Big Finish: JAGO & LITEFOOT, Series 7 Review

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Tony tackles some Victorian legends.


Series 6 of Jago & Lightfoot was the least cohesive to date, with an ending that found our heroes almost comically on the run, with incredibly unconvincing aliases (alii?), having been accused of trying to launch a missile at Queen Victoria herself. They can’t resume their ordinary lives of relative ease on their respective rungs of the Victorian social ladder until they can clear their names.

There’s a sense of trepidation when you set out on Series 7 – with Series 5 proving a high point in the audio plays so far, and Series 6 a subsequent falling off, almost feeling like a placeholder set of stories, which way will the dice of Series 7 fall?

Happily, we can report that Series 7 represents something of a return to form. There’s a familiarity about this set of four hour-long plays that takes us back to the likes of Series 3 and 4 – meeting prominent Victorians en route to investigating nefarious or diabolical goings-on in every level of society. The Monstrous Menagerie, by Jonathan Morris, sees Jago and Litefoot tangle with none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the Sherlock Holmes stories. There’s a good deal of contrivance involved in getting the trio together, not least the invocation of an invitation by ‘Professor Dark’ – the Sixth Doctor to you and me – but there’s also a handy satire on the exhaustion of writers (and presumably players too) when faced with demented fans who know their work inside-out, upside-down and backwards, and always clamour for more of the same (‘Bring back Rose, or Donna, or Amy, or Tennant!’ – just saying), when the authors themselves desperately want to leave adventure behind and write something ‘serious’ or ‘worthwhile.’

There’s a degree of irresistibility – which could easily tip over into cliché – about the story of how and why Conan Doyle is persuaded to bring back Holmes after his encounter at the Reichenbach Falls, to do battle with a man named Baskerville and his enormous, slavering, glow-in-the-dark hound, and were you habitually inclined to speak like a four year-old, you could even say it has a more timey-wimey conclusion than any Jago & Litefoot tale to date, but it delivers its curiosity-hooks well, and it feels like a quick hour spent in the company of our two intrepid detectives, and the man behind the greatest of them all.

The Night of 1000 Stars is an odd one, from James Goss. Under no circumstances listen to this one while enjoying a libation of the kind served by Ellie at the Red Tavern, because if you do, there’s every chance you, like Jago, Litefoot and Ellie herself will fall prey to melancholy, contemplating your life if not your navel. This is the story that takes this series’ Sapphire & Steel Award for Weird Creepiness, with photos that change depending on who looks at them, and creatures that feed on depression. It’s also probably the only time in recorded history that the song Where Did You Get That Hat? has been used as a life-saver. On the upside, this story sees the brief return to Victorian London of Leela, who brings the creepy photograph with her to get the Victorians’ view on its unusual properties.

Murder At Moorsey Manor by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris is the first of these four stories actually to address Jago and Litefoot’s situation as wanted men, as they head to Moorsey Manor to interview probably the only surviving person who can corroborate their story that they were trying to prevent the missile attack on the monarch. They end up in another fantastic Victorian trope – the mechanical house of murder (like Sweeney Todd’s barber’s chair, only more ingenious). These houses of moving walls, sudden trap doors, random electrocutions etc have been genuinely used throughout Europe and America for over a hundred years to take the effort out of slaughter, and Jago and Litefoot find themselves trapped in one of exquisite and gruesome engineering skill – a murder house with the dark elegance of the Devil’s pocketwatch, no less. Also in this episode, there’s a return to the Sherlock Holmes meme, and another sweet dose of satire on both cosplay and murder mystery weekends, as members of the Sherlock Holmes Society pit their wits against a mechanical mastermind.

The Wax Princess by Justin Richards takes us once more into Victorian celebrity-spotting territory, with the most famous British policeman of the age teaming up with Jago and Litefoot to tackle its most famous villain, in a scheme that will, if nothing else, annoy those who hold that only on-screen Who is definitive (if any such still exist in this medium-swapping age) – there are events here that flatly contradict a solution presented on screen, but Jago and Litefoot do the legend more service, finally ending up in the presence of the squeaky-voiced empress herself to discover their fate. There’s a good deal of homage to some of the creepiest, most effective Hammer films here and, as is often the case with Jago and Litefoot, very little in the way of scientific or rational explanation, but you should already know what you’re getting into by the time you get to Series 7, and if you’re looking for meticulous explanation of every point, you’re missing the importance of atmosphere in the Jago & Litefoot stories, and also misreading the spirit of the age, where scientific rationalism and explorations of the mystical went hand in hand until convincingly proved not to do so.

Despite the background arc of Jago & Litefoot on the run and under cover in this series, there’s no particularly consistent tone across the four stories here – The Monstrous Menagerie is solid sci-fi, The Night of 1000 Stars is more horror-sci-fi, while Murder At Moorsey Manor is straightforward horror (seriously, it’s like Jago & Litefoot & Jigsaw), and The Wax Princess is supernatural horror. As that list should make clear, we’re in pretty gruesome territory throughout most of Series 7, but that’s not really any bad thing; with Series 6 starting off in a kind of Woman In Black mode and moving towards steampunk imperialism, it’s good to wallow a while in the darker sides of the age. Certainly, it’s a return to reliable scares and pulse-racing creepiness that is extremely welcome.

Get Jago & Litefoot Series 7 and slip it on for any holiday that involves sitting round camp fires telling horrible stories to rob your fellows of sleep. It’s a good solid four-hour slab of scares, with that sense of macabre mystery that only a foggy Victorian setting can guarantee.

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 day, he 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

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