The BBC’s Young Dracula is one of those children’s shows that try to “mature” at the same rate as its audience grows older. Which is fine in theory, but does put parents in a difficult spot when children are discovering these shows on DVD/streaming instead of on a weakly basis on TV over the course of several years.
In the case of Young Dracula, there is a gap of four years between the production of season 2 and the production of season 3, so the jump in maturity is stark. Because of the resulting shift in tone (as well as in location and cast) I have decided to review the first two seasons of the show separately from the rest.
Seasons 1 & 2 of Young Dracula are aimed at a slightly younger audience than My Babysitter is a Vampire – I guess even children as young as seven could watch season 1. For season 2, eight to nine years are probably a good minimum age. These two seasons are set in a small Welsh town of Stokely, to which the Dracula family have moved after having been chased out of Transylvania by an angry peasant mob.
In these seasons, vampirism is used as a metaphor for adulthood, or puberty. Young vampires, such as our hero, the roughly 13-year-old Vlad (the “young Dracula” of the title), have barely any of the powers of an adult vampire, and none of the weaknesses. They have no fangs, cannot fly or turn into a bat, but they can go out in the sunlight, eat garlic, and they do have a reflection.
All of this changes when they turn 16, hence the puberty-angle. Vlad, the son of Count Dracula, wants to be a normal kid, and he hopes to be a normal, non-vampiric adult one day. This puts him in constant conflict with his father. The fate of being a young teenager who definitely does not want to grow up to be like his dad, and who receives no sympathy from his father/parents, is a fate Vlad shares with the other protagonists of seasons 1 & 2, Jonathan and Robin.
Robin is obsessed with vampires, and would love to be one, and finds his family and his father (a plumber) extremely dull. His parents and teachers are very worried about Robin’s obsession, while his brothers and school mates mock him mercilessly.
Jonathan (“Jonno”) Van Helsing would like to be a normal kid, doing normal stuff with his father, like camping or fishing. But much to Jonno’s chagrin, his father is obsessed with fictional creatures and the constant embarrassment turns his already difficult puberty into hell on earth.
Nothing in this show is revolutionary, or particularly novel. It is, after all, a kids’ show. And being a kids’ show, there was no lavish budget to spend. The set decoration is done with a lot of love and attention to detail, but while some of the sets and locations are quite nice, many of the props look like Halloween decorations. And there is almost nothing on screen in terms of production values, even though in season 2 they ramped up the use of CGI quite a bit.
But in spite of its small budget, and despite being “just a kids’ show”, Young Dracula is very funny and entertaining, and on top of that has some elements that set it apart from the usual dross that is fed to kids these days.
For example, the show has strong female characters. In particular Robin’s little sister Chloe, who has more brains than the rest of her family combined, and who is much more mature and responsible than Robin. It often falls to her to call her friends to order and help them save the day. Another remarkable female character is Vlad’s older sister Ingrid. Roughly 16 years of age, she is the essential mean girl you know from many a high school drama. But she also has no qualms with being a vampire, and often displays streaks of pure malice. Since she knows Vlad is basically a wash-out without any desire of becoming a real vampire, her aim is to inherit the title and the castle. She is scheming and cunning, and she enjoys being nasty. She cannot wait to get her full vampire powers and she excels in all things vampire, including knowledge of vampire history and lore. It is clear to her that she is the ideal heir to the throne.
Ingrid is therefore the centre of a running gag: the whole vampire world is based on “male-preference primogeniture”, so Vlad is the heir apparent, despite being younger than her. Also, the whole vampire world and culture is male-centric, with girls being of little value no matter what their talents. All they are supposed to do is to find a husband. For this and other reasons, Dracula senior is engaging in systematic misogynistic discrimination against his own daughter. Some may find these scenes disturbing, but they are presented in such an exaggerated way as to render them harmless and to stress the erroneousness of the Count’s behaviour. They are also amongst the funniest scenes of the show. My guess is that these scenes are aimed at British Asian girls (and similar groups) as a form of comic relief through recognition.
Young Dracula’s main strength is its cast (with exceptions). The undisputed gems in this cast are Renfield (played by Simon Ludders) and Dracula senior (played by Keith-Lee Castle with a considerable amount of “ageing-Rock-Star” vibe). Castle’s ability to perform this role with just as much over-acting as the character and the script demand, without ever slipping into “hamming-it-up”-mode, is absolutely amazing. It’s worth checking out this show for Castle’s performance alone
I’m sure you’ll find clips on youtube so you can see if you like the tone. If you have children you deem to be the right audience for this show, buying the DVDs for seasons 1 & 2 is definitely not a bad choice.
Rating for seasons 1 & 2: easily 7.5 out of 10.
PS: on re-watching the show for this review, I found it much harder to get through the first few episodes of season 1 than I did when I saw these the first time round. But the series does improve around episode 6 or 7. So, I’ll just add the disclaimer that, should you find the first few episodes of season 1 dull, it may be worth to stick with it and see if your viewing experience improves later on.