Monday, 20 October 2014

The Worlds of Doctor Who: Mind Games written by Justin Richards and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What's it about: In Victorian England, Henry Gordon Jago and Professor Litefoot investigate worrying events on the streets of London – which seem to be linked to the New Regency Theatre’s resident act, the mesmerist Mr Rees…

Theatrical Fellow: If you're new to Jago & Litefoot and are frightened that his blustery personality might have been watered down over eight seasons of exploration then put your fears to one side. He is absolutely the same man as he was in Talons albeit with a new element in his life that allows him to flourish and his best characteristics to come forth (that element is of course George Litefoot). Jago likes to think that he can keep a clear head during the intermission of the shows at his theatre but he doesn't like half measures either. He's always alert to the extraordinary, people are always candid with him because he has the ability to put them at their ease. Probably with a drink or two in their hand. Jago says he is not afraid to die but that is clearly a lie as anybody who knows him would know. Jago talks very well with his fists as it turns out, a punch that saves their lives.

Posh Professor: When dealing with the perpetrator of a grisly crime, Litefoot insists on making the definition between a gentlemen and a man. According to Jago he is a monolith of the professional fraternity. Litefoot happily pretends to soothe one of the victims of Rees control into thinking they have just had a bad dream when his gut is telling him that something much more sinister is going on. He's quite the performer in that regard. The climax is very good indeed with the good Professor forced to point a gun at Henry against his will. I think if he was forced to go through with the act George might very well have taken his own life whether he was influenced to or not.

Rees: A character that will stride from one spin off to another, Rees is the central antagonist of the Worlds box set. Played with silky voiced perfection by Jamie Glover, he cuts quite an impressive villain in the opening story. He's a sadist who enjoys forcing people to do things against their will and has the perfect opportunity to do so in his mesmeric act on stage. Jago has objected to his cruel act that sees women choking down on raw onions and worse but he refuses to change a thing, informing the impresario that he is pulling in the punters and making him a fortune. He does it because he enjoys it, forcing somebody to kill themselves or others gives him a thrill that cannot be captured in any other way. Worse, he likes to watch too.

Standout Performance: Benjamin and Baxter. It almost seems glib to still be placing them in this category after all these series but to put a fine point on it, this series simply wouldn't work without them. You'd still have the great storytelling, the atmospheric productions, etc...but without this pair of spectacular actors bringing their vivid roles to life it would lack the heart that makes it so unique. Bask in the glory of their work and the fact that years on it is still as entertaining as it was back when The Mahogany Murders was released.

Great Ideas: It is probably not a bad idea to start the Jago & Litefoot section of the box set, a box set that is setting out to introduce those people who haven't dipped their toes into the spin off ranges to see what they are all about and to their tastes, with an identical beginning to Talons of Weng-Chiang. An act at the theatre and Jago waiting in the wings to give the order for the curtain to go down. It makes the audience feel right at home. It's almost stereotypical Jago & Litefoot (Litefoot in the mortuary discovering the details of the latest case) but that is no bad thing as the norm on this series is still very good it has perfected the formula which has run a successful eight series now. The New Regency Theatre seems to be the hub of which the spate of recent murders is taking place in. People are having disturbing dreams about murdering people, like voices in the head telling them to perform the homicidal acts. They are all people who have been mesmerised by Rees on stage at the Regency Theatre. We might look back at the Victorian times and acts like the mesmerist that forcing people to behave in obscene ways to please the cheering crowds that want them to be as embarrassed as possible but (if you have the stomach for it) you should stick on The X-Factor auditions and you will see that things haven't changed one bit. There are still those who are desperate to see people disgraced and degrade themselves for the sake of entertainment. I don't think we've moved on in the slightest, we've just sought better ways of enticing people into being humiliated by dressing up the circus as an opportunity for them. I was pleased to see Ellie getting a substantial role, the writers seem keen for her to take a more active part in the series these days. She gatecrashes Jago & Litefoot's trip to the theatre, makes her feelings perfectly clear on the grotesque style of entertainment and almost suffers the fate of being the next victim. In a very funny moment it appears that Jago has instigated the birth of audio drama, promoting the idea of recording the acts at the theatre for punters to play back when they are at home. He foresees a time when there will be a big enough audience for full cast dramas to be recorded! It is a smart way of using the phonograph later in the story to fill in some of the expository gaps for Ellie and PC Quick and an imaginative to present the story in a different format.

Audio Landscape: Jeering, cheering audience, applause, the hustle and bustle of a bar, pouring a drink, a flashback to a suicide/murder with the water sluicing, footsteps, running water, birdsong, gunshot.

Musical Cues: As ever, Howard Carter's music is exemplary and he ploughs ahead with a sinister, slowed down version of a nursery rhyme that gives the piece a creepy, Sapphire and Steel-esque feeling at times. When Rees murders a prostitute in the street with the melancholic chimes of a kids tune playing it adds a whole new level of menace. 

Isn't it Odd: I have seen this plot played out before, people being manipulated by their dreams to kill, but it is such an insidiously creepy idea it pays off regardless of whether it is original or not. It takes our heroes an age to figure out that Rees is behind the murders, given that they lay out the clues that link the attacks and the people who have been on stage quite early on.

Standout Scene: My buttocks were firmly clenched during the scene where one of Rees's victims holds a gun on Jago & Litefoot and it escalates to a point where it looks like he is going to successfully commit suicide.

Result: The Worlds of Doctor Who kicks off with a tradition romp from Jago & Litefoot and that feels appropriate for anybody who might be thinking of dipping their toes into Big Finish's most successful (in my humble opinion) spin off range. Whilst long term fans of the series might be a little disillusioned that this wheels out the conventional elements, they are all used extremely well and brought to life by the inestimable talents of Howard Carter the whole story feels wonderfully immersive and atmospheric. What you take away from Mind Games is the creepy villain of the piece Mr Rees, an popular act at Jago's theatre who is slaughtering his way through Old London Town. Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter are effortlessly good (I don't think I will ever get bored of their chemistry, it simply glows) as ever and Lisa Bowerman continues to provide superb support as Ellie. There's nothing in particular to discuss in this summary because Justin Richards' perfectly acceptable script never wants to break outside of the box. It is here to present the glorious world of Jago & Litefoot in a bite size package and to put in place the arc elements of this box set. It is rare for the opening segment of a Big Finish box set to be the best of the bunch (the first Dark Eyes set was the exception to that rule) and Mind Games proves to be a worthy diversion but nothing that makes me heart skip a beat. If you bought a season of Jago & Litefoot in this vein you might feel a little short changed but as a taster it is quite engaging, especially the superb climax where the two gents prove how much they care about each other: 7/10


Adam Graham said...

Glad you finally got to this. This was good but not great compared to the little Jago & Litefoot I've heard.

Nyloian said...

I listened to this in the car today and found it very enjoyable. I even found myself chuckling occasionally at Jago's lines. A straightforward and entertaining story.