REVIEW: Jago and Litefoot: Series 5 (Big Finish)

kagoBy this point of reviewing Jago and Litefoot I must have said all there is to say about the series in general. To summarise: as a baseline, the series is wonderful. Jago and Litefoot are sublime characters, brought to life wonderfully by Trevor Baxter and Christopher Benjamin; the audio production is excellent and the mixture of gothic melodrama into the Doctor Who formula is jaunty and fun. When it comes to the individual episodes, even the worst of them still have all of this greatness going for it. Series Four ended with Jago and Litefoot in the TARDIS with the Doctor (as played by Colin Baker), and so before Series Five starts there were two one-off Doctor Who audio dramas in which Jago and Litefoot appeared. The first, Voyage to Venus by Jonathan Morris, takes them to, unsurprisingly, Venus, where they get caught up in a dystopian mess eventually sorted out by a rousing chorus of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. The second, Voyage to the New World by Matthew Sweet, puts them in Roanoke, figuring out the mysterious disappearance of the encampment. And what did I think of them? Well… honestly… I hated them both. Voyage To Venus is the better of the two, but in general I disliked the transplantation of Jago and Litefoot into situations well out of the realm of the Victorian melodrama, and felt intensely negative by Colin Baker’s version of the Doctor. Other reviews of these episodes are all pretty positive so I suspect that this is a purely preferential reaction: I am really not a fan of the Doctor Who stories that trade in the 80s feel of ‘exotic aliens of Venus’ feel, it’s really not for me at all. A shame, as both of the writers were my favourites of the preceding series. With all that said, I was nervous about continuing the series as this time around Jago and Litefoot had fetched up not in the Victorian era, but in the 1960s. Given my shiftiness around them being outside of their cobbled streets, there was potential for me to be incredibly unhappy about the way the series had gone. Thankfully, the worries were immaterial. Jonathan Morris starts the series with The Age of Revolution which does a tip-top task of establishing this new frontier for the gentlemen, right down to the funkified version of the theme song. Jago has naturally found himself as a faux-Victorian TV variety presenter, Litefoot has become an antiquarian book dealer and Ellie, still alive, now runs a chain of restaurants. The first episode is smartly filtered through the eyes of Sergeant Sachar, a few generations down the line, investigating Jago and Litefoot and being drawn into their web–a little bit like the first episode of Torchwood actually. Best of all, the old light-hearted spirit of melodrama is back, and although it’s not quite as infused with fog and gas-lamps as it was, it’s the same spirit fused with the feel of 60s TV capers, and it works just great. The second episode is sublimely bonkers, The Case of the Gluttonous Guru by Marc Platt. The rival restaurant to Ellie’s is serving up vegetarian food that seems to be infecting the customers to use as gestation chambers for a Cthulhian-type enemy that’s on its way–and it’s all mixed up with the smarmy swarmi who’s after Jago. It’s gloriously off-the-wall as all the best Doctor Who is, and features the finest line of the series, in which Jago–with a stomach full of transdimensional frogs that are also crawling out of his pockets, is evicted from a bus–shouts after the departing carriage, ‘I’m expecting, you know, and did anyone give up their seat… No!‘ The sound production does an admirable job on this episode, and the episode plays smartly with some fond digs at the 1960s, including its food, its faux-mysticism and its miniskirts. The third episode The Bloodchild Codex by Colin Brake feels much like an about-turn from The Case of the Gluttonous Guru–it’s as straightforwardly traditional as an episode of Jago and Litefoot could hope to be, with various dastardly forces all trying to get hold of the a book called The Bloodchild Codex that reputedly grants eternal life. It’s an episode that feels directly ripped from the Victorian era of Jago and Litefoot, with little to no ties to the 1960s version, but it’s enjoyable and keeps you bouncing neatly between which of the various agents are the ‘good guys’ and which aren’t. The ending is a little anticlimactic, but overall its a decent romp through the Jago and Litefoot world. Justin Richards draws the usual straw of tying up the series with The Last Act, and you can tell it’s reached that point in the series. By which I mean, when a series starts out it deliberately moves away from its origins to set out its own stall, and after a certain point, it goes scurrying back to its origins. The Last Act brings back the Time Cabinet from The Talons of Weng Chiang, and the vicious homunculus too–and it works. There’s something of Russell T. Davies’ ‘narrative collapse’ approach in that the episode stations everyone in the right place by midway and then pretty much has them run around shouting at each other and going through a variety of face-offs until the natural ending — the bad guys are vanquished, and the time cabinet is ready and waiting for Jago and Litefoot to go home. I’ve got a long history of not enjoying the season finales, and here Richards has finally pulled off one that doesn’t, in the end, really disappoint, even if its still not as stellar as everything that precedes it. Overall, it feels like a series back to top form, despite its divorcement from the original trappings of the show. The next series promises as return to the streets of Victorian London, which pleases me no end, but I have definitely enjoyed the ludicrous and bombast of the 1960s sojourn. Onwards.

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