The thing about revisiting the past with Doctor Who is that nobody expects accuracy; after all, our eponymous hero didn’t really avert a victory for Harold at Hastings, nor did he start the Great Fire of Rome. And Dennis Spooner left the post of story editor in the spring of 1965 having introduced Peter Purves as companion Steven Taylor, writing The Time Meddler, Steven’s first full story, as something of a parting gift. So nobody would really expect to find a Spooner-esque historical comedy-drama in the midst of Season Three, and yet in Robert Kahn and Tom Salinsky’s first story for Big Finish, that’s where the ghost of the late writer turns up. Set somewhere in the region of The Daleks’ Master Plan (which Spooner did indeed have a hand in), The Ravelli Conspiracy feigns to imitate Donald Cotton, but actually presents a much closer facsimile of the author of The Reign of Terror and ghost-writer of Patrick Troughton’s introduction in The Power of the Daleks.
These rompish historical adventures were once the forgotten and occasionally despised products of early Doctor Who, but time – and availability – has been kind to them, and Kahn and Salinsky’s account of Niccolò Machiavelli’s attempt to worm his way into the court of the Medici in 1514 Florence is as entertaining as anything from the first Doctor’s tenure. The audio production is a perfectly judged recreation of what Spooner might have written had he spent another few months in the job.
To reveal anything of the plot would be to spoil the joy of it, suffice it to say that the Doctor’s plan to get Vicki and Steven to the 28th century goes somewhat awry, and 16th century Italy is where they end up. There’s a sense that The Ravelli Conspiracy is what Spooner would have produced had he been scriptwriter on The Massacre, but it’s actually a good fit for The Romans, several centuries down the line – and of course, the twist in the tail is that this is how the series would have taught 1960s children where the term Machiavellian comes from.
Purves and Maureen O’Brien sound rather older than they did fifty years ago, but fall into their roles with consummate ease, and Purves’ Hartnell is note perfect, so much so you will forget from time to time that it’s not the first Doctor himself. The rest of the cast revel in the ripe characterisations they’ve been written, and overall The Ravelli Conspiracy is an example of Big Finish taking great delight in playing with the idiosyncrasies of Doctor Who circa 1965, with the benefit of five decades’ worth of hindsight to help fine tune their understanding of it. An enormous pleasure.
DOCTOR WHO: THE EARLY ADVENTURES - THE RAVELLI CONSPIRACY / DIRECTOR: LISA BOWERMAN / WRITER: ROBERT KHAN, TOM SALINSKY / STARRING: MAUREEN O’BRIEN, PETER PURVES, MARK FROST, JAMIE BALLARD, ROBERT HANDS, OLIVIA POULET, JOE BOR / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (FROM BIG FINISH), JANUARY 1ST (GENERAL RELEASE)