As this boxset includes four separate but sequential and linked adventures, each getting on for nearly an hour I’ll give a little overview before a more detailed review of each.
As a big fan of Christopher Benjamin (Jago) and Trevor Baxter’s (Litefoot) investigative pairing, it’s easy to find lots of lovely things to say about this corner of Big Finish’s output and the main draw as usual is their masterful delivery of these characters – this is Who’s greatest bromance since the Second Doctor and Jamie. We’re so lucky that they have an ongoing life on audio after an all too brief appearance in 1977’s The Talons of Weng-Chiang.
Jago & Litefoot trades in a very particular kind of camp: at its best, it’s a delightfully written character-based drama, warm and genuinely funny. It’s raison d’être is to play joyously with the preposterous version of Victorian London that we enjoy in Who.
Series 11’s headline is, of course, the Master and Geoffrey Beevers’ gothic nightmare version of the character, including a phantom of the opera-style mask, blends wonderfully with the grim-but-jaunty Victorian setting. We get cameos from the Master in each story leading to his full participation in the fourth instalment, which works well to build the tension, though almost feels a little rushed at the end. Beevers navigates the line between convincing villain and camp expertly – his every word drips with evil and is an absolute joy to listen to. In fact, he often delivers a delightfully engaging fully formed character rather than the pastiche the Master can often turn in to. He’s a wonderful addition to the Jago & Litefoot world.
Now to each of the four morsels…
Jago and Son
By Nigel Fairs
The first outing revolves around the appearance of a man claiming to be Jago’s long lost son (James Joyce) that he wasn’t aware he had. He quickly involves Jago in the dealings of a sinister cult while Litefoot teams up with Jean Bazemore, an archaeologist and close friend from long ago.
In general I’ve found that the supporting cast in Jago & Litefoot, who did a fine job overall this time round, never fare quite as well as our two leads. I think this is because the divide between engaging performance and melodrama is so easily stepped over in this setting and Benjamin & Baxter are just so good at keeping things on the right track. On diving in to Series 11, I did find that some of the supporting performances a bit over-the-top and this jarred a little – though this eases off as the story progresses and the setting begins to assert its own rules and your expectations adjust.
I enjoyed Jago & Son and in particular this has some strong character work that is truly delightful at times. Rowena Cooper absolutely holds her own as Jean Bazemore alongside our boys. There are some intriguing suggestions about her and the professor’s past and indeed some very 21st Century topics are suggested! The Doctor Who world seems very keen on lady archaeologist counterparts and a third (after Professor Summerfield and River Song) surprisingly doesn’t seem tired in this. The part is well written and I hope we see a return of Cooper as this spirited, fun, and rather powerful character.
The story is fine with some intriguing elements though I did find that it got somewhat confused. It may be that I simply didn’t follow closely enough but when you’re trying to keep track of action in a scene with a large number of characters coming and going there’s room for a fair bit of error. Nevertheless the story is fun and engaging. A last slight gripe was that after spending a fair bit of time wondering whether Jago’s son was in fact actually his son (and if he wasn’t, if this were a deliberate deceit) I seemed to lose interest. The matter is resolved but it seemed to fall away from the thrust of the story before then.
All in all this is a welcome addition – nothing ground breaking but notable for introducing the wonderful Jean Bazemore.
By Matthew Sweet
Sweet gives us something really rather detailed, sinister, and off-the-wall here. It transpires that the story centres around the composer Maurice Ravel so fits with the celebrity historical genre as does the following adventure. We are treated to some rather complex and historical retconning as to Ravel’s inspiration for a particular piece, which features early in the story. This piece, in fact:
The Master features slightly more here and my one main criticism would be some potential confusion that come with this. When a shape-changing, deceitful interloper pops up alongside the Master (who often fulfils the role of shape-shifting, deceitful interloper himself), one is bound to start getting the wrong end of the stick(s). But perhaps this was intended and I should’ve been enjoying the confusion!
The Master’s evil competition in this story is a brilliantly weird cocktail which is well realised on audio. My impression that we never quite get to the bottom of what their agenda was and some loose ends seem to have been deliberately left that way. However, the action is generally a bit clearer and well spread-out among the characters. I’m hoping we get to find out who the “client” was at some point; perhaps next series.
There’s a lovely opportunity for Jago and bartender Ellie, his sometime companion, to team up and the direction from Lisa Bowerman (who also plays Ellie) is spot-on. All in all, this holds the interest well, has some brilliantly sinister goings on and is perhaps the stand-out story from Series 11 for me.
The Woman in White
By Simon Barnard and Paul Morris
This is another celebrity historical affair but with at least two properly researched and carefully realised Victorian celebrities in play. The action follows one Abraham Stoker, novelist and runner of the theatre where the famed Sir Henry Irving worked (and owned).
Needless to say an adventure where Bram Stoker features as an additional member of the Jago & Litefoot team deals with his inspiration for his most famous work. However, this is far less a Vampiric offering (which Jago & Litefoot has done rather thoroughly before) and more a classic Doctor Who mystery-romp.
In fact, this felt a lot more familiar, and overall the most fun out of the four. It has many of the trappings of what makes a good Classic Who story and managed to satisfy me that the two Earthly protagonists could well have managed to save the day without any assistance from a Time Lord.
The supporting performances similarly pale in comparison to our leads but do the job well. Melodrama rears its head again with the portrayal of famed actor Sir Irving by veteran actor Edward de Souza – however if this 1898 recording of the actual Irving is anything to go by, he’s actually not a world away from the truth!
I was particularly impressed with Conrad Asquith’s Inspector Quick, though he features significantly in almost all of the series. Asquith manages to put across a no-nonsense and rather serious character with a surprising amount of detail and subtlety, particularly given the challenges of the audio medium, and is another very welcome piece of period furniture in the Jago & Litefoot ensemble.
This is certainly the most jovial of Series 11 with some notable dialogue triumphs. Particular favourites include, “You can’t cremate one of the leading lights of the London stage and just leave!” and when what is essentially a higher power instructs the adventurers to return to their duties, Jago chips in “I think she means the pub, don’t you?”
Evil is defeated, Irving’s performance is resolved, Dracula is inspired, and Henry’s trousers are ruined!
By Justin Richards
Now, Richards knows this era and seems to feel really comfortable here. His best work involves creepy period set-ups and he creates some lovely Holmesian moments in this adventure. Beevers gets to show off more of his Master and we’re treated to a cameo by the Sixth Doctor towards the end.
This is also good, though in all honesty (and while I do enjoy Richard’s work) this felt a little disappointing after the anticipation across three preceding stories. The problem was that much of the story hinges on the Master’s efforts to entrap the Doctor. There is something about his means which falls a little flat – in proper Masterly style, Jago and Litefoot are used to summon the Doctor to Victorian London, but after a bit of a re-listen I’m forced to conclude that the evil scheme the Master devises ultimately leads to our two heroes feeling really rather tired but not a lot else. This might have worked better onscreen and this is a shame as you can tell from some of the action and transitions that Richards is thinking cinematically much of the time.
Asides from this lacklustre threat given the promise of the Master’s first foray into their world, everything else works well. I am even honour-bound to say that I didn’t pick up on how the Doctor first appears as quickly as I should have and the surprise worked on me. On a re-listen, I’m staggered I missed it and I’m sure, dear listener, you will scoff derisively when you see what I mean – but there it is. They got me!
The denouement feels a little rushed at the end, but this is nonetheless the headline story and contains strong performances from the leads and Beevers. In many ways, however, it’s the lead up to it which makes Series 11 enjoyable.
The extras are, as usual, a lovely set of musings and interviews that you can get lost in while enjoying satisfying feeling of another four-course feast of Victorian Villainy!
Jago & Litefoot: Series 11 is available now from Big Finish.