Blurb: Professor George Litefoot: the eminent pathologist who advises the police in some of their grisliest cases. Henry Gordon Jago: the master of ceremonies at the Alhambra Theatre. These are two very different men from contrasting strata in society who became firm friends and collaborators after their adventure with the Doctor and Leela battling the evil Weng-Chiang.
Some years later, Jago and Litefoot have defeated dangerous denizens of the daemonic darkness together. They have stood side by side against threats to the British Empire. But when a body is found on the banks of the River Thames and Litefoot's post mortum reveals that it is actually a highly detailed wooden mannequin, their most dangerous adventure begins.
Dr Tulp has masterminded a deadly scheme, Jack Yeovil and his murderous gang plan to live forever, and only Jago and Litefoot can stop them...
Format: Limited-cast audio drama, a Companion Chronicle from the points-of-view of Henry Gordon Jago and Professor George Litefoot. Published by Big Finish Productions and released May of 2009.
Setting: Earth: London, England sometime in the late Victorian period (Lance Parkin's AHistory states that it's the summer of 1892).
Continuity: Jago refers to the Weng-Chiang incident (see The Talons of Weng-Chiang)
Canonicity Quotient: There are no issues with fitting this into the established canon. 1.00
Discussion: Words can't express how exciting it is to have Jago and Litefoot back after over 40 years. They only appeared once in Doctor Who, but they left an indelible mark on the series. The BBC even considered giving them a spinoff television series. That's where this Big Finish audio takes over. Andy Lane took a script idea that he'd had for a television series and adapted it as if it were for a Jago and Litefoot series if such a thing had existed. While it is stretching the idea of a companion a bit, both Jago and Litefoot acted as the Doctor's companions during The Talons of Weng-Chiang, so it still works.
One of the things that really jumps out at you with this one is the atmosphere. That gothic, Victorian atmosphere from Talons of Weng-Chiang is back. This is a London full of dimly-lit streets and ever-present fog. Science is the answer to all problems and technology is expressed in brass, wood, and electrodes. These days you'd almost call it steam punk, but it remains just a hair's breadth over on the end of verisimilitude to keep it going into the more outlandish areas of that particular genre. The Mahogany Murderers gives us the delightful concept of criminals who escape prison by having their minds transferred into intricately carved wooden puppets. I like that the process isn't described in to great detail, although it is clearly a technical process as the mannequins depend on some electrical apparatus for their unnatural lives. Jack Yeovil seems like the kind of villain that's fitting for the setting; a petty, murderous man with his sights on acquiring power at the loss of everything else. The ending, where Jack and his men are destroyed by fire is suitably dark and gruesome but the elusive Doctor Tulp gets away, paving the way for another series of stories.
I also like the formatting. Having two people who were involved in the story allows the narration to have a less monotonous flow than in many other Companion Chronicles. It also gives allows for some characterization as Jago cares only about making his story more interesting while Litefoot wants everything in its correct, linear order. It also allows the listener to get a vantage on the story that he wouldn't have if he was only following one of these narratives. Several times in the story Litefoot or Jago find something that impacts the next stage of the other's tale or one of their actions influences something that happens to the other. It makes the story a little more fun to listen to.
Of course, it's already a privilege to have Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter back. The script allows Jago and Litefoot to live again and they feel like the same characters from The Talons of Weng-Chiang. Litefoot's reaction to the squalor of London's slums is a nice reality check for someone who grew up in riches and Jago's matter-of-factness about it shows that while these two men are friends, they come from entirely different worlds. Litefoot's fascination with the intricacy with which the mannequins are fashioned is a nice way of getting into this pathologist's mindset and Jago's belief that electricity would never "catch on" is a fun way of showing the insular character of the man. Of the two, Baxter evokes his old character far better. He sounds just slightly older but his mannerisms and speech patterns are exactly that of the Professor Litefoot from Talons of Weng-Chiang. Unfortunately, age has not been as kind to Christopher Benjamin. He still has a rich, deep voice but sounds nothing like the Henry Gordon Jago of the Talons of Weng-Chiang. There's very little of the bluster and his entire tone of voice is completely gone. I hope that it returns in the subsequent Jago and Litefoot audio series but at least from what I can hear he's lost it. Lisa Bowerman also puts in a short performance as Ellie the barmaid. Bowerman's problem is that it's hard not to notice that it's her whenever she turns up in an audio, but she does well enough by the small role of Ellie. The soundscape is also good, complimenting that atmosphere. We have the crackle of electricity, tavern sounds, horses hooves on cobblestones, running, and coins jangling. The music is also excellent helping to evoke that dark, Victorian London that I mentioned above.
Final Rating: 8/10
Recommendation: It's really exciting to hear the return of Jago and Litefoot after all these years. This story gives a great example of what a series with these two characters would have been like and it's definitely intriguing enough to deserve further installments. It's dark and atmospheric and full of mystery and it's nice that it conveys the sense that this is the middle of a series of adventures that these two men have been having ever since the Doctor left. Baxter leaves no complaints but Christopher Benjamin could work a bit on regaining the character of Henry Gordon Jago. Thankfully the format makes this really engaging and I strongly recommend it to everyone.