Doctor Who: The Early Adventures: The Ravelli Conspiracy – Starring Peter Purves, Maureen O’Brien, Jamie Ballard, Mark Frost, Olivia Poulet, Robert Hands & Joe Bor & Written by Robert Kahn & Tom Salinsky – 2xCD / Download (Big Finish)
It’s a rather twinkly Doctor who has promised to take Steven and Vicki to the 2784 Olympic games. Steven is especially keen to watch the four-minute light year – tricky physics apparently, but ‘glorious to watch’, so when our merry band of travellers materialise in sixteenth century Florence instead, our disappointed companions realise that as far as TARDIS reliability goes, it’s business as usual.
Within minutes 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, which proves to be tricky for a couple of reasons. First, he’s under house arrest. Second, he happens to be none other than one Niccolo Machiavelli. Maybe this is one ally who can’t be trusted completely…
…Meanwhile, and in a brotherly relationship with echoes of Moffat’s Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, Guiliano confesses to his sibling Pope Leo X that he has angered the wealthy Ravelli family, so believes that the newcomers may be part of an assassination plot. As a result, 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. Though, as is the way with all Doctor Who adventures, the situation must get ever more complicated before it can be resolved.
By sheer coincidence I read Machiavelli’s The Prince in the summer (it seemed timely), so I was curious to know how he would be presented in this latest Big Finish release. The term Machiavellian is often associated with political deceit and deviousness, so we forget that Machiavelli was a historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher, humanist and writer. It could, then, be argued that Machiavelli was actually a republican – but this is a review, not a political debate, so I shall digress. Whatever Machiavelli was, he was also a complex and multi-layered man, and Mark Frost gifts the listener with a suitably sharp, charismatic and slightly oily take, clearly enjoying himself throughout. ‘Good ends justify brutish means’ he tells us with relish, paraphrasing something that Machiavelli himself is often quoted as saying.
Though this is a complex story with a large cast it’s one that can be followed with ease. Every character is given room to move and develop, and this is all down to the pace– it’s a four-parter so there’s no need to race to a conclusion. That said this is by no means a slow story either, and despite its rather dark undertones, it has a lightness of tone reflected by the First Doctor’s joviality and some gorgeous incidental music. It’s a proper Doctor Who story with proper history in it so you’ll be educated as well as entertained too, and that’s got to be worth the asking price alone. Bex Ferriday