With three dozen or so stories under their belts – including The Talons of Weng-Chiang and the tales in other ranges – you’d think there’d be a danger that Jago and Litefoot might be getting a bit stale by now. After all, how many menaces can a theatre manager and a pathologist credibly come up against? It’s to the credit of producer David Richardson, script editor Justin Richards and director Lisa Bowerman that ideas continue to flow and to Trevor Baxter and Christopher Benjamin (ably assisted by Bowerman and Conrad Asquith’s now promoted Inspector Quick) that the characters always come across as fresh.
It’s helped when they’re thrown into such an unusual story as Encore of the Scorchies, a se-/pre-quel to James Goss’ hysterical Companion Chronicle featuring the homicidal puppets. Jo isn’t making a thing this time – it’s the Scorchies who have been making things, and you won’t like what they’ve been making them out of! It’s a full-blown musical extravaganza, with Howard Carter’s songs simply magnificent – aided by West End musical cast and some hitherto hidden talents from Christopher Benjamin (with a low D) and Lisa Bowerman (a top F#!). The CD extras go into some detail on the making of this terrific tale, including some unvarnished recordings, and I’m delighted to see that the vocal score is available for those who buy via the Big Finish website!
Any story following that is going to feel a bit flat, and Andy Lane’s return to the series which he helped to create with The Mahogany Murderers does a little. The Backwards Men is a solid by the numbers Jago and Litefoot tale, built out of the two men’s professions, but after Litefoot has taken alien invaders down a peg or two in the previous story, it takes a moment to accept him communing in quite the way he does. (And whatever happened to Inspector Quick’s dinner with his wife?) Lane’s Young Sherlock Holmes books recreate the period in vivid detail, and he brings that eye to this tale, which finishes on a suitably sombre note.
The final two stories – Jago & Litefoot & Patsy and Higson & Quick – act as two parts of the same tale, with Simon Barnard and Paul Morris’ tale evoking the world of Bill Sikes and his ilk. The flashback sequences as Patsy tells her story are quite frightening, and there are some very spooky moments scattered throughout.
Threads from this are picked up in Justin Richards’ finale, which takes a trope we’ve had quite a bit of over the years and turns it on its head. I was glad to see that the ramifications of that were discussed at the end of the story, although I did half expect the title music to crash in after the final effects contribution. Higson & Quick turns the spotlight on the supporting cast (appropriately enough, given Lisa/Ellie’s song in the first story), who are given some great dialogue and situations.
As ever, Lisa Bowerman has assembled a strong cast who maintain the air of melodrama that constantly hangs over the series without letting it go over the top. Congratulations also to Howard Carter for some very varied soundscapes.
Verdict: Another scintillating success for the talented team. 9/10