The second series of the wonderfully named Wireless Theatre Company’s Springheel Saga ended with early Victorian era detective Jonah Smith reconciled to the devilish vision that had haunted him since as a child he had lost his parents in the Great Scratch Row Fire, and eighteen months later Christopher Finney is back to reprise his role one final time in this concluding series of half-hour episodes. Following the vaguely Nightmare Man revelations in The Legend of Springheel’d Jack, this last set of three instalments promises to finally deliver the revelation as to what precisely the ghostly apparition really is.
It’s 1877, more than three decades after Smith’s last encounter with his nebulous nemesis, and to say that the intervening years have changed his circumstances since their last meeting would be an understatement. But Jack has returned, and having attacked Aldershot Barracks in a scene-setting cold open, Benjamin Disraeli (David Benson)’s government are looking for our erstwhile detective in order to help them solve the mystery once and for all. They’re not the only ones on Springheel’s trail though, and in common with the previous series, The Peril of the Empires sets up this third triptych as a contest between competing parties to track the beast down for varyingly nefarious reasons.
With the authors continuing to intertwine real history with their own fictional characters, The Secret of Springheel’d Jack begins in as authentically-feeling a fashion as its predecessors had been produced, and while it would be advisable for any new listeners to seek out those preceding six episodes – not least for the performances of Julian Glover in the first series, and Nicholas Parsons in the second (with another notable name promised for later in this final run) – fans of Victorian melodrama with a supernatural, potentially sci-fi twist will soon be up to speed with the story here, thanks to some deft scene setting happily disguised beyond some superlative acting, the occasionally dodgy Prussian accent notwithstanding. Chris Finney (late of Wizards Vs Aliens) continues to be excellent as Detective Smith, aging forty years across the saga, and there’s even a turn from Matthew Kelly as the German Ambassador.
Given a slightly melancholy edge thanks to its elliptical nature, harkening back to the tragic way the saga had begun, The Peril of the Empires is a classy production that largely eschews the “acting for radio” that can sometimes blight plays of its kind. And although it perhaps isn’t as ripe as later Victorian detective dramas are in the habit of being, instead it begins the telling of another relatively traditional story in an archetypal fashion, with recognisable elements masking what undertakes to be an unpredictable if not entirely surprising conclusion to the trilogy.