evelyn smythe

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Cover art for the Big Finish Doctor Who audio release The Apocalypse Element

Colin Baker as The Doctor with Maggie Stables as Evelyn
and Lalla Ward as Romana

Also featuring

Michael Wade, Nicholas Briggs, Alistair Lock, Karen Henson
Andrea Newland, Andrew Fettes, Toby Longworth
James Campbell, Neil Corry
and Anthony Keetch

Written by Stephen Cole
Directed by Nicholas Briggs


All things considered, I found the first outing for the Daleks in the Big Finish Doctor Who audio range to be a rather lukewarm affair. However, joining them for their second appearance on audio we also have the Time Lords of Gallifrey, Evelyn Smythe, Colin Baker as The Doctor, and a certain Romanadvoratrelundar, played once again by Lalla Ward. With those ingredients, what could possibly go wrong?


“There’s something wrong here, I can feel it.”

Episode 1: The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn arrive on the planet Archetryx, as it plays host to twenty of the most powerful races in the cosmos, all attending a conference designed to discuss imposing limitations to temporal manipulation in light of the still unexplained Etra Prime incident, where the entire planetoid, and all upon it, vanished without trace. The Doctor is shocked to discover that amongst the missing was the newly elected President of the Time Lords, and his former travelling companion, Romana.

Ever since Doctor Who returned to screens in 2005 there has been the shadow of the Last Great Time War hanging over The Doctor. An event so momentous that it altered the very fabric of The Doctor himself. And yet also an event that we, as an audience, would seemingly never be destined to witness for ourselves, instead only being allowed small glimpses into the periphery, and indications into what the fallout of this event caused to The Doctor, to the Time Lords, Gallifrey and the Daleks, and to the universe at large. This, of course, only helped to increase the mystique that surrounds the Time War, and made the audience even keener to experience the events that transpired for themselves in some form. Alas, to date, that has not come to pass. So instead all we can do is to take the fragments that we have been given, and imagine the rest.

But if you are anything like me, just visualising what such a Time War could be like is a bit of a daunting task. Until now. Because The Apocalypse Element paints a very clear picture of what such a conflict could be like, and could, if you chose to do so, even be seen as an opening salvo in what would ultimately become the Last Great Time War. It also happens to be the second lead in to the eventual Dalek Empire spinoff series, after the previous Sylvester McCoy era tale The Genocide Machine. And a marked improvement it is on that one, too.

And don’t let the chosen quote above mislead you either, there is in fact very little wrong here at all. Indeed, what writer Stephen Cole and director Nicholas Briggs have delivered this time out is a very strong contender for my favourite Big Finish Doctor Who audio release so far. Or, at the very least, a story that is on par with what was, prior to this, my clear favourite, The Marian Conspiracy. And just like that story, it all comes down to the quality and complexity of the script, and the ensemble of truly first rate performances. Both areas in which this particular adventure absolutely shines.

Speaking of complexity, the job Stephen Cole does in balancing so many disparate elements, while always maintaining forward momentum, and never losing focus on either plot or character, is a masterful one. That he manages to do so, while also re-introducing old characters in a compelling manner, telling an epic, fast moving tale with a large cast of characters, and setting up plot elements that will clearly be used again in the future, all the while being forever mindful of the medium he is working in, and how best to use it, well, it is simply a master-class on how to successfully script for audio. Truly impressive stuff, and one that future writers for Big Finish have hopefully taken note of.

And while I’m handing out plaudits, I also need to point out just how well the Daleks themselves have been used this time around. Unlike the rather perfunctory The Genocide Machine, here we have the Daleks at their evil best, with the true menace and threat they represent superbly and convincingly realised. They are the scourge of the universe, equal parts deadly fanatical threat, and twisted conniving strategist, and few Doctor Who stories, and even fewer Doctor Who writers, manage to fully sell all of that character and motivation which lies festering behind the robotic voices, and their penchant for catch-phrase induced slaughter. But Cole and company have absolutely nailed the Daleks here, and it makes a world of difference to the overall effectiveness of the story.

Another thing that helps truly sell the Daleks in this story is just how good the Dalek voices are. Once again I felt that the first Dalek outing, The Genocide Machine, had been just a tiny bit off in some regards, as far as the Dalek voice work went. But here Nicholas Briggs and Alistair Lock are absolutely spot on, and the degree to which this authenticity adds to the menace of the Daleks here is truly palpable.

So what we have, with this first episode, is an absolute cracker of an opening, equal parts mystery and plot development, that pays off exactly when it needs to, and in often surprising and imaginative ways as well. And it only gets better from here, folks.


“Welcome back, Romana.”

Episode 2: On Etra Prime, Romana is forced by the Daleks to work on the construction of a temporal centrifuge, a vital component in their upcoming plans. But could this also present an opportunity for escape after so many years imprisonment?

As we roll into the second episode, we are greeted with the return of Lalla Ward as either Romanadvoratrelundar, Romana, Romana II, The Mistress, or Unit One-One-Seven, depending on your personal point of view. And quite a return it is too. Not only is it a supremely bold move to take the character of Romana as we previously knew her, give her this tortured history, and set her up to go in a surprising new direction into the future, but it also serves to strengthen her, adding additional layers to a character that we previously knew, and giving her an actual purpose within the greater Doctor Who universe, beyond that of simple companion. In short, rather than the usual effort to recapture a companion exactly as they were when we knew them, here they have given us the return of a character who has changed in the years since we, and the Doctor, last saw them. And it works remarkably well. It also affords Lalla Ward some legitimate performance opportunities. One of the best, and most effective, being that of her introductory monologue, where she details her current state of mind and body, after having been so long imprisoned by the Daleks. It is genuinely captivating work, perfectly delivered by Lalla Ward, and gives Romana one Hell of an entrance into the Big Finish Doctor Who audio range. And, better yet, it is a performance quality that she maintains for the entirety of this story, approaching each opportunity with equal gusto. There’s no first audio anxieties on display here whatsoever.

This adventure also marks the return of Michael Wade’s Lord President and Anthony Keetch’s Celestial Intervention Agency Coordinator Vansell, whose last appearance, in debut Big Finish Doctor Who audio adventure The Sirens of Time, had them allowing Gallifrey to be invaded by the Knights of Velyshaa. Here they allow the Daleks to invade Gallifrey, so at least they are setting their invasion standards a little higher this time around. Still, with that kind of managerial track record is it any wonder that everybody on Gallifrey was apparently perfectly willing to wait twenty years for Romana to return and reclaim the top job? Besides which, it’s not like they are anywhere near the worst that Gallifreyan politics has had to offer over the years, so the locals probably thank Rassilon for small mercies, I suppose. Either way, both performers do their jobs here admirably.

Speaking of performances, this is another triumph for Colin Baker, who is once again absolutely superb as The Doctor. He also gets some great lines along the way, both dramatic and pithy. The Mexican Standoff bit, which I won’t spoil here, actually made me laugh out loud. A perfect example of a performance elevating what was a good line, and turning it into something great. A talent for which Colin Baker seems to posses in abundance, based on his work for Big Finish thus far. His Doctor here also fully possesses that fiery quality that I always so enjoy, even if some of the rougher edges are, again, smoothed down just a little too much for my taste. Also notable of mention is just how well the chemistry between Colin Baker’s Doctor and Lalla Ward’s Romana works here, and you truly do believe instantly in the shared history that exists between these two characters.

The main guest cast is strong right across the board this time out as well, with Anthony Keetch’s afore mentioned Vansell in particular making a great foil for The Doctor, while Andrea Newland and Andrew Fettes (as Raldeth, also previously featured in The Sires on Time) were both, for me, standouts amongst a very fine supporting cast. And then we come to one Evelyn Smythe…

Now I have actually quite enjoyed Maggie Stable’s Evelyn in the two previous outings that she shared with Colin Baker’s Doctor, but here I felt that the character just made for a bit of an ill fit with the story being told. Given the stakes involved and the way that the drama unfolds, she is entirely too flippant for the entirety of the story. Nothing seems to faze her, worry her, or frighten her, in fact she shows basically zero emotion whatsoever, nor any empathy to the gravity of the events unfolding around her, instead she just basically walks about like a bemused tourist, replete with a string of pithy one liners, which soon becomes rather tiresome. It just serves to make the character seem entirely detached from all that is going on around her, and as a result, the story itself, and one can’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t have actually been better without her in it, and with someone a little more emotional in her place. Maggie Stables performance is fine for what it is, but, for me, it just doesn’t fit very well into the overall tone of the tale being told, and as such is one of the very few weaknesses in what is otherwise a pretty flawless audio adventure. That said, it does allow The Doctor a great dramatic outburst near the end of the story, when even he seems to have had enough of her apparent apathy towards the unfolding of events. Honestly, I couldn’t help but sympathise.

That lone, and relatively minor, complaint aside, this episode takes the story from mystery to outright thriller, and the pacing barely lets up for a moment, despite somehow still allowing the story and characters time enough to breathe, and the story to twist and turn in admirable fashion. And things aren’t slowing down any as we storm into episode three.


“Gallifrey must fall to the Daleks!”

Episode 3: After the disaster on Archetryx, The Doctor and his companions retreat to Gallifrey, home of the Time Lords. However, they may already be too late, as the Dalek invasion has begun…

The third episode shows us that this story is very much one of two halves, however luckily for us both are equally enjoyable and interesting. There is fan service aplenty here, particularly now that we are on Gallifrey, however it all fits neatly within the bounds of the story being told, and thankfully never feels like it is only present as a form of writer posturing, as can so often be the case when the continuity well is delved into. As a result, such instances actually tend to add to the story, rather than work against it, and manage to confidently avoid the risk of alienating the listener under a sea of continuity minutiae.

If I had any nitpicks at this point, it would be that very occasionally the sound mix is a little too cacophonous during the requisite battle scenes, and when that happens the lack of aural focus can detract from the overall effectiveness of the scene in question to a small degree, as it all tends to become a clash of noise. But this only happens a couple of times along the way, and never for very long, so it really is being tremendously nitpicky of me to even mention. And while on the subject, I must also take the opportunity to say that the soundscape itself is actually incredibly impressive and immersive here, and is itself worthy of the highest of commendations. You really can’t undersell the value and importance of achieving a sense of atmosphere for audio, and here they have managed to do exactly that, and then some.

I do, however, have one other audio complaint, and that is in the wisdom of using a high pitched tone as a mind-control plot device early on in the story, as it is just such an unpleasant sound to hear, particularly through earphones. Thankfully it’s usage is limited to only a couple of brief instances in the first episode, but even so, perhaps it was not the wisest of choices purely from a listener comfort point of view.

As we power towards the final episode now, I should also say that this is one of those rare stories where each episode grips so hard that it left me genuinely thirsty to jump right in to the next episode as soon as possible. And for an episodic story format, there are few compliments as great as that. It has also managed to provide some ripping good cliff-hangers along the way, as well. And as I have said before, I do love me a good cliff-hanger.


“The sacred heart of the Time Lords.”

Episode 4: As the true scale of the Dalek plan becomes horrifically clear, The Doctor and his companions are faced with an impossible choice. Surrender Gallifrey to the Daleks, or watch the entire universe burn. Could this finally be victory for the Daleks?

Often I find that the final episode is so focussed on trying to wrap everything up neatly that it forgets that it still has to be entertaining along the way. However, we have no such worries here, as they manage to not just stick the landing, and in highly entertaining and satisfying fashion, but also deliver a neat little twist in the tail to boot. Once again, a glowing example of how it should be done.

So, it seems that with The Apocalypse Element we have yet another high water mark for the Big Finish Doctor Who audio range. A multi-layered, tremendously engaging, and perfectly paced story that more than lives up to any raised expectations formed by the return of Romana, the Time Lords of Gallifrey, and the Daleks. Every element of this audio release comes together to help deliver what is, for me, undoubtedly one of my absolute favourite releases from this first timer’s journey through Big Finish thus far, and it is this degree of quality Doctor Who audio story that drives me to keep coming back for more, searching for the next Big Finish Doctor Who audio release of similar excellence.

There are a couple of small issues I had along the way, but by any measure, this is classic Doctor Who, and yet another feather in the cap of Colin Baker’s Doctor, who truly has proven now beyond a shadow of a doubt that despite the ups and downs of his television tenure, his Doctor was never the problem. Something that, hopefully, conventional fan wisdom will one day see fit to finally acknowledge.

Now, if only I could finally get an audio adventure somewhere near this good for Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor. A task which has thus far proven itself to be surprisingly elusive, despite best efforts to the contrary. Will his next outing finally break the drought?


Next up: Sylvester McCoy returns in The Fires of Vulcan

Cover art for the Big Finish Doctor Who audio release The Spectre of Lanyon Moor.

Colin Baker as The Doctor and Maggie Stables as Evelyn
Nicholas Courtney as
Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart

Also featuring

Toby Longworth, Susan Jameson, Barnaby Edwards
Helen Goldwyn, Nicholas Pegg
and James Bolam

Written and Directed by Nicholas Pegg


Immortal fan favourite Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart finally joins the Big Finish Doctor Who audio range. And opposite Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor, no less. And it’s not even on a Coronation Street backlot this time. So, is it everything this fan could have hoped for? Please join me as I find out…


“You know what they say about old soldiers, Doctor.”

Episode 1: The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn arrive in Cornwall, where an archaeological dig into the mysterious fogou is underway. A place steeped in local myth and legend. And much to the Doctors very pleasant surprise, he soon encounters a very familiar face…

Before we begin this latest review, I have a brief confession. I am a huge, huge fan of Nicholas Courtney’s Brigadier. How huge a fan? I once tried to grow a moustache just like the Brig’s. I was eight at the time, which probably accounts for why it took about ten years to properly grow in, and still looked like rubbish even when it finally did. And things haven’t actually gotten any better for me in the years since, either. In fact it has become evident that the only moustache that I am capable of growing is one that looks like a refugee from 70’s era porn. And not necessarily a face refugee either, if you catch my drift. No, short of buying one on Ebay, I have slowly come to accept that I will never have a proper Brig-stache. And it makes me sad. In more ways than one. However, luckily, the Brig is here and he’s…wait a minute. I just saw the cover. The Brig is ‘stache-less! I’m…I’m going to need a moment.

This does not bode well. After all, The Brig has only gone ‘stache-less on two prior occasions. Once in Mawdryn Undead, where he was luckily counter-balanced by a second, moustachioed Brigadier, giving us a proper yin-yang Brigadier balance on the whole. And the other time, more disturbingly, as evil alternate universe Brig, complete with eye-patch and facial scar, in Inferno. There, again, we at least got a bookended moustachioed Brigadier as well, to ensure that balance was maintained, and all was right with the world. But here it’s a no-moustache Brig all the way. And only no-moustache Brig. Is this a bad omen?

At first my crazy moustache-based conspiracy theory looked like it may actually hold some hairy shade of truth. The prologue with a pair of aliens was a serviceable enough set up, plot wise, but the alien voices themselves are rather over the top, especially the lead alien who sounds like Sylvester McCoy on helium. The alien voice work here isn’t merely a bit cheesy, it practically the vocal equivalent of an entire cheese platter, with extra cheese nibbles for afters. So not the best start. And then the ever-dependable Colin Baker shows up and…he sounds a bit odd, and at times rather un-Colin Baker like. This is quickly explained away as The Doctor having a cold, which coincidentally also neatly explains the seeming actor vocal lapses, but it does take a little getting used to. Especially in an audio format where, as I have said before, the voices are really our only anchor to the actors playing these characters. Thankfully, despite being a little under the weather, Colin Baker’s performance is still as good as ever, so it’s more a noticeable oddity rather than being in any way a real hindrance to the story or its overall enjoyment.

And enjoyable it very much is, despite the pantomime aliens, as it soon becomes clear that this is another Big Finish Doctor Who audio production that is just layered in quality. Nicholas Pegg has done a pretty sterling job at setting up an intriguing storyline here. And while some of the characters may be of the stock standard variety, they have all been cast quite nicely indeed, with performances that help to raise them above any such trappings. And the meeting between the Sixth Doctor and the Brig is really quite wonderful, though continuity fanatics will find a little something there to feed their fanboy outrage meter with. Namely the Brig mentions his wife to the Sixth Doctor, which the Seventh Doctor seemed to not know about when they met in the TV story Battlefield. Personally, I don’t much care about such minor and largely inconsequential inconsistencies. And if I did care I could easily draw a justification for the point in question. But I don’t. So I won’t. Because it really doesn’t matter.

The episode ends rather horrifically, but in a good way. However the cackling goblin is, again, a touch too far into the cheesy side of things for my taste.


“To do my will shall be the whole of the law.”

Episode 2: After the horrific events of the previous night, Evelyn shares her discoveries about the sordid history of Lanyon Moor with The Doctor and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. Leaving her to rest, The Doctor makes another shocking discovery. The TARDIS is missing.

As everything nips along at an enjoyable pace, I’ll take a moment to talk about the Sixth Doctor’s latest companion, Evelyn. First up, she once again proves to be both a good foil for The Doctor, and an enjoyable character in her own right. However, there is one factor that I am less keen on, and that is that here she continues to work at softening the Sixth Doctor, personality wise. Something that I’m not overly keen on.

Now I get why all involved may want to smooth some of the rougher edges on the Sixth Doctor’s character, but personally, I love a bit of Sixth Doctor bombast and arrogance on occasion, and I would hate to see those character traits completely eliminated from Colin Baker’s Doctor, which here it feels like they are actively working toward doing. Yes, The Doctor’s companions temper his character and even actively make him better, but at the same time they shouldn’t completely change him, and I must admit to being a little uneasy that the latter may be starting to very much happen here. Whether those fears are in any way justified, well, I guess I’ll just have to see how future Sixth Doctor adventures unfold.

The story remains reliably on course, as we power into the third episode.


“It’s the most fantastic thing I’ve ever heard…”

Episode 3: While The Doctor and the Brigadier race against time to prevent impending disaster, Evelyn finds herself  face-to-face with dangers of her own.

As we move through the third episode stretch, we finally hit a minor barrier. A very minor one, to be honest, but a barrier nonetheless. And once again it is the old accent beast rearing it’s aurally confused head. In this episode, you see, we have a character visiting Greece, which calls for a Greek tour guide to be featured. Problem is, the Greek tour guide sounds Italian. And not even particularly good Italian, more “Itsa me, Mario!” faux-Italian, if indeed Mario was the disembodied voice of a female museum tour guide rather than being a two dimensional male video game character. It’s not altogether convincing as being in any way Greek is my point here. And it really doesn’t matter in the slightest, but I’m running out of things to write about.

Which I guess brings us to the performances, and putting aside aliens and the rare dodgy accent, they are very strong, right across the board. As mentioned already both Colin Baker and Maggie Stables are in typically fine form, and hearing Nicholas Courtney on Big Finish Doctor Who audio is a true joy to behold. And he hasn’t lost a beat, delivering superbly on every ounce that he has been given to work with here.

As to the rest of the guest cast, for me James Bolam was a real standout, as was Toby Longworth’s ever suffering Professor Morgan. However Toby Longworth also shares the dubious dual honour of being the worst performer as well, with his alien, Sancreda, being just a couple of steps too far over the top for my taste. It isn’t story ruining or anything, but it very much is a performance that just feels rather at odds with the style, tone and overall mood of the story being told, and as such is my one real mark against it. But then, I’ve never been much of an “I’m an alien therefore I must have a funny voice” type fan.

Moving into the final episode we get a couple of twists along the way that aren’t exactly surprising, but which, story wise, still feel justified and make sense, and it has all been rather good fun so far. But can it bring it all together for the final episode?


“I’m retired, I refuse to take any of the blame.”

Episode 4: The Spectre of Lanyon Moor has arisen. Can The Doctor, Evelyn, and the Brigadier put an end to his thirst for revenge? Or will the entire world suffer the vengeance so long denied him?

Turns out yes, it can. And basically we get a final episode that is every bit on par to the three that preceded it. We even get a small twist that I didn’t see coming, though perhaps I should have.

Our alien friend, Sancreda, has even slightly grown on me by this point. And it is hard not to get some measure of enjoyment out of what is very clearly a case of ‘little alien syndrome’. One can’t help but feel that perhaps if he wasn’t only three feet tall, and stuck with a frankly rather silly voice, that he might not be so angry all the time. About everything. Someone is clearly overcompensating. Poor little angry alien fucker.

It’s also great fun to hear the Brig going all action man and getting his own ‘hero moment’ during the final episode. And he delivers upon it with gusto, just as one might expect. Benton, car salesman extraordinaire, would be proud. Mike Yates, maybe not quite so much. But who cares what that pinko hippy traitor thinks anyway?

Now, I imagine that some may well seek to damn this particular outing by backhandedly labelling it as very much a traditional Doctor Who story. The inference often being that a story that is a little old fashioned in format and style automatically means that it is somehow bad. But, if anything, this release proves that traditionally styled Doctor Who stories can still work, and when done right, actually work quite well indeed, and that there is still room for such tales, particularly on audio. And to my mind this one has very much been done right, resulting in a very satisfying debut for the Brigadier in Big Finish Doctor Who audio. One that I personally found to be thoroughly entertaining.

Sure, when it all comes down to it, I have a couple of nitpicks. And I do think it is slightly let down by a cheesily voiced panto-sounding villain. But none of that ultimately undermines what is, for me, a really cracking romp. A strong script, with some fun characters and great lines, a suitable pace, and (mostly) strong performances have delivered another clear winner from the Big Finish Doctor Who range. And after the severely disappointing Red Dawn, this is exactly the kind of boost that I needed to remind me of just how enjoyable the range can be.


Next up: Peter Davison returns in Winter for the Adept

Cover art for the Big Finish Doctor Who audio release The Marian Conspiracy

Colin Baker as The Doctor and Maggie Stables as Evelyn

Also featuring

Jo Castleton, Nicholas Pegg, Barnaby Edwards
Jez Fielder, Sean Jackson, Gary Russell
and Anah Ruddin

Written by Jacqueline Rayner
Directed by Gary Russell


Well, this ought to be interesting. The introduction of our first companion created exclusively for the Big Finish Doctor Who audio range. And she’s going to be an old lady. And played by the person who, for me, gave the absolute stand out worst performance in any of the audio releases prior to this one, to boot. That’s right, my Whovian friends, it appears that they really are determined on making the woman who was the cringe-inducing Ruthley in The Sirens of Time a regular companion to the Sixth Doctor. So, are they crazy? Read on to find out.


“A stitch in time.”

Episode 1: While searching out the source of a temporal nexus, the Sixth Doctor encounters one Evelyn Smythe, a historian whose own history seems to be rapidly disappearing. The only solution, travel into the past and ensure that history unfolds as it should, before Evelyn, too, is erased from time.

So, turns out they’re not crazy. Not even close. And while the idea of a pension aged companion travelling with The Doctor didn’t exactly hit me in my happy place when I first heard about it, turns out not only does it work, but it works damn well. And mostly it works damn well because of just how enjoyable Maggie Stables is in the role, and just how good the rapport is between her and Colin Baker. In truth, I’m less surprised that it works, and more surprised at just how well it works, and how quickly I was drawn into the whole thing.

Almost right from the get-go, this story just feels of a higher standard, and far more assured than any that have come before. It’s hard to put into words, but there is just a feeling of quality that oozes out of every corner of this release. The script, the performances, the pacing, everything just seems spot on here. To hear Colin Baker getting a chance at a story this good, well, the end result literally had me grinning from ear to ear. Yes, literally. And please, no jokes about my abnormally large mouth. I’m very sensitive.

If I had a complaint, as I listened to the first episode, it would be that I often found the music to be somewhat intrusive and overbearing, not to mention overly repetitive. It just had that ‘listen to me‘ quality about it, as if it was deliberately trying to draw attention to itself, rather than melding into the overall soundscape and becoming an organic feeling part of the whole. Something that I find the best supplemental music does. It was more distraction than benefit. Though in fairness it seemed to become less of an issue as the story progressed. Now, whether that was due to me just getting used to it, and blocking it out to a certain extent, or because it actually had been toned back somewhat, I’m not entirely sure, though for the most part it felt like the latter.

One final observation before we move into the next episode, Maggie Stables’ Evelyn must be the most clueless historian ever, given just how little thought she gives to what a walking anachronism that she is, without even the slightest effort made to lessen having such an impact. It is another clear indication of how good the writing and performances are then that not only does this behaviour not grate, even when it is conveniently used as plot device, but it is even a tiny bit endearing.

So, episode one was a bit of a cracker then. Can it sustain this level of quality, though?


“If they can not step from the path of sin, then they will be purified in the flames.”

Episode 2: The Doctor has ingratiated himself into Queen Mary’s court, as elsewhere, Evelyn has uncovered a conspiracy that would seek to remove The Queen from power.

Yes, it can. Very much so. In fact, if anything, this is where things start to get really good, and it soon becomes very clear indeed that this story is setting the new benchmark for quality as far as Doctor Who audio adventures go.

With that said, there is one manner in which the story is ever-so-slightly let down. Barnaby Edwards’ French accent. Which, it must be said, is less believable French accent, and more refugee from a Monty Python sketch that has somehow invaded the Doctor Who set. So much so that I half expected him, when confronted by The Doctor, to proclaim him to be the son of a silly person, and tell him to go and boil his bottom. To be fair, his actual performance is perfectly fine, but that accent is still just a little bit silly. Plus, it turned me into a newt! (I got better)

So, perfection it may not be, but perfection is boring, and some would say, unattainable. What we have here instead is a story blistering with life and energy, style and intelligence. A story not afraid to take risks in terms of content and subject matter, especially in regard to differing religious views, and the dubious morals and fanaticisms that can so easily taint such beliefs. And that it does not present such matters in a clear ‘black and white’ good versus evil fashion is, again, a great credit to all concerned. As are the performances that bring it all so vividly to life.

I must say, it is all going rather well then. But things have suddenly fallen over in episode three before…


“The TARDIS is an exceptionally fine craft.”

Episode 3: As the plot against Queen Mary turns deadly, The Doctor finds himself being granted a particularly unwanted gift.

But this time, in this story, there is no such drop in quality. If anything, again, it actually raises the bar. In fact there is a scene in this episode between The Doctor, and Queen Mary’s Lady in Waiting, Sarah, that is nothing short of amazing. A scene that I will not spoil, but which manages to debate religion and intent, while simultaneously delving into The Doctor’s own character in an unexpectedly powerful and poignant way, and the performances of Jo Castleton, and especially Colin Baker, could not be better. It is truly a moment of absolutely riveting drama, and in fact I’d go so far as to call it amongst Colin Baker’s best ever work as The Doctor. Yes, I was that blown away.

Not only that, but the scene in question also worked as a perfect validation of why The Doctor presented here has softened a bit, and isn’t quite so prickly around the edges. And while I am actually someone who loves the prickly and more belligerent side of The Sixth Doctor’s personality, it is a character progression that not only works and makes sense, but which was always intended to take place as time wore on, in much the same way that William Hartnell’s Doctor also changed and softened somewhat over time. This is an older version of The Sixth Doctor, he carries with him the burden of his past, and it has changed him. But believably so. And probably for the better.

Speaking of the performances, they really are great, right across the board (dodgy French accent not withstanding). As already mentioned, Colin Baker is truly superb, and Maggie Stables helps give Evelyn a very enjoyable audio debut. Of the guest cast, the afore mentioned Jo Castleton is a standout, particularly in her scenes opposite Baker. But one cast member that I have thus far failed to mention, but who is absolutely stellar, and every bit Baker’s equal here, is Anah Ruddin as Queen Mary, who delivers a performance of true grace and complexity. It is a character that would be so easy to turn into a stock standard villain, however Ruddin’s performance, combined with Jacqueline Rayner’s superb script, truly turns Queen Mary into a believable and compelling character. And it is a character and performance that looms large over the story being told here, and does so very much to it’s benefit.

As the third episode winds up, I know already that this is easily my favourite Big Finish Doctor Who audio thus far. And all I really want now is for it to stick the landing, and have a satisfying conclusion…


“Violence is never the answer.”

Episode 4: The Doctor and Evelyn must race against time to uncover the conspirators, and ensure that history unfolds as it should. But at what cost?

And it does, mostly.

To be perfectly honest, the final episode is all a bit routine. Everything story-wise is tied up, there’s a decent twist in the tale, the performances are still great, and the ending is suitable. There’s the odd clunky attempt at humour that doesn’t really play, but nothing too bothersome. And despite lacking the depth or power of previous episodes, it is still a largely satisfying experience. But, much as a final episode has to be, it is all in service to the basic function of ending the story and tying everything together neatly, so there is little room for anything grander. As such it just tends to lack a certain impact. I also found part of the ending to be ever so slightly a cop out, and I think it would have been more powerful and better suited to an even more downbeat finale than the one we are ultimately given. Though at the same time, I understand why that wasn’t done, especially for the first adventure of a brand new companion.

But honestly, this is all nitpicking. The final episode is solidly enjoyable, everything else prior is pretty damn great, and much of it even better than that, thanks in no small part to Jacqueline Rayner’s truly superb scripting, which is easily the best that the Big Finish Doctor Who line has yet seen. Which makes it a great shame that she has done so few Doctor Who audio plays, and sadly it would be another three years or so until her next release in the Big Finish Doctor Who audio range. After her stellar work here with The Marian Conspiracy I definitely look forward to eventually getting to that next one, however, and the fact that it is yet another Sixth Doctor adventure is just the icing on the cake.

So, on reflection, if this had been part of the TV show I believe that I would likely rank it as a classic, and as a personal favourite. And as an audio adventure, I still rank it as a classic. And definitely as my new favourite. I want more like this, please. In fact, when fans rave about Big Finish, I now imagine that it is this level of quality that they are talking about. And as much as I have enjoyed previous audio releases, to varying degrees, this one, right here, is the first one I’d rate as uniformly excellent. Both as a piece of storytelling drama, and as a slice of Doctor Who. So kudos to all concerned.

It also makes me keener than ever for my next Big Finish Doctor Who fix.


Next up: Sylvester McCoy returns in The Genocide Machine