There’s a sense of mystery about Harry Houdini that isn’t easily dispelled. Even to this day, escape artists and stage magicians still revere his name and hold him as a benchmark figure in performing legerdemain and feats of, well, magic; but few realize that he was as sceptical of the unknown as any scientist. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, inventor of the ideal detective figure, actually possessed a deep faith in things unseen, which would come as a surprise to his readers.
Still, they actually were friends in real life, but imagine if they had put their talents together…
That’s the premise of the new television show from Shaftesbury Television and Big Talk Productions in association with Shore Z Productions: Houdini and Doyle. Inspired by an actual friendship between these two unlikely masters in their respective fields, they still manage to combine talents to solve crimes utilizing their unique skillsets.
This Canadian/British production has a similar flavour as Shaftesbury’s other smash success, Murdoch Mysteries, but has more of an authentic historical accuracy to it. Though the fact that Doyle and Houdini were indeed friends, the actual details of the friendship have been clearly been exposed to some creative license for entertainment value.
But the real challenge is that I can’t decide who’s cooler? A master magician and escapologist or the creator of one of the greatest literary figures ever known.
Yeah, that’s a toughie.
I think the thing to look for is the chemistry between the two. Given that they both have diametrically oppositional opinions about the supernatural, then that’s going to be the decider for this show.
Houdini is played by Michael Weston (House, Six Feet Under), a veteran of American television drama ripe with chemistry-rich principal characters. The character of Harry Houdini is basically a disillusioned sceptic who has grown frustrated with the fact that his performances have somehow increased the belief in the paranormal. When forced to work with devout believer in the supernatural, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Britain’s Stephen Mangan (Episodes, Green Wing, I’m Alan Partridge), the two discover a mutual distrust of each other’s differing perspectives. This creates a dynamic relationship filled with opportunities for rivalry, humour and comparative brilliance.
Plus, there’s the typical male obsession of embarrassing other guys. In other words, this should be fun.
An added dimension is the presence of Constable Adelaide Stratton, the first female police officer at Scotland Yard. Remember, this show is set in the turn of the century. Women are still struggling for political equality and the fact that she even has a position at Scotland Yard, babysitting Houdini and Doyle as their official police liaison. However, as she knows this, it still compromises her status as a police officer as they continue their investigations. Still, she manages to match her male compatriots’ stubbornness in intensity and purpose. Stratton is played by Toronto actress Rebecca Liddiard (Murdoch Mysteries, Karma’s a B, Man Seeking Woman) and is extremely familiar with the historicity of the period and the character she plays because of her work on Murdoch Mysteries.
Who knows? Perhaps we might be able talk with Rebecca and get her take on her role in the future?
I’m a History teacher. While I look for accuracy in historical fictional pieces, I also want to be entertained just like everybody else. This is a show that I’m really interested in for the geek-factor of the early century version of the X-Files-like entertainment this promises to be. The talent and the fact that this is a production from a Canadian company is also a great attraction for me. Given my own UK roots, the collaboration is something that I also really highly value. Of course, the added presence of humiliation between colleagues should also add the right type of humour.
In the end though, it’s the mystery factor of exploring these two characters that should prove to be really entertaining and enjoyable. Look at it: a character based in rationality who believes in the unseen, and a character who performs unbelievable feats yet debunks others who demand faith over fact.
Yeah … this is going to be fun – believe it.