Big Finish Productions
The Marian Conspiracy
|Written by||Jacqueline Raynor|
|Running Time||90 mins|
|Continuity||Between Trial of a Time Lord
Time and the Rani
|Starring Colin Baker and Maggie Stables|
|Also featuring Nicholas Pegg, Anah Ruddin, Jo Castleton, Barnaby Edwards, Sean Jackson and Jex Fielder|
|Synopsis: Tracking a nexus point in time, the Doctor meets new companion Dr Evelyn Smythe, a history lecturer with a vanishing past. The pair must travel back to Tudor times to stablise the nexus and avoid ending up on the headman's block.|
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 7/7/00
There are two very noticeable things about this wonderful tale from Jacqueline Rayner, the first being that is the first historical tale since Black Orchid. And an atmospheric one at that. Doctor Who rarely travelled back to the historical days of England and this story set in Tudor times finally sees the balance redressed.
The Doctor played with wonderful subtleness by Colin Baker acts as both mediator and politician, to great effect. The rich dialogue also moves the plot along without the listener realising, adding to the overall enjoyment of the tale.
Perhaps more significant is the introduction of Maggie Stables as Doctor Evelyn Smythe. Brilliantly played, Evelyn is certainly a match for the Sixth Doctor, complete with her love of chocolate. She is comparable to Barbara Wright and just as effective a character. The repartee between Stables and Baker is a joy to behold, as is the story in general. Well worth listening to.
Here's To Welcoming the Sixth's Doctor's "Lost Years" by Peter Niemeyer 27/7/00
Well this is it. With The Marian Conspiracy, I have completed my first six-month subscription with Big Audio's Doctor Who adventures. And, I've already ordered the next six.
The Marian Conspiracy was a satisfying tale. The note from the author described the desire to do a historical adventure for the 6th Doctor along the lines of The Massacre, and I think they did an excellent job. In fact, the story flowed so naturally and the character interactions were so organic that I didn't really realize it was going to be a purely historical adventure until the end of episode 4. The only historical figures and events that became a part of the story were those that pushed the narrative forward, which is the way I prefer it. I dislike historicals where the characters seem to meet famous people solely for the sake of meeting famous people.
Thumbs up for the new companion, Evelyn Smythe (pronounced Evil-in Sm-eye-th). She is definitely the sort of the companion you wouldn't have seen in the televised adventures...not leggy enough, not breasty enough, which I find a refreshing change. She's along the lines of Barbara Wright or Liz Shaw...mature enough to hold her own against the Doctor's know-it-all tendencies. This works particularly well for the Sixth Doctor, who was perhaps the most arrogant. I found the whole cocoa/chocolate cake bit just a tad too cutsey, but I found Maggie Stables' voice so endearing that I was willing to forgive it. (So far, I like her more than Audio-Turlough, Audio-Peri, or Audio-Nyssa.)
I also like the notion of exploring the Doctor's lost years. This story has confirmed in my mind that the Sixth Doctor was a viable source of entertainment. It's too bad Colin Baker got such a sour deal and was carted off before things had a chance to settle and he had a chance to shine. I'm glad Evelyn will be appearing in future Big Finish stories. I'm looking forward to watching their relationship grow.
(In some ways, it's too bad that didn't go with a male companion. The Doctor has travelled with a single female companion all the time, but he has had a single male companion on rare occasions only. There are argueably only five episodes where the Doctor has had a single male companion (The Massacre, The Faceless Ones, The Evil of the Daleks, The Keeper of Traken and Planet of Fire), and I wouldn't mind seeing this venue explored further at least once in the Doctor's lives. And I'm not sure if Frobisher counts.)
I have one very minor quibble. The Doctor mentions that he once destroyed an entire race. I hope this wasn't a reference to "Terror of the Vervoids". The Sixth Doctor had knowledge of this from the 'Trail of a Timelord'. But this happened with Mel, his last companion, so if he's travelling with Evelyn, this is still in his future and he hasn't destroyed anything yet.
Final score: 9 out of 10
And for the fun of it, here's my ranking of the first six Big Audio Doctor Who productions from best to worst.
Two Promising Debuts For The Price Of One by Robert Thomas 20/3/01
When you come to a story featuring the debut of the author in question at the back of your head your hoping this will be good. Not so here, a debut it may be but its from someone who eats, breathes and sleeps Who. Coming into this I expected it to be good, but the question was how good?
Very good in fact, a good first debut that highlight's the new companion Evelyn Smythe and then onto a very good story. Rayner says in her notes that she wanted to do a St Barthelew's Eve Massacre for the 6th Doctor. But its unfair to compare the two as although they have similar themes they also have differing ones. There is a lot of rich dialogue here which adds to the story, you can here the joy in Colin's voice that his doctor is getting lines like this. As with all who there is no good and bad but differing shades of grey who have opposing views. Evelyn comes across very well and is destined to become a favorite companion of mine. The other characters come across well, so all in all a good debut.
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 20/3/02
Episode 1 of The Marian Conspiracy has to be one of the greatest introductions for any companion in the history of Doctor Who. The way this middle-aged, set in her ways lecturer was presented and depicted was brilliant. Evelyn has since become one of the best Companions of Doctor Who, and her first story is a triumph in character and story terms.
We are used to seeing Colin Bakers' Doctor on his own. Companions seemed to get in the way for him, and the books often had him alone. Sitting at the back of the lecture theatre is pure 6th Doctor then. Irritating everyone around him is also pure 6th Doctor.
When the Doctor whisks Evelyn away to the 16th Century it all seems perfectly natural. We want to spend more time with this fascinating lady. Someone who stands up to the Doctor, and is a great character in her own right.
The 16th Century is brought wonderfully to life. From the working class, and marvelous down to earth nature of George Crow and William Leaf - through to the royal court of Mary, Lady Sarah and Reverend Thomas. History is only interesting in as much as it affects people. Here Politics and Standard of Living are effortlessly included in the script, giving us a rich, alive Historical landscape.
The only thing I found difficult to get my head round was Mary herself. In this she came across as a petite, pretty young queen - when History has always painted a less glamorous image. But I suppose it was a refreshing change.
Throw in a Time Anomaly, something that Doctor Who does surprisingly little, and you have one of those pseudo-historicals the show does better than anyone.
Big Finish have depicted Historical settings wonderfully. From Georgian England through to Ancient Pompeii, they have exceeded all our expectations - and brought History to life in a stunning way. Marian Conspiracy is one of those Historical trips. You can learn a hell of a lot about Marian England, but it never gets in the way of a cracking adventure. 8/10
A Review by Joe Ford 13/7/02
What's it about: The Doctor heads back to the court of Queen Elisabeth to save the life of University lecturer who is vanishing through time. However as usual with these things they don't quite go to plan and they find themselves embroiled in politics, assasinations and loads of cocoa...
Something to cherish: The introduction of Evelyn Smythe. Who would have thought there was somebody more pompous, argumentitive and rude than the 6th Doctor? Who better to bat him down when he gets too full of himself? They have so many marvellous moments but the hysterical scene where the Doctor is trying so desperately to name drop his meeting with Francis Drake but Evelyn won't let him get a word in edgeways! It's so funny to see him so worked up!
Something to pan: The stupid cliffhanger to episode three. C'mon are we really supposed to buy that Evelyn is the Doctor's descendent? Still it is worth it for his reaction.
Dialogue to treasure: "The TARDIS, my home and heart." "You are without a doubt one of the most useful and well prepared comanions with whom I have ever travelled." "What would you say if I were to tell you that I once destroyed an entire race, that I have led friends to their deaths and caused numerous wars. That my intervention has led to peaceful people taking up arms and good people having their faith or reason destroyed. Because I failed to act millions upon millions of people have been enslaved or killed. What if I had done all of those things but had always, always believed I was doing to the right thing!"
Dialouge to loathe: None really, Jac Rayner's script is brimming with memorable dialouge.
Audio atmosphere: The 'location' scenes are especially atmospheric with twittering birds and the subtle sound of the wind rustling the tree tops!
Memorable music: Alistair Lock's score is great, sweet and melodic but dramatic when nesscercary. The tamborine crashing and flute are especially good during episode one's wonderful Doctor/Evelyn scenes and the gentle score throughout the Doctor's first scenes with Mary is lovely.
In short: Exceptional. I have a particular love of purely historical stories as I love anything that teaches me something as well as entertains. This is a serious exploration of the court of Queen Mary but peppered with much humour. The introduction of Evelyn is the begining of the re-evalution of Colin Baker's Doctor as they make such an engaging team. It still makes me smile to think of these two roaming around the universe causing mischief and bitching at each other! A simple story but compelling and a fantastic ending: 9.5/10
A Review by John Seavey 17/10/03
As I said in my Fearmonger review, it's Sylv or Colin. I've been a fan of Jac Rayner since the first thing of hers I read, and this was a great script. Evelyn is a great companion (although she cannot cure scrofula, as was claimed in Instruments of Darkness), and gets a great introductory story here. I think the best bit was Evelyn's inspired guess that the Doctor was her ancestor. A great listen.
The rehabilitation continues by Tim Roll-Pickering /11/04
I've always had a fondness for historical stories (maybe being a history research student has something to do with it!) and when I first heard this audio I was midway through my History Bachelor's degree. At the time Colin Baker's Doctor was slowly starting to come out of the doldrums of fan opinion, with the Missing Adventures and Past Doctor Adventures producing stories that were taking the character into new areas and showing a potential often missed on screen, as reflected in a number of reviews at the time (including my own one). The arrival of Big Finish audios brought another angle, as Colin Baker returned to the role once more. With The Marian Conspiracy we get the first audio set in the post-The Trial of a Time Lord era and see a new companion in the form of Dr Evelyn Smythe, a university history lecturer and a far cry from the standard young companions who usually accompany the Doctor. Maggie Sables brings the right combination of gravitas and fun to the role, making Evelyn a wonderful companion who works so well with the Doctor.
The story itself however is relatively lightweight. There is a worrying trend for recent Doctor Who historicals to feature no science fiction elements other than the Doctor and companions but to introduce an anachronism which the Doctor discovers and sets out to resolve. Here the problem is taken to the extremes since it is not all clear just what caused the temporal anomaly in the first place, nor why the Doctor traced it as late as Evelyn's generation.
Despite this, The Marian Conspiracy works very well. At its heart is an exploration of the religious tensions ripping through England at the time, as successive monarchs sought to save their people by aggresively promoting their own faith, and the reaction this generated around them. Jacqueline Rayner's script skillfully manages to avoid coming down in favour of either denomination or atheism, successfully managing to portray both Queen Mary and Reverend Thomas as people driven by their faith and willingness to commit the ultimate act of murder for their country. Going against the stereotype of "Bloody Mary", we are treated to a very sympathetic portrayal of a lonely Queen, who finds herself surrounded by fawners and plotters and who lacks true friends. At the other end of society we see William and George, two young Protestants driven by their own fear but not really understanding what is going on around them, even before Evelyn turns up and starts fading from time.
It is into all this that the Doctor is thrown. Unlike some of his television stories, the Doctor here is able to take a clear moral stance, standing against the mass burning of Portestants. By putting this Doctor onto the moral high ground, Rayner succeeds in restoring many of the series' traditional stances and removing the ambiguity that normally surrounds this incarnation. As a result he becomes instantly more likeable. There's also very little physical action, even for an audio adventure, so the Doctor is shown working with his wits and skills rather than his fists. The result is a story starring Colin Baker that restores confidence in his Doctor and shows why he has soared in popularity amongst fandom recently. The rehabilitation continues... 7/10
A Review by Ron Mallett 29/9/05
The beginning of an era! We witness the arrival of a type of companion we are obviously not ready to share on TV either: Evelyn Smythe! This is a wonderful historical romp written by BBC novels editor Jacqueline Rayner and directed by Gary Russell. Alistar Lock provided the sound work.
Rayner's script is so wonderfully balanced in terms of suspense, humour, pathos etc. This creation of the character of Evelyn Smythe is a major achievement. When one thinks about it, a woman at her time of life and in her situation is well suited to taking a tour of time in the TARDIS. More than that she can hold her own with the Doctor and demands respect in her own right. There is also an immediate chemistry between Colin Baker and Maggie Stables and it is evident from their very first scene.
The entire story would translate very well to the screen and the entire story almost sounds like a soundtrack to a missing Doctor Who story. The idea of threading a story in Tudor England around the religious conflicts between Protestants and Catholics is a very diverting one. There is a type of balanced honesty about the entire situation, and this is demonstrated by the attitudes of Leaf and Crow in that they don't disagree with a good burning, just not of Protestants!!! The lack of awareness of such later inventions as zippers, cardigans, cocoa and so on only adds to the reality of the drama. If we suspend our disbelief about how the Doctor could be mistaken for a royal physician and get access to the Queen herself, there is much about the design of the story to recommend itself.
It is a solid, all-round production. There are some sterling performances from the guest cast. Anah Ruddin is excellent as the fanatical Queen. Her debate with the Doctor about the logic of killing people with different beliefs than her own was very chilling. Nicholas Pegg, as always put in a strong performance, this time as Reverend Thomas Smith. Sean Jackson and Jez Fielder as put in strong performances as two commoners caught up in events that were quite obviously far beyond their understanding. Lock's sound work was very impressive and the highlight was the disorientating effect to represent Evelyn's phasing in and out of reality. Very spooky.
This must rate as one of the best all round Big Finish adventures of all time.
A Review by Brian May 3/3/09
The Marian Conspiracy is one of my favourites of the Big Finish range. It's a lovely little tale that is well suited to the audio medium. The pace is fairly slow, but due to its character and dialogue driven nature this isn't a detracting factor, but a major asset.
For example, it's a whole seventeen minutes before we arrive in Tudor England. This lengthy prologue is given over to the introduction of a companion, but a potentially awkward and time consuming event is anything but thanks to Maggie Stables' delightful performance as the equally delightful Evelyn Smythe. From their hilarious first encounter it's obvious the history lecturer is the perfect foil for the sixth Doctor. Stables and Colin Baker gel very quickly and are loving every bit of it, playing off their gentle but witty rivalry in a marvellous way. I wouldn't have minded if this had continued for yet another seventeen minutes, when a Doctor and companion partnership is this good after so short a time!
For 16th century England, we may not have the plush BBC sets and costumes, but this is more than made up for by the atmosphere and overall feel, such as the realisation of crowded taverns and elegant courts. The acting is excellent throughout - despite Barnaby Edwards channelling Inspector Clouseau with that cod French accent - and the characters are three-dimensional. Jacqueline Rayner's script and Anah Ruddin's performance give Queen Mary a quiet dignity and genuine sympathy that makes for one of Doctor Who's best ever depictions of an historical figure. The Hartnell adventures in history aimed to educate and entertain; four decades on, The Marian Conspiracy continues the legacy, achieving both these aims. I know just a smattering of Tudor history, but after this I wanted to read more of it.
The time paradox predicament works well: putting Evelyn's existence in danger really raises the tension, and it gets nicely confusing at times, especially come the cliffhanger to part three when the Doctor's position in all this comes to light. Other fantastic moments include the exchange between the Doctor and Sarah at the start of part three; Evelyn's reaction to being locked in the Tower of London (of course she'd be delighted!) and the redemptive ending when Crow and Leaf are rescued from England. This last example could be seen as a revisionist take on The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve, when the Doctor abandoned an historical "nobody" to their fate.
It's only his third Big Finish outing, his second as a solo Doctor, but Colin Baker is on fire from the beginning. I'm re-treading old ground from other reviews here, but if he'd had stories half as good as this during his troubled televised run, he wouldn't have been so unfairly given the chop - for he was never the cause of that era's problems. So once again, all hail Big Finish and let's all enjoy this well-written, well-acted and mature story. 9/10
The Queen Will See You Now by Jacob Licklider 29/11/16
If The Fearmonger is the story that put Big Finish Productions on a solid footing to continue to be great, The Marian Conspiracy is the story that truly began the redemption of the Sixth Doctor from what we got on television to the character fans know and love today. Yes, Colin Baker's Doctor was a bit softer in The Sirens of Time, but when Whispers of Terror was released, it was straight back to bickering with Peri throughout the story. Here he does try to bicker, but the introduction of the new companion Evelyn Smythe stops any of that from happening. Evelyn right off the bat is one of the most inventive companion characters Doctor Who has ever had. She is a woman from present day Earth yet, instead of being young, she is a fifty-something-year-old history lecturer. She has a bad knee and has a family history dating back to the rule of Queen Elizabeth I. She gives her students chocolate cake for succeeding in class and has a penchant for hot cocoa. Evelyn is masterfully portrayed by the late great Maggie Stables, who hits it off immediately with Colin Baker's Doctor. This first play they have together shows just how great the relationship would become and how dynamic her character would be. She also jumps at the chance to see history and ends up tricking the Doctor into taking her along, as her family history is being unraveled, leading us right into what this story is about.
The Marian Conspiracy's plot is a purely historical one, as it sees the Doctor and new companion Evelyn Smythe thrust back into the reign of Queen Mary to make sure history stays on its correct course. Really, the story is a character piece analyzing the reign of Queen Mary and public opinion on her stance on the split between Catholicism and Anglicanism. In actual history, Mary had a very narrow-minded view on the issue, choosing to burn at the stake anyone who thought differently to her Catholic views. Yet Rayner's script doesn't portray the Queen as a complete and total monster but as misguided into putting things in the wrong and causing countless deaths. You can't help sympathize with her as she tries her hardest to convince herself she's pregnant, but history dictates that she isn't. She eventually suffers a breakdown. This is all helped by the way the Doctor is able to change Evelyn's views on the Queen: Evelyn believes Mary was weak, as she only relied on her husband to make any real decisions. You also have a flavor for the citizens of London and how much fear they're under from the threat of being burned at the stake.
There are three main parties of the supporting characters. First you have the Protestant peasants, who are just as bad as Mary in that they want to see all Catholics burned at the stake. They allow for some great debate with Evelyn who has her views challenged throughout the audio. You have the French ambassadors, who want to wage war on England to take the crown, of course. You also have the Queen's Lady in Waiting, who just wants to be with the man she married as a Protestant when it was still legal.
Colin Baker's Doctor also gets to develop his Doctor really far throughout this audio play as he is able to soften his portrayal and peel back a few layers. It hasn't been very long since his trial and he's trying to continue on. While it doesn't come out much, you can tell the Doctor is trying to find a new companion even though he is initially aversive to the thought of Evelyn in the TARDIS with him. By the end, he gives in to her desires to see the universe, and it looks like it could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
The pacing of the audio is also great, as it doesn't play out as one four-part story but more like four one-part stories. It really allows the characters to flesh themselves out and not fall into the Hartnell trap of starting out really promising then getting really boring by Part Two.
To summarize, The Marian Conspiracy is a flawless story that holds up remarkably well after all these years. The beginnings of Evelyn and the Softer Six really makes this a necessary audio for anyone to pick up. It also holds to my theory that women can write the best Doctor Who. 100/100