With self-styled biographer Carruthers Summerton in tow (and serving as their unwanted “agent”), everyone’s favorite Victorian de facto detectives embark on a new series of gaslight adventures in the very proper fin de siecle sense.
“I’m sorry I turned into a monster, sir. Won’t happen again.”
First up, wealthy “inventor” Sir Hartley Harecourt (John Rowe) is the victim of burglary…and murder. When his manservant is killed, the boys are brought in to investigate. But with the only apparent aim being the theft of a device used to carbonate soda water and the event taking place in a room locked from the inside, there’s a bit more to The Case of the Missing Gasogene than may at first seem apparent…
“Apart from Sir Hartley himself, who is very nearly certifiable, I still feel this is a sadly mundane case. The sole point of interest, the locked room, may yet prove to be a challenge, but a purely intellectual one. Starting from the presumption that the murderer was flesh and blood, the means of his escape must be deducible and replicable.”
“Fiddle faddle. Pish to your locked room!”
“The murderer…was in the gasogene! A ghost of some kind, like a genii in a lamp, or a creature…made of gas!”
There’s a bit of business derived from Nancy Drew of all things (the house measurements revealing an unaccounted for 224 square feet), a very Avengerslike touch in Sir Hartley keeping an operating in-house steam train (!) and a conspiracy of scientists creating effective Frankenstein monsters without internal organs (!), authors Simon Barnard and Paul Morris provide a properly cracking start to a new season.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, don’t start comparing him to Sherlock Holmes! Fella’s head’s big enough as it is!”
With Summerton as something of a gadfly in the ointment, puffing each of our heroes up with pride and effectively setting them against each other, can the fellows come together to put things aright?
“Trouble is, there are all these blasted regulations. Ethics. I’d never have been allowed to test my potion on a human subject. They’d have made me try it out on a guinea pig first.”
Filled with light comic touches and absurdist business (the interaction between Summerton and Dr. Kindred (Rosanna Miles) is priceless), this one’s a winner any way you look at it.
“What’re you going to do if he turns up wanting to help on our next case?”
“Change the locks. And possibly, my address.”
Next, Jonathan Morris unveils the events of the Year of the Rat, wherein an unusual delivery presents the chaps with an unusual conundrum…
“But don’t you see? Maybe you set yourself in a career as a theater manager because of the letter you received…the letter you just sent.”
“We must be very cautious what letters we send…because if we were to influence our younger selves to take a course of events other than that which brought us to this point…”
“It would be highly confusing.”
“To say the least!”
A much younger Jago & Litefoot meet up decades prior to their first encounter in Talons of Weng Chiang, and face a group of female creatures posing as nannies and using missing children as food – and even a youthful Sgt. Quick is involved…
I have to admit, this one didn’t really engage me overmuch. Blake Ritson and Alex Lowe offer respectable takes on the youthful incarnations of our heroes, and that’s about all there is to say about it.
Next up, Jago gets the City of the Living Dead treatment, as he’s buried alive…and Litefoot and Ellie attend his funeral wholly unaware…
“What a punishingly pathetic way to perish in piteous pulchritude and pious
David Warner’s Dr. Betterman (from Series 9’s Devil’s Dicemen) returns to raise a glass in tribute, and Henry finds himself unearthed in the far flung year 2000…
“I only met him once, but, well…he had such a good soul.”
“Yeah, Mr. Jago was one of a kind.”
“I must say…I find this a little distasteful.”
“Your friend was a showman. It’s traditional.”
“There’s surely a more dignified way of celebrating a life! You know, I’m convinced Henry’s fired half these showmen at one time or other.”
“And yet they still came to his funeral, that’s how much they loved him.”
“Perhaps they wanted to make sure he was dead!”
Litefoot and Betterman are called in to investigate a spreading plague of zombies, with implications being felt in the far flung future by the late theatrical impresario and his new friend Adela LeStrange (Camilla Power)…
“They started turning up over the last few days, all over the city. At first, no one noticed, just a few more lost souls on the streets. But then…even Londoners noticed there was something not quite right about them…
The workhouses didn’t want them. Nor did the prisons or the hospitals. And, well…as I’ve been on compassionate leave for a few days…I wasn’t around to put up a fight. So into my mortuary they all poured! I came back to find the place crammed with the undead…and a letter of resignation from the cleaner!”
Is there more to this situation that it may at first appear? Is Dr. Betterman all that he seems?
With a government plot to keep the population pliable and the memory of the Jago & Litefoot team inspiring a revolutionary movement V for Vendetta style, a zombie invasion (with the Red Tavern serving as a Winchester analogue), postapocalyptic dystopia and more, this is another winner to be sure.
“What’d’you mean by laying the blame for all this at my door?”
“I’m afraid that’s because you were responsible for them.”
“Me? Those skulking skellingtons? I haven’t the first idea what’s been going on – I’ve been dead!”
Another ripping adventure in the Victorian vein (but with a few unexpected twists and turns along the way), James Goss’ The Mourning After comes as another pleasant surprise, joining the opening tale as one of the true highlights of the set.
“Betterman kidnapped me, as I’m the more…what? You were going to say gullible, weren’t you?”
“I was going to say, er…garrolous! You know…talkative. Amenable.”
“I suppose I am the riveting raconteur, the man of wise and whirled words, the teller of tempestuously titanic tales.”
“That’s it precisely. And not gullible at all.”
Finally, Justin Richards brings us along on a visit to the The Museum of Curiosities, wherein Carruthers Summerton returns to assist the fellows on their latest mission…
“Spontaneous human combustion! Oh, this is so exciting!”
“Just be careful he doesn’t fall out of the blankets on top of you! Crushed by a collapsing corpse, what a way to go.”
“Yes, thank you for that reassuring advice, Henry.”
With an upside down room (complete with corpse on the ceiling!), a sort of Black Museum celebrating Jago & Litefoot’s past adventures, nods to House of Wax, Mystery of the Wax Museum, Crucible of Terror and Mill of the Stone Women (among others) and Ellie being menaced by an all too clever enemy, everything comes to a head here.
Who is the real enemy? And who the red herring?
“Typical, though, isn’t it? He couldn’t get his own way, so instead, he has to go and make an exhibition of himself!”
At this point, there isn’t much that can be said of our affections towards Messrs. Benjamin, Baxter and Asquith, not to mention Ms. Bowerman’s ever delightful Ellie Higson and our guesting Scarifyer David Warner. It’s something of a dream cast, and their warmth and comfort working in tandem is positively palpable.
Blessed by especially strong scripts from Barnard & Morris, Goss and Richards, this installment of adventures comes as a nearly flawless bit of entertainment, and a bit more good naturedly light hearted than usual to boot.
Cheers and a hearty raise of the glass in toast to all involved.