311-themahoganymurderers_cover_largeBlurb: Professor George Litefoot: the eminent pathologist who advises the police in some of their grisliest cases. Henry Gordon Jago: the master of ceremonies at the Alhambra Theatre. These are two very different men from contrasting strata in society who became firm friends and collaborators after their adventure with the Doctor and Leela battling the evil Weng-Chiang.

Some years later, Jago and Litefoot have defeated dangerous denizens of the daemonic darkness together. They have stood side by side against threats to the British Empire. But when a body is found on the banks of the River Thames and Litefoot’s post mortum reveals that it is actually a highly detailed wooden mannequin, their most dangerous adventure begins.

Dr Tulp has masterminded a deadly scheme, Jack Yeovil and his murderous gang plan to live forever, and only Jago and Litefoot can stop them…

Review: Henry Gordon Jago and Professor George Litefoot made their debut in the classic Doctor Who story, The Talons of Weng-Chiang. Both characters became immensely popular. In fan circles it was felt that they were the epitome of writer Robert Holmes’ habit of creating pairs of characters that work well off each other as a “double act”. The BBC felt that the characters were so well received by the public at large that they considered creating a television series about Jago and Litefoot as investigators of the bizarre in Victorian London. That series was not to be, but Big Finish resurrected the idea as a Companion Chronicle. The Mahogany Murderers became a pilot for a proposed Jago and Litefoot series of audio dramas, which would be released if the audio did well; and it did. While putting these two characters in a Companion Chronicle is a bit of a cheat as neither character ever really traveled with the Doctor, both characters acted as companions for the Doctor at various stages of The Talons of Weng-Chiang while Leela was doing other things. Since the definition of what constitutes a companion has always been fairly nebulous, this just about works.

The format is a nice change from the typical Companion Chronicle format. Instead of having one person narrating a story, The Mahogany Murderers has two narrators. While that’s been done with other stories in the series, usually both narrators are narrating to a third, unseen party. Here, Jago and Litefoot are each narrating the story to each other. It’s a nice touch because it does two things. First, it varies the story by alternating between the various narration styles and points of view of the two characters. This helps to keep the story’s pace up and keeps the listener from getting bored. Having the two stories dovetail into each other on occasion by showing how the events that one person experienced influenced another makes it clever as well, which also serves to heighten the interest of the listener. Second, it informs about the characters. The different narration styles of the two men and the way that they interact while telling the story lets the listener know a lot about these characters. One particularly good scene is Litefoot describing his horror at seeing the living conditions of working class people while Jago takes it all in his stride. Another interesting one is that Jago wants to tell the story as theatrically as possible while Litefoot tends to be precise and wants to give the details in the linear order that they occurred. This narration style also informs a lot about their relationship in their recounting of the various times that they’ve worked together before, how they met each other and the Doctor, and in the various ways that they banter with each other. It’s actually a really subtle but very effective technique and it would be nice to have more stories told in this manner.

One of the things that’s really striking in this story is the atmosphere. It’s the classic gothic Victorian London with dimly-lit streets and ever-present fog. Science is the answer to all problems and technology is expressed in brass, wood, and electrodes. These days it’d be called “steam punk” and there’s a lot of similarities between The Mahogany Murderers and steam punk. Yet, steam punk seems to revel in the impossibilities and flights of fancy of putting Victorian trappings on impossible technology. The Mahogany Murderers is completely different. While it depicts impossible technology that transfers the minds of human beings into wooden mannequins, that technology is never explained. Jago and Litefoot are clearly out of their depth in “how” it’s all achieved and the listener is left in the dark. It’s more about the investigation and the application of the scientific method in figuring out ways to manipulate and fight something that’s already happened than the obsession with the details themselves.

The plot revolves around a process for animating mannequins with the minds of criminals who will pay anything for the opportunity to get out of prison. The idea of puppets or mannequins coming to life is really creepy. Combine them with Jack Yeovil and his thugs and you have a real threat. So much is said in a short conversation between Yeovil and one of his underlings who doesn’t like the fact that he won’t be able to enjoy human pleasures anymore in his new body. Yeovil doesn’t care. He only cares about the power that he could get with these new bodies and begins to think about more durable materials to make them out of. The idea of such amoral villains who would sacrifice their own humanity for power is shades of the Cybermen but the fact that they’re thieves and murderers gives them a far more sinister edge than the emotionless metal creatures of Doctor Who.

The production values are strong. Trevor Baxter steals the show as Professor Litefoot. There’s a tad more age to his voice but otherwise he sounds so very much like he did when making The Talons of Weng-Chiang all those years ago. Age has not been as kind to Christopher Benjamin. The writing is perfect for the character of Henry Gordon Jago, but Benjamin’s voice has changed so much that it’s like listening to another actor reading Jago’s lines. A third role is given to Lisa Bowerman as a barmaid that serves Jago and Litefoot their drinks and having the extra voice helps to sell this as a drama rather than a fully narrated Companion Chronicle. The sound effects from the sounds of horses on cobble to the crackling of electricity are well done and help to set the scene. The music is also really good, helping to evoke the dark, Victorian setting that is so important to this story.

Recommendation: A very strong first outing for Jago and Litefoot on their own. It’s an interesting and very atmospheric story. It even has a bad guy that we don’t know much about who gets away in the end. It’s all designed to leave you wanting more and it does that admirably. Christopher Benjamin’s voice detracts slightly from the overall feeling of the piece but overall it is a fantastic story, well acted, and with some very good music and effects. I highly recommend it.

8/10

2009

Audio Drama

Big Finish Productions

Directed by Lisa Bowerman

Produced by David Richardson

Written by Andy Lane

Runtime Approx 60 min.

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