THIS STORY TAKES
TV STORY "THE TALONS
OF WENG-CHIANG" AND
THE FIRST SERIES OF
"JAGO & LITEFOOT."
BIG FINISH 'COMPANION
CHRONICLES' CD 3.11
RELEASED IN MAY 2009.
advises the police
in some of their
Henry Gordon Jago:
master of ceremonies
at LONDON'S Alhambra
These are two very
different men became
firm friends and co-
WITH THE DOCTOR AND
body is found on the
banks of the River
Thames and Litefoot's
post mortum reveals
that it's actually
a highly detailed
their most dangerous
UP a deadly scheme,
Jack Yeovil and his
murderous gang plan
to live forever, and
only THE INVESTIGATORS
OF INFERNAL INCIDENTS
can stop them...
The Mahogany Murderers
Ever since the characters first appeared in The Talons of Weng-Chiang back in 1977, Jago and Litefoot have been hugely popular with fans. Garbled notes from the time suggest that a spin-off featuring the two Victorian gentlemen was briefly considered by the BBC (in the end, we got K-9 and Company), and there are few fans who haven’t seen the promise in such an idea. It’s taken until 2009 for Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter
to resume their roles. So, has it been worth the wait?
The Mahogany Murderers takes an unusual but effective stylistic decision. Unlike the previous eighteen releases in the Companion Chronicles range, which involved a former companion returning to tell a tale about their time with the Doctor, this release features nothing more than the briefest mention of the Time Lord. Jago and Litefoot are the sole protagonists here, showing that they’re clearly capable of handling peculiar goings on without the Doctor’s help. The only other speaking part is that of Ellie, a presumably busty barmaid played by Lisa Bowerman, director of the play. Her inclusion is perhaps a little unnecessary; this production would have worked perfectly well as a two-hander; however, her brief appearance at the beginning of each episode adds a little bawdy period colour.
Andy Lane’s story is an effective chiller, telling of an audacious plan to bring prisoners awaiting the noose into a new life as wooden facsimiles. It’s a very creepy image, and a fascinating plot, told brilliantly by splitting the action between the two principle characters. Meeting in pub, immediately after the close of the adventure, they proceed to relate their experiences to each other. Professor Litefoot’s curiosity is peaked by the arrival, in his mortuary, of a perfectly-formed
mannequin. He sends word to
Jago to begin an investigation
when other parties arrive after
the ‘body,’ and the two become embroiled in separate threads of the same story. It’s an extremely effective way of telling the tale, giving it more life than a straightforward reading. Occasionally the two characters’ stories overlap, resulting in a little repetition; however, even they comment on this, making it seem a natural part of the storytelling process between two people, rather than feeling out of place.
Both actors return to their roles with ease. Having watched The Talons of Weng-Chiang only recently, I was amazed that Trevor Baxter sounds exactly as he did back in 1977, as if no time had passed at all. Christopher Benjamin does sound somewhat older and throatier, but this just seems to add to his character’s theatrical air. Each seems as perfect for their role as they did on television. The two characters’ varied approaches to storytelling also succeed; while Litefoot’s description fairly clinical, straightforward and scientific, Jago’s is as over-the-top as one would expect, full of grandiose and grandiloquent elaborations and exaggerations. While Jago’s sections are perhaps the more fun to listen to, especially with his theatrical take on the various characters’ voices, it is those of Litefoot which are the
most illuminating. The two approaches, entirely true to character, complement perfectly.
The only disappointing aspect is that the villain behind the scheme is never apprehended; without him, we never understand just how he worked his astonishing process, or just why
he was conducting these experiments in the first place. Still, it does provide a perfect lead
into further adventures for the duo, as they set off to continue their infernal investigations. Indeed, this production works well as a sneaky pilot for a Jago & Litefoot spin-off series; something that, if the hints in the CD Extras are anything to go by, might not, this time, be
too much to hope for. Be it in this Companion Chronicles format or as a full-blown audio drama, such a series has the potential to be very good indeed.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2009
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988
to be identified as the author of this work.
The Companion Chronicles have enabled Big Finish to tell aural adventures set
during bygone eras previously consigned to prose. The series’ inspirational format has seen the likes of William Russell, Frazer Hines and even Katy Manning breathe new life into their celebrated characters, in brand new adventures grounded in modern sensibilities. Yet the most memorable Companion Chronicles have been those with the narrowest view; those that have taken characters teetering on the edge of companiondom, and given them the sort of treatment that many would say their television performances warranted. The Mahogany Murderers is a case in point.
performers such as Michelle Ryan are officially
classed as “companions”, I don’t think many
fans would begrudge tarring Henry Gordon
Jago and Professor Litefoot with the same
brush. Whilst prior to this release their only
television appearance had been in Robert
Holmes’ Victorian masterpiece, The Talons
of Weng-Chiang, Christopher Benjamin and
Trevor Baxter dazzled in just about every scene
that they were in, often eclipsing Tom Baker’s
Doctor who was, at that point, right at the height
of his powers. The fact that Talons remains to
this day one of the series’ most lauded offerings
speaks volumes about Jago and Litefoot and
their enduring appeal.
The Mahogany Murderers is an ideal vehicle
for these two charming characters, Andy Lane’s
script offering both the chance to shine as they
each narrate their half of the action to the other
over a few ales in a suitably evocative alehouse.
The distinct differences in how each narrates
his sections do a splendid job of conveying the
‘chalk and cheese’ dichotomy that makes the
duo so entertaining - the Professor’s sections
are gentle and precise, the key facts interrupted
only by his affably pompous moralising; Jago’s, conversely, are delivered as a performance, as if he’s competing with his cohort, rather than bringing him up to speed. The personalities
that Jago gives to the story’s monstrous medley of mahogany marionettes are every bit as
distinct as his own, if not quite as bombastic. Indeed, no-one could accuse the out of work theatrical of being wooden...
Moreover, Lane’s dialogue is exquisite - his words are as baroque as those of Paul Magrs, and almost as macabre too. When fused with the efforts of stalwart director Lisa Bowerman (who also serves the ales) and sound designer David Darlington, the listener is almost able to touch the foggy Holmesian era. It’s always there, threatening to subtly creep into the pub and drown out the background noise, only to fade away again as our two protagonists are pulled back into the present with the filling of a flagon.
Lane’s plot is perfectly attuned to both the period and the characters. A mysterious Doctor (not that one, though) has been helping prisoners to escape the dangle by transferring their consciousnesses into wooden mannequins, and now, under the guidance of wooden crime lord Jack Yeovil, they want to take over the Empire. Now I find wooden dolls unconscionably creepy in any event – I found The Magic Mousetrap extremely unsettling, for instance – but here Lane really sells the idea, with Jago’s elaborate explanations focusing on their lifeless glass eyes and their leather tongues. Very nasty. The resolution is unsatisfying, however, in more ways than one: not only is the murderous’ mannequins defeat elementary in the most obvious sense, but the mysterious Doctor Tulp remains at large, the larger story frustratingly unsettled.
Yet despite the horrors of the
plot, Lane somehow manages
to keep things light. The whole
production is saturated with
in-jokes concerning “dramatic
recitations”, the order of events,
and even the lack of listeners
hanging on the protagonists’
words. For me, the cliffhanger encapsulates the quirky and capricious tone of the piece better than anything: each narrator delivers his version of the story’s cliffhanger, Jago first, and then Litefoot. But, rather than the howl of the closing theme music, the listener hears Jago flatly concede “you were right. Your climactic moment was better.”
At the end of the day, my only real gripe with The Mahogany Murders is a hypothetical one. The CD says Doctor Who on the cover, yet the titular Time Lord gets only the most fleeting
of namechecks. This isn’t a Doctor Who story – it’s a Jago & Litefoot pilot. Had somebody subscribed to the range expecting “classic Doctors, brand new adventures” and then found that one of their CDs featured “investigators of infernal incidents” instead, then they certainly would have had cause for complaint. Cause, but not necessarily motive, because Doctor or no, The Mahogany Murderers is so sublime a substitute that it’s arguably even better than the real thing.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This audio book’s blurb states that it takes place after the television story The Talons of Weng-Chiang, and the characters’ dialogue makes it explicit that “some years” have passed since Jago and Litefoot’s adventure with the Doctor in that story, though it is not clear how many (beyond Litefoot’s arthritis and lumbago!)
Given that Professor Litefoot doesn’t appear to have encountered the Doctor since the events of Talons, we posit that this story takes place prior to the events of the eighth Doctor novel The Bodysnatchers, set in 1894, as well as Big Finish’s subsequent Jago & Litefoot spin-off series.
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