by Kathleen Costa
In 1920, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini met sharing an interest in spiritualism. Doyle led the movement participating in many séances. Houdini was a professed skeptic, yet hid his true feelings about spiritualism and the afterlife. Their friendship continued for a few years, but a public feud about medium cases led to an ultimate breakup. FOX brings to television, with some literary license, a 10-episode first season exploring this relationship as the two men set out to investigate the paranormal: one wishes to validate as truth, the other wishes to debunk as fakery.
“The Maggie’s Redress,” the pilot airing in early May, is set in 1901 and introduces the two men as contrary partners. A murder at the convent has Doyle (Stephen Mangan) believing the dead may be exacting revenge, and Houdini (Michael Weston) seeking a more logical, earthly solution. They insert themselves into Constable Adelaide Stratton’s (Rebecca Liddiard) investigation causing her some embarrassment with her superiors. With more ghosts, reincarnations, faith healers, mediums, mysterious demons, alien abductions, and vampires in subsequent investigations, along with real-life Bram Stoker and Thomas Edison, Houdini and Doyle and Constable Stratton are in for a rough time.
While collaborating in various investigations and managing conflicting opinions, everyone is dealing with their own personal issues. Doyle is raising his two children alone while his wife is unable to wake from a coma. He solicits the faith healer to help with surprising results. Houdini, while perfecting his London show, keeps a protective eye on his mother and tries working on his interpersonal relationships with Constable Adelaide. She, however, is not completely taken with his awkward charm focusing more on her career riddled with criticism and prejudice against her as the first woman at Scotland Yard. They work well together finding reasonable solutions, but sometimes a ‘twinge’ of the paranormal cannot be explained.
Houdini & Doyle has delightfully captured my interest and is well worth watching. Each episode provides a curious puzzle for the team to solve using quick wit, but also conflict as Houdini often debates Doyle’s gullibility. I also enjoyed expanding my knowledge by Googling more about the two men and their relationship, early beliefs in spiritualism and paranormal incidents in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the presence of women on UK and US police forces (Edith Smith; Alice Stebbins Wells). I find the series a refreshing twist to the Sci-Fi genre: famous real-life characters joining together, early twentieth century confinements, and the bustled dresses and suits and hats. I hope it will be picked up for a second season.
Houdini & Doyle has earned 5/5 Mystical Crystal Balls or as Houdini might argue, “Just Plain Balls of Glass!” It airs on Mondays at 9 p.m. on Fox.
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