Big Finish audio dramas are usually at least an hour long, and in the case of their various Doctor Who ranges, they can be two hours (or more) across several half-hour episodes, mimicking the format of the classic TV stories. This extended duration can provide the listener with a practical banquet of ideas, storytelling and characterisation – but sometimes you haven’t got time for a banquet; sometimes all you need is a perfectly-made Doctor Who audio sandwich to really add a smile to your day. Which is why Big Finish also produce their quick half-hour single-actor Doctor Who: Short Trips range. Exploring ideas that probably wouldn’t work expanded to full-length, the Short Trips are something a little different, and often, they’re a perfect little amuse bouche lunchtime listen. That being said, The Jago & Litefoot Revival is something different again: a two-voice, two-episode, one hour long Short Trip!
As long-time Doctor Who fans will know, pathologist Professor George Litefoot (Trevor Baxter) and theatre manager Henry Gordon Jago (Christopher Benjamin) are acquaintances of the Doctor from the Victorian era. They are also – thanks to their own Big Finish audio series – investigators of the mysterious and macabre. The opening of The Jago & Litefoot Revival finds them bored; nothing’s gone bump in the night for quite a while. Instead, life has begun to smack of the ordinary, and for Jago and Litefoot, now long-accustomed to life being anything but ordinary, it’s all rather tedious.
In Act One, Litefoot decides to lift his melancholy by accepting an invitation from an old university friend to go and have a poke around her archaeological dig on the Greek island of Minos, while Jago stays at home in foggy old London town, trying to find the talent that Britain allegedly has, so he can put it on the stage at his New Regency theatre, where, on top of everything, he also seems to have an arachnid infestation problem to have to deal with.
Act One mostly focuses on Litefoot’s adventure on Minos, where he finds an alien artefact, seems to be stalked by a mad-haired gentleman in a brown suit – unaware he’s the Tenth Doctor – and accidentally summons a spooky posse of gunslingers, who proceed to chase him all over the island in order to suck him dry of his ‘fortune energy’. Litefoot’s threat is rather esoteric and otherworldly, a high-concept bit of weirdness with a highly arresting aesthetic that, despite Jago & Litefoot’s connections with the older TV episodes, is absolutely in keeping with modern Who. To be fair, the raison d’etre of the villains is a little hokey, and seems to suggest that at some point in life, everyone will have been visited by the implacable, impossible and creepy creatures that now threaten the Professor, but in terms of Something To Run Away From, they work very well.
We come back to chilly old London town for the ending of Act One, with Jago trying to deal with a thoroughly inept juggler and a potential spider-exterminator who’s really not sure what he’s got himself in to. Jago then finds himself stuck in the basement, facing far less esoteric creature that his friend met in Minos – one more giant and scuttly and body-horror based, and ready to tear your head off soon as look at you.
Act Two focuses on Jago, and like Litefoot’s episode before it, it involves lots of Running Away From The Creepy Thing – arguably, it wouldn’t be a Doctor Who story without it. However, what writer Jonathan Barnes does in Act Two is no mere re-run of Act One from a different character’s perspective; it’s cleverer than that. More delicious than that. And really, when all is said and done, rather more poignant than that.
Even considering the great surprises in store for Jago (and us) as he fights fiends in the stews and streets and pleasure-boats of Victorian London, the most extraordinary thing in Act Two is the way in which the whole thing is resolved. The story takes us from having two seemingly separate scenarios into having one interwoven scenario that celebrates the characters of the three leads – the Tenth Doctor, Jago and Litefoot – and how each of them is made significantly better, richer and fuller in character by knowing both the others; how, given any opportunity, they’d always go back for each other, stand up for each other, make unmakeable sacrifices for each other.
It’s all rather moving, really. It’s an essay in friendship, and whether you have a big bevvie of besties or just one or two hand-picked homies, Act Two of The Jago & Litefoot Revival will make you want to call them up, just to catch up with what’s new in their lives, and possibly, just possibly, tell them what they mean to you while you have the chance.
Indeed, despite its relatively brief length, the Jago & Litefoot Revival delivers almost everything you could want from a Tenth Doctor, Jago and Litefoot story. It’s a cogent exploration of what adventure is all about, while showcasing both kinds of scary thing, away from which all three characters are in the habit of running like a madman. But it also reaches in and touches you, reminding you how remarkable all your friends are – those you chose and those you’ve somehow ended up with over the years – and invites you to celebrate them, today and every day.
The only thing the story lacks is David Tennant’s voice. However, seeing that after 15 years of producing stories for the ‘classic’ Doctors, Big Finish are now gradually expanding into post-2005 revival territory, but without the involvement of the more recent TV actors, the company does need to test the waters by means of Doctor Who stories without the Doctor in. And as as example of this, the Jago & Litefoot Revival works hugely well. Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter deliver a commanding Tenth Doctor story while also staying true to the nature of their own characters audio series, bridging the gap between the classic and new. That’s no bad thing for a couple of half-hour short audios to do.
DOCTOR WHO – SHORT TRIPS: THE JAGO AND LITEFOOT REVIVAL ACT ONE and ACT TWO are both available to download now exclusively from Big Finish.