Review: Houdini And Doyle (Episode One)

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Sherlock fans might be interested in this new mystery TV series about Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini. Here’s our review of the first episode…

It has long been a point of interest amongst Sherlock Holmes fans that Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the most famously logical mind in all of fiction, was actually a devout believer in spiritualism. It was a viewpoint that brought him into conflict with his famous friend Harry Houdini, the master illusionist and escape artist, who had no time for the supernatural. The new TV series Houdini & Doyle takes this fascinating friendship and plays fast and loose with the facts – setting up the pair as investigators of paranormal mysteries.

The result is like a kind of Edwardian era Scooby Doo crossed with The X-Files, with Houdini and Doyle in the sceptic/believer role of Mulder and Scully. This briskly-paced pilot episode has the duo help out the police with an investigation into a murdered nun – apparently killed by a restless spirit – after making a bet over whether a ghost was the culprit or not.

The two title roles are played by Stephen Mangan and Michael Weston. Weston’s Houdini seems at first to be a brash and arrogant show-off but actually his dismissing of his friend’s belief in spiritualism comes from a deep-seated hatred of “blood-sucker” fake mediums who pray upon those who’ve lost loved ones. Doyle, meanwhile, is a more agreeable, open-minded sort, although with an acerbic wit that is usually directed at Houdini. He is also the butt of a lot of jokes from the police who dislike how Sherlock Holmes is forever making derogatory comments about Scotland Yarders. Mangan does a good job in the half of the pair that will most interest Sherlockians, although it is a shame he uses an English accent for the part, rather than the real Conan Doyle’s Scottish burr.

They are joined in the investigation by their handler Constable Stratton (Rebecca Lilliard), a young woman who is trying to forge a career in the police. Rounding out the cast is her chauvinistic boss, Horace Merring, as played by Tim McInnerny (who is no stranger to unpleasant, Sherlock Holmes-related roles).

So is it worth catching? Well, the whole thing is perhaps a little fast-paced for its own good, as the characters only have the space to be sketchily drawn and the mystery seems to be over before we are properly invested in it. However, it has to be remembered that this is only a pilot episode and no show comes out of the gate running (our very own Sherlock excepted, of course). The strength of the premise of this breezy, undemanding series is enough to warrant giving the relatively short ten-episode run a watch. By that time, it should be apparent whether this is a great show or just as hollow as one of Doyle’s spooks or Houdini’s magic tricks…

 

Houdini & Doyle is currently airing in the UK on ITV Encore. It will air in the US on Fox, beginning May 2nd.

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