Network on Air (studio)
26 March 2018 (released)
02 April 2018
This utterly engaging 1970’s anthology series features all 26 episodes (Series 1 and 2 combined) of the popular mystery detective drama series, itself based on well-known as well as more obscure works by celebrated Victorian and Edwardian writers. A stellar cast, not to mention the sheer diversity of the cases (and the detectives) make for a thrilling 1300 minutes running time!
As always with programs that boast a marathon running time only some of the episodes can be highlighted and discussed here and it goes without saying that viewers will have their own personal favourite cases as well as detectives. A short prologue opening, followed by the opening words “In late Victorian (Edwardian) times there lived many detectives… the rivals of Sherlock Holmes!” cuts to brief clips of archive film footage depicting hansom cabs and the hustle and bustle of a late Victorian metropolis before the case in question continues. That said, not all of the cases feature a so-called ‘rival’ of the great Sherlock Holmes, au contraire, some of these self-styled detectives are little more than corrupt master criminals in disguise… and ironically it’s precisely those cases which prove to be the most entertaining!
Series 1 (each disc features 13 episodes) offers a variety of cases from blind detective Max Carrados (Robert Stephens) in THE MISSING WITNESS SENSATION to gentleman thief Simon Carne (Roy Dotrice) in THE DUCHESS OF WILTSHIRE’S DIAMONDS, with Carne’s humpbacked alter-ego scheming the audacious theft of a priceless diamond necklace. Very different indeed is the case of THE HORSE OF THE INVISIBLE, in which renowned occult detective Thomas Carnacki (Donald Pleasence) spends time at a grand mansion to find out what’s behind the rumours of an apparent phantom horse… Equally strange is the case of MADAME SARA in which trade investigator Dixon Druce (John Fraser) gets more than he bargained for when he takes on the seemingly straightforward case of an inheritance fraud that screams of blue murder and a mysterious and exotic lady, obsessed with elixirs of youth, seems to be behind it all. On the subject of keeping young in appearance, the case of THE ASSYRIAN REJUVENATOR turns out to be an undisputed highlight, what with con artist Romney Pringle (Donald Sinden) having everyone over while pretending to destroy a company of quacks selling bogus elixirs and miracle creams. The pace here is simply perfect and Sinden, in various disguises, an absolute hoot!
Hot on his heels when it comes to being crafty is corrupt detective Horace Dorrington (Peter Vaughan) who swindles clients and other individuals out of money in two cases: THE AFFAIR OF THE AVALANCHE BICYCLE & TYRE CO. LTD as well as THE CASE OF THE MIRROR OF PORTUGAL, though neither of the two episodes are as funny as the Donald Sinden one. We even have a female detective in the shape of Lady Molly of Scotland Yard (Elvi Hale) hard at work to solve a murder and finding a rumoured suspect… the WOMAN IN THE BIG HAT.
Series 2 once again offers thirteen riveting cases though it must be said that Series 2 is somewhat more serious in tone though the cases couldn’t be more different. Here we even have two female detectives though it would be fair to say that the dames in question are detectives by default. Lady journalist Polly Burton (Judy Geeson) is eager to solve a MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF THE UNDERGROUND RAILWAY though unfortunately the episode turns out to be one of the most lacklustre cases of the lot, with a rushed and rather unsatisfactory solution. Gypsy detective Hagar Stanley (Sara Kestelman) actually runs a pawnshop but has the gift of the garb when it comes to detecting the real culprits and it’s no different in THE MYSTERY OF THE AMBER BEADS. Another difference between Series 1 and 2 is that in the latter, some of the cases take place outside the UK. For example, Barry Keegan stars as South African police detective Inspector Lipinzki in FIVE HUNDRED CARATS (which for some reason features great chunks from THE WITCHFINDER GENERAL soundtrack) while John Thaw’s police detective Lieutenant Holst is based in Denmark, followed by Viennese sleuth Dagobert Trostler (Ronald Lewis). Mind you, it is fair to assume that the aforementioned three cases were all filmed on British soil, especially given the fact that THE RIVALS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES has only the most minimal location work to offer! Private investigator Eugene Valmont (Charles Gray) is every inch the French stereotype while ‘thinking machine’ Professor Van Dusen (Douglas Wilmer) bewilders colleagues and friends alike with his eccentric and slightly barmy mannerisms. Even a humble ship’s purser is perfectly able to solve a crime, as Mr. Horrocks (Ronald Fraser) proves against all odds in the elaborate case of THE LOOTING OF THE SPECIE ROOM, while things take on a quite sinister note for defense barrister Charles Dallas (Robin Ellis) in THE MISSING Q.C.s.
The acting is superb and hells bells I haven’t even mentioned every single detective (let alone actor/actress) here! Another interesting bit of information – apart from the fact that most of the actors portraying detectives or otherwise in this series are sadly no longer with us - is the fact that quite a few had been playing Sherlock Holmes at one time or another, be it on film or on stage, or featured in Sherlock Holmes movies: John Neville, Douglas Wilmer, Robert Stephens, John Fraser, Ronald Hines, Charles Gray, Geoffrey Whitehead…
This BAFTA-winning series is presented as an 8-Disc DVD set containing all 26 high quality episodes.