Tony Fyler investigates another collection of infernal incidents.
Series 7 of the adventures of Jago & Litefoot went through the spectrum of ghoulish horror genres, and ended with a touch of grand guignol when Jago was approached by the manager of a great new puppet act – The Scorchies!
For those who don’t know the Scorchies, they’re the Muppets’ evil twins, bodiless alien psychopaths who create themselves puppet bodies, sing, dance, entertain and suck your brains out any which way they choose. They’re a classic transposition of the cutesy with the vicious and deadly. What they’re not is a new idea. They weren’t a new idea when James Goss came up with them for the Companion Chronicle that bears their name, as any fan of the show Angel will tell you. Something verrrry like the Scorchies appeared in an episode of David Boreanaz’ show called Smile Time back in 2004, some nine years earlier. Yes, I’m only mentioning that because it gave David Boreanaz a reason for being alive, and there’s never a wrong day to watch it one more time:
Annnnyway, back to the Scorchies – If you like your world-burners all singing and dancing, Goss’ Companion Chronicle was a bit of a treat. The Scorchies had a prime time kids’ TV show, and there were actual songs too – anyone who’s heard ‘Jo Is Making A Thing’ once has heard it almost a thousand times in their heads, I guarantee you. But for their transfer to the New Regency Theatre, Prop. H G Jago, the Scorchies are altogether a more sinister prospect. In Encore of the Scorchies, Goss brings them back with more variety and much more aggressive unpleasantness, and with a plan beyond ‘We’re gonna burn it to the ground!’ In what is arguably another hat-tip to Joss Whedon, this time, there are songs by almost everyone in the play – Jago, Litefoot and Ellie each contribute at least a number to the show, and what you end up with is Jago & Litefoot Do Once More With Feeling. Which is not to denigrate the first episode of Series 8 at all – the Scorchies have evolved here from their original – to some extent, like Statler and Waldorf, the two old hecklers in The Muppet Show, but rather more like the Gods of Ragnarok from The Greatest Show In The Galaxy, the Scorchies have been joined by a couple of perpetual audience members, and all round, this is a sharper, darker affair than the original Scorchies, and an invigorating way to start Series 8.
Andy Lane gives us the second story in the run, and – as often seems to be the case, the second story’s a bit of an oddity. The Backwards Men involves a sideshow of curiosities, Wednesday’s World of Wonders. Gangs are gathering on the streets of London and just walking about, attacking only if provoked. Then people start walking backwards, and Litefoot’s helping a space detective who appears to be little more than a pile of dust. Lane’s story’s an interesting one, mostly because of the motivation of the bad guy, which is technically less bad than you might imagine. It’s not really speaking a backward-walking invasion we’re dealing with, so much as an apology that’s gone on too long and cost too much. But where will the morality of Victoria’s finest let them go, and how do you stop a man repaying his debts when the price is too high?
As with Series 7 and several others, the last two stories in the run form a single two-parter, with Jago and LItefoot teaming up with a classic Victorian toothless drone in the form of the malodorous gin-soaked mudlark Patsy when she finds a giant glowing green fish with a man’s hand inside it in the Thames, leading to an investigation into dubious warehouses, things that aren’t eels, and East End crime lords who are supposed to be long dead, and looking pretty good on it. Simon Barnard and Paul Morris deliver an intriguing, spiral-storied tale and a new Big Bad with a suitably grandiose and self-important name. This one feels like a quick listen once it gets going, which it does pretty much from the moment Patsy arrives – a new element in the lives of Jago & Litefoot, and one that adds a degree of colour as she takes us to a stratum of the endlessly layered Victorian society that’s far beneath the warmth and comfort of the Red Tavern. The story seems to go fast despite quite a dense slab of backstory, and ultimately to explode in a satisfying climax that seems true to the fundamental spirit of Jago & Litefoot.
Justin Richards’ closing episode of the series though continues the story beyond the point of what feels like a natural death and brings a kind of darkness to play that’s deeply unnerving. If Jago & litefoot can’t be trusted – as here it’s never entirely certain they can be - who’s going to save the world? This is of course exactly why heroes have super-friends – to support them when they need it, and to slap them upside the head when they get taken over by eldritch forces from the nether realms. That would also be why Richards’ concluding story is simply called Higson and Quick, as Jago & Litefoot’s ever-reliable pals Inspector Quick and Ellie Higson find themselves fighting Jago & Litefoot for the fate of the world. It’s a little barking, this story, involving a steam train for no particularly good reason, but it does give Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter a chance to play gleefully bad for a while within the scope of their series, and without entirely coming over all zombified and possessed.
Series 8 starts with what is probably the strongest story here, actually shocking and disturbing the listener with the evolution of the Scorchies. The second story feels stand-alone and as though it could fit anywhere in the overall J&L arc, and the two-part finale build its intensity, seems vanquished, and then comes back for another adrenaline-fueled hit before the end. One of the fastest Jago & Litefoot series to listen to, the stories are pitched to be involving but pacy (with the possible exception of Andy Lane’s Backwards Men, which feels like a deeper delve), and it doesn’t feel like it has anything to prove – after the high-point of Series 5, the dip in Series 6 and the darkness of Series 7, Series 8 if anything feels like Jago & Litefoot back to business as usual – thwarting bad people, averting alien conquests, battling the dead who won’t stay dead. What more could you want from Victorian England’s premier infernal investigators?
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