“You’re consulting detectives, then, of a kind…like the great man himself?”
“In our own way, yes. A real life Holmes and Watson. But, eh…don’t ask which is which. It’s rather a sore point.”
After some adventures in time, space and proper science fiction alongside two iterations of the Doctor (in Voyage to Venus, Voyage to the New World and Justice of Jalxar), assisting Leela in hunting down temporal and extraterrestrial anomalies in Series Three and Four and a related side trip to the Swinging Sixties in Series Five, our erstwhile heroes find themselves back home. But all is not well – because in short order, they are recruited as erstwhile government agents, only to wind up framed for attempted regicide (see what you missed in Series Six?)
Now on the run, with a spot of cloak and dagger-style assistance from “Professor Dark” and the ever loyal barmaid (and unofficial third partner) Ellie Higson, the boys hunker down in an abandoned flat under assumed names while working to clear themselves of the charges. But they cross paths with a few famed personages along the way, altering the course of history as we know it in the process…
7.1 The Monstrous Menagerie
“I just thought none of us are long for this world, are we? So better that we make the time that we’re given matter, so that what we leave behind is the very best we could have achieved.”
Why are Jago and Litefoot posing as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, and what is the secret of the beast of Bethnal Green?
“I’m not writing any more Sherlock Holmes. The clue was in the title – the final problem. Not the penultimate problem, not the latest in a continuing series of problems. He’s dead. I slayed him, and I’m not bringing him back. Not for you, not for little Bobby who wants to be Sherlock Holmes when he grows up and not for the Strand magazine, even if they pay me a hundred pounds a story.”
Pulling in no less than famed author and occultist Arthur Conan Doyle, scripter Jonathan Morris (of last season’s standout the Skeleton Quay, 1963: the Space Race and Companion Chronicles‘ Ghost in the Machine) manages to tap into such disparate elements as the Lost World, Sherlock Holmes, time travellers from the far flung future and an Equinox-style temporal barrier that can be passed through at will. Their adventures provide the “real life” inspiration for Conan Doyle’s belated return to writing Holmes (after a self imposed hiatus to scribe more “important and lasting” historical novels) with the Hound of the Baskervilles…and even the aforementioned Lost World.
“These other books…any good, are they?”
“I’ve no idea. Never managed to get beyond the first chapter of any of them.”
Equal parts Land of the Lost and a more direct take on the sort of Holmesianic Victorian England Robert Holmes originally created the duo to inhabit (hmm…interesting coincidence, that, given the famed Who scribe’s namesake!), this is an entertaining and surprisingly cohesive genre-bender of an episode that easily bests 3/4 of the prior season’s installments, setting the stage right out of the gate for what turns out to be a superior return to form this time around.
“Now, let me see…by the manner of your dress, I’d say you live in Chelsea with a maiden aunt of Irish extraction and have recently lost a precious jewel.”
“…er…not quite, sir…I’ve only just returned from a scientific expedition, and have only been in London for a couple of weeks.”
“ah, just as I deduced. Judging by the state of your fingertips, recently returned from Borneo or the African interior.”
“…and I don’t have a maiden aunt of any extraction, or a priceless jewel.”
“Yes, my dear, it’s all precisely as I have divined.”
With a comedic role reversal, placing the quite Nigel Brucelike Jago in the role of Holmes while the far more considered Prof. Litefoot fumes in the background as Dr. Watson, the Monstrous Menagerie sets up vital plot points and comedic bits that continue to play out throughout the season, and particularly in the Moorsey Manor adventure. In summation, a particularly strong start to one of the better Jago & Litefoot series.
7.2 The Night of 1000 Stars
“You all have things that keep you awake at night…”
Louise Jameson’s Leela returns for an episode for a strangely internalized and introspective tale where Jago, Litefoot, Ellie and even Leela herself are made to face up to their innermost selves and the incidents and regrets that haunt and shape who they are today. But is everything exactly as it seems?
“Have I not shown you all that your lives are worthless? You are consumed by loneliness and failure.”
With Henry fallen into drunken reverie and a sense of his best days having been behind him, both George and Ellie…and surprisingly, Leela…fight to keep a horrible creature at bay. But there is a long night ahead of them, and everyone in turn will be forced to face up to their darkest secrets and the long buried past before dawn breaks…
“It’s never too healthy to dwell on what’s past – not when you can look to the future. Tomorrow is, after all, another day.”
“Another miserable day, in hiding.”
“Another day cleaning up after drunks.”
“…But doesn’t that just prove that life still goes on?”
“I feel like that old Greek fella, always pushing a rock up a hill.”
“And all the demons of hell kickin’ ‘im in the shins.”
With an obvious ‘moral’ of sorts and an odd mix of mournful metacognition and theatrical high camp, author James Goss crafts an unusual tale that for all its merits fails to live up to the clever metatextual structuring of Morris’ Monstrous Menagerie or Barnard and Morris’ entertaining take on the tropes of the locked door mystery that follow.
Damned more by the company it keeps than by dint of its own particular pleasures, Night of 1000 Stars comes off as the least of this season’s offerings – clever enough, but not half so clever as what surrounds it.
7.3 Murder at Moorsey Manor
“Stoke up the flickering funeral pyre
and gird your heavy hearts to mourn
for one among you will expire
each hour till the crack of dawn.”
What do you get when you cross Agatha Christie, Neil Simon and Brian Clemens?
Quite simply, a drawing room mystery with its tongue planted firmly in cheek, with red herrings galore and neither heroes or villains being who they seem to be.
“The poor Major – what a way to go!”
“Oh, it’s not so bad, I’m sure he wouldn’t have felt a thing, would he, Dr. Peacock?”
“He would’ve gone up like a Roman candle – whoosh! Just like that, dead as a doornail.”
“I would hardly say death was instantaneous…we all heard his final ghastly screams, did we not? No, I’d say the major suffered the most horrific fate!”
(wailing cries from the female servant Beatrice)
“Now look what you’ve done…there, there…”
(ignoring all this) “Yes, yes, look…that is definitely a look of agony on his face, wouldn’t you say?”
(her cries get louder and more intense)
“No, no, no…he just looks surprised, just sort of…crikey, isn’t it warm in here?”
“Warm!?! I’ll say…the chap’s turned to charcoal! He’d make an excellent set of drawing pencils!”
Despite being structured around a meeting of Holmes aficionados, Murder at Moorsey Manor owes far more to Christie’s Poirot than anything Conan Doyle ever put to pen. With strong overtones of Simon’s amusing 70’s old dark house pastiche Murder by Death and Clemens’ Emma Peel-era Avengers standout the House that Jack Built, there’s even a touch of the giallo to be found in the twisted psychosexual underpinning of the killer’s motivations…
With name checks to Ann Radcliffe (the Mysteries of Udolpho), Horace Walpole, William Hope Hodgson and somewhat anachronistically, Manly Wade Wellman, authors Simon Barnard and Paul Morris (presumably no relation to Jonathan) wear their gothic influences on their respective sleeves…and a love of the board game Cluedo (nee Clue) to boot.
“Things are even worse than I feared…this bally house is alive!
Maybe it’s haunted…a house full of evil spirits, rearranging its internal workings to disorientate and discombobulate its denizens…
Or maybe the house itself is possessed! Imagine its very fabric infused with fiendish forces!”
“Balderdash! Honestly, how can you claim to be an appreciator of the great man, an arch rationalist if ever there was one, with a mind as wooly as yours?”
“…or beings from another world! Yes…you may scoff, sir…”
“Damn right, I may!”
“…maybe this house is, in reality, the vessel of an advanced race of star-spanning spacemen!”
While nearly all Jago & Litefoot appearances boast their fair share of comic interplay and Falstaffian vaingloriousness, boasting and Brobdignagian blowhardiness, this particular installment pushes those elements directly to the fore, and combined with some hoary but much beloved literary and cinematic tropes of the mystery (and more specifically, the “old dark house” drawing room locked door iteration thereof, dating back at least to the turn of the century) leaves Murder at Moorsey Manor the standout installment of Series Seven, if not among the most entertaining of the series to date.
7.4 The Wax Princess
“I cannot stress enough that this information must go no further. I have taken enormous risk confiding in you, and I”m not exaggerating when I say that what I have told you must remain in the strictest confidence. This is perhaps the most closely guarded secret in the Empire. The number of people who know the truth is severely limited and I’d hazard that in this part of London the information is confined to myself, you Professor Litefoot, and you Mr. Jago. It is a secret that must go no further.”
“What, about you actually catching Jack the Ripper, y’mean?
…what? Why you lookin’ at me like that?”
“How long have you been standing behind me?”
“All the time. She brought me another pint.”
“…It’s alright, Mr. Abbeline. I heard everything. So you won’t need to repeat it all for my benefit.”
“I don’t think that was his worry, actually…”
“Oh? What, then?”
The contemporaneous historical figure of former watchmaker and Chief Inspector Frederick Abberline brings Jago and Litefoot into his investigation of the Whitechapel murders as the three of them take on none other than Jack the Ripper. And what is the horrible secret of the waxwork dummies being stored in Jago’s own warehouse?
“I can assure you that your expertise lies in quite another area, Mr. Jago.”
“What d’you need me for, then, eh? My unparalleled powers of deduction? My near uncanny ability to spot what others miss? Or is it the way I can piece together the slightest clues to arrive unerringly at a conclusion that has eluded the greatest minds?”
“Actually, it’s because you talk so much.”
With Litefoot inspecting the corpus delicti, Ellie making herself a de facto partner in the Professor’s investigations and worse, members of Jago’s own theatrical troupe turning up as victims, what’s left for poor Henry to do?
“You have the gift of making people talk.”
“Of course you do, Henry. You put people at their ease. They feel comfortable with you – take you into their confidence.”
With Litefoot impersonating Jago in the course of his investigations and quoting Gilbert & Sullivan in the process, this is far from as serious an investigation as one might expect from so grim a circumstance. Under the pen of author Justin Richards (of Whispers of Terror and Series Five’s The Final Act, there are more than a few snickers to be found along the way.
“I’m sorry to have to ask you this, Ellie…you haven’t mentioned the nature of our association with Mr. Abbeline?”
“…Perish the thought!”
(local drunk) “Haven’t seen you for awhile, Professor…you caught Jack the Ripper yet?”
In the end, it all ties in to Series 6, the boys are exonerated and Sargeant…make that Inspector Quick comes to the rescue of a kidnapped Ellie, taking on the Ripper himself in the process.
While not as openly tongue in cheek as Murder at Moorsey Manor, the Wax Princess continues in a very similar vein, with the sort of sheer delight in the absurdity of the characters involved (and the unlikelihood of their very association) that Robert Holmes (and more particularly, the ever delightful Trevor Baxter and Christopher Benjamin)* created them to bear way back in 1977.
*Honorable mention should also be made of Conrad Asquith, whose salt of the earth Sgt. Percival Quick has similarly been part and parcel of the adventures of Jago & Litefoot since that selfsame televised Who serial.
Both true to the roots of the series and continuing to expand their world and lore, this story, like the season that bears it, is a pure audio delight.
If you found yourself a bit lost over the last season or two, this is far more of a return to the sensibilities and setting of the first few seasons, and should prove quite palatable a feast of atmosphere and amusement to both veteran and newcomer alike.