John Fraser as Dixon Druce in Madame Sara by L. T. Meade and Robert Eustace
Adapted by Philip Mackie. Directed by Piers Haggard
Jack Selby (William Corderoy) approaches private detective Dixon Druce (John Fraser) with a strange story. His new wife Beatrice (Jasmina Hilton) is one of three people who have a chance of inheriting their family fortune (which stands at two million pounds). The other two are Beatrice’s sister Edith (Caroline John) and their step-brother Silva (Roger Delgado).
The capital is held in trust and will go to the last surviving family member. Dixon quickly sees the danger that the sisters may be in – and this seems to be confirmed when Edith dies, poisoned in a most mysterious manner. Silva would seem to be the prime suspect, although Inspector Vandeleur (George Murcell) favours Dixon’s client, Jack Selby. If Selby disposes of the other two, then he (through his wife) will have access to the money.
But what part does the mysterious Madame Sara (Marianne Benet) play in this devilish affair? She’s a friend of both Beatrice and Edith (although Edith seemed to live in fear of her). According to Selby, she’s “a professional beautifier. She claims the privilege of restoring youth to those who consult her. She also declares that she can make quite ugly people handsome”. She captivates Dixon Druce with her beauty and he confesses that he’s somewhat in love with her. But Madame Sara is a complex creature, who isn’t quite all that she seems ….
Dixon Druce tangled with Madame Sara over the course of six short stories which were published as The Sorceress of the Strand in 1902. The tales were written by L. T. Meade and Robert Eustace. Although there had been female criminals before (such as “the woman” Irene Adler) Madame Sara is of particular interest since she’s very much in the super-criminal mode, which is much rarer. During the six stories, she appears each time with an outlandish scheme, Dixon Druce gets to hear about it and stops her – but always she lives to fight another day. For those who want to sample the original tale, Madame Sara can be downloaded here.
As Madame Sara was the first story in The Sorceress of The Strand, it made sense to adapt it for The Rivals, since it sees Dixon and Sara meet for the first time. Sara is a strange figure, seemingly ageless (thanks to her many mysterious potions) and there’s no doubt that she captures Dixon’s heart, which makes the fact that he has to hand her over to the authorities something of a wrench for him.
John Fraser is forthright and upstanding as Dixon Druce. To be honest, he’s not the most interesting or charismatic detective we’ve seen so far, so Fraser does sometimes struggle to make an impression (and the somewhat florid dialogue is also a problem at times). Marianne Benet doesn’t act evil, which is a good thing – her Madame Sara is a businesswoman, rather than a cackling villain.
For any Doctor Who fans, there’s two good reasons to watch this one. Caroline John is Edith (a subdued performance) and Roger Delgado, even though he’s confined to a wheelchair, dominates the scenes he’s in (playing the apparently invalided Silva).
Whilst Dixon appears to be more of a thinker than a man of action, he can still make the odd surprising move – such as when he wrenches a tooth from the unfortunate Beatrice with a pair of pliers (it makes sense when you’ve watched the story).
Not the strongest story, but it’s entertaining enough and the further adventures of Dixon Druce and Madame Sara would have made a decent (if short) series.
Next Episode – The Case of the Dixon Torpedo