Wednesday, 31 January 2018

The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes: The Secret of the Fox Hunter

An episode from towards the end of the second season of this early '70s anthology show about Victorian and Edwardian-era detectives. The format was never very tight, but this is more of an espionage tale than a typical TV detective murder mystery - sort of an Edwardian Sandbaggers, if you like. In fact put that way, the scene where main character Mr Drew (Derek "Shakespeare Denier" Jacobi, in a pre-Claudius role), the nearest thing 1900s Britain had to a Neil Burnside, has to persuade his superior of the vital importance of opening and reading a lady's letter to her fiancé takes on a new level of absurdity... now they've started down that slippery slope, less than 80 years later Drew's spiritual descendant will [insert Sandbaggers spoilers here].

While Jacobi is good as Drew, the real star of the story is Denise "Look & Read" Coffey as Drew's agent Miss Baines, who uses her cover as a gossipy governess to find out secrets for him. Her character quirk of spelling out unusual words is hilarious and she has great chemistry with Jacobi.

As is often the case with the Rivals of Sherlock Holmes series, save for a few of the very best, the plot seems of secondary importance to showing off the setting and characters - this is understandable considering that, as an anthology series, it has to establish each set of main characters anew and this reduces the time that can be spent on a convoluted mystery plot. As a result it feels quite straightforward compared to a lot of other TV spy stories, although it is perhaps unfair to compare this to something like Smiley's People or, for that matter, much of The Sandbaggers.

That is until the final part of the episode (Good Old Network leaving the ad break bumpers in on the DVDs as usual) when there is a twist every bit worthy of The Sandbaggers, and - in what may be a unique instance for The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes - a main character is killed off before the end credits roll.

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