Random Musings -- The Boffin

Random Musings About The Boffin:

Ah, the boffin. In case you don't know:

bof·fin also Bof·fin n. Chiefly British 1. A scientist, especially one engaged in research. [Origin unknown]
I've always been terrifically fond of this episode, I guess because it's just so darned spiffing. Actually, this was the first episode I ever saw, back in 1990 when the series was first running. Always the night bird, I'd turned on the television at 12:30 AM and here was this extremely bizarre show. I had no idea what was going on... I'd certainly never seen a show like this before... a strange looking man reading a newspaper called Le Soir [The Night], filmed at odd angles, following a little boy down some unusual looking street and then telling him he didn't need the huge bulb of garlic hanging around his neck...? Of course I realized rather quickly it was about vampires, but I just couldn't understand how Chris and Sophie sitting on the floor playing some video game and talking in metaphors quite fit in. Little did I know how hooked I'd become.

The Boffin is, in my opinion, thoroughly delightful. This is an episode certain vampire fans would no doubt look down their noses at, but I love the wacky camera angles, over the top humour and general campy atmosphere. I talked about "camp" in my last musing, but I get the impression that there are a lot of people who don't really understand/appreciate what that is. For example (not to criticise this person at all, but it's just such a perfect example of how differently one can look at certain scenes of this show), a visitor to Lucard's Home Page wrote:

Was it just me or was the rescue scene in "The Vampire Solution" rather cheesy? When Gustav and the rest of them are trying to escape, Lucard and Klaus beat them to the door of freedom. When they change out of bat form and back into themselves they strike this pose that is kind of corny. All they need, with that pose, is a top hat and a cane and they can do the soft shoe!

Kind of like the chasm behind Lucard's fireplace, it's virtually impossible to explain camp. ("Any scientific explanation would only scratch the surface of so great a mystery.") The dictionary says it's "banality, artifice, ostentation, etc., so extreme as to amuse or have a perversely sophisticated appeal." I like George Melly's comments on camp better: "That camp is usually self-mocking is evident... When camp is tragic, and it can be, it is always personal and never universal. That it is sometimes silly and snobbish is obvious. It is however always, and at whatever cost, a cry against conformity, a shriek against boredom, a testament to the potential uniqueness of each of us and our rights to that uniqueness." As I commented last week, "Dracula: the Series" knows how to camp it up, and does so intentionally. That's why it's not simply some goofy kids show. The posing, the spins, Magnus St. John-Smythe's name and vocabulary... these are camp, my dears. They are not "corny," or "cheesy," and I will not apologise for them.

But, back to the episode at hand. (Why do I go off into these tangents? I am behind enough with these musings as it is!). As much as I find Arthur Bauer an annoying little creep, I like Magnus St. John-Smythe. His name, by the way, is perfectly chosen (you can tell how much fun the writers had with this episode; all the over the top English English is simply a scream); St. John is one of those particularly English names which is never to be pronounced the mundane way it's spelt! Oh, no. It's "SIN-J'N," not Saint John. And of course, to make it even better, our Magnus has a hyphenated name, implying he's from an old and snobbish aristocratic family (or at least that he wants us to think he is). What's funny here is that actually his name is the most ordinary thing possible: John Smith.

Gustav doesn't like Magnus, and it's not just because he's a bumbling goof. Magnus St. John-Smythe is the self-proclaimed "leading authority in the science of vampirology in the world today," and, of course, the inventor of the laser-powered vampire gun. As a vampire scientist he is challenging Gustav's old-fashioned ways. There's an interesting battle being waged in this episode, beyond the usual conflict between Gustav and Lucard--it's the battle between science/technology and tradition. According to Magnus, garlic, crosses and wolfsbane are all old hat. Science has come to the forefront. Magnus has studied how vampires are "affected by exposure to the photon waves in the solar and ultra-violet lengths" (i.e., daylight) and claims he has invented a "sort of laser that fires amplified sunlight--a ray so powerful no vampire could stand up against it." Gustav makes fun of him, and is rather pleased, I think, when the gun turns out to be (seemingly) ineffective against Lucard's colleague Dr. Benedict. "There are some secrets which nature never intended us to learn," he declares, after saving Max and Magnus with holy water an improvised cross. There's no question that Magnus is eccentric, but, then, so is Gustav. It seems to me that Gustav is a little bit afraid of new technology... that perhaps some of Klaus' jibes about his age may have been particularly well-aimed.

Of course, it turns out in the end that Magnus' gun did work after all, if only just a little bit slowly. Dr. Benedict is vaporized and Lucard rather foolishly destroys the gun (an action which he later regrets). I found the character of Dr. Benedict rather weird... or, rather, his projects. He is a research scientist whom Lucard "promotes" to vampire status because his "breakthroughs in high-powered sun screens" have "meant a whole new way of life for those who are sensitive to sunlight" and he's done remarkable things with "synthetic reflective surfaces." Synthetic reflective surfaces?? Why would it make a difference whether a mirror is synthetic or not? According to Gustav, vampires don't appear in mirrors because they exist neither in the world of the living nor of the dead. This is one of the only continuity flaws I've noticed in the series, and it pains me. They shouldn't have sacrificed continuity for a couple of lines that sound good. Of course "synthetic reflective surfaces" may explain why Lucard reflects in his desk, and in the drinks tray in "I Love Lucard." And the bit about sun screens... What does Lucard need sun screen for? He didn't have sun screen in Bram Stoker's book and he never had trouble walking about in the daylight then. All the vampires in the series are able to go out in the sun (they simply have no vampire powers then); it's impossible to believe they all have access to the sunblock that Dr. Benedict created. So what is the purpose of the product? I guess sunlight is bad for vampires to some extent; that's why the vampire gun, with its highly concentrated solar ray, works. But it must be a very slight sensitivity. I do wish this had been further explained.

Just a few more comments (no wonder I am so far behind... I always get carried away, don't I?). When it comes to marvellous camp, Lucard's dramatic posing beside the wooden vampire target is tops. I also adore the way he says "spiffing" after Magnus leaves his office. And I noticed that Gustav has an awfully goofy (albeit hoarse) giggle... a lot like Klaus's. Like father, like son, apparently. Of course, I can't fail to point out that this is the first, but by no means the last, time Lucard throws something (in this case, the vampire gun) into his fireplace. He really seems to enjoy doing that.

Follow-up Comments:

Sarah T.:
I've never seen "The Boffin," but clearly sunlight has some effect on vampires: they do lose their powers in the daytime, after all. Perhaps, without the sunblock, it also causes mild, though not debilitating, discomfort--like what you feel on a day that's too humid. Even if it were only a minor annoyance, it would doubtless be a relief to be freed from it after centuries! I don't get "synthetic surfaces" at all, but, darn it, Lucard does blatantly reflect in his desk.

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