After starting to build an overall idea in The Paternoster Gang: Heritage 3, the current set of stories brings this sequence of boxsets to what feels an abrupt close. The three stories in set each fails to contribute to a coherent whole, and feels like a series of missed opportunities. The stories aren’t necessarily bad, they just left us feeling more could be done.
Unexpected Christmas gifts
The set starts with Merry Christmas, Mr Jago and writer Paul Morris gives Christopher Benjamin another outing as Henry Gordon Jago. Although dressed as Father Christmas, Henry’s mood is not one of jollity, and while there’s decent shenanigans as we get drawn into a tale of Christmas shopping and presents, the story as a whole doesn’t quite embrace the idea of Christmas. At times we wondered if this story would not have worked better as a standalone Christmas special, allowing the rest of the boxset time to breathe? 2020 has not been the best year for planning and production, and Big Finish deserves praise for juggling schedules and keeping it’s conveyor belt of releases going. In this case we’d have preferred a single release more along the 2015 release Jago & Litefoot & Strax: The Haunting.
Roy Gill’s The Ghost Writers is packed with great ideas, ranging from fauns in the streets and mermaids in the bath houses. It also brings us the Antediluvian Club a secret society with ancient knowledge and arcane admission requirements. While interesting, we did wonder just how all these ideas fit with a Victorian London already home to several alien groups and an ever-growing collection of those who know what’s really going on. It all feels a little crowded, but the Club as an idea works well. Alongside the regular cast, there’s rich interplay amongst the various characters but the story as a whole is compromised by its need to fit the final story. We wonder how the story might have worked given more space.
Ancient forces at work
Speaking of space, Matt Fitton’s Rulers of Earth dives straight into the middle of a confusing mix of action, characters and threats. Vastra is, for the most part, a victim of the story and the ending relies heavily on some well-trodden tropes mixed with a large portion of sudden exposition. At times the story need more clarity as to where and when scenes are happening, despite the efforts of Joe Kramer’s atmospheric sound design and musical score to provide context. While there’s a lot going on, some of the key scenes felt forced with few surprises as to how the story would pan out. Once the main conflict focusses in on Vastra, Jenny and Strax, the story does become somewhat more mythic, making this whole series seem like an extended introduction to the Paternoster Gang, and perhaps makes us realise the TV portrayal was not (within Doctor Who) ever intended to drive the plot. There’s an overall lack of agency interfering with some potentially strong drama.
The Paternoster Gang: Heritage 4 marks the end of sequence of stories, that while mostly enjoyable, failed to deliver on a central idea. This particular set at least leaves the characters well-established on audio, and we can only hope future boxsets can build from here. The core cast of Neve McIntosh (Mme Vastra), Catrin Stewart (Jenny) and Dan Starkey (Strax) generally deliver, as do the guests (including Trevor Cooper, Daisy Ashford and Annette Badland) but at times the scripts don’t provide enough texture to their parts. We feel there is a lot of potential in this range, but it needs to find a clearer direction of travel.
The Paternoster Gang: Heritage 4 is available from Big Finish in both download and CD format and comes with the usual set of behind the scenes interviews.