HOUDINI & DOYLE Series One
Victorian X-Files with celebrity sleuths
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.