Of all the Non-Doctor audio series put out by Big Finish, Jago & Litefoot was not only my favourite, it was the only one I really had any ongoing interest in listening to. So it’s a shame that their peerless perilous adventures will now end on the cliffhanger that closes the series thirteen boxset, with our heroes left on some parallel world somewhere. I’d always hoped that they would meet up with the Paternoster Gang at some point, but it wasn’t to be…
Talons is a story chock full of resonances and callbacks to its varied source material. Although it sounds like one of JNT’s infamous shopping lists, the various elements of Sherlock Holmes, Jack The Ripper, Fu Manchu and The Phantom of the Opera all combine together beautifully to produce something that is more than just a rip-off or homage, it’s a synthesis that has a stylistic coherence all of it’s own. And it predates Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by twenty-odd years [the classic graphic novel, not the rubbish movie] but with two extraordinary gentlemen of its own…
Jago & Litefoot are more than just a spin on Holmes & Watson, though their relationship certainly has its narrative skirts showing. Henry Gordon Jago isn’t a Nigel Bruce bumbler, he simply has a healthy sense of self-preservation. Prof Litefoot isn’t Basil Rathbone, but his forensic training certainly leads him to make Holmesian deductions. It’s far too simplistic to say they are simply an Emotional and Intellectual binary as both characters have a warmth and a humanity about them that only a writer as skilled as Holmes could give them. And what an appropriate surname given the material…
Of course, it would be a mistake to put it all down to the writing, you have to include the two lead actors’ interpretations of the characters. But without a good script those actors have nothing to work with, and Robert Holmes certainly gave Benjamin & Baxter plenty to play with in that regard. It’s a testament to both them and the writer who created their alter-egos that we continued to enjoy hearing from them via Big Finish all these years later. And it was their audio revival that gave me the idea for this edit…
Instead of The Talons of Weng-Chiang being a Doctor Who story, think of it as the pilot episode of Jago & Litefoot. It’s the one where we first meet them and they first meet each other. Now since J&L is an audio series, it would make sense then to have an audio version of Talons that could sit alongside their audio pilot proper, The Mahogany Murderers, as part of the BF range. And the only way to do that would be to knock together another of our Soundtrack + Audiobook edits, giving you the best of both versions and a proper audio introduction for those investigators of infernal incidents!
There was no point simply leaving the audiobook intact and replacing all the novelisation’s dialogue with the soundtrack, the whole point of the exercise is to do a “new” compilation version of the story that allows it to be enjoyed in a different way to the entirety of either the TV episodes or the BBC Audiobook or even the Target novelisation itself. This was one of those instances where the differences between the two source materials required some ingenuity in getting from one to the other and back again. Atmospheric though Simon Power’s additional fx and music can be, these edits would be a heck of a lot easier if they weren’t there!
The first thing to do was to read the novelisation whilst simultaneously listening to the audiobook version of it. As well as being enjoyable in and of itself, doing this has the advantage of letting you know if the cuts you plan to make are possible without extraneous sound effects or music cues getting in the way. Through trial and error, and a few abortive first attempts, I’d concluded that the best way to tackle the story was to keep the focus almost entirely on Henry Gordon Jago. This was partly because it was Christopher Benjamin who was doing the reading and partly because this is all about When Jago Met Litefoot and not a giant rat or a fiendish foe from the future and his inscrutable oriental sidekick. This isn’t even about the Doctor, it’s about the two extraordinary gentlemen he inadvertently brings together.
Having highlighted those sections of the audiobook where I could cut to the soundtrack and back again, the next thing to do was to rip the relevant scenes from the Talons DVD. What a pity this came out before Jago & Litefoot had begun their Big Finish run. If only that Toby Haddock had done one of those WhoTalk commentary CD things with Benjamin & Baxter, now wouldn’t that have been worth a listen!
And so the edit begins with the start of chapter 1, Terror In The Fog, which begins on page 6 of the PDF version of the book [you can find it in various places online] and carries on until page 10, when the Doctor and Leela arrive. I only kept the opening paragraph of this bit before cutting to page 14 and Mr Sin jumping out on Buller. Luckily the music cues for both sections went together well enough to cover the join, allowing us to then cut back to Casey having a case of the oopizootics, something that actually happens on page 12, before Buller gets done in, but sometimes you have to shuffle the material around like this to make the edit work.
Having worked around the Doctor’s arrival on television to bring him into the story only when he meets Jago, the next problem was the scenes in the cellar. There’s a rumble in the background of these scenes in the audiobook that made it obvious where the edit cuts back to the soundtrack. In order to cover those cuts, I had to make up a loop of a clean bit of the background noise from the audiobook and lay that underneath the soundtrack sections.
The real fun bit of Talons is of course Part Five where Jago & Litefoot meet for the first time, so the idea was to keep the edit moving so we can get to that moment as soon as possible. As well as the usual cuts to scenes that they’re not in, mostly it was a case of tightening the pauses between the narration to up the pace a bit. There were also a few instances where I needed to download addition sound effects to cover some of the cuts and I had to make a few loops of Dudley Simpson’s music to keep the two source materials in time with each other in various places.
And speaking of keeping things in sync, one of the places where I needed a new sound effect to match the tv soundtrack to the narration was the scene where Jago spots the Doctor in the audience. The audiobook has the sound of the theatre’s audience behind it but the tv soundtrack doesn’t. And so I downloaded an fx track from the brilliant Free SFX site to help cover the transition. You can find the site at free sfx dot co dot uk.
Ideally I would have cut the whole trip to the theatre and instead gone straight from Greel attacking the Doctor and Jago to Jago bringing the carpet bag round to the Professor’s house, but doing that meant that Chang vanished from the story with no explanation, so I kept it in for continuity’s sake.
There’s another example of the kind of continuity thing you need to listen out for as a fan editor when Jago introduces Chang. In the audiobook it says that the scene takes place during the second house, but on the soundtrack you can hear Jago saying that this is the first of Chang’s two appearances that evening, putting the scene during the first house. As a result I had to cut out that bit of Jago’s introduction to avoid the contradiction.
I also took the opportunity to correct a fluff that nobody caught during the recording of that scene. If you listen carefully, you can hear Benjamin say “spessal slits” instead of “special slits” when he talks about Chang sliding swords into the cabinet of death. As an actor with experience of this sort of thing, I can assure you that the hardest parts of narration to do are those bits where you have two similar sounds, such as the ones Benjamin stumbles over here. Makes you wonder why nobody picked up on it, and the other minor stumbles he makes, at the time of recording…
Much like their official audio pilot, The Mahogany Murderers, this edit is in two parts, with the mid-point cliffhanger coming when Chang points the revolver at the Doctor from the stage.
After Casey’s demise Chang legs it to Greel’s underground lair where I had my first real audio editing challenge. Since this is the first time in the edit we’ve been here, I had to use the section of the audiobook where Chang first visits Greel, slightly cut back to fit. Then, in order to cover switching from the narration to the soundtrack and back again, I had to create two loops, one of the background noise from the audiobook, and another of the dripping water you can hear in the background of the soundtrack. Boy was I glad when they finally got out of there!
After the scene of Jago finding the carpet bag, the novelisation finally gets to the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Part Five. Jago meets Litefoot! Of course, the problem now was that, because we weren’t introduced to Litefoot at the point where the Doctor meets him in the tv original, I had to again go back to the early part of the audiobook to get the section where he is first introduced to the reader and insert that into the edit before Jago knocks on the door.
The only major change to Part Two is that I truncated the ending for time, joining together both scenes in the Dragon Room. Whereas on telly the Doctor got zapped by the Dragon and carted off to get locked up with Jago & Litefoot before returning to finish off Greel, in this version the one runs straight into the other, allowing me to cut out the padding between the two.
It’s still strange to be talking about Jago & Litefoot in the past tense, but given the advancing age of both actors, we can’t help but be grateful to Big Finish that we got any further adventures with them at all. Robert Holmes’ ultimate double act, there was a touch of genius to the idea of two different men from contrasting strata of Victorian society being thrown together and forging an unlikely friendship. And who knows, perhaps Jago will make it back to our world one day to tell us the story of what happened to his old pal the Professor…
But for now, you can finally listen to a complete set of Jago & Litefoot adventures with the addition to the range of this audio version of The Talons of Weng-Chiang, otherwise known as When Jago Met Litefoot!