Big Finish Review: Doctor Who Short Trips - The Astrea Conspiracy
As the first Big Finish story to feature the Twelfth Doctor, The Astrea Conspiracy is an eagerly-awaited milestone release and hopefully will provide extra publicity to the Doctor Who – Short Trips range. The release is written by Lizbeth Myles and is available for purchase on the Big Finish website.
This is our second Short Trips review this year – read our take on The Revisionists before launching into The Astrea Conspiracy.
Here is the synopsis:
The conspirators sit in Antwerp, plotting to kill King Charles the Second. Aphra Behn’s mission is simple, get former lover William Scot to turn against his treasonous comrades. But her money is running out and the complications don’t stop there. A strange Scottish man arrives at her inn with troubling news.
William Scot is out and the Doctor is in.
With this being the first release featuring the character of the Twelfth Doctor at Big Finish, there might be a temptation to ‘go large’ with the plot. Writer Lizbeth Myles avoids this, as she avoids bringing in an established companion to accompany the Doctor. Instead, she keeps the story focused on one character, Aphra Behn, in a purely historical Doctor Who story that we did not have much chance to see on television. This gives a good opportunity to explore her life, perspective and motivations, and to see the Twelfth Doctor in action solo, which we again had limited chance to observe during his televised era.
Aphra Behn, the real-life playwright and spy for King Charles II, is charged with a clandestine mission to spy on William Scot, a former lover, who had joined a group of exiled English conspirators in the Netherlands who plan to kill the king. A rogue element – namely the Doctor – interrupts her mission and latches on. It becomes quickly apparent that Aphra, who is going by codename Astrea, has little patience for the Doctor’s characteristic directness and unpredictability.
For me as a fan of the Twelfth Doctor’s opening titles, it is a welcome delight to hear the theme come crashing in at the start. Scottish actress Neve McIntosh takes the reigns as narrator, and although her usual Doctor Who character Madame Vastra does not feature in the story, her presence gives the release extra credibility and her authentic accent greatly assists with the Doctor’s tetchy yet charming characterisation.
Neve McIntosh’s performance is dynamic, at turns restrained and energetic as she covers the multiple roles of Aphra, the Doctor, and various conspirators and soldiers. Her Twelfth Doctor well communicates his trademark pragmatism and lack of manners, and the voice she uses for the Twelfth Doctor is often the loudest of all, playing into his volatility and brusqueness. McIntosh proves adept at employing a variety of accents, excellently capturing an array of characters in a specific historical era.
Lizbeth Myles’ depiction of Aphra Behn sheds light on a less well-known figure of English literary history, revealing a dedication to her king and country, a personal drive and perseverance in her actions, and a vulnerability. She proves herself highly capable in a male-dominated world, escaping from imprisonment and holding her own in interaction with a room full of men.
The Astrea Conspiracy continues the strong start to the 2019 run of Short Trips, and hopefully is a good sign for new producer Alfie Shaw’s vision for the range for the rest of the year.