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Here we are with the first entry for 2021 and we’re taking a special look at Big Finish productions. Before we begin, a bit of background on who Big Finish are. The company was formed in 1998 and began adapting Virgin Publishing’s range of original Doctor Who novels, but without the character of the Doctor. If that sounds kind of odd, that’s because it kind of was. But BF were working to a game plan, they were interested in far more than just making Doctor-less audio dramatisations of niche books for a niche audience – they wanted to make proper audio Doctor Who as fully paid up licence holders. One year later, in 1999 they got their wish.
Since then, Big Finish have expanded their range to offer for more than Doctor Who audio adventures. The company now turns out an astonishing amount material from Dickens’ classics to Sherlock Holmes, and an incredible array of refreshed and revived cult-television favourites from the 1960’s and 70’s, such as a new series of The Avengers (with new actors playing the famous Steed and Mrs Peel) and The Prisoner. Also revived with the orginal actors are Gerry Anderson’s fondly remembered 1980’s puppet series Terrahawks and American 60’s daytime TV perennial Dark Shadows. Their output is incredibly predigious. As I am but one man with one life I haven’t had anything like the amount of time to check out anything but a mere fraction of the company’s output over the years. But over the next few days Daily Audio is going to take a look at some of the ones we have experienced because if you have plenty of time on your hands at the moment, you’ve hit upon a pretty rich seem. So without any further preamble we shall begin with
Jago and Litefoot
Starring Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter >>> 13 x 4-part full-cast series released as ‘box sets’ from 2010 – 2017 >>> Written by various writers >>> Produced by Justin Richards and Lisa Bowerman
Henry Gordon Jago (Benjamin) is a theatre impressario, master of ceremonies, booker of talents and king of the able art of alliteration. His best friend is one Professor George Litefoot, police pathologist and all-round quality upper-class gent. It’s a rum set up for these stories set in the fog bound cobbled streets of old Victorian London but it’s familiar world of horse drawn cabs, lamp lighters and erm, aliens made of wood.
You’d be forgiven for thinking the premise, two investigators of infernal machinations dealing with odd, unxplained ghostly and (sometimes) alien things the police can’t hope to cope with sounds a little bit Doctor Who. That’s because the two characters did indeed originate in one of the Tom Baker serials from the 1970’s. They were created by one of the most prolific writers the show ever had, a chap called Robert Holmes. Holmes should, by rights, have become a famous television playwright but he confined himself too much to nice, cult programming, forever shunning offers of more prestigious work. Whether this was due to low self-esteem or simply a desire to write for a genre he enjoyed and felt gave him freedom, I cannot say. One thing is certain – apart from being adept at world-building in the most effortless manner, Holmes wrote astonishingly good characters. Henry Gordon Jago and Professor Litefoot are one such pair who were so popular in the one serial they appeared in the BBC almost commissioned their own spin-off series. Unfortunately that never came to pass – not on television anyway. Happily, some thirty years later the actors were delighted to reprise these wonderfully realised characters for Big Finish audios in a new series of hour long dramatisations.
So who are they? Litefoot is refined, dignified and holds his head high in polite society. Henry Jago on the otherhand, whilst pefectly repectable, is something of a raffish rogue. By rights these two are at opposite ends of the social spectrum and should never have met, much less enjoy a firm friendship – but they have something in common; one day they met the Doctor and realised there was more to London than they could ever have imagined – a dark underbelly where evil festers, occasionally bubbling to the surace in the form of something nightmarish. It’s a fantastic premise for a series. Being at oppossitte ends of the class spectrum instanstly gives the characters a little frission, and their occupations offer possibilities for a wide range of stories.
There have been at least ten box sets released since the series was launched to great acclaim in 2010 and each has it’s own distinct favour. The first series provides four chilling tales, with plenty of horror and only a dash of science fiction. The second set of four adventures comprising series two is much the same, but gives a larger part to the supporting characters such as barmaid Ellie Higson and police Seargent Quick. Series three sees the duo joined by a recurring character from Doctor Who, whilst Series Six sees them transported from Victorian London to the 1960’s. Over the years there have been many such developments and ideas brought in to mix things up , each with the potential to dilute the Victorian gothic that made the first few box sets so evocative, such as series nine where the the stories took place on a cruise ship bound for Monte Carlo. But Benjamin and Baxter inhabit their parts so completely they make the series absolutely fire-proof. You could put the intrepid investigators in virtually any setting and still they would be the same; which is why they were eventually returned to their own time period. But that isn’t meant as a dig, it is a fine testament to the characters and the actors who gave such wonderful, immersive performances.
And that really is the strength. By the time the wrongs of history were righted and these characters were given the series they should never have been denied, Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter were near the end of their working lives (Baxter sadly passed away in 2017) but each had graced many a stage and screen up and down the decades, mostly in small character parts, so it is lovely to know Jago & Litefoot reinvigorated these fine thesps of the old school. That they stepped back into the roles they had only occupied very briefly some thirty years ago so effortlessly is a testament to the strength of the characters Holmes created. Throghout the series they continued to be served magnificently by sparkling, witty dialogue and superb, evocative mysteries.
As ever with Big Finish, the listener can expect first-class priduction values, convincing soundscapes, original and engaging tales and directors who absolutely love what they do. Jago and Litefoot is the kind of audio drama winter evenings were made for. If you like your detective stories with a hint of gothic penny dreadful about them, then this series is absolutely for you. As witty and wonderful as the show that spawned it, it is entirely possible to ignore the associations with Doctor Who – this series bounded out from the shadow of its parent show with the first box set and never stopped moving. These ‘infernal investigators’ will win your heart in the first twenty minutes with their feisty banter and their fractious but fond friendship. It doesn’t matter if they’re coming up against dead sailors, futuristic alien savages or vampires, Jago and Litefoot delight in these awesomely adventerous audio stories.
Jago and Litefoot is available to buy from Bigfinish.com
Check back here in a few days when Daily Audio takes a look at another Big Finish release.
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Photo copyright Big Finish under licence from the BBC
Written content copyright Martin Gregory 2021.