Jago & Litefoot Series One

Posted in Audio by - January 08, 2018
Jago & Litefoot Series One

Released June 2010

Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter made an instant impact in 1977’s beloved Doctor Who serial ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ as Henry Gordon Jago and Professor George Litefoot, respectively, each boasting a commanding presence with a unique flare that remained perfectly relatable no matter how odd the occurrences around them became. However, although Litefoot did appear in the 1995 BBC Eighth Doctor novel The Bodysnatchers, it took Big Finish and 2009’s The Companion Chronicles instalment ‘The Mahogany Murderers’ to again give voice to this vibrant duo exploring nefarious goings-on in Victorian London, the resounding success of that backdoor pilot ensuring that a recurring series was all but certain.

The first series opens with Justin Richards’s ‘The Bloodless Soldier’ in which a group of soldiers returns from overseas alongside a deadly evil that soon begins haunting the streets of London. It’s clear from the start that the two are interminably interlinked, but the description of the shrouded Captain draining a body of blood and needing a regular supply of raw meet for sustenance is evocatively powerful and highlights without too much gruesome detail just how powerful this infected being is. Given that those under his command realise that even the smallest scratch from him can likewise convert others into this monstrous and murderous form, it’s both commendable and surprising that so many of them still harbour such a respect for what he has done for them previously and will go to any length to save him, though one predictably does try to profit off of the circumstances by approaching Jago with the promise of a show specimen of a lifetime.

The plot does rely a bit too much on convenience as the barmaid Ellie awaits the return of her soldier brother who eventually falls victim to his Captain’s attacks and begs for his own life to be ended before he transforms and hurts others, but the characterisation and narrative potential created as a result of these circumstances are superb. Having fallen on hard times, Jago is trying to rebuild his reputation and fortunes, and the pride he shows even as he challenges his own cowardice by confronting unknown fears speaks volumes of the character who undergoes the ultimate development by pulling the trigger that kills Ellie’s brother. Litefoot, on the other hand, is the calculating pragmatist of the two, and it’s quite satisfying to see that he is unable to pull the trigger after destructively giving into impulse earlier. Both of the leads learn much about themselves in short order, and continued character development should result even if Ellie remains in the dark about the full truth of her brother’s demise. As a whole, ‘The Bloodless Soldier’ is a terrific start to this range, using the tense claustrophobia of its era to create an emotional tale that introduces and challenges all of its leads incredibly effectively while laying groundwork for further development going forward.

‘The Bellova Devil’ by Alan Barnes opens with the body of the fully-uniformed Reginald Colville being found at the Circle Line, a man who was certified dead six weeks previously and who is brandishing a bloody scimitar upon his belt. As Jago and Litefoot take up the case, they become unwitting grave robbers and come upon The Bellova Club, a suicide club whose promises of travels lead only to the undiscovered country of death itself. Sacker, the disgraced physician who initially pronounced Colville dead, is one of its newest members, hoping to die because of his seeming mistake, and he provides a different and more relatable entry point to this world of bankrupt and scandal-ridden members of the public. The prospect of employing the Bellova tree frog poison to appear dead before later awakening and taking on a new life with a stipend is a suitable explanation for the club’s existence, but the revelation that it is a scam led by the recurring and malevolent Doctor Tulp to accrue these tormented souls’ wealth for his own is a great twist that taps into the darkest and most desperate depths of humanity.

‘The Bloodless Soldier’ took the character of Jago who could have easily become a parody of the bombastic gentry of Victorian times and added a tremendous amount of personal imperfections and development to support his well-meaning nature, and ‘The Bellova Devil’ wisely continues that trend by initially showing him hiding away from creditors he has no way of repaying. Though he is prone to fancies of fiction as he tries to piece together the puzzle of the returning corpse before him and puts perhaps too much faith in his own theatrical prowess, this is a man who is able to put aside centre-mindedness to focus on his friends and the bigger picture around them when needed, exemplified perfectly when he begs for Litefoot’s survival as he confronts his own death at the bottom of the Thames. It’s only fitting, then, that, as the more grounded Litefoot is able to discover the truth, the Manchester Mangler who is trying to collect from Jago should catch up with him but meet his own unfortunate demise to unwittingly relieve Jago of his debts. It’s quite impressive through only two stories how the different approaches the leads take to investigation are incorporated, and the thrilling misdirection in what is ultimately a very human tale makes for another stellar outing.

Jonathan Morris continues the narrative in ‘The Spirit Trap’ in which Ellie has come to believe that spiritualist Mrs Vanguard is a genuine medium who can help her connect with her deceased brother. Although Jago and Litefoot are naturally distrustful of her abilities given their past and Jago’s intimate knowledge of stage acts, Ellie’s contrasting hope showcases the very familial and caring relationship that these three have, particularly as Litefoot tries to protect Ellie’s feelings regardless of Jago’s more direct approach to investigating than his own and the resultant initial findings. Falling asleep during the séance and clutching Litefoot’s hands instead of lightly touching them to complete the circle to communicate with the departed, Jago’s larger-than-life personality is certainly on display throughout as he confronts his own confidence and fears while events become more sinister, recent visitors of Mrs Vanguard appear to spontaneously combust, and Jago himself is falls victim to her act.

Janet Henfry’s performance as Mrs Vanguard along with Morris’s script clearly show just how easily Ellie is being manipulated into believing that the spirit of her brother is truly with her, and yet there is just a hint of something greater at play when Mrs Vanguard suggests that Jim was killed by gunshot outside of King’s Cross Station, a fact only an official police report could have revealed. When Ellie takes up a permanent position as Mrs Vanguard’s assistant, a very personal connection to Jago and Litefoot is made, and the revelation that consciousnesses are being extracted from those with open minds to allow space for spirits escaping from the future to continue onward is a brilliant twist. With their ultimate aim to take over the Queen Empress during a séance as she yearns for her departed husband and the unfortunate result of the refining process causing insanity and overheating leading to combustion, the disparate plot threads come together perfectly and allow the displaced spirit of Jago to determinedly communicate and force his way back into reality. With a brilliant conclusion highlighted by the meaningful suicidal sacrifice of one whose wife has no body to return to, ‘The Spirit Trap’ excels with its atmosphere and characterization to provide the third consecutive strong outing in this introductory set that begins to deal with the fallout of the first story while continuing to set pieces in motion for the next.

Andy Lane’s ‘The Similarity Engine’ sees the nefarious Doctor Tulp’s scheme reaching its climax, and Jago sees the horrifying consequences on the local populace firsthand after tumbling on an unseasonably icy road and ending up in a most peculiar hospital filled with the most peculiar patients. With a nice callback to ‘The Mahogany Murderers,’ Tulp is revealed to have been further refining his wooden simulacrums in the interim, perfecting a copy of Jago with which to rid himself of Litefoot’s intelligence that continues to plague him. Not only able to transfer his mind into those creations, he can also send his consciousness into the future where he has learned of futuristic designs that he can reverse engineer using the materials available to him in the present. With his ultimate plan being to replace those in positions of power with his own duplicates, he has begun mining the otherwise-unknown uranium with which he can hold the world to ransom with its destructive potential to meet his demands. Unfortunately, his projections to the future have made him the prey of creatures lurking in the void, ones who eventually consume him entirely after revealing their intent to use the uranium to turn the Earth into an ashen wasteland like their own world.

Strangely, the notion of radiation poisoning gives a sense of immediacy and realism to events that takes away from the sort of gothic fairy tale feeling of the previous stories. Perhaps for that same reason, the unique sense of humour and levity that supported even the most serious actions in the first three stories is sadly rather subdued here in its brief appearances, and the similarity of villainous intent in ‘The Spirit Trap’ and ‘The Similarity Engine’ means that even the plot itself doesn’t offer too much in terms of genuine surprises. Nonetheless, the characterization of Jago and Litefoot remain superb even as Litefoot takes centre stage, and it’s utterly believable after this short period of time that Litefoot would be able to pick up on a small detail to know that it is an impostor before him instead of Jago himself. The chemistry, atmosphere, and production values are as strong as ever, and ‘The Similarity Engine’ is a solid if ultimately unremarkable ending to what has proven to be an immensely engaging and evocative reintroduction to this loving pastiche of the Victorian era that looks to the future as much as it does to the past, without question verifying how dynamic these investigators of the infernal are and ensuring many further adventures going forward.

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