Frankenstein and the Creature.

Penny Dreadful is a Showtime TV series created by John Logan and produced by both Logan and Sam Mendes. The series premiered on US television on May 11, 2014.  


Victor Frankenstein in the series Penny Dreadful.


Frankenstein's Monster, Caliban, in the series Penny Dreadful.


This series takes a different approach when re-telling the age old Gothic.Victor Frankenstein, in this series, is a young, aspiring scientist, interested in the ideas of life and death and has discovered, through years of research, how to bring back the dead, or create life through two creatures. We first see Victor Frankenstein as a naive, sincere and focused scientist, only to find out his story is much more complex.

Major Themes


Penny Dreadful’s transformation theme is one that is subtle. In Episode 2, we receive a transformation of the creature (Caliban) from his creation (birth) through his education process to eventually confronting his creator. Unlike the book, whose themes of Education are hinted at throughout the whole novel, Penny Dreadful condenses it within a few scenes Instead of elaborating, it condenses the transformation, because it is assumed that the audience has an understanding of the Frankenstein genre. Penny Dreadful does seem to pull from Mary Shelley’s original novel, whereas the character seeks approval from society, and ultimately his creator. The knowledge he acquires is not only for his personal gain, but so that he can prove to his creator, Victor, that he was wrong in all that he thought about him.

Not only does the creature transform, but in the same episode we see a transformation of Victor through Proteus. His relationship with his new creature is fatherly and caring. We experience almost a new Victor, compared to previous knowledge of him through the original and through adaptation. He seems to have learned from his “mistakes” and brought in his creation, rather than turn it away. His fatherly conduct helps Proteus to assimilate within society, even inviting him to meet his colleagues. After Caliban takes Proteus away from Victor, we are introduced to a character that falls back into old ways. The producers seemed to play with this idea of transformation and regression.

Monstrosity === The idea of monstrosity is a major theme in not only this series, but in the Frankenstein genre as a whole. In this series, we are faced with characters deemed as “monsters” but the people who have labeled them as this have monstrous qualities in them as well. Frankenstein and his creature are great examples of this. When Frankenstein first rejects Caliban, he is horrified by him and considers him one of his biggest regrets. Because of physical qualities that Caliban could not help, he was deemed monstrous. But who is really monstrous in this sense? The man who can’t help his fate or the man who rejects upon first judgment? This same theme is sprawled across Mary Shelley’s novel as well, and we constantly ask ourselves if Victor is the monster, rather than the man he created. This series constantly plays with the fine line in which the audience can consider monstrosity, even through the other character plots within the series. Monstrosity coexists with that of Transformation, and the ideas of which it can change over time.   



Victor Frankenstein's Journal as seen in Penny Dreadful series.

Science is an obvious theme in Frankenstein. Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s obsession with what he can change and accomplish within the scientific world creates a life within itself. His obsession and curiosity is the reason the entire plot line is created. In Penny Dreadful, Victor is more interested in the aspect of life and death and recreating life from death. 

Besides being a life and death advocate, Victor dips his toes into the reconstruction of life through his creatures, Caliban and Proteus. After Caliban disappeared, Victor tries his luck at life from death again with Proteus. His constant knowledge and brilliant education constantly shine through his character within this series. Penny Dreadful uses the story of Frankenstein to embody Mary Shelley’s scientific ideas she uses throughout her novel.


Penny Dreadful’s critical reception was mostly positive. On Rotten Tomatoes, it received a 73% score from the critics and 88% reception from the audience. It was watched by over a million viewers in only its first season. Though generally received well, some critics found it silly and outlandish, but for the most part accepted it for a second season.

Significance of Adaptation

This adaptation is one of the most modern and recent adaptations that we have about the Gothic genre. Being released in 2014 and continuing in 2015, it proves the idea that the monster never dies, and that these characters are still relevant and interesting in today’s world. By sticking to a core plot, the director and producers of Penny Dreadful give new light to a dimming story.  

Unlike other adaptations, the creature is closer to what Shelley originally wrote about and veers far away from the culturally recognized square-headed, bolt-wearing “Frankenstein” creature that society most recognizes. By doing this, it gives credibility to the 1818 novel, and less to the dramatized ideas that later adaptations brought forth. The producer even admitted in an interview that he pulled a lot of his ideas from the 1940’s Universal Gothic series, proving adaptation has been adapted throughout time.  Even though Penny Dreadful can be considered an adaptation, because the series follows multiple Gothic genre classics in which intertwine, it falls into a category of appropriation. 

With this new age idea of combining the classics into one, it helps its audience to see a connection between Shelley, Stroker, Wilde as well as their characterization and general plots within their texts. It gives its audience a new way to think about the old genre, reinventing it all together. Penny Dreadful has created something spectacular and new that will change adaptation for years to come. 

The character employment is perfect for this series. Every character does an amazing job at identifying with the character with whom they are portraying. Victor Frankenstein, played by Harry Treadaway, truly embodies the innocent, frightened, intelligent character that we are introduced to in the series. His character development is sincere and overwhelming. Other characters are just as well received and characterized. Even the scenery, plot and direction in which the series undertakes is flawless and high in quality. 

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