Jago and Litefoot Forever – Starring Christopher Benjamin (Henry Gordon Jago), Trevor Baxter (Professor George Litefoot), Lisa Bowerman (Ellie Higson), Conrad Asquith (Inspector Quick), Louise Jameson (Leela), Colin Baker (The Doctor), Rowena Cooper (Queen Victoria), David Warner (Dr Luke Betterman), Jamie Newall (Aubrey), Stephen Critchlow (Sir Humphrey Eagleton / Charlie Lucas). Written by Paul Morris & Jonathan Barnes & Directed by Lisa Bowerman – CD / Download (Big Finish)
Hankies at the ready, folks.
Big Finish has always had a distinct nose for a spin-off. Sarah-Jane, Gallifrey, Countermeasures, River Song, Dalek Empire, Churchill, Cybermen, Vienna, UNIT, New Earth, Jenny, Lady Christina, you name it, the audio supremoes have spun it off and let it live in a world of its own, connected to the parent programme, but each with a separate, distinctive ethos.
Jago and Litefoot holds a special place in the hearts of listeners though, because as a spin-off, it was acutely anchored in two things – the characterisation of two supporting characters in a single TV script from forty years ago, and the warm, spiky, chalk-and-cheese embodiments of those characters by two of Britain’s great character actors, Christopher ‘Jago’ Benjamin and Trevor ‘Litefoot’ Baxter.
Those two actors, working with the bottled lightning genius of writer and Script Editor Robert Holmes, created characters that fans remembered and genuinely loved – the Victorian setting of The Talons of Weng Chiang spoke of Holmesian mystery, and their different worlds, Litefoot the police pathologist, Jago the theatrical impresario, were two sides of the coin of Victorian society.
When they returned in 2009 for a Big Finish Companion Chronicle story, The Mahogany Murderers by Andy Lane, it was immediately clear that both actors still had the energy and enthusiasm they poured into the characters in the mid-Seventies, and the world of Jago and Litefoot, infernal investigators, opened up in front of us, a particularly Victorian world where the scientific and the mystical sat side by side, each as fundamentally valid as the other.
By the time Trevor Baxter sadly died in July 2017, the pair had recorded no fewer than thirteen box sets of adventures, amounting to an episode a week for a full calendar year, as well as returning in stories alongside Tom Baker, the Doctor who brought them together, claiming Sixth Doctor Colin Baker as their own for two side adventures, and ushering the world of New Who into Big Finish with Jago & Litefoot and Strax. They’d fought vampires, Scorchies, alternative timelines and the Master, and had adventures with Oscar Wilde, Arthur Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker. They’d even spent one box set in the Swinging Sixties.
Throughout it all, Benjamin and Baxter together were indomitable, both in character and as themselves. When we last heard them at the end of the thirteenth series of Jago & Litefoot, they were either in an alternative dimension of airships and steampunk, or their own London was being invaded by aliens that used that technology. It all promised another rip-roaring adventure for the infernal investigators.
They subsequently recorded two extra special Short Trips, which came together to form The Jago & Litefoot Revival by Jonathan Barnes, again blending Classic Who with New Who in the surprises within each half of the story.
If you didn’t pick up the Short Trips at the time, they’re here for you in Jago & Litefoot Forever. Baxter’s half of the story, Act 1, is particularly poignant, as he once again runs into the Doctor – but a Doctor who’s dying, and who’s popped round just to see his old friend Professor Litefoot one last time, separate from Jago and away from their familiar London setting. Their adventure, bathed in Grecian sunlight but fraught with danger of the oddest and most esoteric kind, is a testament to the perennial strength of Litefoot’s character. Act 2, with the action led by Jago, tells a tale of the same time of separation, and a London visit by an entirely different Doctor, a chase through the city’s stews by a galumphing monster of the more straightforward variety, and a conclusion that lets both Jago and Litefoot show their true mettle while saving if not the world, then certainly one another, as they’d done time and time again across the thirteen box sets of their adventures. The Jago & Litefoot Revival is sentimental in the best sense, Barnes, Baxter and Benjamin working like pistons in a finely tuned storytelling engine, meaning even though for the most part the investigators are separated, there are strands that connect their adventures, pulled together in a conclusion that gives them both their signature moment.
Probably though, it’s the title story of this release, Jago & Litefoot Forever, by Paul Morris, that will draw most listeners. Jago & Litefoot were such certain successes that their series had an open renewal, meaning it would keep on being made as long as both the actors were alive and wanted to keep recording. The cliff-hanger of Series 13 hinted at new plotting complications in their next box set. Naturally, Series 14 seems unlikely now ever to be made, which means Jago & Litefoot Forever has to swiftly dispense with the airship threat. What follows though is a masterpiece of research and trawling through archives – Trevor Baxter of course provided no new voice-work for this single story. Morris has created a story that is Jago-led, with ample support from regulars Ellie Higson (Lisa Bowerman) and Inspector Quick (Conrad Asquith), and occasional but important friends of the pair, including Dr Luke Betterman (David Warner), and which uses archive recordings of Baxter’s Litefoot lines spliced with incredible skill into the drama, meaning Litefoot feels like a genuine living presence in the story, for all he’s frequently missed and importantly absent for chunks of the action. It’s a story which shows a world of Jago’s apparently diminishing function and memory, occasionally prompted by reminders of some of the best adventures of Jago and Litefoot. As the story unfolds, we fear it’s Jago in isolation who will fade and become a shadow of his former self, and then vanish altogether into invisible obscurity. Indeed, it comes close to the wire, threatening to engulf fans of the pre-eminent Victorians in despondency as Jago, looking for Litefoot and the memories of his glory days, seems bound to lose, to finally fail alone where he would surely have succeeded with Litefoot by his side.
It would be utterly criminal to spoil the ending of this story for you, but suffice it to say, despondency is in no sense the keynote on which the series ends.
The ending of the Jago and Litefoot adventures stands right up there alongside the ending of the Sarah-Jane Adventures and the scene where the Eleventh Doctor learns of the death of the Brigadier – it is touching, sniffle-worthy, heart-warming and wonderful, with just a touch of humour to leaven the loss of Trevor Baxter, his professionalism and fun and his unquenchable interest in the quality of the work.
Thank you, Professor George Litefoot and Henry Gordon Jago, for all the infernal investigations. Thank you, Trevor Baxter, Christopher Benjamin, Robert Holmes, Philip Hinchcliffe and everyone at Big Finish who made the adventures of Jago and Litefoot such a fantastic ride.
And if you’re wondering whether, after all that, you should buy the final Jago & Litefoot adventure, you can stop wondering now. Jago & Litefoot Forever is a party, a celebration of the best infernal investigators the empire has to offer. What could possibly keep you away? Tony Fyler