Sydney Newman originally conceived ‘Doctor Who’ as an educational show. Before “Dalekmania” took hold, the series was meant to teach kids about science and history. ‘Historical’ serials were a part of that: using no alien or sci-fi elements, simply dropping our heroes into an event. Historicals died out, however, once the popularity of the monsters was felt and the show skewed towards them more.
So it’s fitting that Big Finish’s latest plunge into the First Doctor era, The Ravelli Conspiracy, embraces the era unreservedly. The TARDIS arrives in sixteenth century Florence, during the paranoid time of Medici rule. After running into Niccolò Machiavelli, Steven, Vicki and the Doctor are forced into a plot to assassinate the Duke. Who just happens to be the ambitious brother of Pope Leo X, while the Pontiff himself is visiting Florence. How much more historical could you get?
As per usual in the Early Adventures series, the role of the Doctor is taken by the male lead in the cast. Peter Purves, who also plays Steven, takes on the task and completely nails the more comedic side of Hartnell’s character. Maureen O’Brien is back as Vicki and shares narration duties with Purves. Both give highly energetic performances.
Despite a small cast, this release has a strangely ‘Game of Thrones’ vibe to it. Each character has their own motivations and the plot is crammed with political machinations. There are power plays, double-crosses, triple-crosses, unlikely alliances and everything you want for a full-blooded political thriller. Staying historical was wise of writers Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky so this finely-crafted plot didn’t become muddled by aliens.
The stand-out character of the release has to be Machiavelli, played by Mark Frost. Given his legacy, it would’ve been easy to make him a moustache-twirling villain and ignore Machiavelli’s long political life. Robert Hands gives a fun turn as Pope Leo X, turning what could have been a reverent, holier-than-thou (literally) caricature into a real person.
Intricate and Complicated
‘The Ravelli Conspiracy’ is an intricate and complicated story that rewards a second listen. Not only will it help you see the full extent of everyone’s schemes, you get to hear the terrific performances of Frost, Purves and others. That said, its breakneck pace may have benefited from some calm moments for the listener to catch their breath.
Blogtor Rating – 9/10
When the TARDIS lands in a house in Florence, Italy in 1514, it isn’t long before the guards of Guiliano de Medici arrest Steven and Vicki. To rescue them, the Doctor has to employ the help of the house’s owner – one Niccolo Machiavelli. But can he be completely trusted?
Guiliano confesses to his brother Pope Leo X that he has angered the wealthy family of Ravelli and believes the newcomers may be part of an assassination plot. But when the Doctor arrives an already tricky situation starts to spiral out of control.
As the city rings with plot and counter-plot, betrayal and lies abound. The Doctor and his friends must use all their ingenuity if they’re not to be swept away by history.
This conspiracy is about to get complicated…
Written By: Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman
Maureen O’Brien (Vicki), Peter Purves (Steven Taylor/The Doctor/Narrator), Mark Frost (Niccolo Machiavelli), Jamie Ballard (Guiliano de Medici), Robert Hands (Pope Leo X), Olivia Poulet (Carla), Joe Bor (Guard Captain). Other parts portrayed by the cast.
Producer: David Richardson
Script Editor: John Dorney
Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs