Truth is often stranger than fiction. That’s certainly the case when it comes to Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s friendship. Turns out the master magician and escape artist was buds with the creator of Sherlock Holmes. The pair was on opposite sides of the paranormal—Houdini debunked the spirit world while Doyle embraced it—a conflict that eventually broke their alliance.
Their closeness in those early days are the focus of Global’s boisterous new series, Houdini & Doyle, with Michael Weston as Houdini and Stephen Mangan as Doyle. Co-created by David Hoselton and David Titcher and executive-produced by the duo along with David Shore, Houdini & Doyle—debuting Monday, May 2, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Global (and Fox in the U.S.)—finds the pair teamed and working for the Scotland Yard in 1901 on cases involving the supernatural. Rebecca Liddiard is Constable Adelaide Stratton, the force’s first female constable and the men’s wrangler of sorts.
“Adelaide Stratton was a real person in history,” Liddiard says during a press day put on by Global and producers Shaftesbury. “This character is a little more fiction than accurate.” The Toronto-based actress, who teaches Creative Performance at Ryerson University, dug deep into the stories of women of the time period—like poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning—who were career-driven when most couldn’t be. She adds that old guard view of women not having a spot in the workplace, especially the police force, is reflected in what her co-workers say.
Monday’s first case, “The Maggie’s Redress,” quickly introduces viewers to the trio—Houdini performs his water-based escape act and relishes his celebrity, Doyle is trying to move on from his Holmes stories—when Adelaide is assigned them as a tag along after a murderous ghost is reported running rampant in a convent.
There’s plenty to like from Houdini & Doyle. Lavish sets, dark corners and rich wardrobe choices add colour while the scripts and performances provide swaths of humour as the main characters’ personalities emerge. Houdini is serious about exposing the mediums stealing money from citizens intent on communicating with departed loved ones, but takes great pleasure in poking fun at Doyle. Doyle is a typical stiff English gent of the time, educated and respected certainly, but with an Achilles heel: he yearns to speak to his wife. Adelaide, meanwhile, often finds herself shifting her beliefs, unsure of whether the crimes committed have basis in science or spirits.
“She tries to stay focused on the information,” Liddiard explains. “‘Here’s a dead body: what are we going to do about it?’ She’s very grounded and keeps the other two grounded as well.
“These guys are so smart, they take it to the next level with the witty banter,” she continues. “Often Adelaide is stuck in the middle, having it thrown back and forth and saying, ‘Guys, let’s just do our work!’ But she gets her digs in too.”
Houdini & Doyle airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Global.