What really caught my eye… uh… ear about this series is how much it is indebted to Sherlock Holmes. We saw how many references were thrown out there throughout the second installment, but by now we’re seeing another element: Moriarty. Dr. Talp is being set up as the Napoleon of Supernatural Crime sitting in the center of his web, directing all that is nefarious in London. Holmes and Wat… I mean Jago and Litefoot are ever on his trail but never quite able to catch him. As a “for instance”, those Holmes fans who remember The Red-Headed League will recall there is not so much as a mention of Moriarty in that story, but eventually Holmes refers back to those events and tells Watson that Moriarty was behind them. Interestingly, Dr. Talp seems to have taken a page out of the professor’s book since this is the 4th story where he’s operating just outside of their grasp. (And no, I did not mean The Dynamics of an Asteroid, but his book of nefarious plots!)
Once again these two friends are utterly magical to listen to. The sheer delight is still off the charts, but make no mistake, this is the weakest of the three stories so far. There’s a medium, Mrs. Vanguard, who is taking advantage of her position and using all the tricks of the trade to fake seances for a quick buck. Or… quick shilling. Whatever. Jago and Litefoot investigate (you recall, “cracking complex conundrums” and all that!) But there is a real element to her activities, and she is swapping souls, re-inhabiting key members of society with spirit-beings, and leaving the real person’s soul in a … soul cabinet? Somehow I kept thinking of The Unquiet Dead. The problem is this gets dangerously into the supernatural, because when Jago and Ellie find themselves in the Spirit Trap, with their actual bodies occupied by other beings intent on the throne of England, one has to wonder: how exactly does that work? I don’t mean the science of it; this is science fiction after all. I mean, what does that say about the soul? We are listening to a series with the bulk of its massive body firmly planted in the realms of Science Fiction; to go spiritual is … well, I think it’s a mistake.
To address that, we do have a little discussion about heaven and philosophy, which I found marvelous, but not like Master, the Big Finish release that was a fire-side chat with the Master and the Doctor. Still enjoyable, but making up too little of the overall story. It left me wanting. This series started off with werewolves, then went into a suicide club complete with “vampires”, and now we’ve gone into a strange place with spirits. I guess Litefoot is right: stories about mediums are rarely well done! And all the while, Talp controls things from behind the scenes… damned spider in his web!
So while I love these two characters and still think the boxed set is fantastic and well worth the price, I can still see the ideas degraded by part three and can only hope that part four recovers. I won’t blast it too much because it can do that all by itself. You see, when the body of the possessed gets too much use, it starts to heat up… a lot… to the point of spontaneous human combustion. And when Jago is the next potential victim, we do have to wonder how they will get out of this mess.
And that is the stories greatest strength! Not the story itself, but the chemistry and friendship that Litefoot and Jago share. Litefoot will do anything not to lose his friend! And Jago, who comes off like a bumbling buffoon, never gives up.
This story does not hit the number of laugh out loud moments of its predecessors but it still keeps the friendship alive and strong and manages to save itself from a lower rating just by the depiction of good friends. And they are still happily investigating the strange events of Victorian times. That’s basically at the heart of what we’ve seen so far. So as we come to the final chapter, what Victorian era mystery will our friends get involved with next? And will this Moriarty meet his Reichenbach? Tune in next week to find out… ML