Friday, 7 February 2014

The Trial of George Litefoot written by Justin Richards and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What's it about: After returning to Victorian London, Jago and Litefoot are approached by the enigmatic Colonel and offered a role they cannot refuse – investigators by Royal Appointment to Queen Victoria! Their missions include a mystery on the Suffolk coast where strange things lurk in the sea mist, an encounter with Freud and a threat to the realm itself… But who can save Professor Litefoot when he is accused of murder, and no one can be convinced of his innocence?

Theatrical Fellow: 'A horrendous hyperbole of the most heinous kind!' Under that bluster and pomposity was a heart of pure gold and a diffidence that belied his brash exterior - that is how Litefoot sums up Jago's character and it is a description I wholeheartedly approve of. It comes as a real moment of triumph when Jago returns to the action, especially given he is giving a ridiculously overblown performance as the Colonel. There was a lot of space for laughs in the previous story and any chance for Benjamin to ham it up is a delight. When he woke up in a place of ill disrepute it was a good thing that he knew precisely where he was and how to extradite himself from the attentions of the ladies of the night. Poor Jago has to listen as the prosecution lay bare all of his faults and misdemeanours whilst he is undercover as Litefoot's defence consul. He can't help but object to the stronger condemnations of his character.

Posh Professor: 'Oh corks!' Litefoot's objections to the charge of murder of his best friend can easily be taken at face value, it's not as if this series would ever continue without Jago (despite Trevor Baxter's plans to turn the range into Litefoot & Litefoot, an investigative duo of father and son!) or that good Professor is capable of such a heinous act. At the thought of never seeing Henry again, George gets quite nostalgic about the times that they had together (even if he could be insufferable on occasion). Even from prison, Litefoot has an implacable desire to see the Colonel brought to justice. Driving these characters apart just means that it is so much more delightful when they are brought back together again and I was beaming from one side of my face to the other when they reunited in the cell. He used to shoot for his school and he is still a dab hand with a pistol.

Standout Performance: Does Geoffrey Whitehead sound an awful lot like David Warner? It only stands out because I am so used to listening to Warner's rich voice in a multitude of Big Finish dramas. His on villainous form throughout this story and even gets to go out with the hyper camp lines 'Noooooo!' and 'My destiny!'

Great Ideas: The Colonel is one of those sorts of villains that likes to turn up at your cell and gloat. He's clearly been reading all the bad guy manuals then. Jago was semi conscious when the place went up in flames and would have been a goner had it not been for Agatha who dragged him through a back entrance before it collapsed. Although the joke is somewhat laboured, the revelation that Jago is going to be speaking on behalf of Litefoot at court is nevertheless a sparkling turn of events. Who else could it be? I can't imagine anybody who has a greater grasp of the English language and more of a sense of theatre (and let's be honest in court it is all about performance before anything else, the facts are just there to support whoever is the most convincing). Given the evidence and the fact that the Colonel is a man of means I expected Litefoot to be sentenced but some part of me still thought there would be a last minute reprieve. Especially considering the victim is standing alive and well in the court room. Jago's theatrical unmasking doesn't do a thing to help his case, it is merely proof that the police have misidentified the corpse that was burnt. A little cheer has to go out to Sergeant Quick who really is turning out to be the Benton of his time, a recurring character who perhaps doesn't always get the attention he deserves but can be relied on in a crisis to always do the right think and stick by Jago & Litefoot. He's smarter than he looks and he's mean with his fists when needs by. Very Sergeant Benton. We get to witness the scope of the Colonel's operations and just what kind of resources that he has to hand, suddenly his plan to claim the Empire feel very real. Morpeth has panted papers and started rumours as a backup just in case Jago & Litefoot escape custodial sentencing...evidence that will see them take the blame for the death of the Queen herself! Engines are calculating the exact trajectory and elevation and the amount of percussive force needed to send a high explosive artillery shell right into the heart of Buckingham Palace. When the Queen and her senior Ministers are all dead, the Colonel plans to fill the power vacuum created. Military commanders will rally behind him when they see his plans for re-arming the Empire. It's very possible that had this plan gone ahead that the British Empire may never have contracted as it did throughout the 20th Century, that the Colonel may have controlled the dominant power across the globe.

Audio Landscape: Horses on cobbles, squeaky doors, horse whinnying, Quick blowing his honker, screams in prison, Red Tavern ambience, water running down walls, flames, wood collapsing, gavel banging, shocked gasps, applause, the Colonel's mechanical devices whirring and hissing, gun shots, the shell shooting off to assassinate the Queen, police whistles.

Isn't it Odd: Wouldn't it have been more interesting to have accused Litefoot of a crime that he might have committed? To leave the audience in some reasonable doubt as to his guilt. Having Jago turn up and defend Litefoot rather leaves the courtroom scenes (funny though they are) without a drop of tension until Jago reveals who he is.

Standout Scene: Jago & Litefoot have now prevented the assassination of the Queen, an act that surely deserves some recognition. That would be too easy...instead they are implicated in Agatha and the Colonel's murder and forced to go on the run! The last scene is terrifically exciting, promising much more thrills and spills in season seven. Bring it on!

Result: When it comes to the assignment of writing a penultimate adventure and the finale I usually figure that the former must be more fun because you get to set up an impossible scenario to get out of and then leave the hard work to whoever is following you. However in Jago & Litefoot series six it would appear that the reverse is true. Where Military Intelligence felt like a finale with its grand plans of world invasion by artificial intelligence, The Trial of George Litefoot gets to fix a lot of the problems that I was unhappy with, adding a lot more detail to the situation. Justin Richards has the time to pull all of the elements of the season together with much more proficiency and point out what it has all been about. Not only that but he gets to do what he does best, create an engaging scenario (Litefoot's trial) and throw in one surprise after another that kept me constantly on my toes. What could be more joyful than listening to Jago tugging on his lapels and providing a verbose defence for his best friend at court? Just when I thought that the story was going to run along a predictable path, Richard throws in a number of curveballs that caught me off guard. The finale that he conjures manages to build to foot tapping levels of excitement with the Queen herself in the firing line and race against time to prevent her assassination. When that situation has been resolved there is another shocking development waiting and one which hurls into the next season. Things are never quiet in this range but that is why it manages to sustain my interest and remain so outrageously addictive. The Trial of George Litefoot tops off another (some would say predictably but it is meant in the best possible ways) terrific season of adventures. Big Finish's most triumphant spin off range? At this stage there can be no doubt: 9/10