“We are more than colleagues, Ellie. We are the very closest of friends. We have defeated dangerous denizens of the demonic darkness together…investigated infernal incidents, cracked complex conundrums.”
“And we have had dinner together, on the odd occasion.”
This time, we cover what is actually the first appearance (talk about wibbly wobbly timey wimey…) in the Big Finish audio line of stuffy if good humored pathologist Professor George Litefoot and the blustery and alliterative downmarket theatrical impresario and entrepeneur Henry Gordon Jago.
That’s right, we’re traveling back in time to the hoary days of 2008, for the Companion Chronicles series 3, number 11: The Mahogany Murderers.
As with most Companion Chronicles entries, this is only partially staffed, light cast audio drama. Designed initially to feature former televised companions whose Doctor was no longer with us (or in this case, unavailable for casting – this offering arrived well before Tom Baker’s stint with Big Finish began), the series has mutated somewhat over the years, from single character audiobook style recitation to multiple character drama. In a few rare instances (as with the amusing Peri and the Piscon Paradox), these have even expanded to the level of including the respective Doctor!
In the present case, we get a barroom conversation between the two somewhat mismatched compatriots, with occasional interruptions to their respective narratives for some character bits and witty banter, and the rare interruption of barmaid Ellie Higson (director Lisa Bowerman, who would go on as series director for the resultant Jago & Litefoot series and is probably best known as futuristic archaeologist and occasional time traveler Bernice Summerfield).
Not only is the Mahogany Murderers something of a primer for the resulting series and the introduction of recurring character (and often unspoken third partner) Ellie, but it in fact provides the background to the entire first season, being the first encounter with the sinister Dr. Tulp and his mahogany men.
While Litefoot recieves an unusual cadaver, Jago goes pub crawling wharfside. During one of his inebriated ambulations, he notes a prominent smell reminiscent of Weng-Chiang’s lair, all metal and that newfangled electricity of the Faraday exhibition. He trails the scent to a back alley warehouse, which he surreptitiously enters.
“They left a door open?”
“Well, alright. It was padlocked, and I picked the lock.”
“You picked the lock?”
“Alright, you’ve caught me out again, I smashed the lock off with a half brick I found on the ground.”
“You smashed a padlock off with a half brick?”
“God’s honest truth, Professor, this time it is the truth!”
As Litefoot performs his examination, he recieves an unusual set of visitors, who are interested in absconding with the “body” and getting rid of the only witness…and what of Jago and the mysterious warehouse laboratory?
“That was it? You were knocked unconscious?”
“Well…it would have had more impact if you hadn’t interrupted me. I was building up to an operatic crescendo!”
How are the spirits of deceased criminals winding up inhabiting the “bodies” of these marionette men? And why?
Between the pubside atmosphere, the late night morgue and Limehouse wharf settings, this production taps into the very best elements of Sax Rohmer (and to a lesser extent, Conan Doyle Holmesiana).
Alongside the nonstop friendly digs at each other between the three characters (who naturally essay the voices of others they encounter in the course of the tale, and handle this with a notable level of distinction – this is hardly the standard audiobook hackwork, but proper multiple part acting), the oft palpable sensation of lonely, wet late night ventures into streets filled with menace mark this as an excellent production all round.
It’s really no surprise that Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter (and small part here aside, Lisa Bowerman as well) were picked up for their subsequent yearly round of adventures – this introductory production, perhaps intended as a one-off, perhaps as a bit of test marketing, bears the mark of quality sufficient to positively demand a sequel.
Speaking directly for myself, Jago & Litefoot are among my very favorite of characters and Who companions. Whether we’re speaking of their sole televised effort nigh on 40 years past or their more recent audio adventures both series and non, the same level of oft befuddled likeability and penchant for stout hearted investigation is in full effect, as is their quite enjoyably alliterative and wry linguistic interplay.
If Big Finish hadn’t already glommed to the brilliant if obvious idea of pairing the duo with the equally philologically oriented Colin Baker Doctor, then the public would have had to demand it – where else, outside Wilde or Shakespeare, should one find such a sheer and obvious delight in the mechanics and tactility of language?
Long may the gentlemen live, and their adventures continue to entertain the listening audience for many years to come. Cheers, lads!