Jago & Litefoot Series Eight

Posted in Audio by - January 29, 2018
Jago & Litefoot Series Eight

Released October 2014

With their names and honour restored following their last series of dramatic adventures that took them to the heart of the Crown, Henry Gordon Jago and Professor George Litefoot once more take to the streets of Victorian London to investigate a new string of infernal incidents.

One of the many standout successes and unique presences of Big Finish’s The Companion Chronicles range remains to this day The Scorchies, an alien species left incorporeal after an escape attempt during an invasion whose members then took on the form of puppets to stealthily infiltrate and either destroy or enslave other planetary populations. Feeding off of emotion and generating a psychic induction field that forces those around them to burst into song, they are presented the perfect stage at Jago’s New Regency Theatre to mount their latest scheme to regain normal bodies in James Goss’s opener, ‘Encore of the Scorchies.’ ‘The original release ‘The Scorchies’ tailored its tone and songs to the 1970s children’s television programme format, but the darker menace and more exaggerated musical numbers evoke the Victoria era perfectly here, and the disconcerting threat that these seemingly innocuous and cute puppets present through the use of weaponized song and rhyme remains a sublime twist on usual preconceptions of evil. At the same time, the Scorchies’ occasional performance as a chorus that comments on the strengths and weaknesses of the action before them and calls beloved characters into question is a wonderfully meta concept that only this particular type of threat could realistically manage without coming off as condescending or too outlandish.

‘Encore of the Scorchies’ does not bother to repeat any of the history as discussed in ‘The Scorchies,’ but the nature of the threat and their plan for dominion is expanded upon well enough here that that gap is negligible compared to the great character work for the leads that comes out of the release. With Jago obsessed with his newfound success but slowly turning into a puppet himself, Litefoot gloriously takes the lead while trying to get his friend back and confronting yet another alien threat using the theatre as a base of operations. The reaffirmation of the intense friendship of these two forms a great emotional core to this story, and Jago’s inability to do harm to Litefoot despite the other travesties he has taken part in under the Scorchies’ power speaks volumes as to why this pair is so enduring and successful. As is usual, Ellie takes something of a background role to these two, but her singular climactic performance proves yet again just how capable she is in the face of any threat staring her down, and Lisa Bowerman deserves full plaudits for bringing down the house with a commandingly emotional and yet still tongue-in-cheek performance. However, although the darker presentation of the Scorchies and the attempts to define them individually as characters rather than broad caricatures doesn’t land with quite the same resounding effect as in their debut, this experimental release is a sensational opener to the latest series that is unafraid of poking fun at itself and the usual conventions of this range and its heroes.

Andy Lane’s ‘The Backwards Men’ brings back the more traditional stylings of Jago and Litefoot when civil unrest grows as people begin to walk backwards and to mill about in non-confrontational herds on street corners. Wisely taking the approach of having the two investigators inadvertently tackling the conundrum from two different angles as Jago takes in Wednesday’s World of Wonders sideshow curiosity act and as Litefoot- after assuming the worst about what he was tracking- finds a most unexpected and reluctant alien ally who expands upon the breadth of the nefarious plot at hand, the simultaneous dual influx of intrigue and information fleshes out Wednesday’s motivations spectacularly to add a degree of empathy to his reprehensible activities. Indeed, starting the scale of the piece off fairly insignificantly as Jago comments upon the rudimentary nature of the displays and the conniving genius of forcing patrons to pay first for entry and then for the opportunity to see the bigger draw of promised visions of another world atmospherically blends the should-be normal and as-now normal states of Jago’s life as determined by his continuing investigations.

It’s always satisfying when a long-standing series decides to buck the trend within the confines of a traditional story, and both Arioch and Wednesday most certainly take the plot in an unexpected direction. Creatures living in symbiosis isn’t an idea that is explored too frequently, but the means by which the lizard-like Brontach’s death eventually affords Litefoot the opportunity to communicate with Arioch and thus learn of and continue the attempts to apprehend Wednesday is well-realised and puts a rather unique spin on Litefoot’s involvement since he is no longer working from the ground up and completely out of his element. Similarly, while it’s completely unsurprising that Wednesday is to blame for the sudden changes in the viewing population, the fact that he is acting with the intent of atoning for the extinction of the Kind he inadvertently brought about by opening their world to hunters, turning other planets’ populations into the Kind thanks to the machines the people pay to look through, is surprisingly reflective if ultimately horribly flawed, and Gus Brown brings the requisite sense of liveliness, pathos, and madness needed for this role to succeed. Compassion can have a price tag that is far too hefty, however, and both Cristopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter give very emotional and heavy performances when all sense of bluster and ego is pushed aside and the raw emotions of the fate of those before them hits home, a powerful ending to a surprisingly contemplative story that delves deeper into pure science fiction territory than the series normally strays.

When a monster turns up on the banks of the Thames, Jago and Litefoot team up with a local mudlark to investigate in ‘Jago & Litefoot & Patsy’ by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris. The series has done wonderful work exploring the middle and middle-upper class portion of Victorian society, but the malodourous beachcomber, Patsy, allows the intrepid duo to come firmly into contact with a wholly different layer of society than those with which they normally interact, and Flaminia Cinque brings an incredible energy and confidence to the role that puts Patsy directly on equal footing with her new companions in her eyes. Patsy finding a man’s hand inside a giant fish glowing green soon takes them all on an adventure into suspect warehouses where eels are anything but eels and long-dead figures are anything but dead. Indeed, Patsy’s history is fleshed out wonderfully with the appearance of Jeremiah Castle, and Andrew Greenough and Cinque together overtly state and further intimate at how dangerous the environment at Jacob’s Island that once stood in this location was as well as just how tragic Patsy’s ten years as Queen within its confines were.

‘Jago & Litefoot & Patsy’ is very much the beginning of a two-part adventure, however, and to that effect Robert Whitelock’s Mulberry Gride provides an initially gracious but truly fervent introduction to the increasingly sinister Darkling Façade before being killed by the rejuvenated Castle in the factory that accordingly succumbs to flame as evil is so wont to do in this range. Despite the substantial backstory for new characters to bring this strange threat to life, however, the pacing never suffers and the atmosphere and imagery evoked are truly dazzling. With a tremendous sense of foreboding as this tale of horror and love unfolds, this is a traditional but visceral and visual introduction that makes the most of its sterling cast to paint a dire picture both of the past and for the concluding half going forward.

Intriguingly, Justin Richards goes very against expectations for the finale ‘Higson & Quick’ when Jago and Litefoot can no longer be trusted after being infected by the Darkling Façade. With the heroes becoming the foes, Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter are afforded the opportunity to play something very different than usual, and both wisely avoid going over the top and instead chillingly play these possessed entities as something just slightly and eerily off that brings out a shared understated but palpable menace as they formulate their scheme to spread the malevolent influence afflicting them farther afield. Indeed, with the usual heroes anything but, the engrossing sense of atmosphere that usually pervades this range as a whole is subtly upturned with evil battling for prominence right at its very heart in place of the usual light of good, and the unsteady foundation cloaked in familiarity is used magnificently throughout this release.

Fortunately, the mantle of heroism is taken up by Inspector Quick and Ellie Higson, gloriously giving Conrad Asquith and Lisa Bowerman the chance to step into the limelight when all other hope is lost. It hardly needs saying that these two have been integral to the success of Jago and Litefoot as well as the exploits of its explorers on more than one occasion, and they firmly prove just how capable they are when they must work against their friends without drawing their suspicions. This ties in quite nicely to Ellie’s climactic song in ‘Encore of the Scorchies’ earlier in the set, but more importantly it shows just how immense the support system Jago and Litefoot have in place is and provides a needed sense of assuredness that London is in safe hands whenever the need for a hero arises. This is a story that could only take place this far into a series when each of the leads is firmly developed and thus able to be inverted, and Richards and each of the actors handles the change in the dynamic spectacularly, culminating with a poignant and rather downbeat scene where the restored heroes discuss their recent actions and their ramifications to harrowing effect. As the eighth series concludes and Jago and Litefoot begin planning a much-needed holiday, it’s both comforting and refreshing to see that Big Finish knows perfectly well what makes this range so successful and is also unafraid of going against the status quo to offer very unique experiences within the familiar confines as well.

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