10 Best Charles Dickens Adaptations

10. The Signal-Man (TV, 1976)

The Signal Man

We begin our countdown with one of Dickens' short stories, and quite an unusual one at that. While Dickens is most famous for his realistic dramas about real-world problems, he did occasionally dabble in more fantastical or supernatural forms of storytelling. While the Doctor Who episode in which Dickens appears does not make this list, for the reasons that I mentioned in my introduction, the short story which inspired that episode is worth a mention. The Signal-Man is a ghost story written in 1866, the year after Dickens had been involved in the Staplehurst rail crash and five years after the Clayton Tunnel crash which made national headlines. The story revolves around the eponymous Signal-Man, a dutiful but troubled man who relates to our narrator that he has twice spotted a figure standing in the nearby tunnel, once frantically signalling, once silent in a mournful pose. Each act has been followed shortly afterwards by a terrible accident, and now the Signal-Man fears what will happen when the spectre next appears... Dickens was famously criticised by fellow novelist Henry James, who set the template for most modern ghost stories with The Turn of the Screw (later filmed as The Innocents). But there's still a lot of potential in this story, and the 1976 version by Andrew Davies realises a great deal of it. Denholm Elliot, best known for playing Marcus Brody in Indiana Jones, is thoroughly convincing in the title role, and director Lawrence Gordon Clark does a pretty good job creating a creepy Gothic atmosphere. This is Davies' first of three appearances, and an ideal start to our list.

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