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Old February 5th, 2012 (8:14 AM). Edited February 6th, 2012 by Barrels.
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Young Dracula: Season 3 (2011)
by Barrels

What’s Young Dracula?

Probably the funniest British TV series you’ve never heard of. Cancelled in 2008 but revived three years later, it started off as a gothic kids’ comedy about the decidedly unvampiric son of Count Dracula, Vlad, whose misadventures trying to avoid his bloodsucking destiny formed the basis of the first season. A mildly interesting concept for the younger siblings of the Twilight generation, you might think, and for that first year you’d have been bang on the money.

See, Dracula was evil, but he never actually bit anyone; the resident Slayers were similarly incompetent, never managing to stake more than a rubber bat; and most episodes revolved around MacGuffins that Vlad thought might possibly end the curse of vampirism, except that they never did because then there’d be no more series. Half an hour of blood gags, running down castle corridors and the occasional decent special effect; nothing more, nothing less. Harmless fun… at first.

But the show was an unexpected success, developing a following outside its target audience (due largely to Keith-Lee Castle’s ridiculously hammy, totally clichéd, utterly hilarious portrayal of Count Dracula, it has to be said). And so someone high up decided to give Young Dracula a bigger budget, along with the promise of a third season.

And the writers went wild. Comparing the first and second seasons of YD is like standing a horse next to a hovercar; one’s so much slicker, better-looking, more ambitious and faster-paced than the other. Out went the tired old fart gags and castle corridors; in came drama, story arcs, characters with more than one dimension and a bunch of dizzying plot twists. And in came death, too, sneaking in silently with his Scythe of Stealth by the back door; Vlad’s neglected, bitter, perennially forgotten sister Ingrid (Clare Thomas) loses her first and only boyfriend through a shocking act of violence in the season finale, throwing her headfirst into a spiral of depression that twists painfully throughout the third season. (Almost unbelievably, things got worse.) As CBBC shows went, it was pushing the line. YD was a kids’ show no longer.

‘We really need new curtains.’

But perhaps this shouldn’t have been so much of a surprise. Even in its first season, the show made a point of dealing with issues that affected its audience; the Draculas’ flight from Transylvania to Wales and Vlad’s subsequent difficulty fitting in was a thinly-veiled metaphor for moving house, along with all the problems that entailed. Season Two stepped it up a notch. One episode introduced the Count’s brother, a reformed vampire who’d been ‘blood-free since ‘93’; tongue wedged firmly in cheek, the show envisaged blood-drinking as an addiction kind of exactly like smoking, with blood patches and homeotherapy available for vampires wishing to ‘control their vices’. Other issues given a vampiric spin included van Helsing’s ex-wife – who’d divorced him because of
his ‘vampire fantasies’ – and kids’ relationships with their parents’ new spouses (Vlad’s estranged mother memorably returns to give birth to a baby werewolf). It was a testament to the ingenuity of the show’s writers that they (quite literally, sometimes) got away with murder on a channel more used to cartoons, by twisting real life to suit their escapist situation.

But the metaphors never got in the way of the story;
YD’s eclectic cast of misfits, featuring among them a Welsh Goth with a vampire fetish, two hapless van Helsings, a deluded family slave who believed the Count would one day change him and a stuffed Russian wolf that fired oneliners whenever it was bored, all shifted up a gear in character development, marking a change from the first season’s focus on Vlad. You watched as events built on one another to a conclusion, all the signs clearly pointing to a multi-season epic, with subtle hints placed for future stories. It was all turning out so well.

And then… everything went wrong. Season Two’s triumphant cliffhanger baited audiences with the promise of a conclusive third iteration. Ingrid, mad with grief, had usurped her father’s title and vowed to turn the town’s streets red with blood. The Count, imprisoned in a UV cage, was powerless to stop her. And Vlad lay, seemingly dead, on the floor, after a climatic battle with the Slayers.

Then news filtered down from above that the BBC were making cutbacks, and
YD wouldn’t be returning for a third season. Excitement suddenly dropped. People started talking about other things. The fans complained bitterly, but the show was to stay buried for three years, long past the time they could reasonably have hoped for a revival.

Fast-forward to 2011 – and suddenly
YD was back on the agenda. Appropriately, the first episode was scheduled for broadcast on Hallowe’en; and, amazingly, it was better than ever.

Wisely, no one wasted any time pretending that less than four years had elapsed since the last go-around. Vlad – who was a scared, timid twelve-year-old when we were first introduced – is now a seventeen-year-old vampire with full powers and then some. Gerran Howell, returning, benefits hugely from a maturing character and snappier writing in which he gets many of the best lines. As the stereotypical kid-who-just-wants-to-be-normal, he always suffered unfairly from comparison to the rest of the bonkers cast; now, Vlad’s accepted his fate to an extent, and no longer spends episodes whining about how there must be some way, surely, to stop him becoming a vampire.

In fairness, this was never Howell’s fault, and so it’s gratifying to see his character undergo not one but two beneficial transformations (yes, two. Spoilers). Season Three marked the first time Howell truly owned an episode: the chilling Bad Vlad, in which Vlad’s vampiric alter-ego attempted – and nearly succeeded in – burning his father and sister alive, in addition to callously throwing his girlfriend aside for her best friend, who was only saved from drainage by garlic toothpaste. (It’s just the way YD works – unsettling macabre mixed with utter irreverence. You’ll learn to love it.) Oh, and there’s a genius moment with Year 8, the ceiling and an eerie rendition of Ten Green Bottles. You’ll never listen to it in the same way again.

‘Now you’re just showing off.’

Bad Vlad also brings to a head Vlad’s rocky relationship with his girlfriend - and if there was one thing earlier seasons were lacking, it was any kind of romantic subplot for the younger cast. Forgivable, perhaps, since the actors were playing fourteen-year-olds; but love and its pitfalls are rightly a cornerstone of Season Three. Sydney Rae White, as newcomer Erin, is convincingly both the perfect love interest for Vlad and a complex character in her own right; a trained Slayer, she comes to the Draculas with the intention of staking Ingrid but finds herself falling for Vlad’s grand ambition and morality. Crucially, though, she never loses her self-respect or sees Vlad as superior; even after he saves her from being burned alive (there’s a lot of that in this season), promising to ‘always protect her’, she considers him ‘the sweetest vampire in the world’. It doesn’t really help their relationship that everyone else in Vlad’s family considers her an abominable insult and fantasises out loud about destroying her, but that’s Romeo and Juliet for you. Why mess with a classic?

In closing… it’s worth taking a chance on
YD just for the gags. But if you watch carefully, if you strip away the vampiric element but preserve the characters, what you get is a painstakingly constructed, wincingly accurate parallel of modern life. You get something that’d never normally be seen on a kids’ channel. You get –

In short, you get
Young Dracula. It’s bonkers. It’s a milestone in pre-watershed broadcasting. It’s a laugh-out-loud romantic comedy, a thrilling and chilling adolescent drama, an idea that not only grew wings but horns and fangs and a mouth with which to shriek, ‘YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHIN’ YET, PAL!’


Ramona Flowers
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