Monday, 30 May 2011

Jago & Litefoot Series Three


Dead Men’s Tales written by Justin Richards and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: A friend from the past returns to warn Jago and Litefoot of a threat to the future. Time breaks are appearing in Victorian London, but first Leela must help solve the mystery of the Wet Men – terrifying creatures that are rising from the River Thames…

Theatrical Fellow: It’s wonderful to be amongst these characters again, it feels like coming home to old friends. Jago…the cross dresser? The merest hint that he should shout somebody a drink and he is out there like a mouse in the face of a cat sharpening its claws! I think Henry Gordon Jago should stick to announcing the acts rather than getting in on them…his sailor impression is hilarious!

Posh Professor: Poor Litefoot is trapped in the role of trying to calm down Leela’s enthusiastic predilection for a good rumble! With the dazzling wordplay of Jago and the violent tendencies of Leela he more than has his hands full.

Noble Savage: Leela! Leela! Leela! Okay I have calmed down slightly from when I first listened to the tail end of last season but the idea of having Jago, Litefoot & Leela back together again is utterly irresistible and conjures up nostalgia for Talons of Weng Chiang even more than the series usually does. And what a lovely way for the Leela from the TV series and the Leela who has been so expanded by Big Finish to be reconciled. Dressed up like a lady, a strong contender for next month’s yard of ale and kicking the shit out of the local cutthroat…Leela is going to fit in just fine in Victorian London! She’s here with a mission and she’ll take on any ruffian and pull of many disguises to get it done.

Standout Performance: Whilst this series is already fronted by two punchy performances adding Louise Jameson to the mix raises the bar even higher. Doesn’t just the thought of these three together make you smile?

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Cutthroat Pete, ay? More like runaway Ronnie!’
‘This one smells like Time and Time’s debts must be paid…’

Great Ideas: There are places where the curtain of time has worn thin and if they become too thin then everything will collapse. Eyes like pearls and dripping wet…the Wet Men are coming for you on the foggy streets of London town.

Audio Landscape: Crackling fire in Litefoot’s hearth, the blustering atmosphere of the Red Tavern full of clapping, singing, and rowdy music, the polite discussion of the theatre, the soggy feet of the Wet Men approaching, thunder rumbling, oars slapping along the dirty water of the Thames, cracks of lightning, the bubbling speech of the Wet Men, the rain falling outside the tavern.

Isn’t it Odd: One thing the Jago & Litefoot series has always been superb at brewing up is supernatural terrors but the Wet Men didn’t really work for me. I felt a strong feeling of Steven Cole’s BBC novel Feast of the Drowned about them and the atmospherics surrounding them weren’t as skin crawling as usual.

Notes: Not the fault of the writer but every time someone mentioned Mr Crusher I had visions of Wesley the swot from Star Trek The Next Generation setting up shop in Victorian London.

Result: A quiet opener for the series and probably my least favourite Justin Richards story yet featuring a simple mystery and a forgettable role for the most formidable combination in the annals of criminology! However this is still Jago & Litefoot we are talking about so there is a manifold of periphery elements that make this hugely fun to listen to. The new premise for the series is pleasingly reminiscent of Sapphire and Steel and suggests a stronger running arc throughout the series and the inclusion of Leela is every bit as entertaining as you could hope for. The first two series opened with a dramatic punch at the conclusion that had ramifications that spread through their respective season like wild fire and whilst Dead Men’s Tales lacks that there are some intriguing threads to be followed up all the same: 6/10

=========================================================

The Man at the End of the Garden written by Matthew Sweet and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: Strange things are happening in the Naismith household. Eleanor Naismith has vanished, and her daughter Clara is found in odd circumstances… What is the link to Eleanor’s book, The Man At The End of the Garden?

Theatrical Fellow: When Jago is impressed with the alluring alliteration conjured by Ellie you know she must be improving herself by their presence! An emissary of Dame Thespis!

Posh Professor: Fancy doing an investigation by candlelight? How deliciously atmospheric! It’s wonderful to see Litefoot written with such vigour, not just a foil for Jago’s theatrical excesses but as a powerful mind in the art of deductive reasoning. Nothing escapes the Asmordian eye of Professor Litefoot! I thought it would be Jago who benefited most from Matthew Sweet’s colourful handling of dialogue and while he does have some delightful lines I was more impressed by Litefoot’s gifted intelligence shining through.

Noble Savage: Her tribe once worshipped the stars and they were fools for doing so. I love Leela attempting to be polite even when in the gravest of danger and she remains as honest as ever telling Clara it is good she is afraid because it will hone her senses. Fascinating to see Leela who is often written with the intelligence and reasoning of a bright child since from the point of view of a child, Sweet keeps finding new ways to look at characters you might think you know inside out.

Standout Performance: Hurrah for Eden Monteath who as cast as a child…and actually is a child! That might sound like the silliest statement you have ever clapped eyes on but previous Big Finish adventures have seen Beth Chalmers and Katy Manning having a stab at playing young characters and despite reasonable efforts they clearly aren’t the age they are trying to pull off! Monteath is one of those golden finds you come across every now and again, a child actor that genuinely impresses!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The bees buzzing lazily around the hollyhocks…’
‘Such strings of words all over every page, dense as you please!’
‘You are the Man at the End of the Garden?’
‘All of our troubles blowing away on the wind…’
‘Positively no need to wait for the reviews!’

Great Ideas: Hah – if only my mother adopted the one bite for a page approach I might have gotten through much more fruit as a kid! I locked room mystery, what they need is Jonathan Creek or even better George Litefoot! The newsreaders ghastly stories are extremely funny and macabre. I loved Clara’s childlike take on the details of the story – she makes observations only a child with their literal thinking could.

Audio Landscape: I was very impressed how the sound effects were almost invisible in the background before taking on a greater significance. Birds singing, the dancing compass, the clip clop of the horse and carts heading down the street, screams behind a door, night time insects humming in the undergrowth, an attack of a most unusual, deafening, destructive kind.

Musical Cues: Have I ever said how much I enjoy the theme tune for this series? This year it seems even punchier than usual!

Standout Scene: Questions that not everybody is what they seem to be leading to some clever, unexpected twists and a defeat of the latest menace that is memorably nasty.

Result: A Victorian fairytale with macabre undertones, this was much more my cup of Rosy Lee than the opening adventure and features some very well fleshed out guest characters as well as our regular cast. Matthew Sweet has always written deliciously effusive audio adventures and so he is perfectly suited to bring to life the voluminously verbose world of Jago & Litefoot. The story feels refreshingly original with some pleasing post modern and literate touches and the dialogue drips from the characters mouths like honey nectar. An intelligent story with some atmospheric Victorian references and delightful moments of Lewis Carroll storytelling, The Man at the End of the Garden sees Jago & Litefoot stepping up from supernatural adventures to something far more involving. Pushing the PJ Hammond feel of the series even further you will find touches of his Sapphire and Steel and Torchwood work suffused into this piece and keep an eye on the details of the story since they make the climax all the more rewarding and touching. The last scene will leave you hungry for more: 9/10

======================================================

Swan Song written by John Dorney and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: The New Regency Theatre is haunted and Jago, Litefoot and Leela witness the spirit of someone in a silver wheelchair floating over the stalls. This is the story of Alice - a young woman who had Swan Lake so cruelly taken from her…

Noble Savage: Leela has an extremely violent method of making a mouth in a door to climb through! She states what I’m sure a lot of foreign students must think when they are learning the English language (which naturally I find beautiful but it must be so complicated to a newcomer) - why do people not say things how they are rather than dressing them up in flowery language? The gaps in her knowledge are extraordinary and yet she uses language beyond the most outlandish lexicographers!

Standout Performance: In another tale that allows the guest cast to shine (it makes me realise just how much of the first two series was primarily focussed on the intrepid investigators) Abigail Hollick delivers a touching performance which is all the more impressive by holding back from the emotion of the situation. During Alice’s last scene at the conclusion I was wiping away tears. The writing touched a nerve and Hollick’s understated performance broke my heart.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘A pantomime is a sensational spectacular of seasonal spirit! Men dressed as women! Girls dressed as boys! Magic, jokes and a baddie to hiss! Songs, stories and the odd but of sauce! Lots of laughs for all the family!’ ‘That is the most nonsensical thing you have ever said!’ ‘Exactly, that’s pantomime!’
‘Its behind you…’
‘Young Lizzie Johnson could certainly slap a thigh! Makes me feel quite faint just thinking about it…’
‘Love is pain.’
‘And now…every night…I dance.’

Great Ideas: When a theatre is between productions it is said to have gone dark. Something has been unleashed which is at such a distance from Jago & Litefoot that they will have take on a very unusual role indeed in order to save the day – a phantasmagoric performance! On the one hand scientists aren’t supposed to believe in ghosts and God but on the other hand it doesn’t mean you cannot be interested in the arts.

Musical Cues: Opening with dark grumblings of Swan Lake, this instalment has the best score of the season.

Standout Scene: An astonishing sequence that tells a haunting from two directions at once, this story features some very clever notions. The answer to what is possessing people is unprecedented and unusual and explores a love of one of our heroes in a unique manner. Once again we see a haunting from two distinct angles and a shared pain shows why two entities were drawn together.

Notes: We are reminded of a similar tale that mixes the stage and the macabre, Madame Deuteronomy’s Theatre de Fantasie from Jonny Morris’ superb Theatre of Dreams.

Result: John Dorney knows how to make an instant impression and before the theme tune you’ll hear a tragic character tale and an extremely clever reversal of the usual supernatural shenanigans that proves this is going to be a very different sort of story. He plots the story in such a way that vital events that take place can be revealed before they happen making for a tense and foreboding experience. The fabric of reality is weakening, pantomime is taking on sinister undertones and time is manipulating events in a big way. Jago & Litefoot has without a doubt picked up Sapphire and Steel’s preternatural atmosphere and shrewdness and it feels like the series is opening out in a very exciting fashion. Add in a tear jerking conclusion and another impressive cliffhanger and this series gets better and better: 9/10

=====================================================

Chronoclasm written by Andy Lane and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: When Litefoot’s home is invaded by giant metal spheres, it seems that the end of the world is nigh. The enemy has revealed itself, the end game is afoot - can two Henry Gordon Jago’s save the day?

Theatrical Fellow: Jago’s profits are at an all time record but not in the direction he was hoping for! His discussion of the organ grinder and the monkey made me howl, it is a distinctly HGJ way of looking at things! In a moment of crisis he throws himself on Leela and she is touched by his bravery. It makes up for his delight at the latest terrifying supernatural crisis since Jago sees the coins filling his pockets if he manages to book the fellow up! Most meteorological phenomena fill our Jago with dread and he’ll happily list his all time favourites. Can you imagine anything more meretriciously theatrical than Henry Gordon Jago doubled?

Posh Professor: He, Jago and Leela have come across some of the most appalling supernatural paraphernalia over the last year but this is the closest he has ever come to calling it a day. It is literally far too close to home. The poor old sod is causing mass destruction wherever he visits!

Noble Savage: Andy Lane places Leela at the centre of his tale and writes for her character extremely well. A hunter who makes noise will not last long in the forest. Her Tarzanesque war cry made me die with laughter! A hunter knows when there is something out of place, a broken twig, a splash of blood on a leaf and the sound of movement when there should be no noise. Her instincts are finely tuned and her time on Gallifrey has not been wasted – she can now detect time spillages with or without her device. She belongs in the jungle but time is her natural habitat.

Standout Performance: The most touching moment between Jago & Litefoot yet is magnificently brought to life by Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter and the words ‘I know, I do too…’ might just melt your heart.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I’ve got a message but I aint got a shilling’ – I’ll have to try that one!
‘Perishing precipitation!’
‘That’s a fake pair of mutton chop whiskers or I’m a Chinaman!’
‘Does that make sense to you or am I just quoting Shakespeare to a bunch of baboons?’

Great Ideas: Hunting for time travelling artefacts and a sphere that seems to come from no time – this story has the feel of a season finale. What is more enduring than money or threats – curiosity! Just the name Time Eaters is enough to give me the willies but add in Time Bombs (and I don’t mean bombs with a timer) and you have some pretty weighty ideas being explored. The thought of centuries passing in a few seconds is blood curdling.

Audio Landscape: An explosive opening, accordion music, a weather report (?), creatures bursting from the sphere and Leela gets her most dramatic kill yet.

Musical Cues: A disconcerting score bubbles in the background as the revelations pour forth…

Standout Scene: Payne’s story juggles two surprises and features a bargain that will seem horrific to some but understandable to others. The cost is high but the rewards…

Result: Time spillage, mysterious objects, unearthly voices, messages from the future and a real sense of cataclysmic threat enveloping our heroes, Chronoclasm opens as many doors as it closes. It provides a dramatic conclusion for this series of Jago & Litefoot whilst putting in motion some disturbing pieces for the next series too. This season finale offers murder and the possibility of hell breaking out on Earth and throughout there is an unsettling feeling of transition, as though nothing will ever be quite the same again. Andy Lane writes his strongest script since The Mahogany Murderers with one disturbing juxtaposition after another leading to a thrilling climax. Don’t make a deal with the devil because it will come back and demand its payment: 10/10


======================================================

Season Three of Jago & Litefoot deserves a massive round of applause for not trading on past successes but pushing the series off into some new directions. Only Dead Man’s Shoes feels like it could happily squeeze into the first two series and for me it was the weakest of the four. New writers to the range Matthew Sweet and John Dorney find some exciting new avenues for the series to explore and tell successfully experimental stories that both climax on an emotional high and mouth watering cliff-hangers. For the first time I found the climax of the season the highlight because it feels much more desperate than previous years and the running story arc has been laced into the series almost invisibly but delivers an incredible sense of satisfaction when everything comes together. You’ll want to listen to these stories more than once to pick up on all their nuances and its astonishing to think that two secondary characters from a one shot Doctor Who story should have so much mileage in them. Bravo!

Buy it from Big Finish here: http://www.bigfinish.com/Jago-and-Litefoot-Series-Three-DOWNLOAD-Box-Set or here: http://www.bigfinish.com/Jago-and-Litefoot-Series-Three-CD-Box-Set

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh, this is cruel. Now you've got me all wound up in anticipation (again), and I still have to wait over two weeks to actually listen to the thing! I wish you'd stick to reviews rather than previews - might be kinder on the stomach acid.

rumblebars said...

re: Dead Man's Tales...

I just listened to this one yesterday - I was quite amused by it. And that's the problem with it - it plays out like it's a sitcom! The plot of the story is... really nothing. Leela shows up and they gear up to go looking for temporal anomalies. They find one, but then do absolutely nothing to resolve it - they just hang around and watch while it resolves itself. However, along the way you get some great interaction between J&L, Leela and Ellie. That part was great. Good enough that I can sort of overlook the fact that they really didn't do much of importance in the story. I think I'd give it a 7/10.

Joe Ford said...

Loving your alternative comments - its always great to get a fresh perspective on these tales. Keep it up! :-)

rumblebars said...

Hey Joe - thanks for that. I've since caught up to date with J&L and have some more comments.

I'm more of a fan of "hard" science fiction, and while I like fantasy, I don't like it mixed with Sci-Fi. Which is kind of difficult, considering almost all time travel stories are sci-fantasy than sci-fi! Still, the more you can "attempt" to ground Jago and Litefoot (and all of the Dr Who related Big Finish stories) in some kind of sci-fi scenario, the better for me. So it should not be a surpise that I was a bit let down by the Man at the End of the Garden... it was really just too much fantasy for me. However, I cannot fault anyone for their performances here - the voice actors and the post-producer (and I happen to know a bit about audio drama post production...)

I really did like the efforts here of all of the cast - even the girl was very good - her prim/proper delivery was ideal for the material.

I'd give this a 7/10 out of respect for those who performed and mixed it. I take the 3 points off for the fantasy aspects of it.


That was the last episode of this season that I find my opinion differs much from (Joe's) - I really have enjoyed listening to this series with Leela, Jago and Litefoot!