Jago & Litefoot Series Six

Posted in Audio by - January 22, 2018
Jago & Litefoot Series Six

Released September 2013

Following adventures farther afield than ever before on Venus in the distant future in ‘Voyage to Venus,’ at Roanoke Island in 1590 in ‘Voyage to the New World,’ and in London of the 1960s in the four stories comprising the fifth series of Jago and Litefoot, the two eponymous and intrepid investigators now return to their familiar hauntings in Victorian London as the series returns to its very foundations for a more traditional and familiar sixth series.

Setting up the new normal for this series is ‘The Skeleton Quay’ by Jonathan Morris, a tale that introduces Geoffrey Whitehead as the Colonel, an emissary of Queen Victoria who sends Jago and Litefoot to investigate a series of ghostly apparitions at the ruined seaside village of Shingle Cove. This has always been one of the most consistently atmospheric and evocative series under Big Finish’s banner, and the coastal Suffolk environment serving as a backdrop to the ghostly dangers comes to life spectacularly well as the persistent waves crash upon the shore and the gusting winds never relent. Obscuring fog has frequently been used as a character in its own right in this series as well, and Morris takes that notion to the next logical level in his ghost story, the chill and the echoes of the voices of those who have died here previously the thick fog carries creating an immensely unnerving visual to support the tragic tale of the destroyed village as witnessed so long ago by Isaac Pawley who eagerly joins in on the investigation to find an explanation for what occurred and why.

The introductions of Francesca Hunt’s Camilla Tevelyan first to Litefoot on the train and subsequently to Jago on the cliffs are both handled neatly and manage to craft a sense of empathy for this new character who perhaps unsurprisingly has much darker ties to the events at hand. As Litefoot points out, the lack of shingle at Shingle Cove is peculiar, its former removal by Camilla’s father to build their dockyards leaving the sea wall exposed and resulting in the carnage that befell the village there. Although the revelation that Camilla has been trying to kill Jago and Litefoot to protect her family’s secret falls somewhat flat given that her actions never seemed to dictate this until she says so, the fate of the village’s denizens and the resulting story of supernatural revenge is superbly executed and gives a resounding conclusion to this fairly traditional ghost story that features just enough twists to keep it from ever becoming too formulaic. With Jago haunted by his memories of recent adventures and Litefoot realizing that his own memories are starting to fade, it seems clear that the past and present will collide at some point down the road. Regardless, ‘The Skeleton Quay’ sets in motion a strong precedent for their continuing adventures at the Crown’s behest, here so a new experimental warship can be tested in the area, and Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter are at their most energetic and vibrant as they carefully piece together the mystery before them.

‘Return of the Repressed’ by Matthew Sweet delves into Jago’s mind more specifically as his dreams become ever more troubled and his waking hours begin to follow suit. Sweet chooses to forego exposition to drop the audience directly in the middle of events, Litefoot deciding to bring Jago to Dr Sigmund Freud to have his mind analysed after being concerned that some unknown madness has overtaken Jago since returning from Suffolk. Freud believes that dreams represent an opportunity to express wishes and desires when words are unable to do so. Coming to life with incredible imagery, the madness seems to have manifested as a baboon that has broken free of the confines of Jago’s mind and is now wreaking havoc on London’s streets. But while Freud admits that he does not know if dying in dreams equates to dying in real life, ‘Return of the Repressed’ offers a surprisingly satisfying twist to the menacing baboon’s presence by delving into Litefoot’s past and revealing that Litefoot has been under the madness’s influence all along, subverting expectations masterfully in what is traditionally a fairly straightforward range.

Stories dwelling on dream interpretation always run the risk of coming off as dull and too introspective at the expense of plot, and although Dr Freud and the images evoked are sometimes a bit too over the top, ‘Return of the Repressed’ absolutely does not fall into that trap. For Jago, the baboon represents the fury he feels for his father who abandoned him as a child and the fear he feels for his overbearing mother; for Litefoot, the baboon represents his unreasoning side stemming from his repressed anger about the Commissioner whose two sons he visited weekly as a child making unwarranted advances toward his mother, his dreams revealing the inner conflict he always faces to remain just and polite. With reality questioned at every turn and a very unique tone that is wholly different from anything this series has offered before, this is undoubtedly a story that will garner a fairly split response. However, though ‘Return of the Repressed’ is not perfect, it features a very satisfying resolution that culminates in a much greater understanding of these two explorers who already seemed to be so comfortable and familiar after so many adventures together.

George Mann’s ‘Military Intelligence’ shrewdly opens with Jago and Litefoot wondering just how much they actually know about the Colonel and his association with Queen Victoria. Indeed, their investigations find that the Colonel is not listed in any royal appointment and Litefoot soon finds himself the captive of his man of concern, discovering that the Colonel finds the Queen lacking and that he intends on becoming an Emperor who rules all of Europe through the fear that will stem from the mechanised army he is assembling. George Mann is certainly no stranger to the steampunk genre, penning an ongoing literary series in the subgenre featuring the investigators Newbury and Hobbes, and so he provides the perfect conduit through which to briefly and lightly reintroduce this notion to the world of Jago and Litefoot while dipping back into the range’s own continuity with references to the works of Doctor Tulp and his mahogany murderers and similarity engine. The Colonel almost inevitably becomes something of an over-the-top threat as he reveals his dreams and plans of dominion through his mechanical slave force, but Geoffrey Whitehead manages to imbue an incredible amount of menace to his performance to keep the character from ever coming off as too laughable or insane even if the character doesn’t get the more in-depth exploration and characterisation that his brief appearances earlier on suggested were coming.

Perhaps for the very reason that the Colonel has only been a peripheral character to this point, establishing such a dynamic shift from ally to enemy of the world comes about too quickly, and the relative simplicity with which his mechanical threat is disposed of fails to fully resonate. The scope and ideas of this tale are certainly befitting of a series finale and could adequately serve as such with some minor tweaks, but having all of this happen so quickly in the second half of the third story of four lacks the impact these events may have otherwise delivered. Nonetheless, the revelation that the seemingly unassuming Agatha is an agent of the Crown who has been trying to stop the Colonel’s attempts and who has accordingly found Jago and Litefoot in her sights works incredibly well, and Nancy Carroll makes an immediate impact to further help the usual strong dynamic between Benjamin and Baxter which carries the slower first half that relies on so much pondering and dialogue. These early scenes do manage to effectively reinforce just how honourable and meticulous Litefoot is even as Jago jumps at the opportunity to work on behalf of the Crown, and this pays off handsomely with the stunning surprise that this entire matter seemingly has been crafted to frame Litefoot for Jago’s murder.

Thankfully, although it certainly carries its own flaws as well, ‘The Trial of George Litefoot’ by Justin Richards help to mitigate some of the preceding serial’s lesser moments by dealing with the fallout of the warehouse massacre that was nowhere near as severe as those involved were initially led to believe. Richards intriguingly presents the Colonel here as a powerful figure who can control the police force and the courts alike, and this presents a more sinister counterbalance to the foe’s more stereotypically evil actions of gloating in front of Litefoot in his jail cell and loudly proclaiming his continuing plans to murder the Queen at the first opportunity. Although it’s no surprise that Jago survived the flames, the fact that Agatha was the one to save him is a wonderful development that only further intensifies her strength and worth and serves to make her ultimate death at the hands of the Colonel all the more emotional and impactful. A rather more surprising event stemming from this turn, however, is that Jago takes his second chance at life to act as Litefoot’s defence in court while in disguise. Though some stories would take the opportunity to show Jago as an unknown savant in the courtroom given his bluster and loquaciousness, Richards takes the far more probable approach of having this act backfire spectacularly, resulting in Litefoot being sentenced for the murder of a misidentified victim and Jago himself being arrested for contempt of court once he reveals his true identity.

The known presence of Jago throughout does rob the courtroom drama of any true drama, of course, but even with the plan being to bring the mysterious Colonel out of hiding, the façade does seem to go on a bit too long so that the only realistic outcome would be a negative one for the heroes. Although the Colonel does slip into campy territory at times once again, his nefarious plan to upend the Empire is much more tangible and realistic here as his incredible power and resources are revealed, forming a solid plan to fill the power vacuum he hopes to create and his associates even planting further evidence to implicate Jago and Litefoot in the murder of the Queen should they escape the law at this time. Indeed, while finales often fail to live up to their part-one setup tales, ‘The Trial of George Litefoot’ proves to be the far more engaging of the two even without the promise of artificial intelligence taking over the world. It should also at least briefly be mentioned that this is arguably the strongest story for Sergeant Quick yet, and his bravery, devotion, and honourable nature shine incredibly brightly as he tries to work within the corrupt system that has so unfairly and wrongfully cast its gaze upon his friends. And so while the sixth series does not follow the trajectory its opening scenes seemed to indicate and certainly features a few actions and decisions that fall somewhat flat, it is always engaging and less predictable than its predecessors, resulting in the resourceful and intrepid heroes being on the run from the law as the truth once more becomes obscured leading into series seven.

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