Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Mahogany Murders written by Andy Lane and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What's it about: Professor George Litefoot: the eminent pathologist who advises the police in some of their grisliest cases. Henry Gordon Jago: the master of ceremonies at the Alhambra Theatre. These are two very different men from contrasting strata in society who became firm friends and collaborators after their adventure with the Doctor and Leela battling the evil Weng-Chiang. Some years later, Jago and Litefoot have defeated dangerous denizens of the daemonic darkness together. They have stood side by side against threats to the British Empire. But when a body is found on the banks of the River Thames and Litefoot's post mortum reveals that it is actually a highly detailed wooden mannequin, their most dangerous adventure begins. Dr Tulp has masterminded a deadly scheme, Jack Yeovil and his murderous gang plan to live forever, and only Jago and Litefoot can stop them...

Theatrical Fellow: Can you imagine anybody being better at telling a story than Henry Gordon Jago, theatrical impressionaro extraordinaire? Jago beautifully makes every scene count; he gets you so excited at the smallest of details so exciting. I love how he builds up scenes to a dramatic operatic crescendo only to be trumpeted by Litefoot! When it comes to London taverns he is something of a Dr Livingstone. Things have been a little tight of late and he only has one jacket to speak of which Litefoot has burned a ruddy great hole into! His propensity for verbosely challenged sentences has not bee toned down since the Weng-Chiang affair. He’s had to close his theatre to make repairs and is living in modest lodgings. He was as happy as a buttered halibut when he got Litefoot’s telegram asking for assistance. Jago is not a man to be reckoned with when it comes to physical altercations! He can’t see this ‘unsafe’ electricity catching on. He has worked with the most accomplished magicians including the nefarious Li’sen Chang. I love his description of being knocked unconscious, falling into a Stygian pit of darkness! He has never corpsed on stage and has no intention of starting in restaurants!

Posh Professor: Litefoot is a far more restrained storyteller but he manages to generate a much greater sense of menace. He knows many words in many languages and collects knowledge for its own ends. Jago is more of a comrade in arms and they have been known to eat together on the odd occasion. Litefoot worked in poor conditions in Afghanistan. Having never trod the boards he is terrible at putting on accents! He lectures in forensic pathology. Litefoot ensures that the story is told in the right order, Jago rushing off in excitement. You’ve got to love any man whose cane conceals a rapier blade! Yeovil offers Litefoot a young body again, one that would last forever. Old age has been creeping up on him; arthritis creeping into his bones and to feel young and strong again was very tempting. He admits he does have an open mind.

Can you imagine anything more wonderful than being treated to a series of adventures featuring these sparkling characters? Stories of murder and mayhem on the foggy streets of Victorian London? Litefoot (adlibbing Jago) sums it up perfectly: ‘The intrepid investigators back in harness again! Investigating infernal incidents and cracking complex conundrums!’ Just wonderful.

Standout Performances: Do I really need to answer this one? One of my biggest regrets as far as Doctor Who is concerned was that Jago & Litefoot never had a chance at their own spin off series. Trevor Baxter and Christopher Benjamin are simply made for each other and one minute into this story brings the joy of their pairing in Talons rushing back. Adding Lisa Bowerman to mix means you have some of the hottest names in Doctor Who involved in this companion chronicle.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘It wasn’t a body at all. It was a wooden mannequin the exact size and shape of a man and with all the joints carefully carved and crafted so that they worked in the same way as a human skeleton.’
‘The sunset was like a crimson violet bloodstain spreading across the west end sky.’
‘You were right, you’re climatic moment was better.’
‘Dropped to the floor like marionettes whose strings have been cut.’

Great Ideas: Getting Jago & Litefoot back together! I love the idea of the pair of them telling each other the opposing ends of the same story with both of them chipping in comments on each others storytelling techniques! A body is wheeled into Litefoot’s mortuary in a wheelbarrow! What is all this about chained anteaters and aluminium violins? Jago discovers a warehouse full of electrical equipment and Litefoot has to defend himself in his mortuary as thugs turn on him to steal the mannequin. The magician’s dummy gets up from the slab and calmly walks out into the night. Jago discovers wooden ruffians and a simulacrum of Jack Yeovil – the worst criminal of the lot! Prisoners made from wood? Why would you want to go back to the life of a lowlife when you could exist in mahogany? Dr Tulp is a twisted genius releasing criminals from prison and implanting their souls into wooden dummies. Litefoot experiences the terrifying depravity of the London underground, families crammed together,

beating each other, drunk and abusive. Tulp threatens to send the criminals back to their old bodies – their dead bodies and as a demonstration one-thug wakes up in a coffin attempting to claw his way out. Yeovil plans to usurp Tulp and free all the prisoners in England and shove their vital energies into metal that can never be damaged or destroyed, first the Empire and then the world! Litefoot’s pyrotechnics means the criminals catch fire and he destroys the warehouse to cleanse the entire area of Tulp’s evil.

Audio Landscape: Lots of scratchy handwriting, a rowdy gang hangs out in Ellie’s pub, there is a jingle of coins, hansom cabs clip clopping on the cobbles, whistles blowing, fizzing electricity between electrodes, footsteps running…the sound effects compliment the story being told perfectly.

Musical Score: There’s a jolly tinkling of piano which captures the Victorian theatre feel and the rest of the score is gorgeous, very atmospheric.

Result: The Mahogany Murders is just about perfect. There is an evocative location (‘eating hot chestnuts out of waxed paper bags’) and two of the most accomplished storytellers (the excitable and verbose Jago and the silky voiced Professor Litefoot) making this a genuine pleasure to listen to. Andy Lane’s script is full of nourishing descriptions and beautiful language and whilst his story is pretty throwaway the atmosphere and nostalgia it generates demands that this becomes a series. A beautifully directed slice of magic: 10/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:


Ive said...

I think it was:‘eating hot chestnuts out of WAXED paper bags’ from memory, Joe.

Imagine the the hideous scenes at Victorian ER otherwise.

Totally agree with the rest of the review though. Wonderful story, beautifully told.



kurumais said...

ive listen to this one many times and if there was a way to make this better, i can't think of any.

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