Monday, 15 September 2014


Doctor Who meets Jago & Litefoot meets Gallifrey meets Counter-Measures meets The Vault! 

One of the most entertaining things you can do in fiction is the cross over. Traditionally, if you own two popular shows, then the next step is to create an overarching storyline and have characters from both shows cross over. The most famous crossover (currently) in media is Marvel’s The Avengers, which utilizes the crisis crossover, which is a form of crossover where all the mainstream characters from different corners of the shared universe are written into one storyline. The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End was Doctor Who’s version of a crisis crossover. 

Big Finish’s The Worlds of Doctor Who is another crossover type most commonly called a 'cross through'. Like a crisis crossover, this type utilizes a shared universe, but instead of one story featuring multiple stars, a cross through involves multiple stories taking place in different places and times, but links them together using a story arc that starts in one of these series and then cycles through all of the series involved.

This 4-series cross through draws its powers from five of Big Finish’s titles: Jago and Litefoot, Counter-Measures, UNIT, Gallifrey and Doctor Who. Each story is a little over 50 minutes long which can result in a really padded/boring tale if handled amateurishly. Thankfully Big Finish are not amateurs. Instead, they succeed amicable in telling a rather large and complex story while using some of their most popular characters to do it. It feels like The Avengers…only on audio.

Mind Games 

“In Victorian England, Henry Gordon Jago and Professor Litefoot investigate worrying events on the streets of London – which seem to be linked to the New Regency Theatre’s resident act, the mesmerist Mr Rees…” 

What’s very important when telling these kinds of stories is the order in which you showcase the talent. I’ve already expressed just how brilliant Jago & Litefoot are. The series is immensely popular so I knew I was in for a treat if Jago & Litefoot were to start everything off. But more importantly, by putting the infernal investigators first, it also sets the bar quite high for the other stories in this arc.

One of the most attractive things about the Jago & Litefoot series is it's simplicity. Never too complicated. Never too hard to follow. Jago and Litefoot are not expert detectives, but most often than not, amateurish sleuths. This is an unusual element which only strengthens the dynamic. The series is straight forward and regularly rely on revisiting popular story ideas such as vampires, mind control and hypnotism amongst many others, but they visit these concepts in a way that feels completely fresh and new, usually combining them with a Sherlock Holmes-esque mystery. Another dominating factor is the protagonists. Trevor and Benjamin play off one another expertly and listening to Jago and Litefoot talk - about anything really - is entertaining in of itself. Anyone who has ever listened to one of their stories can testify that the script's dialogue is fantastically creative. Mind Games is no different.

Without giving anything away, it's quite a dark story with lots of The Talons of Weng-Chiang feel to it. Other than the Gothic atmosphere that engulfs this tale, there are a lot of parallels to be drawn between Mind Games and the aforementioned television story. Mind Games also does a superb job of setting up the themes and ideas that will be explored throughout the arc. It also introduces the lead antagonist - Mr Rees - and details his personality, but also leaves gaps open for the other stories to fill. After all, we can't know everything 1/4 into the arc. One of these things is his motivation which I found when left unanswered only strengthened the overall story. There is something eerie about people who do evil without having a reason.

The Reesinger Process

“London, 1964, and the repercussions of Jago and Litefoot’s adventure are dealt with by Sir Toby Kinsella and his crack team of specialists at Counter-Measures. What is the Reesinger Process – and who is behind it?” 

Let me get this out of the way first: I’ve only listened to one story involving Counter-Measures and that was 50th Anniversary Seventh Doctor release – The Assassination Games. So technically, this is my first solo Counter-Measures tale.

With shades of Jago & Litefoot, the Counter-Measures part also had a mystery on their hands, but instead of a couple of amateur sleuths, The Reesinger Process felt like 24 meets The West Wing. Even though I'm not a fan of either of those, I'm surprised by how much I enjoyed The Reesinger Process. Like Jago & Litefoot, the Counter Measures stories use easy ideas and relies on the popularity of their characters to stand out. I like Group Captain Ian Gilmore as he reminds me of the Brigadier in some aspects, but it's still two very different characters and approaches. I fell in love with Sir Toby who acts as Mission Control for the team. His voice is so calm with that hint of 'you can't trust a word I'm saying' and 'even though it doesn't sound like it, I am talking down to you'.

One of the biggest concerns I had going into this story was the thought that now that Jago & Litefoot set the rules and did the most obvious plot story utilizing the concepts introduced in Mind Games, Counter Measures will try the same and end up looking like a 1964 copy and paste job with just new characters. Counter Measures puts a new, inventive spin on things and it comes out looking like a true political thriller story. One of the downsides though, Mr. Rees doesn't have as big of a role in this one than he did in Mind Games and Jamie Glover, who plays Mr. Rees doesn't even appear. So if Mr. Rees features, but Jamie doesn't, what's going on? Well go have a listen to it for yourself.

The Screaming Skull  
“Disgraced soldiers Ruth Matheson and Charlie Sato are called back into action by Captain Mike Yates, when the UNIT Vault is mysteriously locked down by a deadly force. Together they must infiltrate the Vault and get those trapped out alive. But what enemy are they facing.” 

Although this is a UNIT story, it mostly centers on UNIT personal Captain Ruth Matheson and Charlie Sato, played by Daphne Ashbrook (Grace Holloway) and Yee Jee Tso (Lee Chang) and also serves as a sequel to Mastermind which some of you who follow Big Finish extensively will know ended on an absolutely horrendous cliffhanger back in July of last year. Speaking for just myself, I’ve been praying Big Finish continues their story as Ruth and Charlie have the same chemistry as Jago & Litefoot. Well...maybe not that good, but still pretty great.

This third story, penned by Johnathon Morris, managed to keep the ball rolling by not only introducing not-retired-anymore Mike Yates, but showcasing once again that it doesn't take a whole ensemble of cast members and various settings to tell a good story. Writing a 'Vault' story is tough. You usually have fewer than five or four characters. You're confined to one single building and you're expected to deliver not only a plot that works with these restraints, but also one that will keep people interested. The Screaming Skull is such a story. Morris makes it three for three by delivering yet another chilling, claustrophobic story and utilizing what he has to work with to the best of his abilities.

This story, unlike the previous two, also gives us a deeper insight into Mr. Rees and the character gets a decent amount of development after hardly featuring in the previous story. We also get to hear a bit about Mike's troubled past. I'll confess that I don't know much about the character, this story makes me want to. 

One letdown is the the inclusion and to some extent, over-reliance on a particular trope I dislike. No. I hate this trope. I understand why it's in the story, but it just feels bleh.

Second Sight 
“The actions of Mr Rees have alerted the Time Lords of Gallifrey, and Romana has assigned her best warrior. Independently, the Sixth Doctor has arrived on Earth. A power from the dawn of the Universe is about to be unleashed once more…” 

Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor is my favorite Doctor precisely for all the reasons most of the fandom dislike him. Teaming him with Romana II felt like listening to The Apocalypse Element. Not only that, but Mike Yates becomes the Sixth Doctor's one-off companion as well. What a dynamic! And that's not even touching the storyline yet!

Speaking of which, Second Sight had a lot to live up to, being the climatic battle against Rees. Once again the writers had to find something different and interesting to do with the plot ideas they introduced without it feeling old or repetitive. They not only succeeded at this, but they also managed to pull in my opinion a very clever twist near the end. Some listeners will no doubt go 'he cheated a bit, didn't?'. Yes. The resolution to the cross through may come across like that, but thankfully the story lampshades this by referencing it in-story.
This story didn't end things off as spectacularly as I hoped, but instead managed to maintain the bar set by the previous stories and thereby give listeners four consistently high value parts. I feel this works just as great. What it also did was leave us with a piece of dialogue hinting at a series of adventures featuring Six, Romana and Leela. Now that I want to see! Let's hope it wasn't just lipservice.

One question you’ll no doubt want to ask is if you can buy this box set this without having prior knowledge of the other stories/series featured in this arc. All of these stories are standalone when it comes to their own specific continuities except for The Screaming Skull. Now obviously you’ll need to listen to the stories in the correct order to understand the arc, but The Screaming Skull is the only story of the lot where you’ll first need to listen to the other two titles in the series – Tales from the Vault and Mastermind otherwise you end up missing a couple of plot points. For newer fans that have little experience with Big Finish or the Classic Era, for Jago & Litefoot and Counter-Measures, I’d advise you to first go out and watch the television stories The Talons of Weng Chiang and Remembrance of the Daleks

One thing that did upset me about the box set was the lack of individual covers. It's understandable enough why there wasn't a Jago & Litefoot themed cover for Mind Games and so forth, but it really would've looked much better if it wasn't just one cover.

Rating Mind Games: 8/10. I'd expect nothing less from the Infernal Investigators!
Rating The Reesinger Process. 8.5/10. I know which Big Finish series I'll be getting next.
Rating The Screaming Skull: 8.5/10. Three for three!
Rating Second Sight: 8.5/10. A satisfying conclusion to a satisfying series.

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