Doctor Who: The Marian Conspiracy Review

DW Marian Conspiracy

The audio and comic companion debut marathon reaches one of my favourite companions and an era of Who I’m looking forward to revisiting: Evelyn Smythe. The kindly older lady is the antithesis of what you expect from a companion, but she works so well alongside the Sixth Doctor, and her being responsible for his eventual softening is really well done. So let’s look at how it all began with The Marian Conspiracy…

Official Synopsis:

Tracking a nexus point in time, the Doctor meets Dr Evelyn Smythe, a history lecturer whose own history seems to be rapidly vanishing.

The Doctor must travel back to Tudor times to stabilise the nexus and save Evelyn’s life. But there he meets the Queen of England and use all his skills of diplomacy to avoid ending up on the headman’s block…

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

Cast of Characters:

The Doctor (Colin Baker) – The Doctor is still reeling from his Trial, an event that both left him with great self-doubt and without a companion. Still, he presses on, and a dangerous temporal nexus point at least gives him something to do…

Evelyn Smythe (Maggie Staples) – Evelyn is a history lecturer who enjoys the Elizabethan era a lot, and has managed to trace her ancestry back to that time, at least she’s pretty sure she did…

Queen Mary I (Anah Ruddin) – The future “Bloody Mary” has taken the throne and seen her half-sister Elizabeth put in the Tower of London. Now she wishes to secure her position with her heir, though that wish is something that may never come true for her, whether she wants to admit it or not.

Rev. Thomas Smith (Nicholas Pegg) – A Protestant Priest who wishes to see Queen Mary taken off the throne and replaced with someone who doesn’t want to kill him for his faith, or break up his marriage…

Lady Sarah Whiteside (Jo Castleton) – Lady Sarah happily married Reverend Smith before Mary came to power and decreed that all men of the church should not take wives. Now she would rather be an accessory to regicide that give up her love…

Francois de Noailles (Barnaby Edwards) – Francois is the brother to the French Ambassador who, despite being a Catholic himself, wishes to see Elizabeth on the throne rather than Mary as he believes the former is more likely to ally with France over Spain…

Plus many more!

The Good:

DW Marian Conspiracy Cover

I’d complain about the basic-ness of the cover, but this was only the sixth release in the range Big Finish had done, so… early days and all that.

First things first: Evelyn is a brilliant character, immediately warm and funny, and plays off the still-arrogant and pompous Sixth Doctor really well, and straight away too. Their talks in her office in Episode 1 feels so natural, let alone later scenes in 1555. Her introduction being that some of her ancestors are being threatened in the past causing her to disappear from time is a unique companion debut, but it works. A real sense of threat and a valid reason for her to want to jump on board the TARDIS and go with The Doctor, whether he wanted to or not. After it’s all over and she wants to get some baking on the go before their next stop brings a smile to my face, the self-obsessed Doctor is taken aback by suddenly having this kindly grandmother figure on his ship, but doesn’t fight it… His mellowing begins!

All the court politics involving Queen Mary and her would-be assassins are really well written, with the old sympathetic reason for wanting the change in monarchy very-nearly justifying it, and Mary’s want for children and the fact she’ll never have them being a softer slant on what is essentially a rather vilified historical figure (and rightfully so really, with the whole killing people for supporting the “wrong religion” thing…)

By the end Evelyn finds out that the Reverend and Lady Sarah are her ancestors, and although they don’t exactly live happily ever after, it was a nice twist after a few misdirections.

Evelyn not getting the rules of time travel by both bringing some modern hot chocolate and making it for some poor Protestants, and agreeing to help take out Queen Mary because “she knows it doesn’t happen” are both interesting mistakes to see (or hear, I guess), as normally The Doctor makes these sorts of things clear beforehand…

The Bad:

You know… not a lot. Some of the less important characters are a bit… over-the-top with the accents and “of the time” language, but given this was Big Finish’s sixth ever Who production I can forgive some of the smaller hitches. I remember finding it boring when I first listened to it, beyond the Evelyn / Sixth Doctor stuff, but I found it really interesting to follow this time. I’d say “maybe I’ve matured” but I first listened to it eight years ago, so… Can’t imagine I’ve changed that much! Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for a historical at the time? Who knows, either way, just a few small vocal roles bring the story down from great to very good.

The Continuity:

Beyond the obvious that this is Evelyn’s debut story, not a lot. The Doctor, and even Evelyn, will be locked in the Tower of London many more times, the former especially, including three incarnations at the same time in the 50th Anniversary story “The Day of the Doctor”. Speaking of “Day”, during that story The Doctor marries Elizabeth I, making Queen Mary this Doctor’s future sister-in-law…

Overall Thoughts:

The Marian Conspiracy shows that a pure historical can work and work well, and that the idea of a companion who isn’t young and spry can also work, and work brilliantly. This is still the very early days of Big Finish Doctor Who and a certain… cheapness can be felt in some of the minor cast, but it’s still a great listen, and the start of something special…

4 Star Listen

One thought on “Doctor Who: The Marian Conspiracy Review

  1. Starfire June 2, 2022 / 2:50 am

    An excellent episode and one of the very few to get me legitimately terrified, when Evelyn misplaces her pills and is nearly wiped from existence.
    Something about slowly fading out, BTTF-style, really freaks me out.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s