It’s time once again to delve into the days of London by gaslight, as we pay another visit to the loveable Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter, better known as the irrepressible Henry Gordon Jago and the ever intrepid Professor George Litefoot.
“At least onboard a boat, miles out to sea, nothing can go wrong.”
Everyone’s favorite reluctant Victorian investigators board the exclusive steamship Fata Morgana, for “a chance to enjoy some decent company for a change” and get away from their “investigations of the infernal” for a time. But life seldom works according to the plans we impose upon it…
“Maybe we should jump ship while we still have the chance…she has designs, Professor. Designs. You can see it in her eyes, she was mentally measuring me up as matrimonial material.”
“Really? I was rather of the impression it was me she was interested in.”
First up, Jonathan Morris sets the fellows to investigation of the mystery of The Flying Frenchmen. With the man hungry widow Lady Isobelle Danvers (Sarah Badel) in hot pursuit, our heroes find themselves cast adrift amidst an impenetrable fog…which contains a derelict duplicate of their very own steamer.
All indications point towards a twist in the timestream…and could it possibly get worse than a French Jago & Litefoot? How about a German variant? Or an Italian?
“The word quarantine comes from the French…among several other things you’ve given us!”
Despite the usual rivalry between the Crown Empire and its Gallic neighbours, things wrap up quite handily when the boys run true to form…regardless of their nation of origin.
A pleasant little vignette that evokes some of the atmospherics of, say, Matango (with its eerie fog and derelict ship bearing mysteries best unexplored) while actually tiptoeing around any actual horror or supernatural elements. There’s no real point and things resolve all too handily, but there you have it.
“Aubrey was talking of organizing a trip to the casino.”
“Sounds a bit dull…lots of silly games, probably all rigged in favor of the house anyway?”
Despite nominal resistance, Jago finds himself in hot water when he proves to be something of a gambling addict at the somewhat allegorical Devil’s Dicemen, where the stakes are rather higher than diminished finance…
The estimable David Warner (Harry Crow of The Scarifyers) shows up as Dr. Betterman, an interested observer and casino patron who joins our chaps for their investigation into a series of disappearances, all centering around the casino and its losers…but why is he so concerned with the tangible weight of the human soul?
And what of the seductively sinister Madame Diabolique (Miranda Raison, Seeker Cassandra from Dragon Age Inquisition) and her robed inner circle of the ostensible “dark casino”, where even victory demands an extreme forfeit? Have our heroes become embroiled in another supernatural affair? Or is it all window dressing for a far more mundane racket with the aim of financial aggrandizement?
The real standout of what proves to be something of a strong set all around, Justin Richards’ tale crosses some Hellfire Club frippery with more of an Edgar Wallace-style convoluted crime story. There’s twists and turns galore, and more than enough spooky jiggery pokery to keep the more gothically inclined happy, plus you get some impressively winning performances from both Warner and Raison, with even Jamie Newall’s stuffy comic sidekick Aubrey getting a sympathetic turn come the wrap.
“Well if you two handsome gentlemen are going ashore, so am I.”
Now we take a little trip to the Island of Death, courtesy of Nico Mastorakis.
Oh, that’s another island of death…
Now we take a little trip to the Island of Death, courtesy of Simon Barnard & Paul Morris.
Lady Danvers gets out her claws once more for another go at the fellows, but this lands her in a spot of danger as they embark on an expedition to L’Isle du Ste. Barbe, where a French mining operation run by the appropriately snotty Victor Bataille (Anthony Howell) appears to be under siege from the natives and their voodoo charms…and legends of mysterious creatures loose in the underbrush…
“A formidable woman she may be, but Lady Danvers has not hitherto been known to pant and growl and rant in a weird language. Unless she does it in the privacy of her own cabin.”
With some excellent sound design providing the proper atmospherics, this is the most evocative subtropical set jungle adventure we’ve heard from Big Finish since A Thousand Tiny Wings. And I say, brings the H. Rider Haggard out in a chap, wot?
“I’m sure we have nothing to fear from bears or leopards or tigers, isn’t that right, Mr. Tibbs?”
“Well, yes, at least we’d hear them coming. We have more to fear from the deadly designs of the green pit viper or king cobra, or the scorpion tailed spider…silent killers every one.”
It’s mostly played for laughs, with everyone’s pomposity sufficiently skewered by story’s end to picture the staffers heading out of studio for a stiff drink to restore their deflated spirits, but there’s enough atmospherics involved to surpass what otherwise proves to be a rather silly, lighthearted story without much of a point to it beyond comic happenstance.
Finally, our round trip cruise winds up with Justin Richards’ Return of the Nightmare, where we discover the mysterious fog earlier was deliberately generated by fellow Fata Morgana passengers…
Stolen idols, vengeful demonic guardians and a series of maulings and murders aboard ship…can our reluctant adventurers set matters aright?
“If you need any assistance in that department from either myself or the Professor…(in unison) forget it!”
Tapping into the same general aesthetic as The Flying Frenchmen but trading the aimless mental mechanics of parallel times and extradimensional correllations for a more direct and potent gothicized approach, Richards brings this little pleasure cruise to conclusion on the right note, bringing cast regulars Inspector Quick (Conrad Asquith) and Ellie Higson (Lisa Bowerman) into play, however briefly* as the ship finally returns to port and the villain of the piece is revealed…
* Ellie also gets to see them off at the start of the series, balancing out her rather abbreviated appearance here.
“You have no idea of the power of words, of what can be achieved with the pen, the etymological possibilities…raise your glasses to the adventures of Jago & Litefoot!”
Well, this was rather a cracking compilation of clever conundrums, eh? And you thought they couldn’t get into much trouble in a shipboard setting…
With our two leads (and complementary supporting cast) delightful as ever and the guest cast acquitting themselves admirably across the board, this is ultimately one of the better Jago & Litefoot sets we’ve seen in some time.
While not quite so defining as the Lord Ruthven-afflicted Series Two or the Leela-blessed Series Three, newcomers can safely be pointed at the ninth series as a good introduction to what remains one of the two perennially best of Big Finish series. Now if only they’ll get started on that second series of Pathfinder Legends...