Jago and Litefoot Series 1-4 review

Be warned, SPOILERS FOLLOW!

Having listened to the initial auditory escapade of those peerless premier investigators of infernal incidents, courtesy of the marvellous The Mahogany Murderers, I moved swiftly on to enjoying the entirety of the first series in a single day, my enjoyment tempered only by the knowledge that I had another seven series to catch up on! In the end I listened to the first four series in quick succession, taking me up to Jago & Litefoot’s two trips in the TARDIS with Sixie.

Since we last met them in The Mahogany Murderers, Henry Gordon Jago has lost control of The Palace Theatre and is being chased by his debtors. He and Litefoot continue to meet up at The Red Tavern, where we are introduced to barmaid Ellie Higson, the comedy cockney barmaid. If Jago & Litefoot are a riff on Holmes & Watson, then Ellie is the Mrs Hudson figure. Although Litefoot has a housekeeper called Mrs Hudson, she’s a silent “Mrs Wolowitz” who we never see or hear.

jago litefoot series 1

jago litefoot bloodless soldier 1.1jago litefoot bellova devil 1.2Series 1 starts with a bog standard werewolf story, The Bloodless Soldier, enlivened by the presence of Dr Tulp, and Ellie’s brother gets bitten and shot dead in quick order. The next, The Bellova Devil, has Jago on the run from his creditors’ debt collector, The Manchester Mangler, and Litefoot ending up in a Suicide Club whose members fake their own deaths. It’s not really fair to say it’s the weakest of the four, let’s just say it’s the least strong but still has some wonderful performances and comedy East European accents, and a star turn from Stephen Thorne.

jago litefoot spirit trap 1.3

jago litefoot similarity engine 1.4Come the third story, The Spirit Trap, Ellie is trying to get in touch with the other side and her dead brother only to get possessed by some Gelth-type spook or other. Finally we get The Similarity Engine, a direct sequel to the pilot and J&L’s equivalent of Return of The Cybernauts. Yes, Dr Tulp is back and the play’s only fault, in my ears at any rate, is that they kill him off at the end! Trap and Engine are probably a better two plays, overall, than the first two, making S1 the best series of these first four in my opinion.

jago litefoot series 2

2.12.2Series Two has David Collings, the best Doctor we never had, as Sanders the vampire, the replacement criminal mastermind for the dead Dr Tulp. In the first story, Litefoot And Sanders, George tries to keep Henry in the dark and plays a dangerous game by hunting the vampire on his own, which results in – Spoilers! – Ellie getting done in by the vampire Sanders! Blimey. Come the second story, The Necropolis Express, J&L follow a mysterious train carrying Ellie’s corpse to a rendezvous with a mad scientist.

2.32.4The third story is the first one I didn’t really enjoy. The Theatre of Dreams has an intriguing Amicus Horror Movie idea at its heart – a theatre that traps you and makes your dreams real – but not really enough incident to hold your attention. Things don’t get much better with the final play, The Ruthven Inheritance, seeing the return of Sanders the vampire in a muddled story about selective breeding for a pretty weak reason dramatically. Like Dr Tulp before him, Sanders snuffs it, and that’s after he has transformed himself into an Abaddon-type demonic figure. So that’s another Evil Genius dispatched and the search of a recurring villain and enemy of the Empire goes on. But the worst thing is that, with Sanders dead, they then cop out completely on Ellie being a vampire by having it wear off when Sanders dies. Why have her become a vampire only to hit The Reset Button just three plays later? S2 is a bit of a letdown overall and it’s a pity the plays aren’t available individually as it’s a series of two halves, with the Ellie plotline fizzling out to a disappointing conclusion. Bleh.

jago litefoot series 3

3.13.2The cliffhanger ending to S2 has the shock arrival of Leela to liven things up, sent on a mission by President Romana from Gallifrey, armed with a “time compass” so she can team up with J&L as a BF version of Sapphire & Steel in various engaging escapades. There’s an arc to S3 to do with time breaks and stuff, starting with Dead Men’s Tales which has Leela going undercover as a barmaid in a spit-and-sawdust dockside pub where the ghosts of drowned sailors – The Wet Men – are haunting the place. Next is The Man At The Bottom Of The Garden by Matthew Sweet, which was a real let-down, an obscure and convoluted fairy story that’s a riff on Rumpelstiltskin. Quite how it all works is never really explained, or maybe it was all so clever I missed it. Either way this feels like a play that uses “the unexplained” as an excuse for not explaining things. Meh.

3.3 3.4Swan Song is a dull tale of the similarity between a girl in a wheelchair, from the far future, who never danced Swan Lake following a car accident and the spirit of Jago’s old theatre, which has absorbed the memories of everyone who ever went there, Stone-Tape style, and gets bombed in 1940. Or will get bombed in 1940. Yawn. Finally we have Chronoclasm, where the criminal mastermind of this series is intent on destroying Time Itself to save his dying wife who’s trapped on the edge of a black hole. Or something like that. On the plus side it does have two versions of Jago so its not all bad. And then, just when you think it couldn’t get any less interesting, bloody Colin Baker turns up right at the end of the last play, calling himself Professor Claudius Dark…

jago litefoot series 4

4.14.2S4 continues the downward trend of each series being less satisfying than the one before. The box set lists Colin Baker alongside the others but he’s only got a cameo in the first three before revealing himself as The Doctor in time for the last one. That to me is misleading and meant I was left disappointed when I listened to the plays themselves. I don’t appreciate this series being promoted as if the trio of S3 is now a quartet in S4 when it isn’t. It’s a swizz, Guv’nor and I ain’t `appy abaht it… When it comes to the stories themselves Jago In Love has the trio bugger off to Brighton where HGJ meets a music hall artiste who isn’t all she seems, surprise surprise. There’s a load of old bollocks to do with getting trapped in mirrors and we get the very subtle suggestion that George Litefoot is a homosexual. There’s also a very Neverwhere-ish double act who are the baddies this time round, a posh version of Mr Croup and Mr Valdemar. Next is Beautiful Things, the best play for a long time, featuring Oscar Wilde and a trap set in a library in a conceptual space, which isn’t a real place, the highlight of which has to be Wilde’s amusingly alliterative trumping of Jago’s individual idiosyncracies of verbal virtuosity, all very V For Vendetta.

4.34.4Third up is The Lonely Clock, which sees J&L trapped on a train on the Underground, reminding you either of S&S again or maybe that Colin Baker Stranger video with Nick Briggs in a bowler hat… Finally we get The Hourglass Killers, marginally the best of the four I think, which sees Sixie facing off against The Sandmen or The Temperon or whoever the deadly double act are that have been stalking our heroes since Brighton. There’s a wonderful scene where a toff is discovered trapped inside a giant hourglass, which couldn’t help but remind me of Clara stuck in Mrs Gillyflower’s Bell Jar in The Crimson ‘Orror

And then it’s cheerio Leela and Sixie offering Henry and George a quick trip in the TARDIS and I’m left pondering series 1-4 of Jago & Litefoot and wondering why it is that I’m not looking forward to series 5-8 nearly as much. If my AI score for these plays was a graph, like the ones we have here on Whopix for the parent show’s viewing figures, then you’d see the line heading ever southwards.

So what’s wrong with Jago & Litefoot that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I hoped I would? Based on the brilliance of The Mahogany Murderers, I really thought these plays would be a lot more fun to listen to than they ultimately were. Well, lets start by saying that the two leads are absolutely brilliant and are always fun to listen to, but the same cannot be said of the stories and situations their alter egos have been put into. Stonking stars in stinking stories may be alliteratively pleasing but the truth is that as a description of these first four series, it would be far too harsh. Maybe I was hoping for something a bit more Steampunk, with a bit more of a Sherlock Holmes versus The Martians vibe to it. I think part of the problem goes right back to the beginning, when they killed off Dr Tulp at the end of S1. If we’re riffing on Holmes & Watson here then killing off the J&L version of Moriarty right up front seems like a bad idea. I was hoping for a version of Adam Adamant‘s The Face, a villain who might not be responsible for this week’s threat but is behind it somewhere, pulling the strings. Jago & Litefoot isn’t a Victorian Sapphire And Steel and there are too many plays in this initial batch that rely on weak ideas that can’t sustain the drama built on their foundations and can’t be saved by the wonderful performances of Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter.

 

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The Mahogany Murderers – review

jago and litefoot mahogany murders

I’ve always had a soft spot for Jago and Litefoot, and of all the various Doctor Who ranges that Big Finish have created, this was always the one I liked the look of the most. So when a fellow fan offered me the opportunity to  “audition” his BF collection, after much encouragement on his part and not a lot of enthusiasm on mine, when I could take my pick of almost everything they have put out to listen to, these two were my “Desert Island Discs” of choice, and a very good choice it was.

robert holmes doctor who

It’s a damn shame that Bob Holmes never lived long enough to take part in the DVD range. If only we could have heard the man himself talking about how he created all those classic stories and all those brilliant characters that inhabited them. Of all the double acts that Bob Holmes created for his Who stories – Kalik & Orum and Vorg & Shirna in Carnival of Monsters, Irongron & Bloodaxe in The Time Warrior, Hade & Marn in The Sunmakers, Humbug & Handbag in The Mysterious Planet, Oscar & Anita in The Two Doctors, Spandrell & Engin in The Deadly Assassin, Garron & Unstoffe in The Ribos Operation,  Morgus & Timmin and Stotz & Krelper The Caves of Androzani  – Jago & Litefoot in The Talons of Weng Chiang are the best he ever created and the fact that they have been so highly regarded all these years [we were talking about a Spin Off Series for these two for years before Madame Vastra came along - see Mark Wight's article in DWM301] is testament to Holmes’ skill as a writer and ensures that, through them, his genius lives on.

From the very start of the audio, you are immediately back in Talons territory, transporting you right back to an evocation of Victoriana that immediately puts you in a happy frame of mind before you’ve heard a single word – or even “happy as a buttered halibut” to quote good old Jago. The first thing that strikes you is how Trevor Baxter’s Litefoot sounds exactly the same whereas, initially at least, Jago’s voice has dropped about two whole octaves since we last heard him, taking a while for your ears to adjust and realise who you’re listening to, so it’s just as well that, as the show goes on, Christopher Benjamin quickly hits his stride and starts to sound much more like his old self as the audio goes on.

The format of this audio , with both Litefoot and Jago narrating dr terror's house of horrorstheir two sides of the story,  works really well. Given that this is the first one I’ve listened to, it seems a shame that BF have ditched the Companion Chronicles for the inferior, at least going by the disappointment of The Bounty of Ceres, Early Adventures format. The two of them interrupting each other reminded me of those old Amicus portmanteau films like Dr Terror’s House of Horrors but it did strike me as a bit strange to bung in a faux cliffhanger ending halfway through and I’d much rather they simply carried straight on. After all, this isn’t an episode of Doctor Who so why put in the  scream?

That aside the plot – an evil genius by the name of Dr Tulp who has a gizmo capable of transferring the soul of condemned criminals due to hang into a wooden mannequin – is imaginative and enagaging enough but the interaction between the two leads, and their alternation in telling their two sides of the story that keeps you listening. The fact that Dr Tulp escapes is neither here nor there, given that this is a “pilot” episode, which I reckon was always intended to lead in to the  series of full series that came later.

On the strength of this intial outing, I immediately wanted to hear more from the titanic, titular twosome, even if it meant I had another thirty plus audios to catch up on. I cannot recommend the Jago and Litefoot series highly enough and if, like me, you’ve never really felt that Big Finish was your sort of thing, then this is where you should start.

The Mahogany Murderers is available on CD and Download from bigfinish.com  - buy it!

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Series Eight – complete ratings

With the release of the BARB viewing figures for last week’s series finale, the final ratings for the whole of series eight look like this:

doctor who series eight ratings

SERIES EIGHT AVERAGE AUDIENCE = 7.2M

… which is consitent with the averages for each of Capaldi’s three predecessors. So although, by the BARB measure, it looks like the audience for the show is down it isn’t really.

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The Bounty of Ceres – review

bounty of ceres big finish

Whopix has come late to the Big Finish party, and to be honest, never really felt that he was missing all that much. I’d heard Jon Pertwee in Paradise of Death and Ghosts of N-Space and wondered why the Beeb didn’t do more. Like everyone else I bought The Sirens of Time when it came out, thought Colin Baker was great on audio without the clown costume, something confirmed by Real Time, listened to Paul McGann in Shada and Storm Warning and liked what he heard and then… well, that was it really. Yes I listened as avidly as anyone else to the free CDs that came with various issues of DWM but Dr Who on audio was never something that really interested me, not quite sure why. And then Tom Baker did Hornet’s Nest

So when a fellow fan gave me the opportunity to have a listen to The Bounty of Ceres, BF’s latest Hartnell Era story, Whopix approached listening to it with a huge amount of trepidation, fearing it would be dreadful. Luckily it wasn’t, though it is seriously flawed in a number of ways that I’ll get to. First of all though, let’s address the major concern I have with BF audios of the various dead Doctors – for the life of me I cannot understand why they don’t use sound-alikes. I’d much rather listen to John Guilor doing an accurate impersonation of Hartnell than, as here, Peter Purves giving us a generic “old man” voice more suited to an audiobook where vocal accuracy isn’t so expected. If you’re going to go to all the trouble of trying to recreate the Hartnell Era then, to my mind at any rate, that’s only worth doing if you can do it as well as it possibly can be done. And that means finding someone who sounds like Hartnell. Yes we all know it’s not Bill, but that aspect of the show really jarred for me. Maybe Maureen O’Brien thinks Purves sounds like Bill, but I don’t, I’d heard Purves do his version of Bill on the Dalek Masterplan audiobook and I didn’t particularly care for it then, even less so here. Not having a sound-alike play the Doctor seems, to me at any rate, to be a fatally flawed idea and I don’t think I’ll be listening to any more given the way this one was played.

On the plus side, if a First Doctor who sounds nothing like the First Doctor doesn’t bother you, then there’s lots to like about this show. Like the music for instance, the suite of which is hugely enjoyable, and it’s exactly the sort of thing you might have expected to hear back in 1965. It reminded me at some points of An Unearthly Child in a lot of ways, all oboe and tinkly percussion, then at others it got a bit Geoffrey Burgon before going full on for the BBC Record Library stock music approach.  It’s probably the best part of the entire release, and if the idea of these Early Adventures is to crash together a pseudo-off-air recording with bits of audiobook then the music is the most successful part of the experiment, everything else much less so. The way the story started off, I thought we were heading into Planet of Evil territory but then, in the last episode, it switched gears and ended up reminding far too much of The Rescue instead.

The small cast, the Purves-As-Hartnell error aside, are good support for the companions and Maureen O’Brien does a good job of pitching her voice up to mimic Vicki’s vocal tones from all those years ago. But I just couldn’t escape the picture painted so vividly in my mind by the singular Scots actor in the show, who’s very Scots btw, that Alex Salmond had been cast in these episodes!

The aforementioned music suite is great but the interview with Purves, O’Brien, David Richardson and Lisa Bowerman is nothing special. All in all, I don’t regret listening to this, my first foray into the pre-Tom world of Big Finish but until they cast John Guilor in the role, I think it’ll be my last.

The Bounty of Ceres is available on CD or download from bigfinish.com

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Christmas 2014!

Okay, so the clip from this year’s Christmas Special which previewed tonight on Children In Need in the UK…

One, Blue Cogs!
doctor who 2014 children in need 1
Maybe this is just for Xmas, but I think blue cogs work better than the sepia ones, although the sepia lends them a Steampunk-y feel which was probably more appropriate for Deep Breath than any of the other eps. Anyway…

Two, Clara!

doctor who 2014 children in need 2

So, looks like Death In Heaven wasn’t the end of the road for Twelvy and Clara after all… not sure if I’m happy about that or not to be honest but at least Dan Starkey’s face finally gets seen on screen! Yay!

Three, Doctor Hoodie!

Doctor Hoodie Christmas 2014

And if you look over Clara’s shoulder during the clip, it looks like there’s a blooper with the Tardis coming and going but it’s not. What you can see is the edge of the doorway just off to the right when the Tardis arrives!

The Doctor And Santa [if that's what it's called] airs six weeks yesterday!

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Dr Who at Glasgow Uni

Doctor Who Glasgow University

The eagle-eared amongst you will have picked up on Clara fanwanking on the Doctor’s medical degree from Glasgow Uni during Death In Heaven, something that hasn’t gone unnoticed at GU, as you can see HERE

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Doctor Hoodie!

Seems Friday’s annual Children In Need guiltfest [bah, humbug!] will include the usual Xmas Who clip, and this year’s episode sees the return of Doctor Hoodie [or Doctor Whoodie!], last seen in Time Heist, facing off against Nick Frost’s Santa Claus.Yes, you read that right. Doctor Hoodie v Santa Claus.

Doctor Hoodie

 

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