Jago & Litefoot Series Seven

Posted in Audio by - January 24, 2018
Jago & Litefoot Series Seven

Released April 2014

Framed for a crime they did not commit, Victorian London’s investigators of infernal incidents, Henry Gordon Jago and Professor George Litefoot, find themselves on the run from the law with their reputations in tatters as the seventh series opens in harrowing fashion.

‘The Monstrous Menagerie’ by Justin Richards opens with Ellie bravely risking her freedom to furtively pass on a message to her fugitive friends, leading them to seek refuge in a Baker Street home owned by none other than their old acquaintance, Professor Dark. Rather than gaining a temporary restful respite, however, they quickly find themselves in the presence of another man sent their way by the absent master of the house, none other than the famed Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame. This is a great conceit to bring perhaps the most famous Victorian character into the world of Jago and Litefoot without introducing the famed literary character himself, and Steven Miller brings a tremendous amount of weighty emotion to the author who at this time seemingly regrets creating Holmes in the first place. Having dwarfed all of his other works and resulting in unending amounts of mail and conversations where he is told of faults in his stories, asked to bring the character back following Holmes’s seemingly fatal fall from Reichenbach Falls, or asked to offer help with real problems, Holmes is nothing but action stories to Doyle, a forgettable pittance compared to the more lasting and momentous works he believes he has already published and still has in him. Though this mindset may be difficult for some to accept, the fact that Doyle wants to write more serious works after losing his mother and wife and realising how fleeting life is adds a greater amount of depth to the man’s decisions and actions that allows them to better connect to an empathetic audience.

Despite Doyle’s ambivalence toward his creation, it’s quite fitting that the Doctor would lead Jago and Litefoot to take up the mantle of Holmes and Watson, respectfully, when a young lady who believes the characters to be real comes to 221B and sets in motion a most surprising adventure that links intrinsically with the yet-unwritten Sherlock Holmes adventure The Hound of the Baskervilles. An imaginative basis for this story has been the subject of a great many tales before, but travelers from the sixty-third century who had been studying dinosaurs in the Jurassic then becoming stranded with their reptilian quarry able to wander the Victorian East End with expectedly horrific results is undoubtedly one of the most entertaining and distinct propositions yet offered. While serving as a strong opening instalment to this series that showcases just how insightful and resourceful Jago and Litefoot remain even when stripped of everything, ‘The Monstrous Menagerie’ brings its dual settings to life expertly and sacrifices none of this series’s usual charm while still serving as a poignant and effective homage to Doyle’s most famous stories.

‘The Night of 1000 Stars’ by James Goss completely forgoes the usual stylings and charm of Jago and Litefoot, however, to squarely turn the focus onto its characters as they are forced to confront their pasts and fears in the most unexpected of manners. As Leela joins Jago, Litefoot, and Ellie at the Baker Street residence with little initial explanation, each sees something different but equally disarming and fretful upon a painting’s canvas. With Leela revisiting the tears stemming from her first kill, Ellie the death of a drunken regular at the Red Tavern who let his family burn to death and then died himself, Jago the death of a troubling young woman whom he had recently removed from his theatre, and Litefoot the death of a young woman because of his own scalpel, Remorse takes hold of each and brings about atypical and even violent behaviour as they try to cope and understand the creature they know to be present. Leading to an immense climax in which all four succumb to paranoia and guilt and begin throwing out accusations regarding who is affected, the presence of this unseen entity is able to create an inherent sense of guilt and mistrust that comes off as palpably stifling in the best and most dramatic of ways.

The identity of the impostor is quite clear from the outset, but Goss is able to sow just enough doubt about all of those involved that it wouldn’t have been completely unbelievable had it been anyone else. Litefoot believes Leela to be the culprit due to her murderous skill with the blade, Ellie believes Jago to be the one due to how out of character and melancholy he has been, Leela suspects Ellie because of the sadness and gloom with which she surrounds herself, and Jago casts his eye on Litefoot who discovered the corpses in the first place. Louise Jameson has long proven how sweeping her emotional range on audio is, and Lisa Bowerman again gives a powerful performance as Ellie takes a more prominent role akin to the earlier series, but it truly is Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter who astound as their two amiable and gentlemanly characters explore true dread, rage, shame, and sorrow in incredibly believable fashion, developing these two well-known investigators more than one single story ever has before. Wisely, even with the truth revealed and the creature feeding on their darker thoughts vanquished, the events that played out remain in place rather than being written out as a fictitious plot device for this one story alone, ensuring the enshrinement of ‘The Night of 1000 Stars’ among the range’s more fascinating and important standalone releases regardless of its very distinct tone.

In ‘Murder at Moorsey Manor’ by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris, Jago and Litefoot visit the eponymous residence in hopes of securing the help of the only man who can clear their names. Unfortunately, the two do not realise this particular date marks the first anniversary of Sherlock Holmes’s death and that the crowd assembled has been personally invited by the fan club secretary, Moriarty, to pay homage to the beloved character. Before passing casual remarks about groups of fans in costumes when finally coming to understand just what the focus of this mourning group is, Jago’s usual bluster backfires somewhat as he proclaims that he knew the deceased personally. Nonetheless, as the rooms begin rotating and portents of death are ominously delivered, a real-life game of progressive Cluedo plays out, and the trusted concept of someone new dying on the stoke of each hour adds a wonderfully increasing sense of tension and atmosphere to the story. The revelation that the house is related to Edward Merridew, the man whose career was destroyed after a miscalculation with the inner workings of the Jubilee Clock in 1887 caused an explosion with royals present, is a logical one and ties directly into the clockwork mechanisms of this house of murderous horrors, and revenge being carried out by Edward’s daughter brings everything together nicely, even if the villainess does sometimes stray into overly dramatic as she cries out for her father.

With a claustrophobic environment and mounting danger at its most extreme that challenges the wit and improvisational nature of Jago and Litefoot at every turn, ‘Murder at Moorsey Manor’ is a perfect love letter to everything that is so beloved about the murder mystery genre without ever losing sight of the charms and comedy that have made this series so adored. Although some of the supporting characters are more in line with caricatures and some of the plot elements aren’t entirely original despite the story’s incredibly confident layout, the plot itself does manage to toy with expectations from beginning to end and even suggests a commonality with Big Finish’s universally-acclaimed Doctor Who tale ‘The Chimes of Midnight’ before boldly heading into its own ominous direction that proves incredibly successful in its own right. While it’s unfortunate that more has not been done with the actual notion of Jago and Litefoot being on the run and thus implicitly in danger because of a chasing police force, this is another strong standalone tale, and the surprise ending sets events in motion for a rousing finale as justice firmly catches up to the explorers.

History has come to repeat itself and haunt Inspector Abberline in ‘The Wax Princess’ by Justin Richards when Jack the Ripper escapes custody and unknowingly thrusts Jago and Litefoot into a daring web of intrigue leading straight to the Palace itself. Abberline has suspected for a while that the two convicted gentlemen are innocent of their supposed crimes, and he offers them their freedom and return of status if they help him recapture his nemesis and stop the continuing killings. As the three arrive at the Red Tavern and Ellie becomes informed of this latest twist and the recent spate of murders involving two chorus girls from Jago’s New Regency Theatre, Richards wisely suggests that Ellie has created her own network of contacts through London due to her association and involvement with her friends’ ongoing exploits. The Ellie here is a remarkably self-assured and confident woman more than capable of anchoring her own investigation, and the ongoing development of this character continues to be one of the highlights whenever she is thrust into the spotlight. Jack the Ripper’s association with the Crown as well as his capture were kept under wraps, but his plan to murder Queen Victoria and rule in her place alongside his wax princess is suitably monstrous and befitting of Victorian London’s most infamous criminal returned, again delving into the notion of life continuing after death that this series has so frequently explored over the years.

Adrian Rawlins gives a fantastic performance as Inspector Abbeline here, the character’s conviction and determination shining throughout as his hunt reaches progressively higher circles of society. His insistence that Jago join his investigations also allows Jago’s inherent mistrust of his own abilities that lies beneath his bravado to surface, and Benjamin plays this more nuanced aspect of Jago perfectly to deliver maximum impact and seem ever more human in the process. At the same time, Litefoot examining the Ripper’s latest victims is certainly a return to familiar territory for him after his time on the lam, but his confidence is again shaken when he realises how easily the Ripper fooled him with a simple disguise, perfectly reminding everyone that this duo is anything but expertly trained. The identity of the criminal isn’t wholly shocking, but his reasons for committing his crimes are some of the grislier the series has ever suggested, and the plot to murder the Queen brings with it a nice sense of closure given that this was the very reason Jago and Litefoot were on the run in the first place and satisfyingly culminates with a seeming Royal Appointment for the two investigators. With the sound design stunningly bringing wax to life and a strong pace leading to a thrilling climax that resolves the loose link of these four stories, ‘The Wax Princess’ represents an engaging end to series seven of Jago and Litefoot and boldly introduces The Scorchies from The Companion Chronicles fame to segue into series eight.

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