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6. The Marian Conspiracy

Rating Votes
10
27%
58
9
32%
70
8
27%
58
7
9%
20
6
5%
10
5
0%
1
4
0%
1
3
0%
0
2
0%
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Average Rating
8.6
Votes
218
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From the Reviewer:
User Rating:
9
Plot Rating:
8
Acting Rating:
10
Replay Rating:
8
Effects Rating:
9
Has Prerequisite(s):
No
Reviewed By: Joseph MorrisonReview Date: 5/25/19 2:53 pm
2 out of 2 found this review helpful.

The Marian Conspiracy was a big gamble for Big Finish. After all, until this point, the Doctor had either been travelling alone, or had been with recognisable companions from the TV series. This was the first story to feature a companion Big Finish had, themselves, created, which was a big enough gamble in and of itself. But to make said new companion an academic of a mature age, and partner her with Colin Baker's Doctor, who, at this point in time, wasn't looked on particularity favorably by the fan-base? That was an even greater risk. And, thanks to The Marian Conspiracy, it is a risk that paid off, as Marian is the finest Big Finish story up to this point.

The plot is an interesting one, as it sees the Doctor taking Evelyn back in time in order to prevent her history from being erased. Now, I'll let it be known that I love historicals, and The Marian Conspiracy is a fantastic example of the sub-genre. Despite there being no monsters in this story, there is no lack of danger, be it from the Queen, or those attempting to replace her with Elizabeth. The story maintains a fine line between that danger, however, and the more comic parts of the script, that remind me of a Dennis Spooner script. There are parts that are laugh-out-loud funny, and yet these are contrasted well with some of the aspects of the story that focus more on the morality of what the Queen is doing. Of course, like any good historical, it is full of double-crossing and counter-crossing by the characters, and this is done well, and interestingly.

The acting, however, is where this play really shines. In Maggie Stables, Colin Baker has finally found a companion who he can truly work alongside. The pair have a wonderful relationship, butting heads memorably, but never in an antagonistic way like the Doctor and Peri. And Colin and Maggie are simply wonderful together. They set up this paring as one to watch. Anah Ruddin is also magnificent as the Queen: commanding, but also with moments of vulnerability and a longing for a simpler life. Writer Jacqueline Rayner doesn't write her as an out-and-out villain, but rather as someone who simply believes the end justifies the means. That's somehow more terrifying.

The soundscape is well constructed too, with Alistair Lock pouring his all into this story. This is a more dialogue heavy script anyway, so Lock doesn't overshadow proceedings with large amounts of sound effects. However, he makes sure we know where we are at any one time, and this is helped by some atmospheric and perfectly placed music.

Overall, The Marian Conspiracy is a clear highlight of the early Big Finish releases. Every element is played to near perfection, whether it be script, acting or sound design. Colin Baker's Doctor is finally getting material worthy of his quality, and, in Evelyn Smythe, he has a worthy companion for this quality material. A near perfect release.
From the Reviewer:
User Rating:
8
Plot Rating:
7
Acting Rating:
7
Replay Rating:
8
Effects Rating:
7
Has Prerequisite(s):
No
Reviewed By: Drew VogelReview Date: 3/19/17 2:27 am
0 out of 0 found this review helpful.

Quite an enjoyable historical romp, but the lighthearted tone doesn't really match the rather grim subject matter. As a vehicle for introducing a new companion, it's an unmitigated success. With the benefit of hindsight, long-time listeners may notice that Evelyn Smythe wasn't entirely fully-formed in her debut outing, but first-time listeners should find nothing to complain about. She's an ideal foil for the sixth Doctor, a delightful character, and Maggie Stables owns the role from her very first scene. My only serious complaint is the way the script tiptoes around the real problem: religion. If people weren't willing to kill and die over meaningless theology (the world's first fan fiction), none of this nastiness would have been necessary. The script presents this grim reality unflinchingly, but the Doctor is far too politic in his reluctance to call it what it is: primitive barbarism.
From the Reviewer:
User Rating:
9
Plot Rating:
8
Acting Rating:
10
Replay Rating:
9
Effects Rating:
8
Has Prerequisite(s):
No
Reviewed By: dtomReview Date: 2/4/17 8:19 pm
0 out of 0 found this review helpful.

When Doctor Who was first devised it was meant to fulfil an educational purpose. To this end, every alternative story was supposed to explore historical events. Several of those historical serials were critically acclaimed, and Marco Polo is hailed as a lost classic. However, it became increasingly clear that the science fiction stories were more popular and following The Highlander(1966). The purely historic tale was replaced by pseudo-histories. Historic settings with sci-fi elements. Only one other purely historic serial was ever produced. The 1982 two-parter Black Orchid.

Given that, it was something of a risk to schedule a pure historical so early the ranges own brief history. To do so while introducing a brand new Big Finish exclusive companion for their least popular Doctor might have been a bridge too far. Instead we get an absolute belter of a story.
In a serial of first, Jacqueline Rayner, became the first female audio adventure writer, and the first not to have penned a Doctor Who novel prior to this.

The adventure sees the Doctor team up with a history professor to explore the reasons behind her disappearing ancestral tree during the Tudor era. The professor is Dr Evelyn Smythe, played brilliantly by Maggie Stables. Maggie’s last BF outing was less successful, but here she is utterly captivating in every scene. She almost out shines Baker’s Doctor. Almost. Here her very presence seems to lift him to another level. The interplay between them is a fantastic listen. It’s so good your disappointed that events split them apart.

However, the supporting cast make a great contribution Sean Jackson (George Crow)and Jez Fielder (William Leaf) are excellent as the misguided henchmen. Nicholas Pegg is wonderfully creepy as ‘villain’ of the piece. Jo Castleton has a relatively slight role but plays her part well. Anah Ruddin is very good as ‘bloody’ Queen Mary. Her is a difficult job. She needs to make us feel sympathy for a figure with a degree of historical notoriety, and she does so with aplomb.

The soundscape is very good and the incidental score enhances both the drama and the period. Of course, it’s not flawless. Not the least the glaring paradox that is the central premise of the whole plotline. However, I said this before. This is Doctor Who, the central premise of almost all its plots are absurd.

This is the first classic story from Big Finishes range. It’s a great jumping in point for any 6th Doctor fans. £2.99 is great value if you haven’t tried it. If you have you’ve probably already listen a good few times. If not it’s high time you went back to. The only downside for me being the overwhelming urge to eat chocolate cake.
From the Reviewer:
User Rating:
10
Plot Rating:
8
Acting Rating:
9
Replay Rating:
10
Effects Rating:
8
Has Prerequisite(s):
No
Reviewed By: templetongateReview Date: 1/7/17 10:29 pm
2 out of 2 found this review helpful.

This is the story that fixed the Sixth. In one go it softened him, humanised him, even made his pomp and humour accessible. It's an emotional foundation for stories that became enjoyably complicated and led by meandering path to Sixie's final adventure. Great stuff.

Evelyn is the trick. An intellectual equal to the Doctor, ahead in emotional smarts, and a lovely equivalent in the acting stakes. The Maggie-Colin partnership gave Big Finish several years of impetus that hold up very well today. Things are simpler and perhaps more clumsy in terms of soundscape and story-telling, but today's stories wouldn't be anything like as smart and knowing without this success.

Try watching a couple of Colin's TV episodes and you will feel bludgeoned by a character waiting to mature into what we have here.

Hugely recommended to new listeners of all ages.