REVIEW: Jago & Litefoot: Series 1 (Big Finish)

jl-series1-forwebJago & Litefoot are a pair of Victorian investigators in the 1880s that appear in the legendary classic Doctor Who serial The Talons Of Wing Chiang. Big Finish gave them their own spin-offs, featuring the pair knocking around Victorian London solving supernatural or alien affairs.

The first of the series is The Mahogany Murderers, a standalone episode in the Companions series which acted as a pilot. Litefoot encounters a body in his morgue made entirely of wood that rises from death, and Jago uncovers a coven of escaped convicts in a south London warehouse. It’s a crash course in the characters: Litefoot restrained and professorly, Jago alliterative and frequently drunk. The story is an enjoyable mix of Steampunk and full Victorian melodrama, full of taverns and gaslight and fog and just about everything you’d want from this kind of story; the only flaw is that (presumably out of budgetary restrictions) the audio production consists of the two actors narrating their individual halves of the story to each other. It’s fine as a story, but feels a bit underwhelming as an audio play.

Thankfully, that’s all out of the way once you move onto the series proper, with a full cast and an expanding world of spooky streets and creepy capers.

Episode 1 is The Bloodless Soldier by Justin Richards, in which a hairy, blood-sucking beast finds itself loose on the streets of London. There’s a whole bunch of nice genre elements chucked into the brew the stew thicker: soldiers, werewolves, mystic doctors, dodgy carnival dealers. The dialogue is a riot, Jago especially, and the story rolls on with all the juddery but charming turn of carriage wheels.

Episode 2, The Bellova Devil by Alan Barnes, convolutes the plot even further, with the investigation of two bloodless bodies discovered on a train, leading to investigations into the myth of vampires from the Bulgarian forests and the mysterious Far Off Traveller’s Club. The conclusion to the mystery is satisfying and well worth all the chasing of clues, and the theatrical campery is all present and correct, much to my delight.

Episode 3 is The Spirit Trap by Jonathan Morris. It’s a great, atmospheric story that, of all of them, most feels like a Doctor Who story, but that’s possibly because it’s incredibly similar to the 9th Doctor episode The Unquiet Dead, with gaseous aliens seeking refuge masquerading as Victorian spirits. That being said, Morris has written hands down the funniest, wittiest script, with one line in particular standing out. Regarding the quality of the charlatan clairvoyant, Litefoot remarks: “It’s so rare to find a medium that’s well done.” Cue howls of laughter as I walked down the street with my headphones in.

Sadly, Episode 4, The Similarity Engine by Andy Lane, was the biggest disappointment. It ties the plotlines about the series’ ‘Big Bad’, Doctor Tulp, into a big conspiracy, and in doing so brings computers, nuclear waste, and all sorts of modern sci-fi paraphenalia into the mix. Which is, plotwise and canonwise, totally valid, but ruined the whole feeling of Victorian mummery for me, which was a shame. It’s by far from a bad episode, of course: I just preferred when the adventures were lit by gaslight and not green radioactivity.

Overall, though, it’s a superb series. Brilliantly and wittily written, and performed by a cast so good that I never once notice any ‘acting’. If it wasn’t for the fact that the series essentially embodies the novel I’m writing, I’d say there was little to no imperfection. As it is, the cads stole my book. Blighters.

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