Friday, 3 December 2010

The Bloodless Soldier written by Justin Richards and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: A group of soldiers return from overseas service – but they have brought a terrible evil back with them. As death strikes on the streets of London, Sergeant Quick calls upon the help of Professor Litefoot, while an old enemy lurks in the shadows. Jago and Litefoot are on the trail of the Bloodless Soldier – and tragedy will hit close to them...

Theatrical Fellow: As vertiginously verbose as ever, somehow Henry Gordon Jago is even more chatty and eloquent when he’s pissed (practice I guess!). He enjoys a gargantuan repast or in his own words ‘a felicitous feast of sumptuous sustenance!’). Simon loved Talons of Weng-Chiang and Jago in particular and he can quote various lines of his that he loves to get his tongue around and now he has a new barrage of lines, my favourite being: ‘Stab me vitals!’ and ‘Oh my sainted aunts and uncles!’ He admits he has fallen on hard times; having lost the Palace and his office in his new theatre is little more than a cubbyhole. Jago is in the process of re-establishing himself as one of the foremost impressionarios! If Jago is getting a round in it must be Christmas – Justin Richards seems to understand these characters as well as Robert Holmes and Andy Lane did. Jago was itching for a scrap and was disappointed when it doesn’t happen (yeah, right!). ‘Oh corks!’ he knew that if he ever did anything brave he would pay for it; he is a very proud coward. He thinks there is nothing like the British Army! Amazingly it’s Jago that pulls the trigger and murders Jim and breaks down after he realises what he has done. It is a watershed moment for the character, no longer comic relief but a real person making a hard decision. Jago wants to tell Ellie what he has done to her brother but Litefoot stops him. He feels empty and cold at the murder he has committed and ponders why the right thing often feels like the wrong thing.

Posh Professor: I like how the story builds up Litefoot as somebody with an impressive reputation for being eccentric and having saved many lives and it turns out the soldiers are talking about the mysterious Dr Tulp.
Litefoot admits he has a cold empty house but feels safe because he has Jago looking after him. He is not made of money but has enough to sweetly indulge Jago in his whims. Again he is the pragmatist and knows what needs to be done but unlike his impulsive behaviour burning down Tulp’s laboratory (which was a cold but detached act) he cannot pull the trigger and end Jim’s life (which is far more intimate). At the conclusion my opinion had changed of the pair, perhaps it isn’t Jago that needs Litefoot in his life but quite the reverse.

Standout Performance: It’s a pretty good cast overall but extra points of Lisa Bowerman who gets to extend Ellie’s range.

Great Ideas: The Captain completely draining a body of blood, infected and needing to be fed regularly with raw meat. He is insanely dangerous. One soldiers wants to sell the feral Captain to Jago and reboost his career in the theatres. Poor Ellie, she is offered cryptic clues from her brother about his disappearance and is threatened by Sonil. The creature consumes blood into its body and will always feed again; changing whomever it breaks the skin. Dr Tulp is a covert and unfathomable fellow and looks like he is going to be a dangerous villain for Jago & Litefoot. Ellie’s brother Jim is transformed into one of the creatures in the thrilling climax and shot dead by Jago. Her grief is agonising and you can imagine this coming back to haunt Jago in the future.

Audio Landscape: This is a perfectly incandescent production brought to life superbly by director Lisa Bowerman. The story opens on a dramatic set piece that sees soldiers blasting away at a slavering beast. The pub ambience is lovely and welcoming and there are quayside scenes with ships bells ringing, waves lapping and seagulls in the air. We get to hear the Captain sucking a corpse of blood up close and personal! There is rapturous applause in the theatre and giggling girls backstage. Cold, echoey footsteps menace in the mortuary. Clinking bottles and rushing up stairs. Ellie’s scream is eaten up by the whistle of a train and there is a clack clack of the tracks and puffing of steam. The atmosphere of Victorian London is conjured effortlessly by the writer and director, I’m sure it was a perfectly degrading place to live in but its an awesome place to set a series of adventures!

Musical Cues: The theme tune really works, its bombastic and pretty cute, which is probably how I would describe Jago & Litefoot! The jolly piano playing is back, getting my foot a’tapping! The score is understated and intimidating, bubbling with menace.

Standout Moment: Jago shooting Jim is astonishingly dramatic, the scene is played beautifully between Benjamin and Baxter with neither giving away how will have the guts to commit the murder.

Result: Already Jago, Litefoot and Ellie feel like characters I know intimately and that I have been listening to their adventures for many years, such is the brio and confidence with how this story is played. The Bloodless Soldier taps a vein of something warm and nostalgic whilst at the same time turning a corner and heading of into something fresh and new. This really does feel like the series we were denied on the television in the 70’s with a post millennium exciting approach to the storytelling. Tension bubbles to the surface throughout this tale leading to a conclusion that is unnerving and dramatic and leaving some interesting threads to be picked up at a later date. It’s a great universe to set stories in and these are fantastic characters to drive the comedy and drama. A great start: 9/10

Buy the season one boxset from Big Finish here:


rumblebars said...

I started in on J&L this past week and have now started to read the reviews for the ones I've listened to thus far. Great stories and, after a number of negative reviews that weren't quite in line with my own opinions, I agree with the reviews for J&L!

However I did have one small nit to pick with this episode... too many coincidences! J&L's favorite barmaid just happens to have a brother serving with that infected Captain, and then they just happen to go to try and sell the Captain/creature off to Jago. It didn't lesson my enjoyment of the story any, but it did annoy me a little bit.

Joe Ford said...

It is very rare for me to experience so many stories that I have had a negative response to as the latest spate of fifth Doctor stories. It was a real eye opener. You're right about the co-incidences here but as you say, the story is strong enough to overcome them. I just love spending time in the company of this pair (they are the ideal protagonists) that perhaps I overlook some flaws in the storytelling because of it.