Big Finish Review: The Paternoster Gang – Heritage 4
Sixteen months after it began, The Paternoster Gang – Heritage ends this month with another string of adventures for the titular trio of hodgepodge misfits. Neve McIntosh, Catrin Stewart and Dan Starkey return to roles they first played almost a decade ago.
The final instalment in the Heritage miniseries is produced by David Richardson and directed by Ken Bentley. It is available to purchase at the Big Finish site here, before going on general release on the 31st December. Catch The Digital Fix’s take on previous instalments. The synopsis follows:
Merry Christmas, Mr Jago by Paul Morris
As Vastra searches for relics of prehistory, Jenny worries about security, and Strax wants to find a suitable gift for his friend.
Henry Gordon Jago has been invited to spend Christmas at Paternoster Row – but when presents are unwrapped, the surprises inside could prove deadly!
The Ghost Writers by Roy Gill
While Jenny and Strax investigate sightings of fauns beneath streetlights and mermaids in bath-houses, Madame Vastra is invited into a different mystery.
The literary members of the Antediluvian Club have strict criteria for entry, and Miss Edith Renner needs Vastra to access their secrets.
Rulers of Earth by Matt Fitton
Ancient forces have risen, Vastra and her friends are lost to each other, and a terrible prophecy is taking shape.
A pretender to the throne allies with a force from prehistory, while an unlikely ally searches for the Paternosters.
The Gang must face their destiny, as the fate of Earth is decided...
Merry Christmas, Mr Jago
It may only be October, but Christmas has already arrived in style at Big Finish. The set opens with the episode most likely to attract interest from avid Big Finish fans, with a guest star appearance from Christopher Benjamin as theatre impresario Henry Gordon Jago, crossing over from Big Finish’s Jago & Litefoot range (itself a spin-off, of course, from the lauded classic Doctor Who serial The Talons of Weng-Chiang).
The Paternosters are well familiar with Jago’s existence. (We’ve heard one of their past encounters, in Jago & Litefoot & Strax.) Merry Christmas, Mr Jago has the trio gather together to celebrate the festive season and foil a burglary plot. There are healthy doses of the festive atmosphere (carol singers, presents and Jago dressed as Father Christmas), Strax’s humour (his obsession with acid, inability to differentiate gender and penchant for over-reaction to run-of-the-mill comments), and the warmth of friendship and family – a key thematic element in both The Paternoster Gang and Jago & Litefoot ranges.
As ever, the naturally charming interplay between the Paternosters is the highlight of the episode, which receives an added boost form Jago’s companionship and unashamedly verbose wit. Don’t expect too pronounced a connection to the series arc: this episode, at its core, is an enjoyably (though not excessively) light escapade for three – or in this case, four – well-loved supernatural investigators living in Victorian London.
The Ghost Writers
The Heritage series has continued to paint a vibrant canvass of Victoriana, with a multitude of idiosyncratic Londoners populating the stories, and The Ghost Writers is no exception. Roy Gill’s third script for the range features a number of fantastical creatures coming to life from a writer’s imagination – fauns, mermaids, satyrs – that add extra colour to the evocative backdrop.
A story about a writer is a classic, well-worn trope. Gill must have had fun giving lines to Torquil Jonas (Laurence Dobiesz) whose scribblings, and the creatures within, are given life. While Strax and Jenny combat a variety of phantasmagoria, Vastra meets the alluring and enigmatic antiquarian Edith Renner who ends up driving a wedge into Vastra and Jenny’s relationship – although this idea isn’t explored to its full potential.
The Ghost Writers leads directly into the finale in a big way, with Vastra being possessed by the spirit of Anura, a goddess of ancient Silurian mythology whose remains were found in the previous set. The stage is set for a big reckoning in Rulers of Earth.
Rulers of Earth
The heady developments promised in preceding episodes come to fruition in Rulers of Earth, as script writer Matt Fitton steps up to complete the Heritage arc. This is a good decision considering how, as the finale of a twelve-episode run, Rulers of Earth has a lot to do: wrap up a linked sequence of adventures while also telling its own story and giving each character something meaningful to accomplish.
A month on from the end of The Ghost Writers, Madame Vastra is gone, replaced by Anura, whose plot to take back the earth for Silurian kind and purge humanity in a huge conflagration that promises to be a biblical-scale reckoning. The machinations of Duke Franz Albrecht Stuart (Nicholas Asbury), a new character planning a coup to usurp Queen Victoria’s throne, form a neat parallel to Anura’s replacement of Vastra, although could have probably formed the plot of its own episode.
Fellow Silurian Vella (Beth Goddard) re-emerges after an extended absence. Vella was the member of the rival trio of misfits known as the Bloomsbury Bunch who did not appear in the previous volume, and is again vying for power – but she ultimately does come to the aid of the Paternosters, proving that their people’s bond runs deeper than enmity or short-lived ambition.
Credit to Matt Fitton for his extensive knowledge of Doctor Who lore and his talent for weaving together disparate elements to create an ending that is mostly satisfying and where, as it should be, it’s the close bond between the Paternosters that saves the day.
The cast’s memories of filming the other Paternoster Gang Christmas special, The Snowmen, are close to mind, as is the love all parties involved have for the character of Henry Gordon Jago – including writer Paul Morris, who shares an insight into his reasoning for where along the character’s timeline he decided to set his episode.
As usual, Joe Kraemer’s remarks on the sound design and scoring process prove highly compelling, and these form a large proportion of the extras. The latter two episodes were recorded remotely during lockdown, and so the remote recording setups of different actors also gets a mention.
The first set of The Paternoster Gang was a welcome return of three much-loved characters from Steven Moffat’s era of Doctor Who, and the second sequence of stories expanded the potential of the series. The following volume continued to provide development for its vividly drawn leads, and this final instalment caps off the entire sequence with the same eagerness for hope and flair for the peculiar with which it began.