To the Home Cinema! -A Steampunk Journal Review of the television show “Houdini & Doyle” by Victoria L. Szulc
Houdini & Doyle is a television program loosely based on the friendship between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini. The show aired in the U.K., U.S. and Canada in 2016. In the series, the keen sleuth and famous escape artist investigate both paranormal and human events. They are soon joined by the plucky London Constable Adelaide Stratton in their adventures.
Victorian Murders and Mysteries
From the very first episode, involving the questionable death of a nun in the Magdalene Laundries, we see the friction between Doyle, one of the first famous members of the Spiritualist Church, and Houdini, a magician who regularly debunks what others perceive as paranormal activity. Bridging the gap between the famous egos, Constable Stratton brings a practicality to their investigations. Through her patience and tenacity, she is begrudgingly accepted by the police force.
The trio investigates all sorts of phenomenon and creatures, from Spring Heeled Jack, a demon that appears to leap all over London, to an asylum that takes Doyle hostage. The costuming and sets excel in painting a dreary and frightening London that’s often brought to lighter shades once the truth is exposed in each case.
As the series progresses, some attention is given to the character’s personal lives in an entertaining fashion. Doyle continually seeks ways to contact his comatose spouse through mediums and faith healers while trying to raise his small children. Houdini flirts and beds his way through an extended visit to London while caring for his beloved Jewish mother. Stratton fights the sexism of her peers while dealing with secrets of her own, including the death of her spouse at a young age.
Are the Characters Real?
Doyle and Houdini were most certainly real. Later in life, Sir Arthur worked to help close several cold cases with previous medical education and investigation knowledge, and Houdini was known to call out mediums on their legitimacy while keeping his own escapes and magic a secret. Although they became quite chummy in the series, in reality there were rumors that, especially in later life, the two were not the best of allies after a difference of opinion on spirituality and the afterlife.
Stratton was lightly based on the first female constable in the London, but history shows that this first lady of the police wasn’t active in the position until eleven years after the show takes place. In fact many of the timeline details of the show are skewered. However, these discrepancies don’t seem to take away the fun of the show.
An exploration of Houdini and Doyle’s real lives will be in a follow up blog coming soon to Steampunk Journal.
What I Thought of Houdini & Doyle
I enjoyed Houdini & Doyle and honestly wish it had been renewed. In the U. S., it was well paired with Gotham (the retelling of Batman, with the starting point of the series being the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents). Both aired Monday nights on Fox and I miss that evening of television. I enjoyed the characters and felt like the series was just finding its footing when it was cancelled. It did well in the initial ratings, but the last airing was on July 4th here in the U.S. It would be hard to find anything doing well ratings wise on Independence Day, a national holiday.
The characters were decently developed. You could feel Doyle’s pain as his wife suffered. Houdini’s humor and randy behavior was excellent comic relief and foil to Doyle and the ever so serious Constable Stratton. The storylines had plenty of steampunky elements including a visit from Edison, Bram Stoker, and mentions of other famous inventors and people of the era. I give it five out of five stars and encourage its rental or purchase of the DVD. Although Rotten Tomatoes gave it a dismal 45% rating, 96% of google users liked the show, and IMDb gave it a 7.4/10. Main Cast: Doyle/ Stephen Mangan, Houdini/ Michael Weston, Stratton/Rebecca Liddiard
Give it a view on a rainy evening filled with the possibilities of mystery.
Victoria L. Szulc is a multi-media Steampunk artist/writer who is working her fourth Steampunk novel, Lafayette to London. You can follow her works at mysteampunkproject.wordpress.com and her author page on Amazon.