Hurrah – theatre impresario Henry Gordon Jago and pathologist Professor George Litefoot, those two fruity Victorian investigators created by Robert Holmes and played to perfection by Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter, are back this month for their eleventh series! The CD/download box set features as always a quartet of hour-long audio adventures, courtesy of those smashing people at Big Finish. To celebrate, I wanted to go back and listen to their debut series, which I’m glad to report holds up wonderfully well.
The following is offered for Todd Mason’s Tuesday’s Overlooked AV Media meme at his Sweet Freedom blog.
“I’ve always wanted to find a secret passage. Come on!”
Jago and Litefoot were originally created as sidekicks for Doctor Who (in the then shape of Tom Baker) in the 1977 serial The Talons of Weng-Chiang after which they were never seen on TV again. 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 later this month we will reach series eleven (a twelfth is already scheduled). In anticipation of that, here is a brief review of their debut series, which was bit of a humdinger actually!
The Bloodless Soldier by Justin Richards ***** (3.5 out of 5)
This series kicks off with a fairly ‘soft’ story about a soldier who comes back to india suffering from a touch of lycanthropy, a story inspired by the Universal horror movie, Werewolf of London (1935). It sets up the characters very nicely and has an impressive ending in which the somewhat cowardly Jago steps up bravely to defend his best friend Litefoot.
The Bellova Devil by Alan Barnes ***** (4.5 out of 5)
This is my favourite story of the collection probably, filled to the brim with Sherlockian lore but with much more besides as our intrepid duo investigate a dead body found on the London underground and as a result get involved with dastardly Bulgars, a murderer who seems to have truly cheated death and a suicide club that is not all it seems. Along with a clever chronological ‘error’ that is nothing of the sort, and a great subsidiary character in Scottish doctor ‘Ormond Sacker’ (a name that should be familiar to Doyle fans), this is just a delight from start to finish.
The Spirit Trap by Jonathan Morris ***** (3 out of 5)
Jonathan Morris is one of my favourite Big Finish authors, his stories brimming with ingenuity. However, this story about spontaneous human combustion and a medium who it turns out is being manipulated by outside forces, while clever and full of good things, gets a bit too convoluted towards the end and frankly I lost track of quite what was going on at times – so it lost a few marks for me.
The Similarity Engine by Andy Lane ***** (4.5 out of 5)
Andy Lane closes the story he began in The Mahogany Murderers in splendid fashion as our heroes finally square off against the nefarious, time-travelling Doctor Tulp. A superb finish to an excellent set, that in its final stages also sets up a small cliff-hanger in anticipation of series 2 …
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. Also available from the usual online outlets, to buy the set direct 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/
My dedicated Jago & Litefoot microsite is here.
Writers: Justin Richards, Alan Barnes, Jonathan Morris, Andy Lane
Directors: Lisa Bowerman (1,2,4), John Ainsworth (3)
Music & Sound Design: Kelly Ellis & Steve McNichol (Theme by Jamie Robertson)
Cover Art: Alex Mallinson
Running time: 1 hour each (approx)
Release date: June 2010
Main cast: Christopher Benjamin (Henry Gordon Jago), Trevor Baxter (Professor George Litefoot), Lisa Bowerman (Ellie Higson), Conrad Asquith (Sergeant Quick), Duncan Wisbey (Sacker), Toby Longworth (Doctor Tulp)