The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes Set 2
Recurring character(s): This anthology series does not feature a cast of recurring characters
Original air date(s): 01/23/1973 to 04/16/1973
DVD Date: 03/30/2010
Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 659 minutes
Note(s): All of the episodes in this series were adapted from short stories or novels written by contemporaries of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. See specific information about the authors and their characters under the episode synopses.
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Review: The tagline for this series reads, "Sherlock Holmes wasn’t the only fictional detective in Victorian London. Inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, other writers of the time created a colorful cast of sleuths", many of which are unknown to casual readers of detective fiction. The great appeal of this series lies in the introduction to some of these characters, which will no doubt inspire viewers to track down some of the stories in which they originally appeared.
Like most anthologies, there are some good entries and some not-so-good entries, but fortunately for this one, most fall under the "good" category. All the episodes in this series share a common look and feel, with a relatively small number of characters with speaking parts (6 to 8, at most) performing on a handful of well-designed and appropriately detailed sets. There are few exterior shots. The best of these episodes are those that seem to stay true to their source, with linear, straight-forward storylines that involve a crime, its investigation, and its resolution. At around 50 minutes each, there isn't time to do much more.
In contrast to the series tagline, some of the episodes take place outside of London and some of the featured characters aren't detectives or even amateur sleuths. In one episode, the protagonist is, arguably, a con man, though his intentions are good.
Below is a synopsis for each episode, provided by the studio, to which I've added some additional comments.
Episode 1: "The Mysterious Death on the Underground Railway"
When a young woman is poisoned on a London subway train, the police searching for her killer appear to be on the wrong track. Bright young reporter Polly Burton decides to unmask the murderer herself -- putting her own safety on the line in the process.
Based on a short story by Baroness Emma Orczy, this episode features Polly Burton, an investigative journalist in London and played by Judy Geeson. Baroness Orczy is probably best known for her novel The Scarlet Pimpernel, but was also a prolific writer of detective stories, including a series featuring Lady Molly of Scotland Yard.
Episode 2: "Five Hundred Carats"
Tensions reach the breaking point in the small mining town of Kimberley, South Africa, after the daring theft of the De Beers diamond. Insp. Lipinzki leaves no stone unturned in his hunt for the precious rock. The more he digs, the more deadly become the stakes for everyone in Kimberley.
Based on a short story by George Griffith, this episode is set in South Africa and features Inspector Lipinski, who is not, I believe, a series character.Episode 3: "Cell 13"
Irked by the grandiose boasts of the warden of Grangemoor prison, Prof. Van Dusen wagers he can escape from the vaunted high-security facility in less than a week. Daring him to “think his way out,” the prison staff accepts the challenge.
Based on a short story by Jacques Futrelle, originally titled "The Problem of Cell 13", this episode is one of two in this set to feature Professor Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen, who is also known as "The Thinking Machine". Quite possibly one of the most memorable short stories I read as a youngster, I found this episode to be particularly enjoyable.
Episode 4: "The Secret of the Magnifique"
The mysterious Mr. Laxworthy hires two ex-cons for a job in the south of France. But the self-described “adventurer” isn’t after money. His eyes are on greater prizes—the most valuable secret of the French navy and the reputation of two very important men.
E. Phillips Oppenheim wrote an extensive number of thrillers, most of international intrigue. This episode is based on a short story from his collection featuring the adventures of the mysterious J. T. Laxworthy.
Episode 5: "The Absent-Minded Coterie"
Amateur detective Eugene Valmont begins by investigating a counterfeiting operation -- and ends up uncovering an even more ingenious swindling scheme. But he may have met his match in one particular adversary.
This episode is based a short story from Robert Barr's collection The Triumphs of Eugène Valmont and features the former French chief of police who is now a private investigator in London. (It's not clear why the synopsis refers to him as an "amateur detective".) Barr was a close friend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who completed an unfinished thriller after Barr's death.
Episode 6: "The Sensible Action of Lieutenant Holst"
The dangers of revolutionary Russia come to quiet Copenhagen when a countess from St. Petersburg flees to the Danish capital, claiming her anarchist brother-in-law is trying to kill her. The case falls to local cop Lt. Holst, who struggles to make sense of it all.
This episode features Denmark detective Lieutenant Holst, created by Palle Rosenkrantz. So important was Rosenkrantz to Danish detective fiction that the annual award for the best crime novel published in Danish is called the Palle Rosenkrantz Prisen.
Episode 7: "The Superfluous Finger"
Asked to perform an unnecessary amputation, a London surgeon calls on his colleague, Prof. Van Dusen, to learn the reason for the gruesome request. Van Dusen’s investigation leads him to a country house; a mad, shotgun-toting aristocrat; and an incident three years earlier.
This is the second of two episodes to feature "The Thinking Machine" Professor van Dusen.
Episode 8: "Anonymous Letters"
A recently married Habsburg countess hires dashing private detective Dagobert Trostler to find out who has been sending her obscene letters. The writer clearly knows her most intimate secrets, as well as those of a friend who is likewise receiving compromising letters.
This episode features Dagobert Trostler, a detective in Vienna created by Balduin (sometimes Baldwin) Groller (real name Adalbert Goldscheider).
Episode 9: "The Moabite Cipher"
Coming to the aid of a man kicked by a rearing police horse, Dr. John Thorndyke stumbles upon an anarchist plot to assassinate a visiting Russian grand duke. The key appears to be a cryptogram written in ancient Moabite found on the man’s body.
This episode is based on a short story by R. Austin Freeman and featuring Dr. Thorndyke, a physician but also a forensic investigator. Many of Freeman's stories feature an inverted storyline, similar to those in the Columbo TV series, where the perpetrator of the crime is known at the beginning and the story revolves around how, in this case, Dr. Thorndyke solves it (though that is not strictly the case with this particular episode of the series).
Episode 10: "The Secret of the Fox Hunter"
When two European spies join a hunting party at an English country house, William Drew of the Foreign Office goes undercover to pursue his own type of prey. Drew suspects a traitor may be working with the spies, and soon learns they are more than willing to kill to get what they want.
This episode is based on a short story by William Tufnell Le Queux featuring Duckworth Drew of the Secret Service (rewritten in the episode as William Drew of the Foreign Office). Drew is played by Derek Jacobi, the noted Shakespearean actor who would later play Brother Cadfael in a television series based on the novels by Ellis Peters.
Episode 11: "The Looting of the Specie Room"
A luxury passenger ship sets sail from New York for a record-breaking transatlantic crossing. Aboard is a quarter million pounds’ worth of gold bullion—and thieves determined to set their own record. Suspicion falls on the man in charge of the gold, ship’s purser Mr. Horrocks.
This episode is based on a short story that appeared in C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne's collection Mr. Horrocks, Purser.
Episode 12: "The Mystery of the Amber Beads"
After the strangulation of a rich widow, her necklace turns up in a pawnshop run by a young gypsy woman named Hagar. The police quickly zero in on a chief suspect, but Hagar has other ideas about the culprit. However, sometimes even her instincts can let her down.
This episode is based on a chapter in the Fergus Hume novel Hagar of the Pawn-Shop: The Gypsy Detective. Hume is probably best known for his novel The Mystery of the Hansom Cab, published in 1886 and which is said to have influenced Doyle's writing of A Study in Scarlet, the novel that introduced Sherlock Holmes a year later.
Episode 13: "The Missing Q.C.s"
Two leading London barristers -- Queen’s Counsels -- disappear during a murder trial, one for the prosecution and one for the defense. Junior defense barrister Charles Dallas searches for his two colleagues, but they are about to undergo the most bizarre of trials themselves.
This episode is based on a story by John Oxenham (real name William Arthur Dunkerley) and features junior barrister Charles Dallas; he is not a recurring character in any other work by the author.
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