Lizard Chew Review of The Boffin:
"I hate to be wrong, Dr. Smythe."
Ah, "The Boffin." The episode that dares ask the question, "Must all vampire-hunters be unspeakably goofy?" (If you don't know the answer to that one, you haven't been watching much of this show!) This isn't one of my favorite episodes, but "The Boffin" does give it the old college try. When the plot and the subplot do succeed, they're quite amusing. It's just a shame that they don't succeed more often.
Magnus St. John-Smythe is a bit predictable as the arrogant scientist; it's only when it becomes obvious that he's an incompetent arrogant scientist ("The trick, Max, is always to be prepared...") that he achieves his comic potential. (That's why "The Great Tickler," which features him in the latter role, is much funnier than "The Boffin.") I've always found the teaser for this episode odd. Clearly we're meant to think that the mysterious Smythe is a vampire and that he's about to attack Max, but we never get the comic payoff of the revelation of Smythe's true identity. The whole situation is resolved off-screen, and the show resumes with Max bringing Smythe home as a friend. Therefore, it's not funny, and the tone it establishes, of weird menace, is not really consistent with the rest of the episode. So I've never quite understood why they bothered. Gustav is also surprisingly prickly in the next scene, although Smythe is annoying. The trick with the "long-range solar frequency detector" wasn't nice at all. There's a definite grumpy streak in Gustav; I think he feels threatened by Smythe, even though he disparages his scientific approach, and the scientist brings this out. At least he saves Smythe's life at the end.
Like others, I can only wince at the continuity problems this episode creates. "Dracula" takes a flexible approach to vampire nature, it is true, but normally divergences from the "rules" make thematic sense or don't seem blatantly contradictory. For example, several of the vampires have unique effects accompanying their coming and going or deaths. But these effects are clearly related to their natures--such as Jonas Carey's puff of white smoke and "flicker" death--and they are only minor variations on the normal effects. This whole business with the sunscreen and the reflective surfaces that Dr. Benedict has allegedly invented, however, contradicts some basic facts about the vampire nature and it does so unnecessarily. "Dracula" abandoned so many of the major identifying characteristics of vampires, such as their avoidance of sunlight, their exclusively sanguinary diet, and their sleeping during the daytime, that I suppose the writers wanted to hang onto the inability to reflect, but lacked the post-production budget to support it, and this was their way out. But, really, wouldn't it have been easier to give Lucard a desk with a matte surface? It's too bad; Dr. Benedict seemed to have potential. When he first appears behind the door in the lab, he looks genuinely creepy, although he's even worse at carrying out a convincing attack than Lucard is. I don't know why they couldn't have given him something harmless to work on.
I have mixed feelings about Lucard in this episode. He has a couple strange lines, like "Time and motion, Dr. Smythe, those are my concerns," and no really great ones. He doesn't look all that marvelous or make any stylish gestures, and he doesn't hatch any brilliant schemes. His reaction to Smythe only hints at the comic possibilities inherent in a situation in which he's thrown together with someone annoying (later to be developed to devastating effect in "My Fair Vampire"). In fact, Smythe is much funnier in this situation than Lucard is. On the other hand, I've always liked his response to the news that Max knows about the gun; it's understated but unnerving. His exchange with Smythe at this point is also very suggestive: "The young are always much more ready to believe [about vampires]." "That's generally been my experience--until the parents stifle it." What can he be talking about? The way he tilts his head when he says, "I also hate people who try to stall...Dr. Smythe," is great. His "delayed-action vampire gun" comment is decent. So "The Boffin" is not Lucard's best episode, but this is more because he fills the role of anonymous villain than because he's actually misused. It's good that he doesn't act this way in most episodes, but I suppose it's not actually intolerable once in a while. Still, he has an even smaller role in "Black Sheep" and manages to cover himself in glory anyway.
"The Boffin" provides the first major advances in the romance between Chris and Sophie. This is another of the "Dracula" ideas which doesn't interest me very much. Nonetheless, it's hard not to love the goofy setting--what is that generic accordion music that always shows up in the background of "local color" scenes?--and the "avoiding Max" subplot unexpectedly becomes funny the third time through, when we see Sophie and Chris settled down on the floor, behind the table, to enjoy their sophisticated, romantic meal of pigs' feet. Max's "Looking pretty good under the table there, Chris," was a good line to finish the subplot off. Maybe it's just my prejudice in favor of Max, but I've always thought that his role as spectator, commentator, and promoter (to say nothing of occasional interferer) in the Chris-Sophie romance was one of the best parts of it. His "I wouldn't mind hearing an explanation, either," at the end of "Sophie, Queen of the Night," is classic.
So if you're a fan of "Dracula"'s star-crossed lovers, you won't want to miss this episode. If you're an Anglophile, you may enjoy it. And if you just want to see the scariest vampire transformation ever in the series, you'll need to see this one--or else, just look at the opening credits, which conclude with it. But most of all, this episode is important as background to "The Great Tickler." Since that is one of the funniest episodes there is, you really can't get around seeing "The Boffin." Not that this necessity is particularly harsh--it's not a bad episode, only an uninspired one. And if you find the main guest character annoying, well, at least you get to see him hung up like a side of beef in a meat locker. That's just the kind of service "Dracula" offers; wait around long enough and it'll make fun of any character you don't like.
Favorite quote: "The trick is always to be prepared, Max, so that in an emergency you can say--'Crikey! It's gone!'"
Worst plot hole: How in the world did Gustav find out about Smythe's top-secret project to begin with?
Best Lucard image: Sitting at the desk looking at Smythe's report
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