Friday, 30 October 2015

Jago & Litefoot Series 10

Is it October already? Certainly is and that means that it’s time for the second release this year of the bi-annual box set of brilliance – the CD’s of surreptitious superiority… the downloads of diabolical deftness… the arrival of astronomical amounts of alliteration. Yes indeed, my lords, ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to Professor George Litefoot and Mr Henry Gordon Jago, ably assisted by Miss Ellie Higson and Inspector Quick. Ladies and Gentlemen, please give a warm Planet Mondas welcome to Jago and Litefoot Series 10.
Ten series. Forty episodes, three specials and a companion chronicle – not a bad legacy for a pair of characters who appeared on-screen in Doctor Who only once back in 1977, and with another series on the way in April these venerable Victorian’s voracious appetite for adventure doesn’t appear to be letting up!
Some episodes of a TV show are classed as “event TV” – the arrival of a new Doctor, a regeneration, a season finale, a live episodes of venerable old soaps, the death of a much loved character, well with Jago and Litefoot every release is an “event release”. They are by far my favourite of the Big Finish ranges – the warmth, the humour, the camaraderie, the alliteration – I feel like I know Henry and George, that I could transport myself back in time to the Red Tavern and happily partake in a loquacious libation served by the lovely Miss Higson whilst being regaled with theatrical anecdotes by Jago, as Litefoot good naturedly rolls his eyes. This is a testament not only to Robert Holmes who created them, but to all the writers at Big Finish who took the source material and grew the legend and in Series 10 it seems that they have become a bit of a legend, so well known in fact that they have a biographer – the mysterious (and quite annoying) Carruthers Summerton (Toby Hadoke) – in fact, Carruthers is their greatest fan…
 The story plays out as always over four linked plays and they are:
The Case of the Missing Gasogene by Simon Barnard & Paul Morris
A lovely way to start the set, pure classic Jago and Litefoot – an odd murder, larger than life characters and a mystery that isn’t really what it seems…
Our heroes (with Carruthers in tow) are called to the home of Sir Hartley Harecourt to investigate the murder of his servant – thing is he was killed in a locked room. A classic locked room mystery you might think? Think again. This is Jago and Litefoot and it is far more interesting than that, in fact the whole mystery hinges upon an old soda syphon that Sir Hartley has had stolen.
A great season opener – and it sets up an interesting dynamic for the rest of the series. Carruthers is irritating and manipulative, latching on to both George and Henry’s ego to turn them against each other, they spend much of the adventure investigating separate threads. But what is Carruthers agenda? is he really their biggest fan, or does he have other reasons to follow our heroes? All will be revealed further on in the set….
The Year of the Bat By Jonathan Morris
As long-time readers will know I do not like time travel cheat stories. Not one bit. And I inwardly groaned when I read the premise of this one.
Professor Litefoot receives delivery of a mysterious box called a “Yesterday Box” in which letters can be posted back in time to your younger self. This leads to a hitherto unseen adventure set some thirty years prior to the 1890’s with a younger Jago (Alex Lowe) and a younger Litefoot (Blake Ritson) separately inverstigating the kidnappings of children and fearsome floating Nanny’s. But wait I hear you say – Messers J & L didn’t meet until Episode Five of The Talons of Weng Chiang – and you are right, they didn’t – their present selves even reference this. In fact the whole story plays out like a Brian Rix farce with near misses of our heroes younger selves – it’s a complete hoot. Is it a cheat? Yes of course it is, the ending is a complete and utter cheat – but you know, the story telling is just so darned good I just don’t care.
The Mourning After by James Goss
Henry Gordon Jago is dead. Yes, you read correctly. Dead. Killed by a dart from a mysterious blowpipe. Ellie and Professor Litefoot attend his funeral and it’s incredibly moving to hear George trying to keep his emotions in check and retain the facade of Victorian respectability whilst he has lost his old friend. Trevor Baxter is on top form here. Jago on the other hand has other ideas about being dead, he wakes up in his coffin and is rescued by a mysterious woman Adella LeStrange (Camilla Power). The problem is Mr Jago has been buried for 100 years and Adella is one of the last surviving humans after a plague of Zombies started ravaging the earth soon after Jago’s apparent demise.
Back in Victorian times Litefoot is once again teamed up with Doctor Luke Betterman (David Warner) in what almost becomes a Jago and Litefoot take on Shaun of the Dead. Litefoot, Betterman, Ellie and Quick are holed up in the Red Tavern fighting off an army of Zombies – but who is responsible for them? Is Doctor Betteman all he seems? A great story, told in two different time zones, it’s Shaun of the Dead meets V for Vendetta meets The Good Old Days (the “next scene” joke at Jago’s wake is hilarious) and this mish-mash of styles works as James Goss makes them his own. Fab!
The Museum of Curiosities By Justin Richards
As the evidence against Doctor Betterman continues to mount our heroes (accompanied once again by Carruthers) investigate a bizarre series of seemingly unconnected murders that lead them one step at a time to the Museum of Curiosities, a most singular museum. A most curious museum. But who is its owner and why do all the exhibits – ah, but that would be telling…
A very strong season finale – this one has it all, murder, mystery, peril, alliteration and a nice pint at the Red Tavern as well. It keeps you listening right until the last moment as there is a cliffhanger leading into Series 11 that will make your jaw hit the floor…
So 10 series is as strong as ever. This range has not put a foot wrong; the pace, the characterisation, the acting, the music, is all a cut above and whilst I am sad that series 10 has ended, next month we have the much anticipated “Jago & Litefoot & Strax” – oh my! – to look forward to, and then there is that cliffhanger at the end of Series 10 to be explored further.
Overall a corking cavalcade of clever creativity and crafty capers. I have no hesitation at all in awarding this 10/10.

The Way Of The Empty Hand

If there is one thing that the Doctor stands for (and there are many) it is finding another way, looking for the peaceful diplomatic solution rather than the military solution, avoiding violence at all costs unless there really is no other way. The Second Doctor, presenting a shambolic unimposing figure is possible the least likely incarnation to find himself in a gladiatorial arena, but in The Way of The Empty Hand, that’s just what happens – to find out how dear reader then please read on…
Short Trips are just that, short interludes of up to half an hour long, a traditional “talking book” in which the story is narrated by an actor, in this case Frazer Hines, who narrates and plays all the parts, and is an astoundingTroughton.
Landing on an unnamed planet Jamie rushes off and promptly disappears; he has been kidnapped by the Overlord of Combatia and is being forced to fight in the Overlord’s seemingly endless quest to find the Ultimate Warrior (not the former WWF Wrestler though). As Zoe and the Doctor track him down, Jamie himself forms an alliance with fellow human kidnapee Gichin Funakoshi, a warrior from Japan, and together they go all Spartacus and organise a slaves revolt.
 This is very much your traditional “Doctor defeats an evil villain in a few hours” sort of story – and as in my favourite story of the 1980’s, The Happiness Patrol, the Doctor defeats this great evil through the power of words and concepts not violence – in fact it is his complete refusal to take up arms that is his salvation. Again, Frazer Hines is wonderful as Troughton – he captures his essence, his vocal tones, inflections and mannerisms perfectly.
The story crams a lot in to its 27 minutes running time, however the villain Overlord is really no more than a generic villain to be defeated and lacks a little depth, and in a clever piece of retrospective foreshadowing the ending echoes the War Games (which is yet to happen for the characters but has happened for the writers and listeners, if you see what I mean).
Conceptually it is a very interesting story, though it treads no new ground, in fact all of the plot elements seem familiar, gladiators, a floating space station, bringing down a dictator – but it is so fast paced and so well performed that this familiarity can be forgiven. Overall, not quite an Ultimate Warrior but a worthy opponent.

Torchwood - Fall To Earth

Rarely does a character become more than the show that they were in. Even more rare when that character isn’t the lead, but part of an ensemble. When Ianto Jones died during Torchwood – Children Of Earth back on 2009, I think it is fair to say that no-onecould have envisaged a permanent shrine in Cardiff Bay at the location used for the exterior of his office – but there is, and it has been there for six years – such is the undying and unquestioning love that fans have for their idols, it has even become a Google Maps Hot Spot and a must-see location according to trip advisor. I was on a course with work in Cardiff last year and pointed it out, most were nonplussed but some thought, as I do that it was incredible that a fictitious character could have this much of an impact and inspire such devotion and creativity.
As always my ramblings do have a point, and the point is this – October 2015 is when Ianto Jones returns in Torchwood – Fall To Earth, the second in Big Finish’s Torchwood releases and to quote Bobby Ball: “it’s a little belter!”
Ianto (played by Gareth David Lloyd) is in a bit of a pickle, he is trapped on an experimental first ever passenger spaceship called Skypuncher, the owner – billionaire philanthropist Ephraim Salt, the passengers made up of the great and the good, the crew – all dead. And the spaceship is about to crash and then the worst thing in the world happens… Ianto gets a phone call from a call centre trying to sell him insurance and an unlikely alliance is formed between Ianto and call centre worker Zeynep (Lisa Zahra) as they try to get Ianto safely back to earth (and ensure that he is fully insured at the same time).
This is 55 minutes of pure edge of seat tension, an homage to all those airport disaster movies from the 1970’s, the ones where the stewardess has to fly the plane – this being the millennium it is the woman in the call centre talking Ianto down – going from on script sales drone to absolute hero all in the space of one phone call – and making a healthy commission from sales along the way.
It is easy to see why ianto is such a beloved character; he isn’t superhuman like Jack or a science wonder like Toshiko, in his words he just “makes the coffee” and is completely and utterly out of his depth in this situation… injured, desperate, frightened, but tenacious, he takes the metaphorical life-belt of Zeynep’s call with both hands and hangs on until the bitter end.
My stomach was in knots with this one, it’s pacy and deeply emotional – Zeynep’s transformation from call centre drone to fully rounded human being about whom we care deeply is a wonderful piece of writing. We find out about her family and her upbringing naturally throughout the duration of the call, and her realisation that things might just be getting a whole lot worse in the last 10 minutes or so made me root for her even more, heck if this had a hashtag I would be #TeamZeynep all the way.
There is a little harking back to last months release and mentions of a story arc, but this one stands on its own as one of the very best episodes of Torchwood, up there with Children Of Earth, Random Shoes and A Day in the Death, a triumph of writing, acting and production. I take my hat off to you Big Finish! Back down to Earth with a well deserved 10/10.

205 - Planet Of The Rani

One of the many things I love about Doctor Who is how seemingly small throwaway lines of dialogue can fire the imagination – a mention of The Terrible Zodin here, a reference to Planet 14 there, a mention of a previous battle against Fenric and the biggest of all The Time War, mentions of The Gates of Elysium, The Nightmare Child and The Could Have Been King and his Army of Meanwhiles, all create immediate pictures in the mind, and sometimes they are better there, can they ever live up to the imagination?
When I was thirteen Colin Baker was the Doctor – I loved Colin as the Doctor and to this day he remains in my top tier – along with McCoy, Tennant and Capaldi – anyway in his first season there were a few of these moments that alluded to unseen adventures, but one has always stuck with me, in Mark of the Rani it is alluded that she was the ruler of a planet called Miasimia Goria. Isn’t that a wonderfully lyrical name for a planet, just run it over in your mind and say it to yourself… Miasimia Goria – what does it make you think of? An alien paradise akin to Fern Gully? a techno world with no illness? a pseudo Middle Earth? Names can be deceptive as I found out when listening to Planet of the Rani – because in this months main range release we finally visit this most poetic sounding Planet.
If you remember The Rani Elite you will recall that the late great Kate O’Mara had been regenerated and was now being played with arrogant aloofness by Siobhan Redmond – you may also recall that at the end of that story The Doctor has The Rani sent to Prison. This is the story of what happened next.
Now travelling with Mrs Constance Clarke, the Wren he met in last month’s Criss Cross – the Doctor has been rather neglecting his emails and has been asked to visit the Teccaurora Penitentiary to attend The Rani’s parole hearing. Old Sixie is the most moral of all the Doctor’s incarnations and believes that even The Rani has some good in her, so decides to attend the parole hearing. However he and Mrs Clarke get involved in a diabolical jailbreak attempt by The Rani that she has been planning for a very very long time, nearly 100 years in fact.
After the breakneck speed of episode one, things really slow down on Miasimia Goria. It is nothing like the verdant paradise I pictured, it’s a sad wasted little world with a sad oppressed populace. It was probably once a lovely world but it really is a reflection, a broken mirror held up to The Rani’s questionable morala – she sees everyone and everything as fodder for her experiments, and what she has done to the Miasmians and Gorians is heartbreaking. Remember the experiments she was carrying out in Mark of the Rani? She has had one success on Miasimia Goria. Think about that one success out of a whole population, and that success, Raj Kahnu, has assumed the place of new leader since The Rani’s enforced exile.
It’s a story of two halves (or one quarter and three quarters), with the first episode on the Teccaurora Penitentiary being of a completely different tone and pace to the following three on Miasimia Goria. Frustratingly as well, The Doctor does not spend a lot of his time paired with Mrs Clarke, he spends it with Pseudo companion Pazmi (Olivia Poulet), The Rani’s would be assassin, while Mrs Clarke is paired with The Rani. I love Constance Clarke, a real classic companion played to perfection by Miranda Raison and an exceptional foil to Old Sixie, you can tell that he respects her and values her in the same way as he did with Evelyn Smythe. Also Siobhan Redmond is a colder more reserved Rani than Kate O’Mara’s high camp version, and as such comes across as a far more dangerous adversary. Themes of redemption, compassion and regret run deep through the story – but I get the feeling that it is perhaps an episode too long, or maybe the balance is slightly wrong, maybe half on the jailbreak and half on Miasimia Goria would have been better.
So I have finally been to the Planet I first heard of 30 years ago, and like all the best surprises it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. Sad and grey rather than joyful and verdant as the name suggests – tinged with regret.
Overall, a sad little story of a Planet ruined for arrogance 7/10.

The Early Adventures 2.2 - The Forsaken

Bless em all bless em all bless em all, the long and the short an the tall…” ah memories English Literature GCSE with Mr Hughes in about 1987, we studied a play called The Long and the Short & The Tall by Willis Hall. A tense “base under siege” play in which British troops are lost in the jungle hiding out from the Japanese Army, I always remember with a shudder the closing of act one where the Japanese voice over the radio says “we you come to get”
But why am I reminiscing about school days and old plays? Well this months Early Adventures release reminded me very much of The Long & The Short & The Tall. Set during the evacuation of Singapore a group of British Soldiers and several civilians await rescue whilst the Japanese army advances. Throw into this a certain Private James Jackson and a figure that looks like the Grim Reaper and you have a classic Troughton Base Under Siege Story. And boy is it a good one!
First of all – yes , Private Jackson is Ben’s father – well, he will be, because this is a set a year or so before Ben is born. Apart from the initial realisation and a joke at the end, not much is made of this, which really works within the context of the story as there is a time for emotional reunions and there is a time for action – and with the residents of the Hotel beginning to be killed off, this really is a time for action.
Secondly this plays a little differently from the normal “base under siege” – the Japanese are advancing and bombing, however they are far away enough not to be the main threat, that threat is a figure that looks like the Grim Reaper, stalking the halls of the Hotel and slowly, one by one, feeding off the fear of the inhabitants and literally frightening them to death. The problem is the monster is a shape-shifter, so no-one knows his or her true identity, which leads to some really tense scenes.
Anneke Wills takes on the role of Narrator for this tale as well as playing Polly, and Frazer Hines excels as Jamie and The Second Doctor with Elliott Chapman as an uncanny Ben Jackson. Add to the mix Gabrielle Glaister (who will eternally be Bob in Blackadder), Ben Nealon, Michael Jibson and Oliver Jackson (as Private Jackson), and you have the perfect traditional base under siege (albeit from within) small cast – getting smaller by the episode! – a nasty monster and the even bigger threat of the Japanese invasion. The long and the short of it is that I give it 9/10.

Doom Coalition 1

Doctor Who is rightly famous for its monsters. “Daleks… Sontarans…Cybermen!” as Colin Baker once proclaimed from the dock. Ask a non-fan about Doctor Who and they will probably mention a scarf or say “EX-TER-MIN-ATE!”,  such is the impact of the monsters on the national psyche. The Daleks in particular have become part of our national heritage, as recognisable to non-fans as other cultural icons like The Beatles, James Bond and Winston Churchill. But what about Doctor Who Villains? Since Who came back in 2005 the Monsters have again reigned supreme – Daleks… Sontarans… Cybermen! (thanks Colin) have glided, marched and stomped over our screens – but what about villains?
One thing New Who hasn’t really done is create a memorable villain. To be fair, from the old series I can only recall a handful… Davros, The Master and The Valeyard that can be regarded as classic, and none of them are part of the national consciousness in the same way as the Daleks. I like a good villain, they can be as panto or as serious as you like, but I like the way they are constructed, their motivations, their morality and their world view – you only have to look at Batman for a panoply of psychotic personalities (thank you Mr Jago) and of those the one that I found most fascinating was Harvey Dent or Two-Face, a man who literally has a split personality that coexists in his tortured mind with the good and the bad acting against each other. Imagine my joy when the villain of The Doom Coalition was announced – The Eleven – a Time Lord whose previous regenerations live on in his mind and argue with each other to control his personality – wonderful stuff. At last after almost 30 years we have a new classic Doctor Who villain – and what a performance! Mark Bonnar (Jimmy in The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People) is truly and literally unhinged as The Eleven, he scares the living daylights out of me (thanks James Bond), with ten competing psychotic personalities in his head and one aberration (The Eight), you really do not know what he is going to do and the scary thing is neither does he.
So on to the Doom Coalition 1 the first in a series of Four box sets epic for the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) now travelling with Liv Chenka (Nicola Walker) and following on from events in Dark Eyes.
The first Box set is split in to four stories:
The Eleven by Matt Fitton
Starting off with a pre-credits sequence seeing the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) who having defeated The Eleven is with him as he is incarcerated – it’s a fascinating scene almost Clarice and Lecter-esque (thanks Robert Harris) in its construction; its a cagey dance of quip and counter-quip and in a few short minutes sets up The Eleven as a classic Who villain.
After the credits roll we catch up with The Doctor and Liv and events that are taking place on Gallifrey. Worryingly junior Time Lady Kiani (Bethan Walker) has been given permission to interview The Eleven for her thesis, and not to give any spoilers away – they (The Eleven) use it to escape. This is a very 80′s feeling episode, it has all the feeling of the Gallifrey episodes from the Peter Davison and Colin Baker eras, with Cardinals, Castellans, The Celestial Intervention Agency, The Chancery Guard – it’s a very tense episode, a game of cat and mouse as the Doctor and his friends attempt to outwit The Eleven who are always one step ahead. They actually seems to know who and what are chasing them and seem to relish it. With a superb supporting cast (Robert Bathurst, Ramon Tikaram and Caroline Langrishe) and a tantalising mention of The Omega Arsenal (from The Day of the Doctor) it’s a breakneck opening for an epic box set.
 The Red Lady by John Dorney
Remember when Steven Moffat wasn’t showrunner? Remember when he wrote really scary stories that made you think? This story could have been one of those stories.
Following The Eleven to London in 1963, the Doctor and Liv discover that he isn’t actually there, but there is an anomaly that could be a clue to his whereabouts  The anomaly is a phenomenon known as “The Red Lady”  figure seen in works of art in a collection bequeathed by a dead collector. The strange thing is that the collector has never looked at the works of art and instructed that they are not looked upon…
Into this melting pot enters newcomer Helen Sinclair (Hattie Morahan), an academic facing the sexism and prejudices of a deeply ingrained old boys club in the University.  The Red Lady is a truly frightening episode, very much a psychological horror and echoes the themes of perception laid down in part one. It’s quite a stand alone episode and serves to introduce Helen Sinclair as a new companion for the rest of the box set and is very good indeed.
 The Galileo Trap by Marc Platt
Answering a summons from Galileo at the end of the previous episode, The Doctor, Liv and Helen travel to Renaissance era Florence to meet up with Galileo. Helen being on her first trip is a bit overwhelmed by it all and it takes the more experienced world weary Liv Chenka to keep trying to bring her back to earth, as it were.
This episode fills the role of the “celebrity historical” in which The Doctor and his friends meet a famous historical character and get involved in an adventure with them – and this one ticks all these boxes – it’s more of a “romp” than previous episodes, more traditional Doctor Who with a melting pot of The Doctor, Galileo, Liv, Helen, Space Police and Alien Bounty Hunters. It serves as both a bit of light relief after the intense first two stories and also as a staging post to get us to the finale. A trap has been set by The Eleven to capture the Doctor, a trap Galileo has been coerced into being complicit in. It’s a nice runaround of a story, but lacking the depth of the prior stories; it’s a fast-paced story but almost an interlude, a calm before the storm of the finale. John Woodvine is fab as Galileo, he gives a really weary performance and Hattie Morahan gives a promising first outing as Helen, all wide eyed wonder, joy and incredulity at the situation she finds herself in. The trap is sprung leading us on to the final part.
 The Satanic Mill by Edward Collier
And so we come to the final part – on an artificial satellite planet orbiting the Sun nearer than Mercury, The Eleven is about to enact his plan. He is using articles he has stolen from Gallifrey to… Spoilers! (thanks to River Song for that) and it really would be spoiling the story to tell any more. Lets just say that Mark Bonnar is a revelation as The Eleven – it’s a part he was born to play. McGann excels as The Doctor and I am so thankful to Big Finish for giving him the era he deserves and a suitably worthy opponent – but a further set of circumstances is hinted at of which The Eleven is only a small part….
So there we have it – Doom Coalition 1 an epic of… well, epic proportions – introducing an exceptional villain in The Eleven and a promising new companion in Helen Sinclair -it hits the ground running, slows down, and speeds up again for the finale, and is better than any season of television Who since at least 2007. It’s not perfect, part three is a bit formulaic, and the resolution could be a bit confusing, but the positives more than outweigh the negatives. Overall not quite turned up to Eleven but a totally non Doom Laden 9/10.