Review: Doctor Who – The Ravelli Conspiracy

My relationship with Doctor Who started, perhaps; in slightly different place than many North Americans of my age and fighting weight. I often read of Canadians and Americans who first discovered the good Doctor via PBS; usually beginning with Tom Baker and working their way forwards and backwards as the addiction set in.

The first episode of Doctor Who that I ever saw; thanks to a television station called YTV, was “An Unearthly Child”. I’d heard of the show; being a science fiction fan and having the benefit of British parents, but this was my first real exposure. Every day, after school, a new episode. I was hooked. Before long, I was haunting every bookstore I could locate, looking for Target novelisations, New Adventures and Missing Adventures; everything, in fact, I could find that was even slightly related to the show. The logo began to festoon every school binder and scrap of paper within reach of my fevered hands.

Having started at the beginning, unlike many younger fans, the Hartnell and Troughton eras hold a particular nostalgia for me,although without the benefit of an Internet, the jumping around that set in as the series progressed was a trifle confusing. (Not to mention the sudden disappearance of the show from the air once we’d finally reached Survival.)

Which brings me, finally, to Big Finish’s Early Adventures; and specifically The Ravelli Conspiracy; a First Doctor story featuring Steven and Vicki, as played by Peter Purves and Maureen O’Brien.

Big Finish takes great pride in these successors to the Companion Chronicles; the previous range that offered, although not exclusively, new stories featuring Doctors whose actors are sadly no longer with us and capturing the spirit of the eras into which they fit.

Which is not to say that this restricts their storytelling in any way. Rather it is the flavour and the feel of 60’s Doctor Who that is replicated, rather than simply re-treading old ground.

The move to the Early Adventures full-cast plays in which companions have; where necessary, been respectfully re-cast and the Doctor himself is often played with an eerie amount of success by his talented former companions.

Suffice it to say that the range brings the First and Second Doctors back to our ears with care and, indeed, flair.

So, what about the story itself?

For starters, capturing the era of early Doctor Who allows the writers to taickle that increasingly rare form of story; the purely historical. Although more recent Doctor Who has revelled in the celebrity historical; with often stunning results – Vincent and the Doctor springs to mind – they have tended to mix history with less terrestrial antagonists.

In The Ravelli Conspiracy, the First Doctor and his companions, Steven and Vicki fall into company with Machiavelli himself – whose plots and schemes seem to have worked their way into the Doctor’s own manner come his Seventh incarnation – in a story that captures both the feel of 60’s Doctor Who and a statelier pace in its exploration of historical figures than we’ve come to expect from later iterations of the programme.

The story – primarily presented as a full cast play, with occasional linking narration from Peter Purves and Maureen O’Brien – is a wonderful evocation of both their era of Doctor Who and the time period in which it is set. In a story that hangs on plots, it would be remiss of me to say too much about what happens but while it; perhaps, takes its time to get underway (by no means a bad thing for the characterisation) it’s worth the investment of time and concentration.

The acting is uniformly excellent – Peter Purves puts in double duty as Steven and the Doctor and while his William Hartnell is not quite note perfect, he has the spirit of the character nailed down and within a  few minutes you forget you are listening to an impersonation. Maureen O’Brien’s Vicki is equally impressive as a vocal feat, as you can hear the years fall away as she moves between the younger character and her share of the narration.

With a supporting cast that relishes the chance to throw some charm and smarm about; it’s a witty and engaging story – with a much underrated companion pairing in Steven and Vicki, particularly Purves’ performance as Steven, full of wit, intelligence and humour.

It is consistently impressive how Big Finish manage to faithfully capture the flavour of the various periods of Doctor Who while still adding fresh stories to the library.

These Early Adventures are a fine addition!

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