An author whose creation won’t stay dead; an old friend whose visit heralds peril; a dastardly dinner party; and a psychopath returning to his old haunts – all in a day’s work for the infernal investigators…
Series 7 of this spin-off from The Talons of Weng-Chiang is loosely based around the idea that Henry Gordon Jago and Professor George Litefoot are on the run, having been blamed for the attempted assassination of Queen Victoria; it’s a theme that runs through the quartet of stories, but never becomes overwhelming.
The first story, Jonny Morris’ The Monstrous Menagerie, sees our heroes taking residence in a house in Baker Street courtesy of the Doctor, and getting involved with another denizen of that thoroughfare – Mr Sherlock Holmes, or at least his creator, Arthur Conan Doyle. I have to disagree with both Morris and script editor Justin Richards in the CD extras – the Doyle nods are rather overdone even if they are essential to the plot. (Those of us with long memories can also recall the rather embarrassing Missing Adventure Evolution by John Peel which covered some of the same territory.) It’s a fun tale, and there’s a great performance by guest star Steven Miller as a Doyle who really has had enough of everyone wanting more of Holmes but, rather like the TV episode The Unicorn and the Wasp, it occasionally gets a bit too clever and feels as if it’s trying too hard.
James Goss’ The Night of a 1000 Stars is a very different sort of adventure: it’s all set in one room with the three regulars (Jago, Litefoot and Ellie) joined by Leela. Goss has a knack for providing insights into regular characters that seem almost obvious in hindsight but which grow organically from the story, and he uses a very different stylistic technique to tell his tale which lends itself to this sort of character-based story. The “on the run” element comes into play in a more emotional than plot-driven way, allowing Christopher Benjamin the chance to show us another side to Henry Gordon. It’s also good to hear Louise Jameson in the story, particularly since the nature of Goss’ play gives her some unusual challenges.
The third story, Murder at Moorsey Manor, sees The Scarifyers’ creators, Simon Barnard and Paul Morris, having a great deal of fun with the conventions of the country house murder mystery tale. The Holmes element in this is an enjoyable diversion (although it does feel a bit of overkill to have two stories based around the Great Detective in the same box set), and, as you might expect from Barnard and Morris, there’s rather a gruesome and macabre feel to it – this is definitely not one for the squeamish. (There’s a line about pencils which I’m not going to forget in a hurry.) There’s an occasional feeling of déjà vu with a recent Doctor Who Lost Story, but this is a great debut for the line from the pair – more please, as well as from fellow J&L debutant James Goss!
The final story builds on a revelation at the end of the third, as we meet another “real-life” Victorian character – albeit one who isn’t as mysterious as you might think from the CD extras discussion (he’s a prominent character in Ripper Street!). Justin Richards’ The Wax Princess almost feels as if the series has come full circle to Andy Lane’s original Companion Chronicle pilot for Jago & Litefoot (to the extent that I was expecting characters from that to be involved), and while Murder at Moorsey Manor pays tribute to an old Amicus movie, we’re in Hammer horror territory here. Richards also provides Trevor Baxter and Lisa Bowerman with the single funniest scene in the whole of the Jago & Litefoot canon.
The set concludes with two very different developments, the first of which is very intriguing, given what we know happened in the Doctor Who universe in 1879, and the other of which had me grinning widely – you’ll know which is which when you hear them.
In terms of the production, this is perhaps the most assured of all the Jago & Litefoots to date, with Howard Carter producing an incredibly varied soundscape to accompany the across-the-board excellent performances garnered by director Bowerman.
Verdict: A solid set of tales which widens our knowledge of our heroes. 8/10
Check out our reviews of Series 3,