rivals of sherlockFor Balladeer’s Blog’s review of the very first episode of this 1971-1973 series about London by Gaslight detectives from both the Victorian and Edwardian Ages you can simply click HERE

Jervis and ThorndykeEpisode: THE MOABITE CIPHER (March 26th 1973)

Detective: Doctor John Evelyn Thorndyke, created by R. Austin Freeman. The first Doctor Thorndyke story was published in 1907.

Comment: This will complete my look at this neglected television series. My reviews of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes began with the Season One episode featuring Doctor Thorndyke played by John Neville, so it’s kind of appropriate to end with a review of this Season Two episode starring Barrie Ingham as Thorndyke.

Review: At a public London procession in honor of a Russian Grand Duke a man suspected of being an anarchist is accidentally killed while running from police. Our medical man Doctor Thorndyke arrives on the scene with his sidekick Doctor Jervis (Peter Sallis) just as the authorities are cordoning off the area over fears of an anarchist bombing.

The dead man is found to have no bomb or other weapons, just a mysterious note in an ancient language which Thorndyke recognizes as Moabite. This raises the possibility that a larger anarchist plot is in the works, possibly even the assassination of the visiting Russian.

With press vultures sensationalizing the incident and with fears for the safety of the Grand Duke overwhelming Scotland Yard, our hero’s old friend Inspector Miller shows up to bring the good doctor deeper into the investigation.

A further demand is made upon Thorndyke’s time by Alfred Barton (Julian Glover), who is convinced his brother’s young bride is poisoning her husband’s meals with arsenic.

Red herrings, diversions and false leads abound as the episode continues, and when even scholars on ancient languages are baffled by the Moabite Cipher it’s up to Doctor Thorndyke to get to the bottom of things. 

This is one of those mysteries that we viewers get no realistic chance to solve ourselves, since few of us are likely to be fluent in Moabite. Suffice it to say our detective succeeds in understanding the confiscated paper and pulling both storylines together.

Ingham is good but not great as Doctor Thorndyke and was a disappointment after John Neville’s terrific Season One performance. Sallis did well in the thankless sidekick role and it was fun seeing Julian Glover in action years before his turn as the villainous Doctor Kilkiss on the series Mastermind aka Q.E.D. (Reviewed previously here at Balladeer’s Blog.)

No more details can be given without spoiling the mystery, but The Moabite Cipher is definitely worth watching a few times and was a good episode on which to end our examination of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes.

If you think you might enjoy this series, there was a BBC radio followup series beginning in 2011 and running for four seasons. Titled simply The Rivals, this series was introduced by an actor pretending to be Inspector Lestrade from Sherlock Holmes stories, here getting back his own by presenting detectives who rivaled his old acquaintance.

The series did just four episodes per season:

SEASON ONE – The Murders in the Rue Morgue (Auguste Dupin), The Problem of Cell 13 yet AGAIN! (Professor Van Dusen), Murder by Proxy (Paul Beck), and The Mystery of Redstone Manor (Miss Loveday Brooke). 

SEASON TWO – The Superfluous Finger again (Professor Van Dusen), The Clue of the Silver Spoons (Eugene Valmont), The Intangible Clue (Lady Violet Strange), and The Game Played in the Dark (Max Carrados).

SEASON THREE – The Knight’s Cross Signal Problem (Max Carrados), A Snapshot (Paul Beck), Seven, Seven, Seven – City (Angela Marchmont), and The Moabite Cipher again (Doctor Thorndyke).

SEASON FOUR – The Clairvoyants (Constance Dunlap), The Stanway Cameo Mystery (Martin Hewitt), The Secret of Dunstan’s Tower (Max Carrados), and The Mystery of the Scarlet Thread (Professor Van Dusen).   




Filed under Forgotten Television


  1. Another fascinating read! I shall have to look out for these to see them for myself!

  2. Lincoln

    Great! I loved your reviews of the whole series!

  3. Gregoree

    The other Dr Thorndyke was better.

  4. Kevin Arez

    Very good review. I never heard of the radio show so I’ll check it out.

  5. Hey! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be ok. I’m definitely enjoying your blog and look forward to new updates.

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