The year 2006 saw the best vampire television series so far debut for a run far, far too short. No, not “Blood Ties” wonderful as that show was. Nor was it “Ultraviolet,” another lamented program that left the airwaves too soon.
“Young Dracula.” Sounds like a children’s show, doesn’t it? Well, yes and no. The program aired on CBBC, a kind of children’s television network in the United Kingdom. The hero began the show at age twelve. But dismissing it as child’s fare recalls the over-quick judgment of those who knew “Harry Potter” was unworthy of an adult attention. Actually, the show bears more than a few resemblances to Harry Potter.
Our hero is Prince Vlad, son and reluctant heir of the infamous Count Dracula. Fleeing one too many peasant mobs armed with torches, the Count has relocated. Not understanding anything about the internet, he let Vlad find a castle for the family. Vlad chose one in the English suburb of Stokely (not as odd as it sounds–Britain is dotted with castles of various sizes and states of repair) in hopes of getting to taste a real life. He doesn’t want to become a vampire, which he is destined to do at age sixteen. In a fascinating bit of lore, vampires in this world are born relatively human but begin to go vampiric as they hit puberty. At age sixteen, they go to their family’s Blood Mirror (a mystical artifact all vampire families possess) where the reflection of themselves as a vampire emerges from the glass and merges with them (hence no reflection evermore). During the show we see this happen twice, with fascinating consequences…
Vlad quickly makes friends with a local boy named Robin Branaugh, a fun-loving lad deeply envious of all that Vlad would gladly give away–the darkness, the gothic heritage, the coffins and capes, etc. For much of the first season they are joined in various adventures by Chloe, Robin’s younger and incredibly brilliant sister (how many ten-year-olds can read Egyptian hieroglyphics?). Their little trio gives off a definite Harry/Ron/Hermione vibe, while at the same time remaining themselves rather than a clone of Rowling’s works. Mind you, Vlad has a sibling as well–Ingrid, almost a full vampire herself and everything her father could wish for. Her icy cruelty and contempt for ‘Breathers’ (a derogatory term for human) finds its equal only in the Count’s utter lack of concern. She may be a perfect nascent vampire, a future Princess of Darkness, but Ingrid is also a girl. So the Count doesn’t care. Her efforts to win his approval often prove hilariously ineffective, yet also touching, even tragic. A wonderful example of taking a cliché, then rendering it great by taking it seriously.
Therein lies a lot of the success of the story. Nobody stays still, while their characters always contain plenty of nuance and surprising quirks. Vlad does all he can to reject his vampire heritage, but when he develops powers isn’t above using hypnosis to get Robin to avoid a girl they both like. Chloe, a very clever girl (to put it mildly) doesn’t let her own friendly feelings towards Vlad stop her from realizing just how dangerous hanging around a bunch of vampires must be–so she does all she can to keep her own family away. Ingrid, while reveling in the popularity her looks and dark glamor excite (she even has the boys at school pay to enter a lottery over who’ll take her to the Valentine’s Day dance), still hankers after approval and affection. A simple act of kindness impacts her deeply. Likewise, the Count’s estranged wife now and then shows up, always with some totally underhanded scheme at play–her very evil the reason the Count, despite being the target of such machinations, still longs for her (while usually denying it, vehemently).
Along the way we meet Robin and Chloe’s twin brother, a pair of mutton heads so totally enamored of Ingrid they’ll hear nothing bad about her (Sometimes, one of them says, she even lets us keep our lunch money!). Then there is the shop teacher, a man named Van Helsing who longs to be a vampire hunter in the tradition of his ancestors. Given the level of his obsession (he tends to see the undead everywhere) this has damaged his relationship with his wife and son (a bookish lad also enthralled with Ingrid). This, plus his penchant for disguise (usually as a woman) provides a fair amount of the copious comedy in the series.
You can see a lot of layered dynamics between all these people trying so desperately to live up to or reject what their families want. It makes for a rich mine of material, which if anything gets even better in the second season (what the British call the second series). Then, as Ingrid becomes a full vampire, Van Helsing’s wife returns to him, Vlad begins to develop his first fledgling powers (and at a rather astonishing rate), the story becomes deeper and still more interesting with every episode.
What a very great shame the producers couldn’t find the backing for a third season!
As of now, the show is not available on DVD, but the entire series can be viewed (and downloaded) from YouTube. Don’t deny yourself this treat.