The Age of Revolution

Age of Revolution, The coverCorks – it’s the return of theatre impresario Henry Gordon Jago and pathologist Professor George Litefoot, those two fruity Victorian investigators played to perfection by Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter. They are back for another quartet of audio adventures, courtesy of those smashing people at Big Finish. These are not talking books but full-cast audio plays, about an hour-long each, featuring imaginative and detailed sound design and enthralling music scores. This first adventure catches up with our duo after being stranded in the 1960s …

The following review is offered as part of the Tuesday’s Overlooked AV Media meme hosted by Todd Mason over at his Sweet Freedom blog and you should head over there to see the many other fascinating titles that have been selected.

Juicy Jagoisms: “We are veritable Rip Van Wrinklies”

Jago and Litefoot were created by Robert Holmes as sidekicks for Tom Baker in the 1977  Doctor Who serial, ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ – after which they were never seen again on TV. Cut to thirty years later and they are starring in their own range of audio spin-offs after the unlikely pairing of Jago’s bumptious, lower class Music Hall manager and Litefoot’s Saturnine and aristocratic police surgeon proved instantly popular in The Mahogany Murderers, Andy Lane’s well crafted two-hander released as part of Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles range of talking books. The success of that production has led to this ongoing series of full cast adventures, available in beautifully designed box sets made up of four individual stories tied with an overall story arc. Each set comes with a fifth ‘behind the scenes’ disc containing an extended collection of interviews with the cast and crew. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: for me these are the cream of Big Finish’s current output – and now we reach series 5 (a sixth and seventh are already scheduled and an eighth has also been announced).

Baxter-Benjamin-crop

Trevor Baxter and Christopher Benjamin (Big Finish)

The plot: Detective Sergeant David Sacker from Scotland Yard is investigating the disappearance of cutting edge sculptress Delilah Sampson and becomes suspicious when he keeps bumping into three mysterious personalities on the fringes of the case: Jago, a budding television personality; Litefoot, who runs an antiquarian bookshop; and Ellie Higson, who runs a restaurant, where they seem to spend a lot of their time. And what about talk show host Timothy Vee ‘off of the TV’ – can he be trusted? And what about a statue with strangely hypnotic powers …

“Oh dash it! Nothing’s more irritating than someone who knows what happens next but won’t tell you!”

So, where were we? Ah, yes … After the conclusion of season 4 (for my reviews of the individual stories, click here), Jago and Litefoot were paired with the sixth incarnation of the Time Lord (played by Colin Baker) in a pair of standalone Doctor Who adventures, Voyage to Venus and Voyage to the New World (available on CD or download here). At the end of the latter the Doctor was supposed to return the boys home, to the Red Tavern in London in 1893 but the TARDIS departs after mistakenly leaving them in the right place but at the wrong time – indeed they are about 75 years too late! The curtain raiser in Jonathan Morris’ The Age of Revolution is a rather splendid teaser in which we think we find Jago as master of ceremonies in his beloved Victorian theatre – but it turns out that it is all a recreation in a TV studio, where he is presenting a nostalgic recreation of the past, one not a million miles from the BBC TV favourite, The Good Old Days which ran from 1953 to 1983 with Leonard Sachs as compere. In the spirit of Andy Lane’s original first segment, we initially get a single narrating voice, that of David Sacker as he recounts his investigation. When he bumps into Jago, the latter mistakes him for his grandfather, Ormond Sacker, a character from earlier series (with a name that will be familiar to Sherlock Holmes aficionados) – he then gets the same reaction from Litefoot (who tries to sell him a second edition of A Study in Scarlet). It turns out that Jago and Litefoot have been set up in business by Ellie (Lisa Bowerman, who also directs), the Tavern’s barmaid in the 1890s but now the owner of a swish restaurant 75 years later and physically seemingly unchanged (all is explained thanks to a dash of vampirism from season 2).

Baxter-Bowerman-Benjamin

Trevor Baxter, Lisa Bowerman and Christopher Benjamin (Big Finish)

Producer David Richardson already experimented with recreating the style of such 1960s action adventure TV shows such as Department S and The Saint with his Counter Measures series (another Doctor Who spin-off) and extends it further and more playfully here, from the jaunty re-arrangement of the Jago & Litefoot theme tune to a recreation of Swinging London (the music in particular is especially good). Richardson has admitted that the real inspiration though was 60s TV show Adam Adamant Lives!, which saw a Victorian adventurer put into hibernation and then defrosted in 1960s  London. The era is lovingly recreated and gently sent up, with TV presenter Timothy Vee meant to remind you clearly of Simon Dee for instance, while the buffoonish ‘back to basics’ champion Colonel Mandrake heads up the  ‘Victorian Values Preservation Society’, plainly modeled on Mary Whitehouse’s  National Viewers and Listeners’ Association.

The Age of Revolution makes for an excellent start to the new series by taking our main trio into a new and exciting environment and is packed with the colour and music of the times and has all the cleverness and humour one expects from a Jonathan Morris script. As it spends a lot of time setting up the groundwork for the season and catching up with the characters (courtesy of an extended flashback), the rather slight if perfectly adequate plot can be forgiven as it is bursting with good lines for the three fabulous leads, along with an unexpected, cheeky but fun Monty Python riff than runs something like this:

Jago: Alright, but apart from the cinema, less poverty, the National Health Service, women’s suffrage, comprehensive education, aviation, heart transplants and a man on the moon, what else does this decade have going for it?
Litefoot: Miniskirts?

I really loved this – the characters are a joy, the sumptuous music and sound design push the story along joyously and the small cast is top-notch – and it’s great to have Duncan Wisbey, one of the unsung heroes of Big Finish, who here brings back Scottish detective Sacker (albeit his grandson) as a recurring character – this is superb, from start to (big) finish.

To buy the set from Big Finish, either as a download or as a beautifully designed CD box set (and really, you should treat yourselves), visit the company’s website: www.bigfinish.com/ranges/v/jago-litefoot

My dedicated Jago & Litefoot microsite is here.

Jago & Litefoot Series Five coverWriter: Jonathan Morris
Director: Lisa Bowerman
Music & Sound Design: Howard Carter
Cover Art: Alex Mallinson
Running time: 59 minutes
Release date: March 2013
Main cast: Christopher Benjamin (Henry Gordon Jago), Trevor Baxter (Professor George Litefoot), Lisa Bowerman (Ellie Higson), Duncan Wisbey (Sacker), Ben Willbond (Timothy Vee), Raquel Cassidy (Guinevere Godiva)

***** (4.5 fedora tips out of 5)

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This entry was posted in Audio Review, Big Finish, Jago & Litefoot, Jonathan Morris, London, Scene of the crime, Steampunk. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to The Age of Revolution

  1. Oh, good to know, Sergio! I’m so glad you enjoyed these as much as you did. I think audio plays can be a fantastic medium for storytelling and they’re not done as often as they could be.

  2. Colin says:

    A couple of quick questions Sergio:
    I’m guessing that with story arcs and the evolving nature of this series that you really need to start at the beginnnig with these, right?
    Also, bearing in mind the origin of the characters, and some plot points you’ve mentioned, I suppose the sci-fi element is fairly prominent?

    • Hi Colin – excellent questions. There is a touch of SF / Horror / paranormal to all the stories but individual seasons have tended to privilige them fairly separately – the main villain in season two was a vampire for instance while in season the nemesis behind the scenes had more of a Lovecraftian feel. They are quite self-contained and always explain anythign you need to know by way of continuity, though there are a few surprises that you might miss by not following the chrinological order, but nothing too important other than the odd spoiler. It is a Doctor Who spinoff, but rarely refers to it at all (well, not until the end of the 4th season). E-mail me if you want some extra details.

      • Colin says:

        Cheers for that. I don’t mind the sc-fi/horror element being added to mysteries as long as it’s not the overriding one.
        Also, it’s good to know that the/seasons are mostly self-contained. It’s a bit daunting when there are 4 or 5 seasons that must be followed rigidly from the start to make sense of them.

  3. Jeff Flugel says:

    Great review, Sergio! I’m way behind you with this series but I agree wholeheartedly that it’s the cream of the Big Finish crop. This season opener sounds fun – the 60s are my favorite decade, and to hear Jago and Litefoot interact with the modern world should be fabulous fun. I’m very curious about the COUNTER MEASURES series as well, sounds right up my street. Any opinions on that one?

    On a related literary side note – have you ever read Kim Newman’s Diogenes Club series of stories? Think you’d get a kick out of them.

    • Thanks very much Jeff – knew there were a few more bloggers of taste out there! I enjoyed Counter Measures, which comes in very nice packaging and again has an overall arc but 4 individual stories as well and it was great to have three cast members of Remembrance of the Daleks (one everyone’s favourite 7th Doctor stories) – the 60s atmosphere is good and it is really designed to resemble ITC shows like Department S (it has a very nice link to that one right at the end). It is a bit lighter though, which is to say also that the individual stories are perhaps a little bit too generic if not exactly run of the mill – good fun, great cast, fantastic production, but doesn’t go anywhere very new and is perhaps, unusually for Big Finish, a bit too beholden to the past – be interesting to see what happens with the next season. But not in the same league as Jago & Litefoot. Have yet to read any of Newman’s fiction though do have his new edition of Anno Dracula so slowly but surely am getting there – thanks for the prompt mate, it’s been on the shelf for months (and months).

  4. piero says:

    Beh, Sergio, mi avevi detto che nel week-end di Pasqua avresti avuto il tempo di leggere il mio articolo su Halter: lo hai letto o no? Ti è piaciuto? Pensavo che mi scrivessi qualcosa..

    • Piero, da un mese sto cercando di comprare casa a tra tre settimane devo comunque traslocare – mi dispiace ma ho altre cose per la testa. Spero di leggere il tuo articolo al piu presto. Spero che la gamba stia un po meglio.

      Sergio

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