Review by Jacob Licklider
The Paternoster Gang as a spin-off has suffered from a bit of an identity crisis through its first three volumes. It doesn’t know if it wants to be a spiritual successor to Jago and Litefoot or a straight out character driven comedy or a serious Victorian drama and examination of Victorian culture. The subtitle of the first four sets being ‘Heritage’ implies the later, but the first two sets don’t really examine the idea of heritage or the theme.
The third succeeds more at exploring the Heritage of Jenny Flint, and Heritage 4 rounds out this miniseries by actually bringing darker parts of a characters heritage in context with the rest of the world. It’s a set that manages to make a mission statement for The Paternoster Gang: it’s about the weird family found between a lizard woman from the dawn of time, her wife, and their Sontaran butler. It’s about the bonds they make, the dangers they face, and the betterment to society they provide. Now, if only that was established from the word go, we could have had four box sets with the identity clearly set out of what to expect from The Paternoster Gang and get on with enjoying the series.
Merry Christmas, Mr. Jago
opens the fourth set from the mind of ex-Jago and Litefoot scribe Paul Morris. It was the obvious step to bring in Christopher Benjamin as Henry Gordon Jago at some point, and while there are criticisms I have with this story, it does something incredibly important: it doesn’t try to be a typical Jago & Litefoot story. This makes the listener realize that just because the setting is the same and in a universe where these characters have met each other, they are not fulfilling the same purpose. Madame Vastra is a detective sure, but she’s really just trying to live her life and that’s kind of the point. Litefoot is written out as being abroad with a lady friend, which is an interesting comment depending on how you read that character. There’s a secret from Vastra’s time period that has been unearthed by a shady businessman whom the gang associate with around Christmas, and the story is essentially a Christmas farce. This is where we get to see some of the criticism with the story. It’s incredibly standard story that kind of draws on Gremlins for its appeal which is fine for a premise, especially when Morris makes the characters shine, and a lady wanting the Mowgwi analogue in this story for no particular reasons, but this is inconsequential when the story itself works its way into setting The Paternoster Gang apart from it’s spiritual parent. It’s also a lot of fun to see Christopher Benjamin again and while he’s playing Jago as more subdued here, rightfully so as he’s far away from Prof. Litefoot and the usual adventures, but he is still the impresario that we all know and love. It’s a good start to the set. 7/10.
The other two stories in the set build on the theme of Vastra’s past catching up with her in a two episode story arc. It starts with Roy Gill’s The Ghost Writers which deals with the idea of gentleman’s societies in Victorian London, specifically focusing on a societal aspect rooted in sexism and exclusion of the lower classes. The society here is one obsessed with antiquity and reviving the past, having found a tractate written in impossible ink that seems to disappear, with a geode like structure. Beneath it all is something dark from Vastra’s past which can threaten the entire Earth, linking itself with the myths and legends of the universe. The standout here is once again the guest cast with Annette Badland’s character being of particular note (I’m being vague here as I’m writing this before the official release). Badland is delightful through this, and the next story with, as there’s a twist involving this specific character and actually develops her from the character the listener originally pegs her to be. The idea of sentient ink as a threat and someone ghost writing a story is nothing new to Big Finish, being done in Dark Shadows: And Red All Over, but this one specifically gives the premise a science fiction and very Doctor Who style twist as to the origins of the ink. It’s also clearly the first half of the story and ends with Vastra having to make a choice. 8/10.
Rulers of Earth from Matt Fitton closes the set and leave it to Fitton to make an emotional story. This is one of those stories where Neve McIntosh shows just how much range she has an actress. There is a threat from the dawn of time and the atmosphere (helped by the always wonderful scoring of Joe Kraemer) becomes almost a dirge, and I mean that in a good way. The theme here is heritage coming back to destroy the status quo and defeat progress, something that is prevalent in many Silurian stories (a certain proposal by David A. McIntee really comes to mind with this final story). Dan Starkey and Catrin Stewart are also raised by the tone of the script. While Jenny and Strax are still largely comedic characters, the circumstances properly subdue the comedy and both Stewart and Starkey adjust their performances to respond to this specific little change. There’s also the final capstone to the set to consider as everything comes together in the theme of reconciling the past with how society and the individual has moved on. However, this is a story where Matt Fitton doesn’t quite stick the landing, as the ending of the plot drags quite a bit past what would be a logical ending. There’s a great speech which would work as a closing moment for the story, but things keep going for another ten minutes really making Rulers of Earth fall flat. It doesn’t undo the fact that it is still a great story. 8/10.
The Paternoster Gang: Heritage 4 is the first set that really deals with the theme and sets itself apart from other audio dramas from Big Finish Productions, but somehow does so by telling stories that are kind of standard and are definitely not going to be for everybody. It does create hope for the future as it gives the series its own identity and somewhere to grow to be. 7.7/10.
Download/buy here: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/the-paternoster-gang-heritage-4-1986