Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Big Finish Reviews+ Jago & Litefoot 13

Jago & Litefoot 13

By Tony J Fyler

The audio adventures of Professor George Litefoot and Henry Gordon Jago, theatrical impresario, the have-a-go heroes of Victorian London who tangle with the uncanny and the bizarre at every turn, have long been a successful series in their own right. Arguably, as they head into their thirteenth box set of four hour-long adventures, they could be thought of as the most successful spin-off Doctor Who has ever had.

But Jago & Litefoot began in the dim and distant television days of the Fourth Doctor, in 1977, and it’s very much in the spirit of an anniversary celebration of those four decades since they first ‘met’ on TV that Series 13 sets out. This set is steeped well and truly in the blood of Weng-Chiang, and there are people reduced to their life-essences left, right and centre here, along with time travellers from the 51st Century, foggy, mysterious London stews and streets, the House of the Dragon, the Eyes of the Dragon, the giant rat in the sewers, the Cabinet of Weng-Chiang and its latticework key. This, while in no sense being the return of Weng-Chiang, is a set of four adventures that ring with the same energy as the Robert Holmes original, while taking us significantly sideways in time, to a world in which the Jago and Litefoot we know never got together to fight supernatural villainy, where they never got caught up in the fight against Magnus Greel and never got to meet the Doctor. Showing us a London in which Jago and Litefoot are not the intrepid infernal investigators we know and love allows us to see how far both they and we have come since their first encounter.
The Stuff of Nightmares, the Paul Morris story that kicks us off on round 13, is a mixture of potentially Freudian psychobabble and sci-fi that almost aims to throw you off and just get on with its own business. There are time-travellers with guns, weird dream inversions, with Litefoot imagining himself dead on his own mortuary slab, with Jago about to cut him open, and Jago dreaming the death of the consummate showman – drying on stage before a packed house. Their neuroses seem to be coming to get them, while all over town, a ruthless killer is looking for people who can lead them to Magnus Greel.

The Stuff of Nightmares belts along at a reasonable pace for most of its running time, but you will need to hang on tight towards the end, even if you know what people are talking about as they start spouting off about chrono-quantum. The ending is somewhat challenging, as Jago and Litefoot get to experience life as it was for time agents on post-Greel 51st Century Earth. A last-ditch escape plan goes interestingly awry, and our heroes find themselves in a London that doesn’t recognise them – at least, not together, and not in any of their familiar haunts.

If The Stuff of Nightmares is the story that gets Jago & Litefoot off to a new set of adventures with a unique range of challenges, Jonathan Barnes’ Chapel of Night is very much the ‘anchoring’ episode of the set. Just the name, ‘Chapel of Night,’ feels like it should come with its own highly portentous musical accompaniment. What Barnes delivers is a second take on Greel’s original experiments, but divorced from his backstory – there are people being fed into machinery for nefarious purposes here alright, but the reason behind the villainy is brand spanking new, and takes advantage of the nature of this box set’s unique twist, a sideways-on look at causality and consequence, and what happens if things happen differently to how you understand them to have happened. There are some impressive vocal performances in this story – listen out for Teresa Banham as Mrs Bartholomew and Jeff Rawle as Toby Brokesmith especially, they light the story up – and you feel like you’ve heard something fresh by the end of it.

The final two stories act as something of a two-parter, and get down to the brass tacks of the premise that arcs through the set – if Jago, Litefoot and the Doctor didn’t stop Magnus Greel when they did, then firstly, who on Earth did, and secondly…are there another Jago and another Litefoot out there in alternative London somewhere, a Jago and Litefoot who never came together as infernal investigators?

How The Other Half Lives, by Matthew Sweet gives us answers to both those questions – if there’s no Jago and Litefoot, unified in their fight against infernal doings and villains, then in a Victorian London as full of infernal doings and villains as this one, someone else must have taken up the mantle so as to ensure there’s still a London left to be in. Someone else must have stopped Greel. And the vampires, and scientists, and murderers and model-makers, and Flickermen and so on and so on – someone else, essentially, must have had the adventures that in ‘our’ world have been had by Jago and Litefoot. Here we get to find out who’s done that.

More shocking though, we learn what the ‘other’ Jago and Litefoot have been upto, having never been brought together to have adventures. Litefoot won’t come as much of a surprise to you, but Jago…

Jago probably will.

Sweet gives us Jago and Jago and Litefoot and Litefoot – two for the price of each – and we’d be lying if we said it didn’t get rather confusing at some points, but there’s a particularly pleasing quest undertaken in this episode, which harks right back to The Talons of Weng-Chiang.

The adventure comes to a climax in Justin Richards’ Too Much Reality, while spurring a final mystery for the double-Jagos and double-Litefoots to solve – killings where the bodies simply fade away. Bringing everything round if not full circle, then satisfyingly close, Richards gives us falling stars, time and dimension-travelling chicanery, and a way to set our heroes on the path to home again, while proving to the other-London’s Jago and Litefoot that the life of infernal investigators is dashed exhilarating, as well as vital work. Our heroes manage to leave the trace of themselves as we know them behind, transforming the lives and pathways of their dimensional doppelgangers, and the set ends on a note that suggests things may be about to get a whole lot more complicated still – promising a fourteenth box set to come.
Jago & Litefoot 13 could be accused of having run out of steam and ideas – the notion of them travelling to a sideways dimension, meeting themselves, and teaming up to fight trans-temporal nastiness is perhaps hardly the most dazzlingly original basic premise, and the heavy mining of their own continuity, both in terms of Weng-Chiang and the previous box sets of their audio adventures, makes Series 13 seem at times really rather like a Greatest Hits collection.

But it isn’t that – it’s miles better than that. It’s a birthday cake, a party, with Jago and Litefoot revisiting some of the key ideas that brought them together, but never doing so in a notably clichéd way. The writers, along with Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter (Jago and Litefoot themselves), whipped along by stalwart Big Finish director Lisa Bowerman, make sure to give Series 13 enough meat of its own to make it, while being a birthday cake, both memorable and unique. Any successful double act is entitled to look back (or indeed sideways) after forty years. Series 13 is Jago & Litefoot doing that, but doing it with verve, flair and a remarkable energy. Series 14 will undoubtedly be different again, especially from the hints dropped at the end of this box set.

There’s yet to be such a thing as a bad Jago & Litefoot box set. This one takes the duo into one of their weirdest environments yet, and they come through it smiling, chuckling even, and heading, arm in arm to the Red Tavern. Where doubtless the world will be ending shortly.

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