jekyll’s use of the female Gothic to describe Claire’s situation, a text perhaps seen as typically featuring ‘a female protagonist caught up in a matrix of domestic paranoia, trapped within a decaying home by a suspicious and/or murderous husband’. (3)

Hyde’s desire to be a ‘superman’ demands of him an emotional maturity that can only be found in the bond with a wife and children that Jackman prizes above all else. Hyde’s dilemma is initially expressed in the return to 1886 when contemporary Hyde meets his ancestor, Dr Jekyll's id, and is informed that Claire and her doppelgänger, Jekyll’s maid Alice Cameron, are the key to understanding the appearance of Hyde. The last third of Jekyll explores Hyde’s decision to cease being a child and accept that, as half of one man, Jackman is essential to his maturity. This need is illustrated in a stand off between Hyde, now ‘divorced’ from Jackman, and the woman who has been leading the attempt to capture him, Ms Utterson (Linda Marlowe). She calls his bluff when he threatens to kill himself to save his family and concludes that Hyde is ‘Too afraid of dying, like all children. You’re just a child Mr Hyde. We took the man in you away.’

This precipitates a plaintive search by Hyde, questioning why he has failed to be the superman that he was supposed to be. He appeals to ‘father’ Jackman, just as a child would turn to a parent, ‘I’m supposed to be dangerous. Why am I not a superman? Are you listening to me, Daddy? I’m supposed to be Superman!’ This admission locates Jekyll and its interpretation of Hyde as monster within an analysis of superheroes and their dual identities. Greg M. Smith relates the secret identities of superheroes like Superman and the Hulk to Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde where ‘the classic secret identity holds out the fantasy that we can switch between the two, like Jekyll and Hyde, potentially making monsters of us all. Stevenson emphasizes… that there is not such a radical disjunction between two personas as it might appear on the surface, that Hyde’s animalism and Jekyll’s rationalism are linked.’ (4)

The only way Hyde can integrate the two is to acknowledge the controlling influence of Jackman, the human to his beast, and as Marina Warner offers, ‘within today’s myths of human nature, the warrior and the wild creature, the child and the beast, don’t stand at opposite ends but are intertwined, continuous, inseparable.’ (5)  Moffat also acknowledges the fairy tale connotations of Beauty and the Beast in Jekyll with the relational flux between Claire, Hyde and Jackman. It is worth noting that Warner also sees the tale as one about the ‘female erotic pleasures of matching and mastering a man who is dark and hairy, rough and wild’. (6) Jekyll not only proposes that masculinity requires both the monster and the man in order to function properly but that the emotional and erotic powers of female figures such as Claire, Alice, Sophia Jackman and Ms Utterson are also integral to this function.

Jekyll proposes that the two halves of the male psyche can be balanced and integrated, where the individual can be completed and repression managed. This successful individuation is seen by Christopher Hauke as ‘the dual struggle of the subject with, on the one hand, the ‘inner world’ of the unconscious, with all its infantile, personal and collective aspects, and, on the other hand, the struggle with the ‘outer world’ of the collective society.’ (7) The message Jackman/Hyde asks his traitorous friend Peter Syme to send to those who have kidnapped his wife and sons symbolises the child-father individuation that Hauke describes, ‘Three words. We are coming. Send it. Sign it… Jekyll… and Hyde.’

Later, this newly negotiated hybridity is manifested, as per Moffat's usual motifs, in Hyde’s ability to make supernatural use of technology to send messages that possess the computers and mobile phones of Syme and his Klein and Utterson colleagues. Hyde’s warning of ‘Run if you want to live’ appears everywhere as his supernature invades their consciousness, ‘transmitting, bleeding into everything’. The final episode of Jekyll underlines this again when the title sequence shows the Jekyll logo flash and transform into a Hyde logo. These dual states and messages repeat a similar motif of uncovering and revealing half-concealed, repressed truths that weave throughout Moffat’s Doctor Who.

© 2012 Frank Collins. You must seek the permission of the author to reproduce any of the material in this article. 

(1) Steven Moffat interviewed for ‘A Tale Retold’ documentary on Jekyll DVD (Contender 2007)
(2) Ibid
(3) Wheatley, Helen, Gothic Television (Manchester University Press, 2006)
(4) Smith, Greg, M., ‘The Superhero as Labor: The Corporate Secret Identity’ in Angela Ndalianis (ed), The Contemporary Comic Book Superhero (Taylor & Francis, 2008)
(5) Warner, Marina, Managing Monsters (Random House, 2010)
(6) Warner, Marina, From the Beast to the Blonde (Random House, 1995)
(7) Hauke, Christopher, Jung and the Postmodern: The Interpretation of Realities (Routledge, 2000)


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