Once upon a time, says Tony Fyler.
As the Infernal Investigators move into their third series, it’s not so much business as usual, as there’s a slightly lighter and more definitively scientific vibe to the tales in this series, and also, if anything, a slightly more artistic tone – with a story based around a kind of Rumpelstiltskin fairy story and a tale that blends Swan Lake, the spirit of the theatre and time travel it’s difficult not to feel like we’ve escaped from the darkly gothic clutches of vampires and werewolves that characterized the first two series.
Of course, Jago & Litefoot have help in Series Three from everybody’s favourite noble savage, Leela of the Sevateem, sent by Romana of Gallifrey with a time-tracing compass to eliminate temporal shenanigans that threaten the whole world. Leela brings a welcome lightness of tone to the whole set-up, being able to see Jago, Litefoot and their Victorian world through an outsider’s eyes.
Nevertheless there’s plenty of meat in this series – if anything, it feels meatier than the previous two, precisely because there’s some sort of underpinning scientific logic to the Big Bad. Dead Men’s Tales, by Justin Richards, gives us a suitably creepy-sounding threat in the Wet Men, and at the risk of overusing a comparison, there’s a Sapphire and Steel vibe to the story of people out of time, who shouldn’t be where and when they are, and have no idea how to get back to where they should be. Looked at one way, the story’s an examination of the will to survive, even beyond one’s ‘appointed’ time, and there’s an elegance in both the storytelling and the resolution that kicks Series Three off to a blinding start in the murk of London’s Docklands.
Showing the versatility of the Victorian world as a playground for infernal storytelling though, The Man At The End of the Garden by Matthew Sweet – the Rumpelstiltskin-style fairy tale - takes us to the more gentrified end of town, for tales of lady authoresses and their daughters, the tales they tell at night and the price those tales bring with them. There’s a familiarity to the structure here from stories like Torchwood’s Small Worlds and Fourth Doctor stories like The Crooked Man, but the addition of Leela to the Jago & Litefoot mix adds a dimension of fun and battle, bringing a base-under-siege section to a story of love, loss, magical books and goblins from ‘the Moon’ that live at the end of the garden and steal our most precious things. It’s a story very much in the gothic fairy tale tradition, and it’s rich in detail and description, bringing a brightness that contrasts beautifully with the murk of Dead Mean’s Tales.
Swan Song, by John Dorney, is an oddity that mixes artistic expression, the imprints of emotions on buildings and time travel experiments in 2011 that punch holes in the space-time continuum and, naturally enough, endanger the whole world. The action is focused on Jago’s theatre, and, highlighting a different strand of Victorian Gothic – in this case the grand guignol – it blends pantomime, Shakespeare, ballet and the fury of human rejection in a story that should never hang together, but does so rather marvelously in the hands of Dorney and the cast, who get to do some spectacular ‘What the blazes?’ acting when threatened by the likes of a laughing Robin Hood, a fencer from Hamlet, and – did we mention? – the end of the world.
While he was mentioned in Dead Men’s Tales, it’s here in Episode Three that the Series’ Big Bad comes into his own as a named presence with a specific agenda – that’d be the end of the world again: it does keep popping up in this series. But while in Episode Three, he seems like a psychotic lunatic, Episode Four, Chonoclasm by Andy Lane, gives him a reason for wanting to bring the world to an end, and it’s one of the oldest in the book. Chronoclasm has some deliciously mad touches to it that make it feel like the most TV Doctor Who of the stories here – giant metal spheres appearing out of nowhere, Nikolai Tesla kidnapped out of his timestream, two Henry Gordon Jagos for the price of one, time crabs from a dark star, and a villain driven to commit unspeakable acts mostly by an ungovernable passion for his love.
When the dust clears on this series, it’s time for Leela to leave – but she can’t. Something’s going wrong, and Jago and Litefoot are lured to a meeting with the shady Claudius Dark (name-checked earlier in the series, and played with his usual verve by none other than Colin Baker), setting up a series 4 arc that promises a lot. After a Series Three that delivers stories from several angles on Victorian London, it’ll have to go pretty far to improve on a range really coming into its own. Mind you – Benjamin, Baxter, Baker, Bowerman and Jameson could just be the team to do it.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk