Notes on Steven Moffat's JEKYLL / Part Three

And here's Part Three of my research notes on Steven Moffat's 2007 drama Jekyll.

These are the last notes combined, rewritten and edited from two drafts of the material. This final part features many of the recognisable motifs that can be found in the Steven Moffat era of Doctor Who and it specifically looks at narrative structure and the use of memory and flashback in Jekyll

I suggest you put the kettle on again, make some tea and take your time. The first part is here and the second part is here. The first part looked at the relationship between the 'Jekyll' figure of Tom Jackman and his alter-ego Hyde and the second instalment looked at the female characters and how the series evoked the female Gothic within the parallel narratives featuring Tom's wife Claire and her duplicate Alice Cameron.

The notes were part of the research for a chapter I was writing on Moffat's Doctor Who but Jekyll is only used briefly in the finished piece. You'll be able to read my contribution to the forthcoming book The Eleventh Hour: A Critical Celebration of the Matt Smith and Steven Moffat Era, edited by Andrew O'Day, when it's published by I.B.Tauris next year. Many thanks to Andrew for supporting my idea to make the approximately 9,000 words on Jekyll available.

Notes on Steven Moffat's 'Jekyll'

Part Three: 'I’ve got digital rewind. It’s like Sky Plus in here!’ - Memory, structure and narrative expectation

Jekyll reveals more of the familiar imagery and sounds that often form Moffat’s recognisable palette as a writer. Specific mise-en-scène, objects, songs and rhymes accumulate as markers of subjectivity. These are placed within a narrative that increasingly encompasses Moffat’s predilection for merging of prolepsis and analepsis, integrating this style with the Gothic of Stevenson’s original novel and to track the central character's disintegration of subjectivity, examining Jackman and Hyde as representations of contemporary anxieties surrounding notions of masculinity.

Dani Cavallaro sees our collective anxieties and fears particularly represented in Gothic texts because ‘fragmented and disunified stories reflect the monstrous and spectral forms which cultures ideate in order to express their unease in the face of an unquantifiable Other’. (1) As a result, Moffat loops and reverses aspects of the narrative, often to misdirect audience expectations, within an organic, superfluid text that allows for a multiplicity of representations, a disordering of plot components and the collaging of styles and genres.

These fragments include a barrage of familiar Moffat devices. For example, Hyde’s emergence is always signaled with big close ups of Jackman’s eye turning black, a representation of the symbolic ‘evil eye’ and of the writer’s fascination with the unnatural seen in the corner of the eye, exposed through the simple act of looking or blinking. His presence as the uncanny child in the story is often defined through play, games and songs. His joy in amoral play, including the recurring ‘lion’ motif as a symbol of dominating masculinity, defines threat and violence as well as his immaturity. 

Moffat marries together a number of symbols and texts that are associated with childhood, particularly with the child’s development of socialisation skills or where the fantastical is connected to the liberation from repression. Hyde refers to Katherine Reimer, the psychiatric nurse hired to take care of Jackman, when she introduces herself as his new nanny, as ‘Oh, Mary Poppins, I love Mary Poppins! I could eat Mary Poppins!’ and chastises Jackman’s fatherly instruction via Dicataphone as ‘It’s raining, it’s pouring. Jackman is boring’. Most significantly, Hyde’s presence acquires its own musical meme, in the form of the nursery rhyme ‘Boys and Girls Come Out To Play’, a meme that usually denotes his emerging monstrosity and impending violent behaviour.

Much of this is tied into how Moffat treats the structure of narrative. While the first three parts of Jekyll are predominantly linear storytelling, the final half of the drama is structured around both flashes forward and back, the construction of memory and the production and manipulation of television imagery. In the third, fourth and fifth instalments of Jekyll, the narrative structure develops into a series of jumps into the immediate past that lead back to the present, covering the incidents of one day, recollective montages or memories buried deep in Jackman/Hyde's subconscious, and it integrates with the story’s examination of the modernist construction of self. The Gothic of Stevenson’s original novel reflects the fissures in subjectivity that Jekyll experiences, reflected here in the fluctuations between the identities of Jackman and Hyde.

In the third episode, the story flits from a country house, where we see a blood covered Jackman falling out of a tree, to a dingy room, where according to the on-screen caption some twelve hours earlier, Jackman is seen chained to a radiator and recovering from his last incarnation as Hyde. The fairy tale monster, Moffat’s oft mentioned child-eating horror, is invoked again when we see the lights outside a seaside boarding house flickering on and off, the familiar signal that the ordinary world is being affected by Hyde’s presence. Jackman reads a message daubed in blood on a wall,  where Hyde warns him, ‘when you sleep, I will eat your children’. Again, we have a visual repetition of warning messages Sally Sparrow found under the wallpaper in ‘Blink’ or that Amy and Canton found at Graystark Hall in ‘Day of the Moon’.

The twelve hours between Jackman leaving the boarding house and falling out of a tree in the grounds of Klein and Utterson’s mansion recall his journey by train as Lennox attempts to capture him and his fateful encounter with Syme and Claire at the mansion. The emergence of Hyde, and Jackman’s struggle to contain him, continues to be signalled by the flicker, fizz and pop of the electric lighting around him. This is marked in a scene at the train station, where a young boy wakes Hyde as Jackman is dosing in the waiting room and it builds upon Moffat’s fascination with the child and the monster, the innocent confronting the horror of the adult world.

Jackman/Hyde is a creature half in and half out of the dark and this symbolism is extended later into the way light and dark dominates episodes of the 2012 series of Doctor Who. Moffat also uses this twelve-hour flashback to pose a question over whether Hyde has murdered either Syme or Claire or both. Only until the narrative reaches the aftermath of Jackman’s fall from the tree can the viewer piece the clues together and solve the mystery.
‘You’re down the rabbit hole now. Everything you think is wrong’
It is revealed in flashback that Jackman confronts both Syme and Claire at the mansion. During this Claire manages to knock Hyde out and chain him up in the cellar. Moffat’s misdirection about whom Jackman/Hyde murdered is conflated with the origin of a key that we see Jackman eventually handing to the police when the narrative flashes forward. The key becomes another motif of doubling, joining a parade of symbolic doppelgängers and objects, as Claire is seen to swallow the key to Hyde’s chains just as Syme was forced by Jackman to swallow the key to the cellar. Yet again this is another moment of misdirection as flashbacks tell the audience that Claire only feigned swallowing it.

As an object the key also gains metaphorical significance to the relationship between Jackman, Hyde and Claire. Hyde is revealed to Claire just as Syme’s duplicity is uncovered by Jackman and as the narrative takes the three characters to a point where the truth is unlocked, recognised and acknowledged. The key to the cellar and the key to Hyde’s chains are symbolic of the hidden secrets in Gothic novels, the locked rooms of Stevenson’s novel or the closed attic of an equally relevant Gothic text about identity, Wilde’s The Portrait of Dorian Gray, wherein Linda Dryden sees embodied, ‘the pain of growing up, of aging and of self-recognition’. (2)

Jackman’s own maturity and his own pain of self-recognition dominate the fourth instalment of Jekyll. This episode leaps back a full seven years and Moffat employs a familiar trope in his narrative structure by compressing time with several montage sequences to exploit a sense of tragic inevitability in the storytelling. A good example of this is how, in Doctor Who, he introduces the character of Melanie Pond in ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ and fills in background details of her life with the young Amelia and Rory until her encounter with the Doctor dovetails her backstory with the weaponising of River Song.

Here, he puts together a narrative sequence that not only depicts Claire and Tom’s courtship, their love life and the birth of their twins but also uses this montage of past domestic bliss to suggest Jackman’s dangerous birthright. The initial emergence of Hyde is noted, both as Jackman observes his hairier arms in a bathroom mirror and their midwife questions them about the prevalence of twins in the family, foreshadowing that his boys are also the physical manifestation of his own dual nature that will form the conclusion of the story in the sixth episode.

The episode’s narrative constantly leaps back and forth as Jackman, now encased in the life support system after his arrest at the Klein and Utterson mansion, arrives at their institute in the present day just as Moffat begins to fill in details about Hyde's origins. Jackman’s emerging dual nature and changing physiology is seen in various montages as the episode flashes back to him starting work at Klein and Utterson after the birth of his children.

When he meets Syme at the institute, he begins something of a journey into a haunted labyrinth where Jackman’s life starts to acquires a series of uncanny twists. He briefly sees the ghostly silhouette of a woman observing him through a darkened two-way mirror and his thumbprint will not clear him at security. An on screen scan, shown only to the viewer, of Jackman’s two different thumbprints, suggests his physical duality is already known to Klein and Utterson. Syme even equates the secure areas of the institute with an underworld straight out of Lewis Carroll, where nothing is quite what Jackman expects it to be, as he tells him ‘You’re down the rabbit hole now. Everything you think is wrong’.

Moffat’s use of parallel repetition is shown when Syme repeats this observation to Claire as they enter the same building in the present day, describing it as a place where Jackman, the victim of Klein and Utterson’s life-long deception, only ‘thought he worked.’ In flashback, Jackman settles into work but there are uncanny knockings at his door and when he goes to answer it there is no one there. The flashbacks also underline the nature of the repression that becomes Jackman’s hallmark in his relationship with Claire as his PA quits after she construes his notes as sexual harassment because they state over and over: ‘I’m coming’. Hyde’s lasciviousness becomes evident as a double meaning to suggest a sexual climax and his own imminent emergence, haunting Jackman as he gains physical presence in the ordinary world.

All the familiar visual and aural signatures, the emblems of the uncanny that accompany Hyde’s presence, occur in a flashback that takes the narrative to a sea side resort where Jackman and Claire are away on holiday from the children. The resort setting is another parallel narrative space as this is the same resort to which present day Jackman retreats to spare his family any further harm from Hyde. An ice cream van plays ‘Boys and Girls Come Out to Play’ as Claire gossips on the phone to her friend that she can turn Jackman’s eyes jet black when they have sex. When a biker and his gang humiliate the pair, Hyde threatens to emerge and the tune from the ice cream van becomes distorted as Jackman tries to contain Hyde’s rage.

In the evening, Jackman watches the gang from his hotel window. He is assaulted by visual and aural hallucinations. The lights in the room flicker, he sees a non-existent dark figure pass behind him and he hears the sound of the ice cream van’s tune when the van is no longer present. He and Claire are served three glasses of wine. When he signs for the drinks he simply writes ‘I’m here’, suggesting that Hyde has finally arrived, and when the waiter comes to query this, he has disappeared out of the window. Jackman becomes Hyde and takes his revenge on the gang, cornering the leader in a tunnel as ‘Boys and Girls Come Out to Play’ whistles on the soundtrack. This flashback marks Hyde's proper emergence as a violent, feral creature.

Jackman wakes up under the pier at the seaside the following morning. In the sand is a message ‘I’m coming’ which, when Jackman moves out of shot, becomes ‘I’m coming back’ and is again the equivalent of the warning behind the wallpaper in ‘Blink’. He retreats to a toilet and washes his face. More uncanny images occur: a sink full of blood and a momentary vision of his doppelgänger standing next to him. When he looks at himself in the mirror, the shot is framed so that it seems there are two Jackmans again but he is just seeing himself in the looking glass and asking ‘Who are you? What are you?’ This emphasises, as Alec Charles suggests, that ‘Mr Hyde, like so many of Moffat’s monsters and heroes, lives an uncanny half-life: he is the knock on the door when no one is there, the shadow cast by nothing, the second reflection in the mirror.’ (3)
‘It is not a tale, it is a trap’
This is visually reproduced in a final, disturbing flashback when we see an estate agent showing Jackman through the dark, dilapidated empty flat that will eventually become his bolthole. He sees the room that will eventually become the cell with the restraining chair. The screen goes black and briefly we see the doors open on the room as it will eventually look, suggesting that Jackman is already picturing it that way, seeing its potential as a place of containment and withdrawal.

Jackman prepares to record the emergence of Hyde in the room. Recovering from his first controlled transformation in the flat, he wakes up and plays back the footage recorded of it on a television monitor. His own face stares out at him and like the previous mirror image, this scene both comments on the agency between viewer and screen explored in ‘Forest of the Dead’ and ‘Blink’, where respectively Cal watches parts of the episode on her television and Sally and Lawrence piece together a series of DVD easter eggs into a televisual conversation with the Doctor.

Again, Moffat offers a twist on the projection of consciousness through familiar objects seen in many of his Doctor Who episodes. Jackman meets Hyde, his doppelgänger, for the first time via a television screen and fear of his ‘other’ is expressed when Hyde, as a newly born creature threatens, ‘I’m coming to get you, daddy. I’m coming to eat you, daddy’ The fear of an evil child, a twin wishing to devour itself, is overwhelming enough for Jackman that he hallucinates Hyde bursting from the television set to throttle him. Again, Moffat merges several motifs in this scene: the monster that eats its victims; the child questioning its relationship to its parent; imagination taking on real form and fear of the ‘other’ reaching out of the television screen to haunt characters and audience alike.

Structure is not only determined by the fragmentary nature of the original Stevenson book, the fluctuating emergence and repression of Hyde told in flashback, but also by Moffat’s interest in televisual agency and how, in many Doctor Who stories, he has explored the manipulation of memory and consciousness. In the fifth episode Moffat returns to the Stevenson source by giving Hyde the supernatural ability to re-experience Jackman’s memory and the truth about his ancestral 'other', Henry Jekyll. Hyde can dip into these experiences randomly like the pages of a book, surfing television channels or using rewind and fast forward on recordings. He can play, stop and freeze frame memories, possess them, walk around in them and examine them in detail. ‘I’ve got rewind. I’ve got digital rewind. It’s like Sky Plus in here!’ he declares.
Moffat describes an alternate 1886 reality in which the real Dr Jekyll, played by actor James Nesbitt in a third role alongside those of Jackman and Hyde, meets Robert Louis Stevenson (Mark Gatiss), the author of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, but he also has the modern-day Hyde interpolate this sequence again after the television audience has seen it at the beginning of the episode, effectively rewriting the scene within the context of the episode itself.

The 1886 mise-en-scène can be read as classic Gothic Victoriana as the two men, in period costume and illuminated by the firelight, discuss the novel and the nature of its secrets, offering a meta-textual analysis of the original story, a moral allegory about public and private expressions of masculinity told in a circular rather than a linear structure, that has its roots in the detective genre and in Gothic and melodrama.

In the first version of this scene, Stevenson explains his concerns about the text to Jekyll, ‘It is has the appearance of a fiction but the substance of the facts’ and ‘is not in my normal style. There are those, a few, who might suspect its origins in truth.’ Stevenson suggests that the text of the novel will in itself inspire investigations into its origins and may inspire others to seek the potion that allegedly transforms Jekyll into Hyde, foreshadowing the one hundred year research undertaken by Klein and Utterson, the corporation desperate to use Hyde in the advance of science. Stevenson promises to keep the secret of the potion’s formula, of ‘Dr Jekyll’s last secret’, and that it will die with Jekyll.

Later, Hyde channel hops, like Cal did in ‘Forest of the Dead’, through Jackman’s memories and discovers ‘a costume drama’ which is the meeting between Stevenson and Jekyll in 1886 that the audience has already seen. Hyde observes in his child-like way, ‘It’s like Victorian times. And Daddy’s here. No, not daddy. Granddad. No, Great-Granddad. Great, great whatever…’ and Moffat also manages to have some fun at the expense of other adaptations of the story, with contemporary Hyde confirming that his other double is ‘Doctor Jekyll. The original. Doesn’t look a bit like Spencer Tracey.’ Another little detail is also provided by Syme who explains that Jekyll was originally pronounced by Stevenson, a native Scot, as ‘Jeekul’ thus intriguingly suggesting that ‘Jeekul’ is yet another double, another appearance in a gallery of male and female doppelgängers in the series.

The rewind function allows Hyde to eavesdrop on Stevenson and Jekyll, who are no longer in private, and to witness Stevenson writing down the formula that many have been looking for and passing it to Jekyll before it is thrown on the fire. Hyde uses his ability to rewind Jekyll/Jackman’s memory, to rewrite time, by pulling the discarded formula out of the fire. The secret at the heart of Moffat’s interpretation of Stevenson’s story is finally revealed as a big close up of the note declares, ‘there was no formula. It was the girl’.

Hyde uncovers the meaning of the note when Jekyll’s maid Alice is revealed to be a relative of Claire, Jackman’s wife. Hyde and Jekyll simultaneously recite ‘It is not a tale, it is a trap’, suggesting that the book is a smokescreen to divert any future attempts to resurrect Hyde, and in the present day Hyde informs Syme that the institute, in their attempts to replicate Jekyll’s formula, has been sent ‘on a wild goose-chase. With a bit of murder on the side’. In essence this is also what Moffat has achieved with the viewer in his customary use of mis-direction, red herrings and dislocated sub-plots in Jekyll.

Again, the use of prolepsis and analepsis and Hyde’s ability to engage and interject in memory offers a wry commentary on television viewers and agency, on the producing and experiencing of multiple viewpoint narratives in Jekyll that align with Stevenson’s own elusive and fragmented Gothic text where the subjective viewpoints are also in flux. The original is, like many Gothic texts, as Elaine Showalter remarks, ‘composed of fragments and fractions, told through a series of narratives that the reader must organise into a coherent case history’. (4) The audience watching Jekyll are asked to do the same just as they will continue to have a duty, with increasing frequency, to organise 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) Cavallaro, Dani, The Gothic Vision: Three Centuries of Horror, Terror and Fear, (Continuum International Publishing Group, 2002)
(2) Dryden, Linda, The Modern Gothic and Literary Doubles: Stevenson, Wilde and Wells (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003)
(3) Charles, Alec ‘The Crack of Doom: the uncanny echoes of Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who’, Science Fiction Film and Television 4/1 (2011)
(4) Showalter, Elaine, ‘Dr Jekyll’s Closet,’ in Ken Gelder (ed), The Horror Reader (Psychology Press, 2000)

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