I am not really sure how many of my aunts and great-aunts are nuns. A lot. They color the memories of my childhood and young adulthood, and while some are no longer nuns, and some are sadly no longer with us, they remain an incredibly warm part of my life. They are literally responsible for me getting this far in the world. Adventurous, pious, a little revolutionary, and in possession of a firm belief to help anyone in need. These are the qualities I most closely associate with them.
Sister Agatha Van Helsing, the character created for the BBC three-part miniseries Dracula, which debuted in January, shares a lot of those qualities — except for maybe the belief in God part. But then again, she has the added task of vanquishing a vampire and an academic's obsession with learning about them. In doing so, the character played by Dolly Wells becomes far more interesting than even Dracula in this version of Bram Stoker's original story. She is a true scene-stealer, even when she's staring down a naked, blood-covered demon in the year 1897.
Scene Stealers is a celebration of the best supporting TV and movie characters in 2020. Chosen by us, and ranked by you.
"She is not like many nuns you have seen before," Wells said of her character about a year ago before the series debuted. "She's a real modern-day heroine, she's really brave, she's brilliant. I admire her hugely."
“She's a real modern-day heroine”
Based on Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, the veteran doctor created by Stoker, Sister Agatha has different qualities than the Count — discipline, conviction, smarts, humility, and curiosity, to name a few. Her traits make her a fine foil for the undead aristocrat with a Pommade problem. (Claes Bang, by the way, faithfully portrays a Dracula constructionist's ideal of the character.)
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Then there's Zoe. The modern twist in this tale is Van Helsing's descendent, Zoe Van Helsing, who is alive and well in the year 2020 in London. Zoe (also played by Wells) teams up with her ancestor through some wildly comic-booky blood magic. Eventually, both Van Helsings unite to defeat Dracula.
While Zoe, a vampire scientist at the fictional Harker Foundation, has an interesting story, there might be something too familiar about it for viewers. Shows that use modern technology to solve mysteries are a popular genre. A show just about Zoe would feel too much like Bones, but with vampires, for some.
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However, a spinoff series on Sister Agatha Van Helsing, set in her Budapest convent in the 19th century — obsessing over Dracula and fighting off lesser vampires and monsters — would make for a period piece that's downright compelling.
It wouldn't exactly be Buffy-but-make-her-a-nun, but it might borrow the serialized style of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for a more gothic era. Give it a setting rooted in the world of Stoker instead of Sunnydale, and you've got a gripping series about a scene-stealer from the original.
"What is your interest in me, Agatha Van Helsing? Who are you?" asks Dracula of Van Helsing from outside the gates of St. Mary's Convent.
"Your every nightmare at once — an educated woman in a Crucifix," she replies in kind, before turning her back on him and walking away.
The exchange comes near the end of the first episode — an impossibly strong chapter that the following two cannot match -- and sets up the critical plots and various subplots of the series. The story of Van Helsing vs. Dracula, the story of how Dracula carefully chooses his victims for their blood quality so he may live longer than other vampires, the story of a hunter becoming the hunted: It all happens in episode 1.
That showrunners Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat chose to cast Van Helsing as a woman, and a nun, is an interesting, welcome surprise. That she is magnetically portrayed by Wells was perhaps expected given her literally awesome resume, but this mix makes me wonder why we haven't seen more spinoffs around this enduring tale.
"[Sister Agatha is if] you combine all the sort of qualities of an atheistical nun with a sort of action hero," Gatiss told the BBC.
Let's hope Gatiss and Steven Moffat are open to working up a new story for Sister Agatha Van Helsing in the future. Her story is too rich and too timely for just one miniseries.