Written by Jacqueline Rayner, The Marian Conspiracy was the first Doctor Who audio story to introduce an original companion, Dr. Evelyn Smythe
. The story itself is something of a throwback to the First Doctor era, seeing no involvement of an extraterrestrial threat or technology gone bad, but dealing purely with historical events, something that had been unseen (or rather unheard, as it is) since the tenure of the Fifth Doctor
Tracking a nexus point in time, the Sixth Doctor meets Dr Evelyn Smythe, a snarky 55-year-old history professor 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. Six (mercifully) decides to dress up in ruffles and velvet for the occasion, but Evelyn insists on taking her cardigan and handbag along and walking straight into the nearest pub while the Doctor goes to find the Queen. He's immediately mistaken for her personal physician, and is extremely surprised to find that the TARDIS has landed them three years early and Bloody Mary is still on the throne. Also, she's pregnant, which is of course downright impossible.
Evelyn, meanwhile, is mistaken for a member of La Résistance
when she proclaims her loyalty to Elisabeth I. She's taken along to La Résistance
's hideout and introduced to its members. Despite being careful with her words (and making them all some nice hot cocoa), she draws the attention of Reverend Thomas, who's trying to actually assassinate
Mary for being Catholic — but couldn't bring himself to it, because of her pregnancy. When Evelyn tells him that it must only be a phantom pregnancy, Thomas hastily revises his plans and begins plotting against everyone around him, trying to assassinate Mary as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, the Doctor has found a kindred soul in Bloody Mary, and manages to keep up excellent bedside manner for a good while. They discuss personal convictions, whether it's ever okay to commit mass murder on people who go against one's beliefs, and what it feels like to live with the blood of thousands on one's hands. The Doctor is very shaken by the conversation, but Mary — a true Well-Intentioned Extremist
— is quite happy with her decision to burn all Protestants at the stake. After all, it is only a sign of religious mercy, a way to save her beloved country. In the middle of all that, Queen Mary's handmaiden — Sarah — turns out to be unknowingly plotting to assassinate Mary, not knowing that Thomas would use her to actually murder
the Queen. She and Thomas are married, but the Catholic law made their marriage invalid. They continued to be part of La Résistance
in secret. And Sarah is pregnant... with Evelyn's ancestor.
Once the Doctor figures all that out (after a brief stint in the Tower), he convinces Mary to let Sarah be the handmaiden to the captive Queen Bess as punishment. He rescues what's left of La Résistance
and moves them safely to Germany, telling them that Catholicism will only last for three more years. There's nothing he can do to prevent Thomas' death, though, and both Six and Mary end the adventure very shaken by their experiences. Evelyn promises to bake Six some nice chocolate cake. She also announces that she'll be his new companion from now on, ignoring his protests about the matter.
- Call Forward: The Doctor and Evelyn do eventually pop back to give Darwin some moral support. At a quite vital time, no less.
- Career Versus Man: Subverted: Evelyn chose attending an academic conference over observing her wedding anniversary, and actually divorced her husband to do so.
- Cardboard Prison: The Tower. Lampshaded, but still not quite realistic. The ridiculousness of the escape became a Running Gag throughout Big Finish and got a bit more lampshading later on in "Project: Twilight", "Jubilee", "Colditz" and "Something Inside".
- Continuity Nod:
: I suppose all of that out there will be destroyed by the Great Fire.
Sixth Doctor: Uhh...yes. (uncomfortable sounds)
- Evelyn has weak knees. The Doctor remarks that it's usually the ankles.
- Note how the Doctor doesn't offer himself to take the aspirin?
- Contrived Coincidence: Out of all the people living in London at the time, Evelyn just happens to become involved with the two plotting to overthrow Mary and replace her with Elizabeth, simply by visiting the local pub.
- Cool Old Lady: Doctor Evelyn Smythe — so, so much.
- Deadpan Snarker: Evelyn has her glorious moments:
Sixth Doctor: (While being held captive in the Tower of London) I might not want to mention [Lady Jane Gray] to the Queen, it might upset her.
Evelyn: And we wouldn't want to upset the Queen, now would we? She might have us thrown in the tower!
- Development Gag: Six spends most of the episode in velvet and ruffles. Colin Baker originally wanted to play the Doctor in black velvet, but producer John Nathan-Turner insisted on the technicolor nightmare coat.
- Drink Order: Evelyn carries hot chocolate mix. Her fondness of the drink returns later in other audio adventures.
- Establishing Character Moment: Being her first story (and the first instance of a new audio companion), Evelyn gets hers when she, during her first trip in the TARDIS, doesn't let the Sixth Doctor talk over or boss her around while deflating any of his attempts to puff himself up with a self-serving story.
- Expecting Someone Taller: Evelyn, when she first sees the TARDIS interior.
- Fix Fic: The Sixth Doctor spends most of the episode not wearing That Coat, gets a new companion who puts up with precisely zero of his ego-trips, shows off his excellent bedside manner and displays genuine kindness to Mary, and gets in a proper heartfelt monologue about his guilt issues.
- Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Evelyn regularly parties with her students, and recalls taking part in a gin drinking contest with them. (The gin won.)
- Historical-Domain Character: Mary I of England.
- Mood Dissonance: This is remarkably one of the more upbeat and light-hearted Doctor Who stories, but it deals entirely with the reign of terror under one of the most ruthless female rulers of modern history, Queen Mary I.
- Not That Kind of Doctor: One of the first conversations The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn have is over their professions.
- Not So Different: The Doctor and Mary I. He's very shaken once he realises that he's not in any position to lecture her.
- Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory: Evelyn remembers her ancestors and family tree, even though they've been erased from history and the Doctor doesn't know about them. The fact that the names she knows no longer appear in her records, and indeed vanish before her eyes, are what convinces her to believe what the Doctor is telling her.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Mary I, who's portrayed in a very kind light while planning to commit mass murder on all "heretics".
- The Doctor has a quite powerful moment where he questions his own actions after meeting her.
What would you say if I were to tell you that I once destroyed an entire race, that I have led friends to their deaths and caused numerous wars. That my intervention has led to peaceful people taking up arms and good people having their faith or reason destroyed. Because I failed to act millions upon millions of people have been enslaved or killed. What if I had done all of those things but had always, always believed I was doing to the right thing.