Strax, the Sontaran butler to Victorian investigator Vastra and her wife Jenny, suffers a disorienting attack and mistakes Jago & Litefoot for Jenny and Vastra and moves into Litefoot’s home. Together, they are on the trail of a creature that is stealing brains, which may or may not be linked to a haunted house in London…
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Henry Gordon Jago – Christopher Benjamin
Professor George Litefoot – Trevor Baxter
Strax – Dan Starkey
Ellie – Lisa Bowerman
Inspector Quick – Conrad Asquith
Marvo – Stephen Critchlow
Mrs Multravers – Carolyn Seymour
Written by: Justin Richards
Directed by: Lisa Bowerman
Fan-made Jago and Litefoot opening – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjYmeWvwY-Y
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The Haunting is simply a triumph for Big Finish. Combining three of the most memorable supporting characters in the history of Doctor Who, this story combines a plot that’s a little darker than normal with some absolutely cracking dialogue and chemistry between the three leads, adding up to a tale that leaves the listener looking forward to future adventures!
The Victorian Era saw many interesting and wonderful things take place in London, the greatest city in the world. There were the grand shows at the New Regency Theatre under the ownership of Henry Gordon Jago. The curious might have taken interest in the studies of pathologist Professor George Litefoot, while the thirsty could grab a pint at the Red Tavern served by barmaid Ellie Higson. And those in trouble might turn towards the investigators known as the Paternoster Gang, assisted by the…uniquely shaped and military minded Strax. However, all should take care not to venture into the portion of London known as Cobbletown, where several corpses have been found with their very brains removed…
Henry Gordan Jago and George Litefoot were two characters created by Robert Holmes for the classic Fourth Doctor episode The Talons of Weng-Chiang who assisted the Doctor in his efforts to defeat the time-displaced warlord Magnus Greel. Played by Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter, respectively, the pair were an instant hit among fans due to their chemistry not only with the Doctor but with each other as well. Rumors of a BBC spin-off series starring the duo as amateur investigators were whispered for years until the show’s cancellation in 1989. It wasn’t until 2010 that the spin-off came to fruition as Big Finish released the first Jago and Litefoot box set after the rousing acclaim for the 2009 Companion Chronicle The Mahogany Murderers. The range has been a smashing success, with the eleventh box set due for release in April 2016. Often joined by Ellie, a barmaid at the Red Tavern which serves almost as a second home for Mr. Jago. Played by Lisa Bowerman (of Bernice Summerfield fame), the range has see the curious Litefoot and the reluctant hero Jago experience all kinds of adventures from the mundane to the alien, past, present and future, as well as meeting up with both the companion Leela and the Sixth Doctor for several adventures!
Dan Starkey is best known for playing a whole bunch of Sontarans, including Commander Skorr in The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky and Commander Jask in The End of Time, as well as playing Ian the Elf in Last Christmas. But he’s best known for playing Commander Strax, one third of the Paternoster Gang who have assisted the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors in numerous episodes. Strax is a rare breed – a Sontaran nurse who serves to restore the honor of his clone batch. Even as a nurse, Strax is a top-notch soldier who believes that Plan B is simply twice as much gunpowder as Plan A and sees everything through a military lens. Alongside Lady Vastra and her wife Jenny, Strax serves as the butler, assistant, and muscle for the group of investigators.
Now when you thrown them all together, what you get is an audio that simply tears along with a terrific mix of action, tension, humor, and sci-fi horror. Due to an early meeting with the villain of the story while searching for an alien energy source in the rundown area of London known as Cobbletown, Strax is currently suffering from acute mental trauma. His investigation intertwine with those of Litefoot, who has seen several corpses come into his laboratory missing a vital part of their anatomy – their brains. The central point for these murders is a rundown mansion that’s been the center of reported hauntings and strange lights for over a century. The plot itself is incredibly gripping. The villain of the piece, Ms. Multravers, is played by Carolyn Seymour, a veteran actress of stage and screen. It would have been easy for her to get lost amidst the other performers, but the calm, friendly, and non-threatening nature of Multravers makes her stand out as she harmlessly submits passersby to a series of logic puzzles where success equals death. Her denouement and explanation for her actions is very chilling, a bit out of place in a Victorian era story but perfectly in line for the character and helped along by the other actors in terms of believability.
It’s very hard to separate the other actors, as all four of them (as well as Conrad Asquith as Inspector Quick, the police liaison for the pair of investigators) play off each other so well. No matter what the pairing/trio/quartet, Baxter, Benjamin, Bowerman, and Starkey simply click with incredible chemistry. At no point does The Haunting feel like a Jago and Litefoot story with Strax thrown in to show off the revival license that Big Finish acquired. Strax and his military style dialogue feels right at home with the proper Jago, the scientific Litefoot, and the working class Ellie as they investigate the murders in Cobbletown. Put simply, most of the dialogue is freakin’ hysterical. The highlight for me is Strax mistaking Jago and Litefoot for Jenny and Vastra due to his mental trauma and repeatedly calling Litefoot “Madame,” must to Litefoot’s dismay and Jago’s amusement. Mix it in with Strax’s tendency to blow up everything and Jago’s attempts to temper him and Ellie’s slight encouragement, and this story could simply have been “four Who characters hang out and solve crime.” The script by Justin Richards (Whispers of Terror, The Renaissance Man) shows the intelligence and bravery of the four characters as well, both during the “murder mystery” first half and the “sci-fi horror” second half as they get into trouble and either work there way out of it, or in a few cases actually get hurt!
Add in the expert directing by Lisa Bowerman (who has directed every series of Jago and Litefoot) that keeps the story moving along without bogging down or becoming confusing and you get a story that is simply fun to listen to. So far, between the Torchwood releases and the positive reviews for UNIT: Extinction, Big Finish has shown that they’re not going to just use the revival license as an excuse to put out poor stories and expect fans to lap them up just because. What The Haunting does is threefold – gives fans of the new series a chance to enjoy further adventures for a well liked character, gives fans of the new series an introduction to an acclaimed audio range involving characters from the classic series, and gives fans in general simply a damn good story. I find myself hoping for a future release involving the same characters…and perhaps even a certain married couple…
Synopsis – The Haunting is a fantastic story that mixes humor and tension, a murder mystery with sci-fi horror, and characters from the classic and revival series exhibiting some top-notch chemistry.