Big Finish Folly, Part 81 – The Marian Conspiracy, by Jacqueline Rayner
Caught at the nexus of a temporal anomaly, Professor Evelyn Smythe is ceasing to exist. Somebody is tampering with her family’s distant past, and only the intervention of a passing Timelord can prevent her from disappearing completely. But in bringing Evelyn back to the mid sixteenth century, to unravel a conspiracy against the Queen herself, it is possible that the Doctor is responsible for the paradox himself – and Evelyn’s fate may be sealed – as a prisoner in the Tower of London… If there’s one thing the Sixth Doctor doesn’t seem to have done a lot of, it’s straight historicals. I might be wrong, but I can’t actually think of one that doesn’t involve another outside agency alongside the historical elements. So The Marian Conspiracy hits new ground for Sixey as well as being the first Big Finish play to introduce a new travelling companion for the Doctor.
If you’re going to be bold, you may as well go all the way, so Dr Smythe is a fifty-something attitudinal academic, perfectly capable of holding her own against the Doctor’s bluster, and with opinions to match, as well as what amounts to an addiction to chocolate (I know how she feels). Maggie Stables gives the companion role a different dynamic after Peri, Nyssa and Erimem, and though the story here is quite slight, you get the feeling that the range will be given space to develop in new and interesting ways.
Did I say slight? Well, it’s tight and short, over almost before you know it, but the story deals very succinctly with the iniquities of an England reeling from years of religious back-and-forth. It’s hardly “dumbed down” either, managing to encapsulate the subject in exactly the same way that the early Hartnell historicals did as the supporting cast each get time to bare their souls to the listener. The peril, even with the play lacking some sort of extra-terrestrial threat, is never less than real. But the ending makes a slight mis-step – to demonstrate that Evelyn can push against the Doctor to get her own way, Jacqueline Rayner has her browbeat the Doctor into rescuing almost every single member of the supporting cast. The scene falls a bit flat as a result.