Monday, August 14, 2017

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Jekyll and Hyde


Robert Louis Stevenson's 1866 novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is one of the key foundations or texts of the modern horror genre. The story concerns the duality of human nature, according to some, as the respectable Jekyll becomes the dark brutal Mr. Hyde.  

Others scholars the work as a study of how the unconscious mind can manifest its darkest desires; creating a personality of its own in the process.

The Jekyll-Hyde story is irresistible for cult-TV programming for a few reasons.  First, it exposes the under-side or dark-side of regular characters. 

On a more practical level, the Jekyll/Hyde duality allows a series actor to show a dark, violent side with no need for guest casting.  So the actor gets to show his or her chops, and at little expense to the production.


One of the most famous Jekyll-Hyde stories in cult-TV history comes from Star Trek (1966-1969). Here, in the episode "The Enemy Within," a transporter malfunction splits Captain Kirk (William Shatner) into two distinct personalities. One is good; the other is evil.  Although the evil Captain Kirk is a temper-prone, alcohol-guzzling rapist, it is also discovered in the course of the episode that his "dark" qualities help Kirk be the remarkable leader that he is.


Kenneth Johnson's The Incredible Hulk (1978-1982) is a series-long paean to the Jekyll/Hyde duality. 

Dr. David Banner (Bill Bixby) must rigorously control his anger and rage, lest the monster from the Id -- the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) -- manifest. The series examines, in many ways, how human beings must control their emotions, or see a dark side emerge.


The "Jekyll/Hyde" being has also been a monster-of-the-week on many occasions. In Filmation's Saturday Morning TV series, The Ghost Busters (1975), the ghosts of Jekyll and Hyde manifest in a local grave yard. Here Jekyll (Severn Darden) is a gentleman, but Hyde is a cave-man, even down to his wardrobe of furs.  He is not evil so much as he is primitive, which is an interesting take on this duality.


In the TV series Man from Atlantis (1977), Mark Harris's (Patrick Duffy) superior -- C.W. (Alan Fudge) --  accidentally spills a strange formula in his morning coffee, and turns into a hairy brute, a Mr. Hyde-type creature.  

Almost immediately, he steals money, jeopardizes the institute, and comes on to a gangster boss’s lovely girlfriend. After Mark and Elizabeth (Belinda J. Montgomery) contend with an underwater probe that has been programmed to self-destruct, they must extricate C.W. from the mess he has made for himself.  Here, the Mr. Hyde being gives C.W. the confidence that he doesn't typically manifest.

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981) offers a female spin on the classic story. In this tale, Buck (Gil Gerard) -- in "Cruise Ship to the Stars" -- must protect the genetically perfect Miss Cosmos (Dorothy Stratten) from a pair of thieves, unaware that one of his opponents is a dangerous “transmute.” Sometimes, the would-be-thief is the meek, gentle Allison (Kimberly Beck) and sometimes she is the avaricious, incredibly powerful Sabrina (Trisha Noble).  Here, the Hyde character is associated with material avarice and human vice.


Other cult-TV series, such as Penny Dreadful (2014-2016), have featured the good doctor -- and his alter ego -- adapting the characters and situations of the novella to a serialized format.

1 comment:

  1. It's unfortunate that many of the Jekyll/Hyde presentations miss one of the salient points of the original:

    That Hyde is physically smaller than Jekyll, because he is missing parts of his humanity.

    As over-the-top schen-chewing as Kirk's verison is, it at least gets at that point -- that man's nature must stay in balance.

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