By far and away my favourite ever adaptation of the Caped crusaders exploits across any medium. Steven Moffat’s version of Batman breathed new life into the Bat franchise and also led to a whole shared universe based upon characters from DC comics.
In this article I will be giving an over view of the series, its cast and ultimately why I feel it was the best version of Batman seen to date despite some of the huge deviations it took from the source material.
In the early 00’s the Bat franchise was well and truly dead on the big screen. The latest entry in the series Batman and Robin had been a massive flop both critically and commercially at the box office. Though there were plans for a supposed Batman/Superman film, ultimately the rise of Marvel heroes on the silver screen meant that competition for a new Batman movie was much fiercer and thus scuppered these plans.
Indeed in the general public’s eyes at that point following the ever increasingly campier Schumacher movies, Batman was seen as old hat and past its sell by date. Even more so when compared to the seemingly more serious and complex Marvel heroes who were being given a greater exposure than ever before.
The Dark Knight’s resurrection in popular culture would come from the most unlikely of sources, the BBC in the United Kingdom and in a medium in which the Caped crusader hadn’t ventured into since the 1960’s, television.
The BBC had expressed interest in a television series based on a superhero from DC comics since the late 90’s following the success of Lois and Clark. Not wanting to compete with Smallville however a new series about the adventures of an early Superman as well as a new Superman movie that was in production that would eventually become Superman Returns. The BBC instead decided to produce a series based on Batman.
With all attempts to launch a new Batman film series having ended in a dismal failure there would be no competition for this new Batman series. The resulting project would be a BBC/Warner Bros co-production.
Steven Moffat at that point having been best known for his comedies Coupling and Press Gang was appointed producer and head writer of the series. There were some complaints from fans about a comedy writer being assigned the job of running the series. Many felt that this was an attempt to emulate the campy tone of the Schumacher films, but Moffat assured fans that he would take it very seriously being a life long fan of Batman himself. There were also some complaints about Batman being made British too, though once again Moffat ensured people that it would still be set in Gotham even if the actors would be British.
The series was simply titled Batman though it has often been referred to as Steven Moffat’s Batman by fans.
Peter Serafinowicz was cast as Batman which again caused some concern as he had been known primarily for his comedy roles whilst a then unknown David Tennant was cast his archenemy the Joker. Whilst there were some doubts about the show ultimately its first series broadcast in 2007 which consisted of just 13 episodes was a massive ratings success in its native UK and in America too. 4 more series would be produced in total.
The series adapted many of the most famous storylines from the comics including the Killing Joke, No Man’s Land, Arkham Asylum a Serious House on Serious Earth and it even incorporated elements The Dark Knight Returns too.
Throughout the series run Serafinowicz was highly praised for his performance as Batman but ultimately it was Tennant’s gloriously over the top, energetic and manic performance as the Clown Prince of Crime that predictably stole the show, with many considering Tennant to be the definitive Joker.
Its first series told the origin of Batman and saw him develop into the hero he would become whilst battling the crime boss Rupert Thorne. The second series meanwhile focused on the Joker. The Joker had been introduced in the first series where he had attempted to gas Gotham itself. After being defeated/upstaged by Batman the Joker decides to kill all of those closest to Batman and begins a campaign of revenge against him which lasts throughout the series and ultimately results in the crippling of Barbara Gordon and Robins’s violent death. The third series sees an adaptation of the No Man’s Land storyline which is caused by the Joker in this version. Series 4 meanwhile followed Ra’s Al Ghul who it is revealed managed to save Robin using the Lazarus pits and and brings him back as a homicidal killer who sets off after the Joker for revenge. The fifth and final series sees Batman take on his most dangerous enemy Bane and even briefly see’s Batman put out of action when Bane cripples him before he manages to recover and defeat him once and for all.
The show remained consistently popular throughout its run regularly pulling in audiences of 7 million. Though its viewers had declined somewhat by its final series according to Moffat this was not the reason the show ended. He said that it had simply come to the end of its run and both he and the cast felt it was time to move on.
The show proved to be so successful that the BBC would produce a number of other series based on characters from DC comics which were set within the same canon as one another, creating the DCTVU.
Despite the series vast success in resurrecting the Bat Franchise there were still a number of strong criticisms of the series.
There were many complaints from hard core fans over a few strong deviations from the source material. Though the series did adapt many of the most celebrated Batman comics it also did make many big changes too. For instance Barbara Gordon become crippled without ever becoming Batgirl, whilst Dick Grayson was murdered by the Joker instead of Jason Todd, also this series established a definite identity for the Joker instead of leaving it open like the comic books.
There were also some complaints over the levels of violence in Batman as it was aimed mostly at a family audience. The scenes of the Joker murdering and crippling Commisioner Gordon’s family in particular drew heavy criticism from parents.
There were also many complaints of sexism levelled at Moffat. Many accused him of over sexualizing female characters like Catwoman and Poison Ivy, though those in defence of Moffat argued that his versions of Catwoman and Poison Ivy ere no more sexualized than those from the comic books.
Despite some of the controversy surrounding the series it is generally regarded as a classic and is arguably the most successful version of the Dark Knights exploits having been seen in over 200 countries around the world.
Personally I found this to be the best version of Batman in spite of some of its faults as ultimately I feel it was able to incorporated a wide range of stories from different era’s even if it did make some strong deviations from the. I think this was because it tended not to stick to one era or even style and thus was able to incorporate more than other adaptations of the dark knight.
Peter Serafinowicz/ Bruce Wayne/ Batman
Serafinowicz would have probably seemed like an unlikely choice for the caped crusader. He had been known for playing primarily comedic and villainous roles, but he ended up being the perfect choice for the Dark Knight.
With his imposing 6 foot 3 height and dark looks he looked every inch the perfect Bruce Wayne and his natural talents as a voice artist allowed him to create a distinctive voice for both Bruce Wayne and Batman which helped keep up the illusion of no one recognizing Batman in his civilian identity.
Serafinowicz managed to capture the quite and understated age of Batman’s character. I think that’s the key to Batman’s success. He certainly can’t be a jokey, light hearted character unless you are of course going for an out and out comedy like the Adam West series, but I don’t think you can make him a character who loses his cool all of the time and shouts and screams everywhere. He has to be a calm, restrained menacing character.
Sadly in later series Moffat somewhat limited Serafinowicz’s performance by having Batman constantly go on about what a psychopath he is and often give big speech’s to the criminals he fought about all of the things he had done which would be enough to drive them away. To me and many others this was when the series started to go wrong. It is true that Batman is possibly mentally unbalanced due to the fact he you know dresses up as a bat and beats people up in the middle of the night.
Still though Batman’s lunacy again works best when its understated. Crazy people don’t know they are crazy so its best to have Batman if he is somewhat unbalanced not mention it. Having him go around saying “I’m crazy but I’m on the side of justice” just completely destroys that idea. Also it is true that Batman was somewhat undermined in the later years of his own series for Barbara Gordon/Oracle who would often think up the solutions instead of him.
Still despite these problems I think Serafinowic always gave a good performance and I’d rank him as the best Batman overall.
David Tennant/ The Joker
David Tennant was really the perfect Joker. He captured all of the characters main qualities superbly, his unpredictability, his dark, twisted sense of humour, his bitter, petty hatred of Batman and most incredibly of all he was even able to inject some sympathy into the character too. His scenes as the pre accident Joker who is given the same origin as in The Killing Joke are among the most powerful in the whole series, but by far and away his crowning moment is the scene where he is driven insane and becomes the Joker we all know.
Tennant’s Joker was the most recurring villain in the series. He first appears in the Episode “One Bad Day” which features his transformation after which he then returns towards the end of the first series in an attempt to gas Gotham. After being foiled by Batman he then returns as the main villain of the second series which follows his attempts to try and get revenge on Batman for upstaging him. He also serves as the main villain of the third series when he brings anarchy to Gotham and is a major recurring enemy throughout series 4 and 5.
Tennant’s Joker was arguably the most popular character in the series though despite this he was often also at the centre of much controversy due to the fact that many episodes he was featured in were often more violent. Also many fans felt he suffered from overuse too.
Naomie Harris/ Catwoman
Arguably the most polarizing character in the entire series. Catwoman riled many fans up the wrong way for many reasons. To start with many fans felt that she undermined Batman by constantly upstaging him and outsmarting him, others meanwhile felt that she was a sexist portrayal of the character. Catwoman’s origin in this series was that she was always a somewhat timid and weak willed person who became inspired to be Catwoman after she saw Batman. In her mind Batman was someone who took the law into his own hands and had managed to get away with it.
Many felt this demeaned an otherwise strong character by essentially making her existence all revolve around Batman as had it not been for him then she would never have become Catwoman.
Others also felt that Catwoman was far too overly sexualized too, with her making quips about enjoying S and M with Batman and also at one point suggesting she and Harley Quinn had a threesome.
Others meanwhile found the character empowering as she was given a considerably more heroic role here than in many other adaptations and even helped Batman defeat many other villains such as the Joker in the season 2 finale.
Others also argued that Catwoman having been created by Batman was not sexist as that had been a long running theme in Batman that he created villains such as the Joker.
As for what I think about Catwoman, well I have never been that big a fan of the character to be honest. I always found her rather weak as a villain and we all know I find femme fatale’s who use their womanly wiles to bedazzle male heroes to be something of a poor and dated cliche. Still I do like Naomie Harris as an actress a lot and I think Moffat actually did a good job of fleshing Catwoman out a bit more than other version by making her more of a lovable anti hero. I do agree though that her dialogue got a little bit cringey the way she was always flirting with everybody. I am pretty sure there wasn’t one line of dialogue she had in season 2 that wasn’t a flirtation of some kind.
Charles Dance/ Ra’s Al Ghul
One of the series best villains, Dance was the perfect choice for the role of Batman’s most dangerous enemy. In contrast to Tennant’s scenery chewing, hyperactive psychopath, Dance’s Ghul was restrained, calm, icey manipulative villain. He also looked the part too. Unlike the Joker as well Ghul also did not suffer from over use. Though the ending of his story did hint that he had survived thankfully he never appeared in the series again, though he did make appearances in other series with the DCTVU fortunately he was always used sparingly.
Steve Pemberton/ The Penguin
Steve Pemberton’s version of the Penguin took its cues more from the Tim Burton version than the original comic book incarnation. This version of the Penguin was portrayed as a grotesque, violent, sadistic psychopath. Pemberton apparently based his performances on characters from old horror movies such as Bela Lugosi’s performance as Iygor. Though some fans felt that this was not true to the character from the source material, but I found Pembeton’s performance lots of fun none the less. I liked the way he made the Penguin into a truly disgusting character. There was nothing even remotely charming or likable or even charismatic about his version of the character, he was loathsome right to his very core.
Karen Gillan/ Poison Ivy
The perfect Poison Ivy, except her accent. For some reason Moff let her keep her Scots accent so we got a Scottish Poison Ivy. Still that aside Gillan feels like she was almost born to play the role as she is such a good fit for it in terms of personality and appearance. Of course again some people accused Moffat of sexualizing the character, but I think its fair to say that Poison Ivy has always been somewhat sexualized.
Paloma Faith/ Harley Quinn
Harley Quinn in my opinion was the best female villain in the series. Steven Moffat got her characterisation down perfectly and Paloma was just superb in the role. She gave her an eerie, childlike persona that brought a real sinister edge to the character. I liked the way they didn’t try and soften Harley up. This version of Harley was every bit as dangerous and unhinged as the Joker himself was and had several episodes on her own against Batman.
Matt Berry/ Basil Karlo
One of my absolute favourite villains and one of my favourite performances in the series too. This series used the original version of Clayface who lacked superpowers and merely used tricks to commit crimes, though later episodes would give Karlo powers anyway.
There was a touch of Vincent Price in Theatre of Blood to Matt’s versionn of Karlo I always thought as he much like Price’s character in that film is depicted as an awful, hammy over the top actor who gets revenge on his critics in the most vicious ways possible. You can tell that Berry had lots of fun with the part.
A somewhat odd choice for the character, Brian nevertheless with his distinctive voice really helped to give the character a lot of personality and menace. This was a more restrained performance from Brian who tended to underplay Bane in a lot of scenes portraying him as a more cold, calculating menace, though at other moments when the character was enraged he did a fair bit of shouting.
Julian Barratt/ The Riddler
One of my fave villains in the series. Normally the Riddler is a villain that leaves me quite cold. He’s often present as just another version of the Joker, another cackling, insane villain, except he is not quite as effective. This version of the character was more presented as a neurotic, petty, insecure little man who was desperate to prove he was smarter than Batman. I felt this really allowed the Riddler to become his own unique villain more than in other adaptations and Barrat was the perfect choice for what was essentially Howard Moon gone bad. A petty, frustrated little man who thinks he is smarter than everyone else but isn’t nearly as clever as he thinks he is.
Colin Baker/ Rupert Thorne
The main villain of the first series, Colin was a natural for this choice. He’s always good as a villain or an anti hero and then there is of course his rather obvious presence too. Rupert Thorne is often overlooked because he is less colourful than some of Batmans other rogues but I have always found him to be a very interesting character who takes Batman back to his roots as a predator of criminals and Colin really captured his blustering arrogance. It was great watching Thorne get taken down by Batman in the end when he thought no one could touch him.
Mark Gatiss/ Mr Freeze
In contrast to many of the previous adaptations of the character this version of Mr Freeze was portrayed as a much more villainous character. Many fans think this was Moffat wanting to disassociate the series from Batman and Robin as much as possible.
Gatiss’s Mr Freeze was portrayed more like Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein a ruthless scientist who would stop at nothing to see his experiments succeed. In his final appearance which many fans including this blogger consider to be his greatest he is shown to slowly rot away and desperately tries to find a way to save his own life which ultimately fails making him one of the few villains to actually die in the series.
The Mad Hatter/ Sylvester McCoy
The Mad Hatter has always been a fairly dull villain in my opinion. With a fairly one note gimmick, and no motivation I think this series did a fairly neat job of making almost like Batman’s version Mxlypitlik a trickster who more enjoys causing mischief but is not absolute evil like say the Joker. The casting of McCoy was a total master stroke too.
Two Face/ Reece Shearsmith
One of my favourite villains Two Face was arguably the most faithful to his comic book incarnation of all the shows main villains. They even managed to stick in his intense hatred of the Joker too. Reece Shearsmith though again primarily known for his comedic roles was superb at capturing the characters psychotic rage and split personality.
Michelle Gomez/ Red Claw
A relatively obscure Batman villain, Red Claw was nevertheless a welcome addition to the show as she gave us a villain who didn’t have any romantic interest in Batman of any kind and was also a much larger threat too. It was really Gomez’s delightfully over the top, deliciously evil performance however that made what had previously been such a minor villain a firm fan favourite.
Robert Carlyle/ The Scarecrow
Fittingly one of the shows most frightening villains Carlyle’s Scarecrow was actually a more sympathetic figure who initially murders a man who sexually assaulted his young lab assistant using his fear gas. Though his initial victim is the lowest of the low its still quite a chilling scene as we watch the Scarecrow brutally torture him to death using his fear gas which he uses to make him believe that he is being eaten alive by rats. The rest of the episode sees Batman try and figure out who the killer is whilst the Scarecrow tries to cover his tracks and even frame an innocent man for the crime. Eventually he is caught and vows revenge on Batman for ruining his life and later escapes to try and get revenge on him. I liked the way this version showed us what a miserable coward the Scarecrow was. That was the great thing about the Scarecrow the huge irony of this weak, pathetic little man who obsessed with fear, and scaring other people.
Bernard Cribbins/ Alfred Pennyworth
Good old reliable Bernard Cribbins was superb as Alfred. He and Serafinocwiz had brilliant chemistry together though sadly Alfred was never really given that much to do in the series apart from one episode which focused on his character.
Peter Capaldi/ Commissioner Gordon
Definitely the best realized version of this iconic character outside of the comics. In most other versions Gordon is portrayed as a bumbling idiot who is entirely dependent on Batman such as in the Burton movies. Here however thanks to both Moff’s characterisation and Capaldi’s deep and nuanced performance they were able to make one of the shows most well developed and interesting characters in the series run.
Tommy Knight/ Robin/Dick Grayson
Robin has never been that popular a character among general fandom. The annoying teen that knows everything and is always ready for a fight. Its like Scrappy Doo and Wesley Crusher combined! Still I think this show did a not bad job with the character. Unlike a lot of other fans I actually liked it that they changed it so that Dick Grayson was the one who was killed by the Joker instead as I felt that made it more unexpected as had it been Jason then you would have known what way it was going, but with Dick I personally did find it shocking when Batman pulled his corpse out of the fire. I also think that Tommy did a good job of showing how dark and brutal he had become after he came back from the grave.
Michelle Keegan/ Barbara Gordon
Probably the least popular character in the series, I must confess to not being that big a fan of this version of Barbara Gordon either. It wasn’t to do with Michelle Keegan who is a fine actress it was to do with how she was written.
This version of Barbara never became Batgirl. Instead she discovered Batman’s secret identity by herself and later became Oracle after being crippled by the Joker. Oracle following the death of Robin would become Batman’s main sidekick throughout the rest of the series. Now I had no problems with Oracle being made his sidekick instead of Robin. I felt it offered up a fresh take on the Bat story.
Sadly however this was where a lot of there problems with her began. It very soon became the Oracle show with her funny sidekick Batman. She often was the one who came up with the solutions to all of their problems and she was often written in an unbearably smug way, plus like Catwoman a lot of her dialogue was often just her flirting with people. I think the problem was that Moffat let the sexist criticisms get to him and tried to overcompensate by making Batgirl the centre of attention and the one who solved all of the problems of the series.
Still at the same time it was good to see Oracle get some exposure as it is often her alter ego Batgirl who gets all the attention and personally I find Oracle to be a much more interesting character anyway, but sadly this version of her did end up overshadowing the main character far too much.
Top 10 Episodes
10/ The Fury of Victor Freeze
The final episode to feature Mr Freeze is also arguably the best. I felt that this episode channelled the Doctor Who story Talons of Weng Chiang in that we had a deformed menace working from an underground lair trying to find a way for his final experiment to succeed. Once again there are shades of Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein as well as we see Gatiss’s Freeze near the end of his life comment on how if he can just get it right once then every sacrifice will have been worthwhile including his own life. Gatiss is on top form here as he manages to make us pity Freeze in spite of everything he has done when he finally decays into nothing.
9/ Batman’s Greatest Fear
The second appearance of the Scarecrow in the series this episode has a fairly straight forward story of the Scarecrow just simply trying to get back at Batman, but its elevated greatly by Robert Carlyle’s performance I liked the way that the Scarecrow takes no responsibility for his own actions. He blames Batman arguing that all he did was kill an evil man but Batman put him in prison anyway and ruined his career and research. There are some really creepy moments like when the Scarecrow’s fear gas causes Batman to see some gargoyles come to life in the large church they are fighting in the end.
8/ This One’ll Kill You
One of the better Joker episodes this is the first episode where he is a villain and it doesn’t disappoint. There is a wonderful recreation of the moment from the Dark Knight Returns where the Joker gasses a television audience. David Tennant steals every single scene he is in, though the best moments are definitely when Peter Serafinowicz and David Tennant share the screen together. Their chemistry and relationship is just fabulous to watch.
7/ The Demons Head
This two parter which introduces Ra’s Al Ghul is a fairly faithful adaptation of his original appearance in the comic books. Dance is just the perfect Ghul in every way. He brings so much, class, menace and charm to the villain. Even though we all know the story by now the first time you watch you still at times almost think you can trust Ra’s because of how Dance plays it.
6/ Down the Rabbit Hole
A fun episode that basically just involves The Mad Hatter fucking with Batman in weird and crazy ways using his mind control techniques. Its similar to the Scarecrow episode only its more whimsical and McCoys performance really makes it a classic.
5/ Karlo’s Revenge
This episode is essentially a remake of Theatre of Blood with Matt Berry in the Edward Lionheart role. Here Karlo tracks down all the people who he believes ruined his career and kills them using methods people died in his old horror movies. Its one of the more outrageous entries in the series and Matt Berry has tremendous fun hamming it up as Karlo. He is probably the most flamboyant, over the top villain in the series and that’s saying a lot.
4/ Best Served Cold
Freeze’s first appearance in the series. A lot of fans were annoyed that this series ditched the tragic back story and made him a totally villainous character, but I preferred that to be honest. I think I had had enough of Freeze moping about his wife and I think there are only so many stories you can do about the tragic Freeze and Gatiss who is something of a horror buff really brings a Colin Cliver/ Peter Cushing/ Basil Rathbone quality to the character.
3/ Harley and Ivy
The classic double act makes its debut in this episode. There isn’t really much of a reason for Harley and Ivy to team up with each other, but it doesn’t matter as the chemistry between Faith and Gillan is great. Gillan serves as the straight man or woman rather in their double act with Paloma being delightfully bonkers, though at the same time I like the way they don’t tone down either Ivy or Harley. They are both still shown to be unhinged and dangerous sociopath’s.
2/ Joker’s Five Way Revenge
Based on the comic book of the same name, this episode drew huge complaints from fans when it first aired due to the levels of violence such as the scene where the Joker brutally tortures one of his former henchmen who betrayed him to death. This episode also introduces Harley Quinn who is shown to have helped him escape from Arkham at the start of the episode. Her origin is expanded on later in the series. Whilst this episode was controversial it was ultimately one of the most popular and even today I’d say that it is absolutely terrifying. In contrast to other episodes Tennant tends to underplay the Joker more as we see a more scheming side of the clown prince of crime though there are still plenty of classic moments of Joker insanity too.
1/ One Bad Day
The best episode in the series this episode adapts Frank Millers origin for the Joker. The episode is split between Batman trying to track the Red Hood gang, and a struggling comedian trying to support his family. At the end of the episode the two stories come together when the comedian named Jack ends up working for the red hood gang and just before he has to carry out the robbery which leads to him falling into the vat of chemicals his wife is killed in accident. David Tennant’s performance is absolutely superb in this story. He is able to switch between the vulnerable, loving and sweet Jack and the maniacal Joker at the end so superbly its terrifying. I found this birth of the Joker much more effective than Jack Nicholson’s. With Jack’s though it was of course well acted, his character was already a monster before he became the Joker. Really the only difference between after he becomes the Joker is that he is more flamboyant. With Tennant however Jack is portrayed as the last person you could ever imagine playing the Joker and its probably the highlight for me when we see Jack emerge from the lake screaming in agony only to catch his own reflection in the lake and burst into a fit of maniacal laughter. Its Tennant’s best performance in the series by far.
Thank you for reading.