Monday, 3 February 2014

Military Intelligence written by George Mann 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: Jago is certain that the only reason the Colonel will have called them in is because there is a mission of great importance to undertake, a threat to the realm and a challenge that can only be met by experienced investigations of devil may care like Jago & Litefoot. Doesn't think that much of his abilities then. Because their latest assignment is simply to talk, it would appear that this might take some time when it comes to Henry and his florid style of language. It warms his heart to think that the Monarch is interested in the affairs of a humble theatre impresario like himself. He believes he has a great expertise in the subtle art of deflection. Investigating without Litefoot doesn't feel quite right, Henry would never want to go into this business on his own. Jago is the only man alive that could talk a machine into committing suicide, such is the baffling nature of his speech patterns. It is lovely to be able to spend some time with Jago and Ellie alone though, the affection that Christopher Benjamin and Lisa Bowerman have for each other shines through in their performances.

Posh Professor: Whilst Jago is terribly excited to head off into another adventure, Litefoot is far more cautious and guarded about accepting assignments from the Crown. He is a man of such high moral value that it is always a delight when he stands up to the villains in this series, we know what a fundamentally good man Litefoot is so it makes his judgements upon those who plot such monstrous plans so genuine. The shocking twist at the climax gives the impression that this whole affair has been concocted to frame Litefoot for Jago's murder, an act so abominable that you can only sit back and gasp at the feelings that the good Professor must be experiencing

Standout Performance: Despite being given a fairly unrobust character to play now the cards are all on the table, Geoffrey Whitehead still gives a respectable performance as the Colonel. His cameos in earlier stories did promise more than was delivered but Whitehead's gorgeous, gravelly voice manages to salvage a great deal of dignity for the character.

Great Ideas: Aside from the fact that he has an office in Buckingham Palace, how do we know that the Colonel speaks with the authority of the Crown? There has been no sighting of the Queen in their dealings with him. Once Litefoot goes digging there are no mentions of the Colonel in any reports and no mention of his appointment at the Palace. He was working on behalf of the Queen until recently but he finds her lacking in ambition and scope. He wishes to become Emperor and wants all of Europe to cower in his wake and is constructing a mechanised to help in his cause. An army that requires no food or rest, will not cower in the face of the enemy and cannot be slain by mere men. Unstoppable, single minded, determined and slaved to his cause. His machines will assist in the reclamation of the America...he plans to make the British Empire and unconquerable force that will take the globe. Well, if you are a despot hell bent on domination it helps to think big. What's lovely about Military Intelligence is that it pulls together both the science of the time (Babbage) and some of Jago & Litefoot's own continuity (Dr Tulp and his Similarity Engine) to create a vivid technological picture of the period. It roots Jago & Litefoot in the period in a very dramatic way. Steam punk hasn't really been a focal point of this series but this is a chance for the series to indulge in the sub genre and have a little fun with it. I think they could have gone much further than they did but at least we can say the series has played about with the idea and move on from it now.

Audio Landscape: Footsteps on cobbles, the rowdiness of the Red Tavern, the Colonel's technological devices hissing and steaming, machines exploding.

Isn't it Odd: I found the first half of this story quite wanting in comparison to everything that has come before it. I was halfway through the story and nothing of great significance seemed to have happened. Jago & Litefoot were aware that there was something sinister about the Colonel that didn't add up but as far as furthering that plot was concerned it took an age before things started moving. The slack was taken up with endless scenes of the two men waiting around for something to happen to them. Don't get me wrong, spending any time in the company of this delicious duo is a ball but it is far more effective when married to a strong plot that they can engage with. It wasn't until Litefoot was kidnapped by the Colonel and Jago discovered that Agatha was in the employ of the Queen that my interest really perked up. I wasn't entirely sold on the idea of the Colonel suddenly turning into the villain of the piece either, simply because his background is so sketchily scribbled in. We don't find anything detailed about his time in the Queen's employ, just that he disapproved of her approach to running the Empire. Without any additional information about that might be he comes across as a tenapenny bad guy who simply wants to conquer for the sake of it. Was the Colonel's plan so badly thought through that a string of sentences loaded with alliteration can take out his army of machines that he plans to use to take over the world?

Standout Scene: The climax is a memorable one, with Quick appearing to report that Jago is dead and the Professor being arrested for his murder. Can this all be true?

Result: Very much part one of two and not a story in its own right, Military Intelligence is the weakest of this set of adventures for the intrepid investigators because it takes an age to get going. When it does there is a list of problems with the story that continued to grow. The Colonel's makes an unconvincing shift from ally to enemy and his motivations are baffling beyond simply wanting to take over the world. His plan to use technological machines to take over the world is old hat and is foiled in the most unproblematic of methods. I could not help but feel that this is nothing but a prelude to the season finale when it should have been the finale itself. It certainly thinks big but it doesn't have much substance behind the usual all-conquering threats to the globe. Season six feels a little looser in its plotting and lacking the strong backbone of previous years. We've gone from an atmospheric chiller to a psychological drama to a world invasion story with only tenuous links between the three. The Colonel's plans should feel like a spectacular surprise but because the season has barely begun it feels far too soon to be dropping major revelations about characters we have barely had the chance to get to know. Perhaps that is the problem with having such short seasons but it never seemed to affect my enjoyment before. Because of the presence of Baxter and Benjamin this is still a cut above average - I don't think any story that features these characters could ever be boring but it is certainly lacking in the usual areas that I expect Jago & Litefoot to deliver. A disappointment, but given a massive lift thanks to a dramatic cliff-hanger: 6/10


Peakius Baragonius said...

To my surprise, I really enjoyed this one - I was dreading the whole "steampunk" approach and all the new-world-order-technological-revolution hm-hm-hm-hm-ha military gobbledygook that would come with the genre and a character like the Colonel (who I'd been spoiled was the villain), and I know that George Mann has a bit of a marmite reputation as a writer. However, I found the final story very dramatically brought to life, almost like the soundtrack to an action movie. A special shout-out goes to the guy who played Drucker, he brought a real sense of nasty humor, charm, and threat to what could have been a very generic henchman role.

The Sentinels' weakness was of course the whole reason why The Colonel brought in J&L, in hopes that they would provide any useful knowledge from Doctor Tulp to aid in fixing the machine's programming.

Anonymous said...

Ive been cosidering checking the jago and litefoot series. where is a good place to start?

Joe Ford said...

It might seem like a churlish answer but right at the start. Whilst each season can be seen as a cohesive story in its own right, they are more often than not linked by cliffhangers from the last series. Besides it is the most consistently excellent range that Big Finish put out and you would be doing yourself a favour by starting with The Mahogany Murderers from the Companion Chronicles (you can pick that up quite cheap) and then continue on with season one. Let me know how you get on.