Jago and Litefoot Series Three

Posted in Audio by - January 13, 2018
Jago and Litefoot Series Three

Released June 2011

Jago and Litefoot hit the ground running with superb characterisation, atmosphere, and charm to instantly become a most welcome addition to the ever-expanding audio universe of Doctor Who fronted by the exceedingly charismatic duo of Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter. The third series arrives to pick up the last set’s cliffhanger in which Leela appears before Jago and Litefoot to carry out a mission for Romana and investigate areas in London where time has worn thin and different timelines threaten to collide, tying in this range to Big Finish’s own Gallifrey range and sending the eponymous investigators of the infernal in a wholly different direction from their preceding adventures.

‘Dead Men’s Tales’ from Justin Richards opens this third series, and the sparkling character dynamics are instantly as vibrantly present as always. Leela, quite rightly, becomes a focal point for the story both for plot progression and for smaller character moments, and it’s wonderful to see just how much the Leela from ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ has developed under the tutelage of Big Finish as she now returns to Victorian London. Able to joke about her previous foibles but still with a lot to learn about local customs and slang, Leela’s trademark determination and fierce bravery prove to be exactly the motivating force the story needs to reach its end as she fully immerses herself in the more unsavoury circles of society to discover the truth, and Louise Jameson delivers an immaculate performance from the very start. Jago and Litefoot certainly prove their willingness and mettle as they try to join in on the covert goings-on, but their more gentrified predispositions become a humorous hurdle on top of Litefoot’s attempt to balance Leela’s propensity for violence and Jago’s verbosity and bluster that masks his own fear.

The prospect of time displacements in this Victorian London that is already so rife with supernatural elements is an exciting one for this third series to explore, but the Wet Men rising from the River Thames- even though mentioned in series two’s ‘The Ruthven Inheritance’- appear far too late in the tale to provide any real narrative drama. The revelations surrounding what they are and where they come from are nonetheless intriguing, but there simply is not enough time devoted to really developing this mystery or expanding it into anything beyond straightforward territory. Unfortunately, the inclusion of a familiar character from the past inherently runs the risk of skewing the balance between plot and character, and too many amusing but ultimately unimportant scenes featuring Leela in unfamiliar territory are present to keep ‘Dead Men’s Tales’ from ever becoming anything more than a superficial romp that excels with highlighting the impressive dynamics of its leads but that fails to set up the greater threat its premise suggests, only hinting at a far more dramatic tale hiding beneath the surface.

Matthew Sweet’s ‘The Man at the End of the Garden’ toys with the traditional format of a Jago and Litefoot story when the Naismith household comes into focus following the disappearance of Eleanor Naismith and the odd circumstances surrounding the recovery of her daughter, Clara. Yet as the startling truth behind Eleanor’s eponymous book and its abilities along with the costs of using it become clear, the locked-room mystery underlying this fairy tale of sorts becomes somewhat jumbled. Non-linear storytelling structure often allows for authors to toy with expectations and to sow seeds for revelations in an unexpected manner, and though that is true to some extent here as well, there are simply too many conflicting viewpoints to make this a cohesive whole in the allotted running time, the time dedicated to the mystery and to the expanded cast each taking away from the other and resulting a feeling of disjointedness. Indeed, while Benjamin, Baxter, and Jameson remain as captivating as ever, their characters accomplish little throughout the story and are fairly inconsequential to the resolution, making this an odd entry in a four-story set that seems more like a tale that had been crafted as a completely separate story that then had the three leads inserted.

At the very least, Sweet does perfectly capture the essence of the leads, and it’s intriguing to see Leela as viewed from the eyes of a child since she is so often written like a child growing up and maturing before the audience’s eyes. Her tribe used to worship the stars, but she now realises the folly of that practice, and the importance she places on maintaining a sense of fear to never be caught off guard perfectly sums up the character and her method of operations and allows her to connect more deeply with Clara. In this investigation by candlelight, it’s Litefoot who is able to showcase his shrewd intelligence and deductive abilities, and the unique repartee and chemistry of Jago and he easily carry every scene while providing a sense of calm familiarity even as the mystery grows stranger and more macabre around them. Joanna Bacon also does well to add a poignant sense of nobility to Mrs Hitch as the resolution approaches, but these performances are sadly not enough to compensate for the plot deficiencies regarding its leads’ involvement as well as for Clara who gives off a flat sense of apathy despite her mother’s disappearance.

John Dorney’s ‘Swan Song’ shifts the momentum in a positive directions and hints at the bigger evil this set needs to act as a guiding light, telling the story of Alice who so cruelly had Swan Lake taken away from her as a child. Even before the theme song plays, the tragic tale of Alice has been laid out, and the discovered large gaps in time centred at Jago’s New Regency Theatre that facilitate communication between Victorian London and a future where scientists are experimenting with a chrono-machine allow events to be revealed out of sequence and to create a unique sense of inevitable foreboding given what those in the future are able to research about their past. As the experiment goes awry, a haunting presence manifests, and it’s fittingly a love for the arts despite the overabundance of surrounding science that proves to be the key to defeating it, a perfect blending of these two times and the importance that Jago unknowingly plays in each. With the more menacing undertones of pantomime and the history of the stage brought to the forefront expertly, the exploration of the theatrical haunting from two directions allows the unique threat to flourish and to showcase just how much unique life this series still has in it.

Even before the truly heartbreaking conclusion, Abigail Hollick gives a spectacular performance as Alice, making an instant impact as a caring, brave, and compassionate figure as she takes listeners from her childhood to beyond her death. This is the second story in a row that has relied on its supporting cast as much as its leads, but the approach is seamless here and brings together what initially seem like two disparate storylines together perfectly. Though the theatrical setting again allows the gaps in Leela’s knowledge to be explored as she tries to take a more straightforward approach than most, ‘Swan Song’ unquestionably makes the most of Jago and Litefoot themselves, the former as his love of the stage stares him down directly and as he comes to terms with his legacy and the latter as the more tempered and shrewd presence trying to understand and piece together the logic of what is before him. ‘Swan Song’ is the story that this series needed to find its footing, an expertly written and performed character study that brings the threat of time and the unique atmosphere of this series together in an emotional masterpiece that further sets events in motion for the finale.

Andy Lane’s ‘Chronoclasm’ closes out this third series, opening as Litefoot’s home is invaded by giant spheres heralding the arrival of the endgame of Payne’s nefarious plan and a second Henry Gordon Jago. Much like the first story, Leela is thrust into the spotlight here, and her hunting instincts have never been more on display. With or without Romana’s compass, she is able to detect time spillages and whenever something is out of place, and the suggestion that time rather than the jungle is now her natural habitat is a fascinating one that again shows how much the character has progressed since first meeting the Doctor and that opens up further potential avenues for exploration and development going forward. With a hunt for artefacts and a sphere that seems to come from no time, ‘Chronoclasm’ is certainly big on ideas fitting of a series finale, and just how close this particular threat hits to home for Litefoot brings out a personal sense of fear that makes for a highly nuanced outing from Trevor Baxter that works very well. With a dual role of sorts for Christopher Benjamin, Jago shows a surprising range of emotions given his personal investment, able to keep his eye on potential profit when confronted with strange and dangerous wonders but also astutely aware of just how dangerous the situation has become and the consequences it holds, this danger highlighted by a spectacularly moving scene between the two leads that is among the range’s very best to date.

Unfortunately, despite the strong characterisation and the deeper emotional exploration of the leads, the villainous Payne fails to deliver the dynamic performance of previous series’ foes, perhaps because his identity was held back until so late in the run. The imposters are far more intriguing, but Payne himself initially seems to have no motive beyond being evil before eventually revealing a clichéd façade of deeper reasoning for his actions that is unable to capture the excitement of well-developed plans and foes. Thus, while the prospect of the spectacle of Hell breaking loose on Earth is certainly a grand backdrop for these great characters, the lack of a charismatic and intelligent face to put to these events creates a slightly more disconnected finale than in other sets. Indeed, disregarding the presence of Benjamin, Baxter, and Jameson whose innate chemistry and dynamic energy are undeniable and forever engaging, this set is a significant step back as a whole compared to the previous two, ‘Swan Song’ being the exception that captures the balanced tone and spirit of the range perfectly. Apparently this series underwent a last-minute rewrite which in itself hints at some of the issues facing this release, but the end result is an unbalanced one that nonetheless ends with the fearless introduction of another familiar voice for the upcoming fourth series.

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