Tony Fyler talks about his mother. Or is that a baboon?
Series 5 of Jago & Litefoot saw the Victorian sleuths taken out of time and dropped in the unfamiliar world of 1968. It was a gamble, but as it turned out, it was a brilliant one, with Jago & Litefoot sounding refreshed and beset with new challenges, as well as by one of their oldest enemies.
Returning to their own time at the end of the series, the redoubtable Victorians found themselves recruited by ‘The Colonel’ – just ‘The Colonel – on behalf of Her Majesty Queen Victoria to investigate spooky goings-on by the sea.
It’s a little depressing to report that after the high-spot of Series 5, there’s something altogether rather forced and declamatory about Series 6 that makes it feel as though Big Finish may have had a brain fart and almost forgotten how to deliver the dialogue of Jago & Litefoot effectively.
That’s a little harsh – there are four stories here which break down into what are really two two-parters. There’s a solid series arc – who is ‘The Colonel’ and what’s his agenda? – and the stories in and of themselves are not by any means out of character for the investigators of the infernal. But the writing in Series 6 frequently veers towards the stuff of Victorian stagecraft – “Oh look, he’s getting away!” “Getting away, you say? Surely not!” “Yes, he is, he’s getting away!” It’s a style of delivery even remarked on within the plays at one point, when Jago declaims the contents of a note line by line, to which Ellie responds “I have read the note, you know.”
So there’s a somewhat more theatrical tone than in previous series that you note as you go through, waiting for there to be some in-story explanation – maybe they’re all trapped in the imagination of a Victorian playwright or something similar? Nothing is forthcoming within the course of the series though, so, going through the journey of Jago & Litefoot one series at a time and without hindsight, we can only assume the theatrical tone is merely an issue with the writing, which at times feels almost like a pastiche of itself in Series 6.
We’re still given some hope that it may be deliberate though, because there are other elements that are left relatively unresolved – Jago is chronically exhausted throughout the first two stories here, and keeps falling asleep, and the adventures of the duo on Venus, in America and in 1968 are at first remembered as true by Litefoot, but as a dream by Jago. Soon enough though, Litefoot agrees that they’re a dream.
We almost hope that in Series 7, it’s the greater part of Series 6 that is revealed to be a dream in the mind of Jago – that at least would account for some of the more theatrical, declamatory, linguistically loopy passages in this series.
The stories themselves are a fairly standard J&L mixture – The Skeleton Quay, by Jonathan Morris, sees the pair investigate the aforesaid spookiness-by-sea, with drowned villages, armies of ghosts and an old fisherman who may just possibly know more than he’s saying. There’s an authentic period quality to the atmosphere in the opener that has more than a whiff of classic ghost story about it, and an explanation that is both succinctly banal and agreeably odd. Francesca Hunt is particularly enchanting as Camilla Tevelyan, and Keith Bartlett gives the Scooby Doo aspects of the whole ghostly affair a solid slab of gravitas as Old Isaac Pawsey.
Matthew Sweet’s The Return of the Repressed is deliciously loopy, as you might expect of a story in which Sigmund Freud plays a leading role (Adrian Lukis sounds a little cod comedy-Germanic as the great head-shrinker, but Freud quickly sinks into the pace of the Jago & Litefoot lifestyle, running about the place and adding his analytical prowess to the party). There are mysterious women, an occasional baboon, and a journey into the underlying psychological makeup and history of both Jago and Litefoot, while the story cleans up some unfinished business from The Skeleton Quay. It verges on the exhausting side, but it does give us perhaps our clearest glimpse yet into the past that informs the characters we know, as well as seeing a welcome return of the word “Oopazootics” to the world.
Military Intelligence, by George Mann, pulls a thread that’s been present since the beginning of the series very much to the front and centre, and takes us both back and forward – back certainly as far as the try-out story for Jago & Litefoot, The Mahogany Murderers, and forward to a properly steampunk science-fiction story, which has potentially enormous consequences. Mann’s story is probably the most coherent of the four in this series, involving agents, other-agents, mechanical contrivances that are made to sound not a little like Churchill’s Ironsides – but which aren’t them by any means. Nancy Carroll is positively fabulous here as Agatha, and this is also the story that brings the character of the Colonel – and the irrepressible and unmistakable skills of Geoffrey Whitehead – to the fore. You’ll want someone to win through all this, but you’re not entirely sure who, or what their true motives are, at least until quite late in the day. If you were wondering how a Torchwood: Team One audio series might sound…well, it might sound rather a lot like this, and that’d be no bad thing.
The Trial of George Litefoot, by Justin Richards is – well, it’s the story of the trial of George Litefoot, evidently. The professor, like the Incredible Hulk in years to come, is on trial for a murder he couldn’t possibly have committed. Not that that’ll stop the ineffable engines of Victorian justice of course. There’s a dastardly plot, more agents, more other-agents, the perversion of the justice system and a plot of devastating simplicity. If the end of Series 4, which saw Jago & Litefoot whisked off into space and time with the Sixth Doctor, meant things would never be the same again for the amateur sleuths, then the end of Series 6 ensures that things will never be the same again…again, as we prepare to tune in for Series 7 of the adventures of Jagfoot and Lithgow (no, that’s not a typo).
Perhaps you can see what I mean – the stories themselves are typical J&L fare, which is to say they’re intriguing, enjoyable, a little bit barking and enormously good fun, and they certainly barrel along with more than enough punch and wallop to deliver a reliable fix for Jago & Litefoot fans. But there’s just that vibe in the speechifying that occasionally makes them sound as if they’ve each been written for the stage to be delivered entirely by Henry Gordon Jago in an exciting encyclopaedia of his eloquently elucidatory encomiums, and that sense occasionally breaks the flow or the investment of the listener in the stories this time around.
Onward though, to Series 7, with Jagfoot and Lithgow – on the run!
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