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Mild Spoilers - Houdini & Doyle Series One Review DVD

 I ordered the DVD box set of Houdini & Doyle after learning I would not be able to watch more than the first episode otherwise. The review below contains minor spoilers which I don't think will affect your enjoyment if you read them. However, consider yourselves warned.

Now let's get this out of the way right now - the historical accuracy is seriously lacking. The pair are meeting about twenty years before they actually did, Louise Doyle is in a coma in an institution which, unless I've really messed up as a biographer, she never was (leaving aside her time with ACD in Davos). ACD's father is portrayed as having had a house in London and, we're told, was confined in Bedlam when he became mentally ill (as opposed to Scotland where he really was). ACD did not come up with the idea for The Hound of the Baskervilles while on a ship with Houdini, Conan Doyle did not talk as he does in this series....

Etc, etc.

Leaving all this aside I found the series entertaining. It has been described as a Victorian X-Files and I can see this. There is even an episode with an (initial) alien angle. Doyle is the Mulder and Houdini the Scully. Constable Stratton does not fit into the analogy however and seems to walk the tightrope between the two men's polar positions. In other words she spends a lot of her time acting as referee. She also seems to spend time acting as the "official" means of access for the titular characters to the mysteries they investigate. That said she is also the mechanism for highlighting the struggles faced by women in this time who attempted to make their way in what were considered men's professions.


The series addresses serious issues to varying extents. It examines the way in which mental and physical illnesses were viewed and treated. It portrays racism and sexism and, naturally, it looks at the con artists who posed as mediums or faith healers and shows Houdini (and Doyle) unmasking them.

While the main events of each episode are self-contained there is a overall story arc for the series which has Constable Stratton as its focus. To go into this would be a spoiler too far but it is resolved by the end of the series.

Many people on social media have written this series off. I, too, fear for its future after ITV decided to screen all but the first episode on a pay only channel which even star Steven Mangan admitted he'd never heard of (see here). That said, it is almost certainly its reception in the US which will determine its future. While many commentators would not mourn its demise. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for more. As a three-time biographer of Doyle, and a stickler for historical accuracy, this surprises me but I'm happy to stand up and defend the series. Not on accuracy but on its entertainment value and the issues it does its best to address.


Written by Alistair Duncan Buy my books here

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2 comments:

  1. Well said, and I enjoy the show for it's fun story lines.
    I am not sure if it will last over here and have not really heard much buzz about it.

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