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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.