The sixth adventure in Big Finish‘s main range of Doctor Who audios, The Marian Conspiracy, sees the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) solo until he meets up with historian Dr Evelyn Smith (played by fan favourite Maggie Stables).
The Doctor is tracing a dangerous “nexus” that takes him to a lecture hall, whereupon he interrupts Dr Smythe. He argues with her about her view of historical events, which uncovers the fact that one of Smythe’s historically-relevant ancestors never existed. The Doctor realises that the nexus converges at, or near, Dr Smythe herself.
Later, at Smythe’s home, the Doctor interrupts her knitting to learn more about her ancestor only to discover that his name has vanished from the index of a history book. Worse still, when Smythe fetches printouts of her family tree, not only is the man’s name missing but an entire branch is fading away before their very eyes.
Realising the seriousness of this, and in fear that the “temporal erasure” will soon catch up with Smythe, the Doctor travels back to the Tudor era of Smythe’s ancestor. The Doctor knows Queen Elizabeth I, of course, and intends to soften the grounds before introducing “commoner” Smythe to the Royal Court. He rigs up a mobile “temporal stabiliser” to prevent Smythe from fading away but, whilst he visits Queen Bess, Smythe indulges her historical interests by visiting a local tavern.
The Doctor suspects that there is more wrong than just Smythe’s ancestory when he’s mistaken as a medical doctor and is bustled in to the Queen’s bedchamber, who’s suffering through her pregnancy. The Virgin Queen, pregnant?
Meanwhile, Smythe interacts with locals and is largely enjoying herself, despite their disparaging comments about her age (she’s 55), but falls foul of the same historical inaccuracies when, on hearing her toast Good Queen Bess, they prepare to lynch her for treason.
The Doctor quickly discovers a historical innaccuracy somewhat worse than Smyth’s disappearing ancestor when the queen he’s led in to see is not Elizabeth I, but Queen Mary.
This is an excellent first episode that not only introduces us to a new companion but also gives the most screentime to the 6th Doctor, something that Colin Baker clearly revels in.
I’ve heard of Dr Smythe being a “fan favourite” companion, but I’m always reluctant when new companions are introduced. I see the audios as extensions of the TV series, and introducing new audio-only companions rarely works for me. However, from her first scene and throughout the episode, Maggie Stables gives us an excellent audience identifier. Even though she’s a learned historian and lecturer with a doctorate, she’s also very down-to-Earth with her knitting, her awareness of her age, her keenness for baking (there’s not a problem that can’t be solved with chocolate cake!), etc.
Evelyn Smythe is a warm, accessible, comfortable companion character that really helps guide you through the story. Working with a slightly-subdued 6th Doctor (not the brash irascible one, but still with that temperament), Maggie Stables and Colin Baker are going to make for an excellent pairing and it’s for this reason more than any other, in this first episode, that I’m keen to listen to the rest of the story. Out of the first six Big Finish audio adventures, I wouldn’t be at all surprise if this ends up being my favourite so far.