Vic­to­rian X-Files with celebrity sleuths

SFX - - Reviews -

re­leased OUT NOW! 2016 | 15 | dVd Cre­ators david Hosel­ton, david Titcher Cast stephen Man­gan, Michael We­ston, re­becca lid­di­ard

His­tory may well be writ­ten by the vic­tors, but it’s hap­pily rewrit­ten by TV scriptwrit­ers. Over 10 episodes, Houdini & Doyle con­tains maybe one his­tor­i­cal ac­cu­racy – the first pa­per­back edi­tion of Drac­ula was pub­lished in 1901 – and who­ever let that slip through was prob­a­bly fired.

The show shame­lessly mashes fact into a pulpy mess, start­ing with its very premise. Sher­lock Holmes cre­ator Sir Arthur Co­nan Doyle and es­capol­o­gist Harry Houdini did meet in real life and form an ac­quain­tance based on a shared in­ter­est in medi­ums (with Doyle the be­liever, Houdini the de­bunker). How­ever, they didn’t meet un­til 20 years af­ter the 1901 set­ting of this ITV se­ries, and they cer­tainly didn’t be­come a su­per­nat­u­ral crime-bust­ing duo for Scot­land Yard. Add in Doyle grow­ing up in Lon­don rather than Scot­land, Lon­don’s first fe­male po­lice of­fi­cer ap­pear­ing years be­fore she should have and terms like “space­ship” bandied about, and you’ve got a show that ap­pears to ex­ist in a par­al­lel uni­verse.

Which would be fine if it had the de­cency to come across like a “fan­ci­ful yarn”, but only two episodes come any­where near the kind of Guy Ritchie’s Sher­lock Holmes vibe the show des­per­ately needs: one deal­ing with Springheeled Jack, the other with vam­pires. In most of the other episodes, the show’s like some bland Silent Wit­ness with han­dle­bar mous­taches. Even a promis­ing story about “aliens” in the coun­try­side ends up more like Mid­somer Mur­ders. The “su­per­nat­u­ral” oc­cur­rences lead to banal pro­ce­du­rals with of­ten silly de­noue­ments (un­der­ground trains caus­ing ghostly-look­ing gassy emis­sions). A cou­ple of episodes are sim­ply im­mensely dull.

It’s a shame that the dour tone bat­tles with the wan­ton dis­re­gard for his­tory, as the cen­tral char­ac­ters – Doyle (Stephen Man­gan), Houdini (Michael We­ston) and that fic­tional first po­lice­woman, Ade­laide Strat­ton (Re­becca Lid­di­ard) – ac­tu­ally form a very like­able and watch­able trio.

It looks like a show rushed into pro­duc­tion

Sure, Man­gan doesn’t have a ter­rific range, but he gets away with it un­der the cover of Doyle’s Bri­tish re­serve to give the guy a gruff charm. We­ston is ex­cel­lent as the mouthy Houdini, fight­ing his own demons, while Lid­di­ard is de­light­fully feisty as the anachro­nis­tic Strat­ton.

Else­where, stylish pro­duc­tion de­sign is badly served by flat light­ing, while the score could po­litely be de­scribed as avant garde… or, less po­litely, as fart­ing ele­phants danc­ing to hurdy-gurdy mu­sic. What­ever it is, it grates.

Houdini & Doyle looks like a show rushed into pro­duc­tion be­fore any­one had worked out what it was sup­posed to be. And once they started work­ing on it it seems no­body could agree either.

Extras None. Dave Golder

Kids’ show Men­tors brought Co­nan Doyle to the present in 2000, played by The X-Files’ Wil­liam B Davis.

The trouser-pocket cuffs were trick­ier than ex­pected.

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