Monday, 6 December 2010

The Bellova Devil written by Alan Barnes and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: A body is found on the Circle Line, wearing full dress uniform. It as identified as Reginald Colville – a man who was certified dead some six weeks ago! In an attempt to solve the mystery Jago and Litefoot become unwilling bodysnatchers... And thus begins a chain of events that will pit them against killer Bulgars and the mysterious machinations of the Far-Off Travellers Club...

Theatrical fellow: Its really easy to prefer Jago to Litefoot because he is such a lovable old rogue, putting his foot in things and behaving like a mischievous little boy! He walks a tightrope between being a parody of Victoriana and a genuinely thrilling character in his own right and Christopher Benjamin chews on his dialogue with gargantuan relish. Easily one of the best supporting characters in the Doctor Who’s long history and a fascinating rascal to get to know in more depth. The Bloodless Soldier climaxed on a more serious note for the theatrical impresario and Alan Barnes continues that thread of sincerity right the way through his excellent script. You genuinely feel for Jago once he is blindfolded and binded in cement and comes within an inch of death at the bottom of the Thames.

He turns up in the very devil of a disguise having been embarrassed in the pecuniary sense with cutthroat creditors after his blood (he owes a grand sum of 220 pounds!). Litefoot initially offers to pay his debts thinking he owes 5 quid but changes his mind when he discovers the truth! I love how he always leaps to the maddest of conclusions when Litefoot reveals that he wants to exhume Colville Jago assumes he would want to dig up the corpse himself or failing that employ a body snatcher! Litefoot admonishes him for constantly delving into the realms of ha’penny fiction. Curse the creator who carved Henry Gordon Jago from yellow rock! He’s such an indulgent old ham and pretends to be a pack of police officers (including one from the Punjab?) in the graveyard with some extraordinary accents. His two explanations for Colville’s return from the grave is that he is a vampire or he has been claimed by Satan! His belly is yellower than a match girl’s backside! When they visit the Bellova club Jago proclaims he has seen grander bawdy houses (from the outside, of course!). He admits that he can sure spin a yarn. Would it not be better to escape his creditors and his reputation as a tawdry trader of theatrical trash and commit suicide? He objects to this last description of his character – he is a Hannibal of the halls and archbishop of audience address! When he is going to be drowned in the Thames Jago begs for Litefoot’s survival, it is desperately sweet that he should think of his best friend in his dying moments. His creditors finally catch up with him and turn out to be the Manchester Mangler and in a cruel twist of fate he is shot dead and Jago is relieved of his debts.

Posh Professor: Litefoot is concerned for Ellie and doesn’t think she should be working so soon after Jim’s death. He is not used to entertaining bohemians and is on the horns of a moral dilemma. Considering his age he doesn’t think Laddie is a correct form of address even from a Scotsman!
The vein in Litefoot’s head throbs as Jago recounts his own investigations. He is not at all fond of his fellow pathologist Sacker although the fellow does save his life by hinting that he is going to drink cyanide to protect the clubs secrets. Litefoot’s dying theatrics rival even those of the great HGJ! He makes a rich brew of superstition once the danger has past; it is Litefoot that intelligently figures out exactly what has transpired throughout this tale.

Standout Performance: With each Jago & Litefoot I want to praise the regulars but in this fear of repeating myself I will point to Duncan Wisbey for his sinister Scotsman Sacker. A really creepy performance, a hope he returns.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I cannot help but notice, sir, that your beard is coming unstuck.’
‘That scoundrel Scots sod!’
‘Once a man has dipped his toe in murder there’s no turning back.’

Great Ideas: A corpse is found on the circle line in full dress uniform with a freshly bloodied scimitar of his belt. He was certified dead by Sacker six weeks back and must have leapt from his bed to commit bloody murder. As an alibi for murder, death is right up there! The Bulgars are not there to steal his corpse but bait him on his return to life again. If you have cut his body you will have made him angry and he will come for you first. There is an ‘orrible murder in Chelsea with a fella brutally beheaded in his bed (perfectly for a scimitar). Colville put the forest folk to death as an example and perhaps something came from the depths of the forest to finish him. The Bellova Club turns out to be a suicide club and their ‘travelling’ is to the undiscovered country, death. What a fantastic shock that is. Sacker is there, disgraced and wants to die along with his fellows, some bankrupt, others involved in sex scandals. The Bellova tree frog has a paralysing poison in its skin, which once prepared as a potion gives the impression of mortal death! The dead man is then dug up and disappears, takes on a new identity and lives off a healthy stipend. The whole set up is revealed as a fake, the fellow club members are actors and Dr Tulp (that nefarious swindler) is the founder. They convince those that wish to start a new life that they will be woken after their ‘pretend death’ but in reality they sign over their worldly possessions to Tulp and are poisoned with cyanide. What a devilish affair! The Manchester Mangler finally catches up with Jago but it shot dead because he has overheard the whole Bellova scam. Turns out that Colville never returned from the dead but used his fathers corpse as a stand in whilst he dished out his own private justice. Nice.

Audio Landscape: A love the moment Jago convinces Litefoot to have a drink saying it will all be better in the morning which slips into the next scene where they both wake up with banging hangovers! Night owls scream and horses puff in the graveyard and you can literally hear the mist swathing in the moonlit atmosphere (you can! Go and listen!). Litefoot’s study is filled with the tick of a clock and has a very squeaky door! Grumbling conversation permeates the lounge. Jago’s voice is muffled under the hood, loud footsteps as he is walked to his death and the lapping waves of the Thames await him. Colville’s mad echoing laughter is chilling. I love the sound effects of Jago being extradited from his cement trap. Rain heaves on to the streets of London.

Musical Cues: I love the hilarious horn blowing that accompanies Jago’s financial woes. The graveyard music is dazzling.

Standout Moment: When the real purpose of the club is discovered. Who ever saw that coming?

Result: Alan Barnes has written an extremely intelligent script which cleverly takes a supernatural premise of a man rising from the grave and then plots a story with cunning details that convinces the reader it is genuinely so before revealing how we have been hoodwinked with a magicians flourish. Much like The Mahogany Murderers the pair of intrepid investigations regale us with their individual but equally compelling tales, they approach storytelling from very different angles but together make a very fulsome tale. The direction is faultless, never shying away from the terrifying reality of the Club and its member’s deception and the production values continue to shine (especially the music which really gives these stories a style of their own). The Bellova Devil provides an hour of shocks and thrills and another exemplary piece of entertainment with our two chums: 10/10

Buy the season one boxset from Big Finish here:


Tony Jones said...

At the risk of being pedantic it is the Bellova Devil not doll!

Wonderful review though, I listened to this yesterday and you are spot on

Joe Ford said...

By Jiminy! You're right! Thanks for the nod...I have corrected it now :-) Thanks for the comment

rumblebars said...

Yeah, I really liked this one too! The Talons of Weng-Chiang never really stood out to me when I saw it in the mid 80s, so I guess Jago and Litefoot never really made an impression on me. They do now though!

I was quite amused at the name Ormond Sacker, which was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original name for the character that became Dr John Watson. (I recently started re-reading an annotated edition of the Sherlock Holmes Canon, which is the ONLY reason I was able to catch that one!!)