Ronald Hines as Jonathan Pryde in The Case of the Dixon Torpedo by Arthur Morrison
Adapted by Stuart Hood. Directed by James Goddard
Jonathan Pryde (Ronald Hines) has been hired by the British Admiralty to keep an eye on a curmudgeonly, but brilliant, inventor called Dixon (Derek Francis). Dixon is working to develop a new torpedo and the Admiralty are worried that it could be acquired by an unfriendly power. And when the unthinkable happens – the plans are stolen – Pryde will need to use all of his ingenuity to solve the mystery.
Arthur Morrison wrote three volumes of stories featuring private detective Martin Hewitt. They were Martin Hewitt, Investigator (1894), The Chronicles of Martin Hewitt (1895) and The Adventures of Martin Hewitt (1896). The Case of the Dixon Torpedo was featured in Martin Hewitt, Investigator and it can be read here.
Series one of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes adapted three Martin Hewitt adventures – this one, The Affair of the Tortoise and The Case of Laker, Absconded. Rather oddly, Hewitt didn’t feature in this adaptation – instead a new detective (Jonathan Pryde) was created. Maybe it was felt that having three stories with the same detective would have been a slight case of overkill.
Ronald Hines gives a low-key performance as Pryde. Unlike some of the other detectives we’ve seen in The Rivals, Pryde doesn’t possess any particular quirks or interesting character traits – he’s simply a dogged, thorough investigator
If Pryde is a bit of a dull fellow, then there’s compensation elsewhere. Derek Francis is full of bluster as the bluff Dixon, whilst James Bolam and Bill Wallis form a decent double-act as Dixon’s employees. Jacqueline Pearce (forever Servalan from Blake’s Seven) has a small part as Pryde’s wife and it’s always a pleasure to see Cyril Shaps (the voice of Mr Kipling).
The Case of the Dixon Torpedo is also notable for featuring a wide array of facial hair (much of it fairly false-looking, it must be said) whilst Dixon’s achilles heel are prostitutes (“two at a time!”). It’s this particular vice that proves to be his undoing and enables the plans to fall into Russian hands (although Pryde is on hand to sort out the mess).
But though the plans are recovered, Pryde is appalled by the way that both the British and Russian governments are prepared to cover up the various deaths that have occurred along the way. When he’s asked if he’d like to take on further cases for Admiralty, he replies “no, I don’t think so. I prefer crime. It’s more honest”. Many future detectives will express similar sentiments.
This story of missing plans may have been influenced by the Sherlock Holmes story The Naval Treaty and it’s interesting to wonder if Morrison’s story was an influence on Conan-Doyle when he wrote the later Holmes tale The Bruce-Partington Plans.
It’s not a particularly complicated story and whilst I’d have preferred to have had Peter Barkworth’s Hewitt in the main role, the quality supporting cast are a major point in this episode’s favour.
Next Episode – The Woman In The Big Hat