|The Marian Conspiracy by Jacqueline Rayner|
Thank goodness for Evelyn Smythe. She might just remain Big Finish's greatest gift to Doctor Who lore, a companion we can love at last, not played by a clapped out old actor who they've employed just because he or she appeared in the old series twenty years ago.
The recipe for success is remarkably simple - we've been crying out for a batty old woman companion ever since Tom wanted Miriam Margoyles and nobody listened. I always found it remarkable that the Doctor's sidekick had to be attractive, ergo reasonably young. I mean, it's not as if most of us need somebody adonis-like to relate to is it? In fact, most of us were unlikely to be aroused by the good Doctor's female bit of stuff no matter how attractive she was. And young means inexperienced, which usually meant crap. All the best characters in Who were old bags - Hawthorne, Rumford, Ducat, Tyler - so why not an old bag companion? Perfect!
I'll go on to note how lucky we are that Maggie Stables is so good. No, better. She cries, loudly, and can be appalled in a way that Sarah Sutton probably reserves for real-life gas explosions. Even when she's stagey, somehow it works. Yes, I cringe with you when she hands round chocolate to George and William. But that's what grans do - patronise and make you embarrassed. They're also sweet, jolly and bubbling over with the depth of a righteous, determined (if occasionally skewed) sense of morals. But I don't have to tell you all this, because it scarcely matters here. It's all a bit of a bonus. She only HAS to be good, that she gets really good is a bit of luck we are owed in exchange for Anne Bird in "The Rapture".
You sense that the rest of "The Marian Conspiracy" is as good as it can be. It's a play, dramatic comedy from the audio dressing up box, and you aren't going to wring Sir John Gielgud from Jez Fielder and Anah Ruddlin. Queen Mary will be noble, and take a bombastic man in a patchwork coat as her adviser. Her enemies will be sly but aloof, right out of "Dogtanian". Everyone else will be simple but good-hearted really. I'm not complaining - this is what you expect for your Big Finish entrance fee. It's effectively radio after all, not cinema.
So the adventure is over in four episodes, Evelyn is saved from death by wibbly-vocoder effect and everyone is nasty but in a sporting way. If you wanted anything else, get out. This is Doctor Who, and Big Finish, after all.
Part 1 - Tracks 1-6
Part 2 - Tracks 7-11
Part 3 - Tracks 1-5
Part 4 - Tracks 6-12