Corks – 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).
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).
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?
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.
Writer: 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)