There are some releases that I count as a treat. I have made no secret that Jago & Litefoot is my favourite of all the Big Finish ranges, there is just something special about them – the banter between Jago & Litefoot, the beautiful characterisation, the abundant alliterative articulation of Mr Jago, the cool calm and collected Professor Litefoot, the dialogue between the two and their co stars Ellie Higson (Lisa Bowerman) & Inspector Quick (Conrad Asquith) I am immensely fond of them all and it is a testament to the writing that I can imagine their lives when they are not having the adventures that we hear. It is amazing that a couple of characters that appeared in a single TV story back in 1977 have now notched up 11 series of their own as well as appearances in Companion Chronicles, 4th Doctor Adventures, The Worlds of Doctor Who Box Set and Colin Baker’s swan-song box set – and 11 series in the quality has not let up, not one little bit, in fact these once guest stars in Doctor Who now have The Doctor (Colin Baker) and his arch enemy The Master (Geoffrey Beevers) as guest stars in their series.
But what exactly is The Master doing in Victorian Britain, what does this mean for Jago & Litefoot & how is The Doctor involved in proceedings, well dear reader, read on & I will try to enlighten you. Series 10 ended on a cliffhanger (as J & L Box sets do) to tease us about Series 11, this particular cliffhanger made my blood run cold, it involved Inspector Quick encountering the emaciated form of The Master and being taken over by him – Six LOOOOONG months later the story continues and we encounter satanic cults, a surreal world constructed from poetry, alien Vampires, hypnotism and a desperate Master who will go to any lengths to revitalise himself – so without further ado lets have a look at the stories:
1. Jago and Son by Nigel Fairs
People are going missing, seems like business as usual for Jago & Litefoot but their investigations lead them to a Satanic Cult based on the seemingly defunct Hellfire Club. Investigating from two different angles, Litefoot teams up with his old archaeologist friend Jean Bazemore (Rowena Cooper) whilst Henry Jago is joined in his investigation by his hitherto unseen and unknown son – Henry Gordon Jago Jnr (James Joyce), but is all as it seems, is Jago’s son all that he seems and what connection do he and his Mother have to the Hellfire Club? A blistering start to the box set with bluff and counter bluff and the “is he, isn’t he” mystery of Henry Jago Jnr played out throughout the episode – added to this is the mystery of The Master and the reason he has appeared in Jago & Litefoot’s world and his continuing and deepening control over Inspector Quick. Almost stealing the show though is Rowena Cooper as Jean Bazemore, a superb addition to the J & L canon and a remarkable female foil to the usually unflappable Professor Litefoot. I really hope we hear more from her in upcoming series.
2. Maurice by Matthew Sweet
This is a very odd episode. Strange, surreal and quite disturbing. Professor Litefoot meets and befriends Maurice Ravel (Andy McKeane), when Litefoot joins Maurice for dinner at his apartment he finds himself transported to a world constructed from a surreal nightmare poem (literally) where he finds another Maurice who claims that the Maurice that Litefoot has met is an imposter. Confused? you will be. The plotting is intricate, it all makes perfect (if odd) sense – its one of those stories you have to just go with and not try to second guess events because believe me you never will. Imagine if the world of Edward Lear or Lewis Carroll invaded the world of Jago & Litefoot and you will get some sort of idea of the ambiance of the story – not to everyones taste, but for me the highlight of a very high quality box set.
3. The Woman in White by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris
Doctor Who does it so why not Jago & Litefoot – I am talking about the “celebrity historical”, except for Jago & Litefoot it should be renamed the “celebrity contemporary” as this story features not one but TWO celebrities of the Victorian era – Bram Stoker (Jonathan Forbes) & Sir Henry Irving (Edward De Souza) who join our heroes in a tale of ghosts, Vampires (what else) and a sinking theatre. This story works on several levels – as a pure adventure it is fast paced, full of danger and excitement and also as a very witty pieced of writing about Stoker’s inspiration for Dracula – characters called Harker, Wilhelmina and a very Renfield like performance from Henry Irving all add layers of colour and humour to the proceedings. This episode also has The Master’s plan coming to fruition….
4. Masterpiece by Justin Richards
The Master is literally draining the life from Jago & Litefoot, he has manipulated them through their friends Ellie & Inspector Quick to become so desperate that they call The Doctor for help because The Master needs the Doctor, he needs his Artron Energy to revitalise his desiccated body, but The Doctor has not heeded Henry & George’s summons and the situation is getting worse. A slow burner of a finale, it is worrying to hear our heroes slowly have their life drained away and not being able to do anything about it – they have never been this debilitated before or so desperate – this is a real heart in the mouth, edge of the seat finale that builds slowly to a crescendo. And as always we get a cliffhanger to next series to round off the set.
Geoffrey Beevers’ Master fits in exceptionally well to J & L world – he is a well rounded take on the Doctor’s arch enemy and most definitely not an “arch” arch enemy, he is all oily charm and desperate manipulation, he seems to be held together purely by the force of his will. His manipulation and use for his own ends of Inspector Quick and latterly of Ellie Higson & his cruel draining of Jago & Litefoot purely to get The Doctor’s attention is cold and cruel even by his standards, it is made even more offensive because Jago, Litefoot, Ellie and Quick feel like family and any affront to them is an affront to the sensibilities of the listener – the characters are really that relatable and beloved
Another exceptional box set, but as this is a Jago & Litefoot Box set did you expect any less? A bold experiment bringing in a major Doctor Who villain as the “big bad” in to another series, but the Beevers Master fits in just perfectly to the gas lit fog strewn Victorian soundscape. As Jago may say “a memorable melange of masterful machinations” and as I may say, actually I will say this set is heavy in Victorian Values & I value this set at 10/10.
Lucie Miller. Lucie “Piggin” Miller. What is there to say? She was magnificent – THE companion for the 8th Doctor in the same way that Jo was THE companion for 3, Sarah-Jane was THE companion for 4 & Donna was THE companion for 10. She shone so brightly over four series and then was gone – a real character, a believable character, we all know someone like Lucie Miller. Whilst she was undoubtedly well written, a character that writers just seemed to “get” and write well, her characterisation is in no small part down to the astounding Sheridan Smith, one of the UK’s best and most celebrated actors – on paper Lucie could have been just a loud mouthed working class girl from Blackpool – Sheridan Smith took the character and made her her own. So it was with great joy that I found out one dark grim January day that Sheridan Smith was returning as Lucie Miller for a couple of Short Trips releases, the first of these being this months “The Curse of the Fugue” by Alice Cavender.
Its 1974, and it all seems a bit grim – power cuts, foil top milk bottles and worst of all The Doctor has left Lucie to work as a carer in an old peoples home whilst he goes off investigating a mysterious device. Its so lovely to hear Lucie Miller again – her reappearance is tinged with sadness as we already know what her fate is going to be – but just hearing her character in this short interlude is magical – Sheridan Smith brings her back to life, its like she has never been away – Lucie is obviously not at all happy at being left behind by The Doctor and entertains the residents of the home by telling them about the future (she doesn’t seem to care much for the laws of time!) to keep the spirits up between power cuts. Amazingly for just about half of this 32 minute release the story seems to be a straight historical period piece about being stuck in the 1970’s, the atmosphere is just spot on – and then we get to find out just why The Doctor has left Lucie here – because one of the residents is not exactly what she seems and may (or may not) have been a secret agent during World War 2, and may (or may not) know something about the artefact that The Doctor is looking for.
With bags of character and a feeling of cold, damp winters days, this release has a slightly maudlin quality and is very slow to get to the plot, however this really does give time to build on the all important 1970’s atmosphere – Sheridan Smith is quite quite fantastic playing Lucie coming back to her with ease after a gap of five years, bringing joy to the listener that she is back, but making the listener remember as well that this is a fleeting interlude and that her fate is already sealed. Power cuts, the elderly, a super weapon and an even more super Lucie Miller all combine to give this 8/10.
Sometimes stories are seasonal, they have a feeling and an ethos which completely grounds them in a particular season of the year. Surprisingly Nightshade is set in the winter but it feels distinctly autumnal. If you have ever been to Scandinavia, or indeed listened to “Stay On These Roads” by A-ha you will know what I mean. This story is steeped in melancholy, nostalgia and regret, it has a bleakness of spirit that permeates its very essence.
This is an important story in the history of Doctor Who – it is the first story written by one Mark Gatiss and he wears his influences on his sleeve in this one. First of all Mark is a self confessed Pertwee fan – this one feels like a Pertwee story in many ways, a could have been story from season 7. It’s also heavily influenced (almost an homage) to Quatermass (which itself was a huge influence on the early Pertwee era) but it’s more than this, because it actually feels like a New Adventures novel brought to life as well. This is a very early New Adventure, The Seventh Doctor and Ace are portrayed pretty much as they were on TV and for a two hour story not a lot really happens for quite a lot of the story – but when it does boy does it happen.
So Nightshade is quite small scale in many ways but aeon spanning in others, first of all the small scale – The Seventh Doctor and Ace arrive in the small Yorkshire village of Crook Marsham, it’s a rain sodden, bleak little place where nothing really happens and the melancholy of the place seems to even get to the Doctor who is contemplating retiring from being Times Champion and returning to Gallifrey, Ace on the other hand meets a young man called Robin who could turn out to be the love of her life. Its not the angst ridden emo fest you may be expecting either because events soon overtake Seven and Ace and again they have to get involved. The main plot involves the residents of Crook Marsham being haunted by ghosts of their past, being threatened by nostalgia and none more so than Edmund Trevithick (John Castle) – a retired actor who used to play Professor Nightshade on TV – now in his dotage at an old peoples home he is trying to relive his glory days through repeats of his TV show – but he finds himself threatened by the alien creatures that he used to act with – but these are no men in rubber suits, these are real. Add to this a deep space tracking centre receiving weird signals and an increasing body count and the obligatory “evil since the dawn of time” and simmer gently…
This story is very very big on atmosphere – a feeling of autumnal melancholy is part of its makeup and its two hour length allows all the characters to develop naturally and the drama to unfold at its own pace, it actually feels rather leisurely in pacing, enough happens to fill the two hours but every aspect of the story is given plenty of time to breathe and to mature. At its heart this is a very traditional story, but the skill of the Gatiss and Kyle C Szikora who adapted it and the natural style of acting that Scott Handcock engenders make this far more than the sum of its parts – one foot in the past, one foot in the 1990’s but with eyes looking forward to the more emotional take on Who that we get now this is a confident adaptation of one of the best remembered New Adventures – characterful, deep, melancholy and autumnal and a very well deserved 8/10.
There is a song by Paloma Faith called “Picking Up The Pieces” that kept popping in to my head whilst I listened to this release, because that really is what the Doctor appears to be doing in this story. The main body of events took place 32 years before the Doctor arrived, and he is really just helping to mop up a series of tragic events – but as always I get ahead of myself.
And You Will Obey Me is the first in a trilogy that Big Finish have called “The Two Masters” trilogy, the three stories feature the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors and two incarnations of the Master played by Geoffrey Beevers and Alex Macqueen, and it starts with an auction…
You see the Master is dead, his house where he had been hiding for 32 years burned to the ground, and all that remains is an ornamental Grandfather Clock which is being auctioned and is attracting rather a lot of attention from the Doctor, a mysterious stranger called Annie (Sheena Bhattessa), a couple of teenagers, a mysterious bidder in tweed and a telephone bidder. This rather unassuming beginning is the gateway to an epic adventure that spans 32 years and the lives of four teenagers who due to a series of events were thrown off their school bus and had to take a shortcut home.
Now then – the observant among you may have noticed that the Doctor is without companions and that this doesn’t really happen during his era – worry not, this story takes place just after The Awakening, Tegan and Turlough are off on a trip with Jane Hampden (a character we met in The Awakening) when the Doctor receives a distress call from the Master’s TARDIS and pops off to 2016 to investigate.
So the stage is set, the Master is dead, but two separate teams of assassins have picked up his distress call, because even in death the Master has a backup plan, this time the Master has been playing a very long game and the time has come in 2016 to reap the seeds he sowed in 1984.
From the very beginning of part one the tension begins to build, we know the significance of the Grandfather Clock, so does the Doctor – but what about the other bidders why are so many people interested in it, do they know of the Master or is there an even bigger game afoot? The following four episodes lead us on a dramatic journey involving 8 foot high Mosquito assassins, Russian mercenaries armed with stasers and a race of Cyborgs who wish to atone for their very existence – but the real heart of the story comes in part three – peel away the sci-fi trappings, take a step back from posturing mercenaries with Gallifreyan weapons, because part three really is something extraordinary. Played as a flashback to 1984, to the four teenagers who took a shortcut, and we see in all its putrid evil the manipulative grasping self interest of the Master as played by Geoffrey Beevers. His body may be wasted and burned as he was in The Keeper of Traken, but his will and his charm have not deserted him – the evil he does here may be small scale, but the damage he does, the repercussions of the damage and the sorrow and heartbreak he causes are felt like they really never have been felt before – this time we see the consequences of the Master’s actions in 1984 which lead to the Doctor picking up the pieces (thanks Paloma) in 2016.
Let me get my (now mandatory) Peter Davison praise in, as I said last month, on TV Davison never really was “my” Doctor, but here again he excels, he has given more depth and layers to his character over the years, his breathless enthusiasm, charm and politeness almost played as a shield to hide his harder side which has been formed by his losses – there is an exceptional scene where he realises that he may have inadvertently helped the Master by his inaction in Little Hodcombe, listen out for it, its outstanding and in one scene perfectly encapsulates the essence of the Fifth Doctor.
This release crams a lot of story into its four episodes, so much happens, so much maybe should not have happened but what will be will be and in the case of this story has been and will always have been – no “timey-wimey” get outs, events have their consequences and sometimes the punishment is to live with those consequences.
Yet another triumph for the main range; beautifully constructed plot mechanics, excellently acted, tightly directed (and there is a lot of plot) with just a couple of dangling threads that I am hoping will be resolved in the next two instalments. Or to put it another way a quite “Masterful” (sorry) 10/10.
Legacy of Death is the second part of a story started last month with The Paradox Planet, if you have not heard that I suggest you do before proceeding any further as this is going to get a bit complicated. Done? Okay, I will continue.
We left our heroes last month in a bit of a pickle (to use a technical term) you see they are stuck on the planet Aoris – a planet at war with its own past, where the citizens of era 24 are at war with the citizens of era 14 in the name of the preservation of wildlife – so far, so season 17. Its about to get a bit more complicated.
Whereas The Paradox Planet felt like a typical Fourth Doctor, Romana 2, and K9 story – this second part goes in to overdrive with it being more akin to modern Doctor Who under Steven Moffat – all sort of “timey-wimey”, if you will. This is a story that really demands to be listened to in a state of complete concentration, it’s very difficult to lose track of the various plot threads, multiple K9’s, multiple TARDIS’s and where in the timeline the Doctor fits in to events as our heroes travel back and forth between the two eras. But – and it is a very big but – despite all this “messing about in time” as I like to call it, the story has a logical sense of cause and effect – decisions made in era 14 do effect era 24, characters motivations are changed in a natural organic way by witnessing events of the war.
So what on the surface appears to be a Moffat style time travel story is actually a bit more complex, this story carries the spirit of Hartnell’s “you cannot rewrite history, not one line” and melds it into a mind bending, complex, but ultimately satisfying story which is more about the interaction of characters than being a bit clever with time travel. As always Tom Baker and Lalla Ward cannot put a foot wrong – they are my favourite “classic era” pairing – Tom is at one moment full of joy, the next bristling with moral indignation – and he gets in an “Are You Being Served?” reference, so whats not to love?
It’s a difficult story to review in its own right as it’s the second part of a story, however the tension, the speed of events and the sense of impending doom has been ramped up in this release (and an Are you being Served? reference to boot), so I award it 8/10.
Mrs Peel, were needed! The four words that defined my TV experience in the early 1990’s. I sort of remembered The Avengers from the early 1980’s but it was the repeats on Bravo in the early 1990’s that made me a fan. What isn’t there to like about The Avengers, especially the Emma Peel era? It had everything, dapper clothes, groovy theme tune, fast paced sparkling dialogue, utterly bonkers plots – and I do meanutterly bonkers - I can well remember Epic, an episode where an insane film director wants to make a film of Mrs Peel’s life, or Something Nasty in the Nursery or The Cybernauts – all complete with mad over-the-top camp as Christmas villains played by wonderfully plummy eccentric British character actors. On top of this you had the chemistry between Steed and Mrs Peel. Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg just worked, a perfect double-act, the characters just bounced off each other, the dialogue was wry, witty, filled with innuendo, and charming, an iconic pair of TV heroes for the ages – when people remember The Avengers it is usually the Steed and Peel era they refer to – that’s how iconic they are.
So it was with a sense of wonder that I found out last year that Big Finish were adapting the Comic Strip adventures for audio – Julian Wadham would be reprising the role of Steed but who would be playing the iconic Mrs Emma Peel? We needed a cut glass voice, a sense of fun, a sense of the wry and the absurd, excellent comic timing and more than anything else, chemistry with Julian Wadham – and Big Finish got the casting pretty nigh on perfect with Olivia Poulet, she is all these things and much more, she is a fabulous actress who has completely immersed herself in the character of Mrs Peel, and made her her own without having to impersonate the great Dame Diana Rigg – yes indeedy Wadham and Poulet are Steed and Peel. Close your eyes and listen to the theme music, you’ll be transported to a world of slightly over-saturated film, champagne, high fashion, Bentleys and bonkersness, because once again – “Mrs Peel, we’re needed”.
As is the tradition with Big Finish the set is split in to four stories:
Return to Castle De’ath by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris
Steed and Peel return to Castle De’ath and become embroiled in a plot involving a foreign Prince, an eccentric Colonel, a mysterious Countess and a dour Hotel owner and her mute manservant. This is pure 1960’s kitsch as Prince Abdul Bey (Sam Kordbacheh) is repeatedly the subject of assassination attempts – Mrs Peel joins forces with the eccentric Colonel Augustus-Smyth (played with camp joy by Simon Greenall) to unmask who is behind the mysterious ghostly Piper. This is a delightfully silly opening to the set with all the cast completely on form; it’s completely authentic and faithful to the ethos of season 4 and 5 of The Avengers with the dialogue, music, everything! There is a joy to the proceedings that is infectious, this made me smile – not just a mouth smile but a warm growing whole smile – brilliant.
The Miser by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris
When a train almost crashes and the passengers are taken off unconscious the mysterious “Miser” makes an announcement that this is only a warning and he will wreak havoc again if all the money in all the Banks in England are not handed over to him – Sounds like a job for Steed and Mrs Peel! This story is completely “Avengers”, it has a rather silly megalomaniac with bizarre motivation, it has Mrs Peel in b-movie peril, though she isn’t really that bothered, it has Steed facing off against flame thrower wielding Scarecrows – what else do you need? Okay it is again wonderfully acted and completely authentic to the 1960’s – the plot moves very very quickly and rather a lot happens in the 50 minutes or so running time – the last scene in which the villains are defeated is a delight. In fact you can sample the episode HERE and I suggest that you do!
The Golden Dresses by Paul Magrs
Now for something as zany and left-field as The Avengers, this is left-field. Madame Zingara (Jacqueline Pearce) is the purveyor of haute couture to ladies of society – but the ladies of society seem to be losing their husbands, and it turns out the husbands that they are losing are men with very high ranking jobs in security. Steed and Peel investigate and discover – wait for it – that the ladies of society are being brainwashed by the golden dresses created for them by Madam Zingara. See, I told you this one was super bonkers and it really is! A slice of cold war craziness with traitorous British sailors and confused Russian tailors. Magic!
The Norse Code byJohn Dorney
Closing the set is something quite bizarre – a trip to the Norfolk Broads for Steed and Peel in search of a missing agent uncovers a plot by a long hidden cult of Vikings to take back England from the Saxons! Yes, you read it right… cue Steed dressed as a Viking complete with a false beard and Mrs Peel as a Milkmaid (just go with it), as the small Norfolk Village complete with Yokel pub landlord, eccentric English Professor Oswald English, would-be Viking Kings and Valkyries, all vie for scenery chewing time with Steed and Peel. It even has longboats launching to Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries – which Professor English points out is actually German. It’s a hoot from beginning to end.
Authenticity is the watchword with this set, from the chemistry between Steed and Peel, to the “We’re Needed” scenes to the “tag” scenes at the end of the episodes – everything is as it should be. I am not really a comic book fan, I find them flat and lifeless – Big Finish have taken the comic books off the page, made them three dimensional and given them heart, soul and joy – just as they should be. Now excuse me whilst I furl my brolly, crack open a bottle of Bollinger 1934 and award this exceptional box set 10/10. Mrs Peel, we’re needed. And with this sort of quality I hope that Wadham and Poulet are needed for a very long time.
I was really sad when Toshiko was killed off at the end of Torchwood series 2 – she was my favourite character and I thought that she had a lot more to offer than we were shown on screen. Tosh was intelligent and resourceful and a perfect character to be revisited by Big Finish, and boy is she revisited here.
Freed from the confines of the Hub and being overshadowed by Jack, Gwen and Owen – Toshiko has been doing some investigating of her own, she has been investigating something called “The Pulse” – a radio signal that has been baffling scientists for over 40 years, back in the Cold War days the Russians blamed the Americans for it and vice versa but no one has been able to decipher it – until now…
Toshiko goes solo here following up on research in to the Pulse that she has been trying to decipher for years, because Toshiko has finally deciphered it, and it is a message for her spoken in Russian.
The message leads Toshiko to Russia, to an uneasy alliance with Maxim Ivanov (Krystian Godlewski) of the KVI – the Russian equivalent of Torchwood and to the frozen wasteland that houses the mysterious Zone 10. This is a very difficult story to review without giving out major spoilers – however it is fair enough to say that Zone 10 is a restricted area for a reason, it is the wasteland left after a short and cataclysmic war between the KVI and the mysterious “Committee” – the shadowy villains that have been a linking theme through many of the Torchwood releases and that an innocent survivor has been caught up in the aftermath of this war a lady called Anna Volokova (Ella Garland).
As with the rest of the releases in the Torchwood range much has been done to flesh out the main character – Naoko Mori slips back in to the role of Toshiko like she has never been away, bringing a more confident side to the character that was never really allowed to flower in the TV show. Toshiko seems driven by her curiosity and need for knowledge, willing to take great risks and go in to danger to satisfy her need to know – not reckless just driven by the truth and her need to know it. Maxim Ivanov is a no nonsense Russian agent who accompanies Toshiko on her journey to Zone 10, he is a hard edged agent and he know more about Zone 10 and the machinations of the Committee than he first lets on. The most interesting character though is Anna Volokova – she is in many ways the key to the mystery of the Pulse and of Zone 10 and is a fountain of information about the Committee.
This is as completely different from last months release as it is possible to be, last months was a light-hearted romp, this is a serious gripping drama – it has a claustrophobic intense feeling all the way through and as a listener I felt that perhaps Toshiko had stumbled into something way over her head and that it is sometimes better to let sleeping dogs lie, because in her pursuit of knowledge Toshiko may have inadvertently kicked a hornets nest and I have a feeling that the swarm is coming for Torchwood very soon. Tightly directed, grippingly written this is a play that completely sucks the listener in to its world, and it is a dangerous world where humanity are the unwitting playthings of the Committee. Bleak, intense and intriguing, another fab release. 9/10.