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Unconventional posthumous options were available in the concluding episode of Sky Atlantic’s gothic horror series Penny Dreadful. Billie Piper’s character Brona Croft, the consumptive Irish prostitute may have died a gruesome death, but that doesn’t prevent her from involvement in series two. Not if Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) has anything to do with it. After treating Brona on her deathbed, the young doctor gave this chilling reassurance to grieving Ethan (Josh Hartnett): “Don’t worry… I’ll take care of the body.”
Gothic horror is enjoying something of a revival on TV at the moment, from the absurd American Horror Story to the curiously restrained and sanitised Dracula, which was cancelled after just one season. This will not be the fate of John Logan’s Penny Dreadful, however, which has already been renewed for an extended second season just four episodes into its debut. Taking its inspiration from the sensational serialised fiction of the penny dreadfuls popular in mid-Victorian Britain, the show is a patchwork of famous Victorian literary characters featuring alongside Logan’s own fictional creations and all set against the backdrop of the most elusive and enigmatic character of them all, the city of London. This is the London of fog and gaslights, of excess and restraint, and the collision between modernity and tradition; a place where the spectre of Jack the Ripper still haunts every dark alleyway. "There is only one goal worthy of scientific exploration: piercing the tissue that separates life from death", says Dr Viktor Frankenstein, just one of the many literary figures reincarnated in Showtime’s Penny Dreadful. This is a show all about the spaces in between, the lines between the living and the dead, the beautiful and the horrific.
In a large dark Victorian house on Barton Street, Westminster, something dreadful is happening. The gas lamps are dead. Screams are rising from the next room – sounds of ordeal and agony. You wouldn’t run in to help; you’d knot sheets together and escape through the window.
Penny Dreadful’s Frankenstein Monster found a home at the Grand Guignol, first home to all monsters.
The latest examples of gothic horror on TV have ranged from the enjoyably campy (American Horror Story on Fox) to the oddly bloodless (Sky Living’s Dracula, cancelled after a single season). Producer/director Sam Mendes and his Skyfall collaborator, writer John Logan, have hedged their bets with Penny Dreadful (Sky Atlantic), a new series that acts as a kind of compendium of all the genre’s favourite tropes: body snatchers, opium dens, spiders and lots and lots of blood.
Fans of fantasy television have never had it so good. The schedules are stuffed full of superhero shows, Game of Thrones is turning dragons and magic into award-winning fare and channels are crafting intelligent shows around the likes of vampires, zombies and ghosts. Which is all just a way of saying that Penny Dreadful has some pretty sturdy competition.