Thursday, 20 January 2011

Home Truths written by Simon Guerrier and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: There’s a house across the waters at Ely where an old woman tells a strange story. About a kind of night constable called Sara Kingdom. And her friends, the Doctor and Steven. About a journey they made to a young couple’s home, and the nightmarish things that were found there. About the follies of youth and selfishness. And the terrible things even the most well-meaning of us can inflict on each other. Hear the old woman's story. Then decide her fate.

SSS: What a fascinating idea bringing Sara Kingdom back especially since it has been hotly debated over the years whether Sara can be considered a companion or not. Having only two episodes of her character to watch and only an audio recording of the rest this was a real chance to get under the skin of a character people might not know as well as the others. One thing is for certain, Jean Marsh is a superb performer and slips back into the role effortlessly after 40 odd years and she makes this ghostly story as creepy and dramatic as it can possibly be. I was extremely impressed by her reading, one of my favourites so far for absorbing me into the story. Because Sara died at the end of The Daleks’ Masterplan it gives this story an extra layer of poignancy and I was eager to find out just how we could be hearing her (clearly older voice) telling Robert this story. If this is the standard of experimenting with peripheral companion characters bring on some more! The story opens with Sara claiming that she runs a guesthouse and has a hundred stories to tell about the people who have stayed with her. She claims that when she was younger she was as sharp as broken glass because as soon as she met up with Steven and the Doctor everything was shifting around her and she wasn’t certain about anything. A member of the Space Security Service which was sort of a night constabulary. Since his death she has carried Bret with her, he was the reason she signed up with the Service in the first place and she realises now that killing him was one of her biggest mistakes in life. She was on the run, outcast from everything she knows. It wasn’t all fun and games when they were on the run in the TARDIS. Sara came from a place where people were crammed into tiny domestic cubicles, where space is more of an extravagance than air. She had learnt since travelling in the TARDIS to be wary, even in an open room. A forthright headstrong girl who cannot let an injustice go unpunished. Sara loved making sense of the senseless, turning a chaotic mess into a working model, using evidence to explain how something ended as it did. She hates fairytales, some slight lack of foresight met with terrible justice. She had been enjoying herself in the house, loving the mystery of it and it took her desires and tucked away anything that spoilt it (Steven). The conclusion of this story is slightly predictable once you know what the menace is but all the more affecting because the real Sara is dead, its lovely that some part of her remains alive because of her travels with the Doctor.

Hmm: Simon Guerrier wrote a superb first Doctor in his mind bending novel The Time Travellers and he once again provides a blistering examination of his character. He really nails those little details that allow me as a listener to see Hartnell walking around this spooky old house, clutching his lapels and thinking he’s always right! Sara once thought of the Doctor as a criminal, an enemy of everything she knew. He was so ancient, so travelled, so deeply marked by time that he appeared to wield magical powers. He investigates details that other people miss, routing out the detritus of clues. The Doctor can sense a presence in the house even if he can’t explain how. How he hates to look foolish, like a cat caught in the headlights. The Doctor hates his companions wandering off, not taking their lead from him, he treats them like children. He delights in the strangest things like a naughty child. If he sees you are upset all the bluster fades away, he will take your hand and calm you down. Investigating makes his eyes twinkle. When he realises the danger they are in he focuses his mind and forces himself not to desire anything. When he thinks he is going to die he meets his end without anger or resentment, a kind of peace like a willing sacrifice. I cannot imagine a moment in the companion chronicles that I have been more gripped then when the glass prison is shrinking with the Doctor inside.

Aggressive Astronaut: Steven is kicked out of the story quite early on but rather than falling unconscious (ala Empathy Games) there is an extremely clever reason why he vanishes. He finds Sara exasperating, especially how she always follows orders. Sara thinks he can read people quickly.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘This wasn’t a house like I had ever known before. It was more like exploring a dream.’
‘Whatever progress we make, whatever enlightenment we gain, we can’t ever be rid of that ghost of superstition.’
‘Well, what’s it going to be…?’

Great Ideas: They land in as house of dreams and magic, one that hasn’t been built from malice. This house can reach into your mind and give you what you most desire. They discover two corpses that look as though they were alive until they came into the door. There are no signs of a struggle or clues as to what had done this. Everything here is tailored for Richard and Alex, provided for their whims. It’s a tomb, frozen in the moment that the people had died. Whatever it was that had taken them takes Steven! Alex had a frustrating moment of thinking life would be much simpler without Richard…and the house plucked that desire from her subconscious and acted upon it. She then thinks there is only one other thing she could wish for…to make this pain go away and the house murders her too. Now it’s trying to grant Sara’s wishes. Sara wanted to explain the mystery and Steven wanted to leave so it whisked him away. Any spoken thoughts are acted upon so they have to control themselves and they need to trap it like a genie in a bottle. A glass TARDIS that you cannot get inside. It shrinks with the Doctor inside! The house is responding to Sara’s wishes as best it could, things she didn’t even know she was thinking. It doesn’t want to be destroyed but it doesn’t know how to react to peoples wishes either, which to grant and which to ignore. Sara gives herself to the house, she is determined to try and make it better. The house now draws its power from the sun and the stars. Whose science built it? Were there more built? She’s all that’s left of Sara Kingdom and the ghost in the house hopes that the real Sara found some of her wishes although assumes (1000 years on) she is now dead. Is Robert going to murder the ghost of a dead woman? It’s a nail biting ending that leaves you hanging for the next instalment.

Audio Landscape: A gorgeous ghostly atmosphere is brewed: rain lashing, splashing footprints, biting wind, thunder, creaking doors, fire crackling, ticking clock, rain pattering on the window, a breath of a ghost water flushing from the taps, terrifying deaths of the ghosts advancing…

Musical Cues: The music is a melancholic piano score, and superbly dramatic at times. Sometimes that music just stops to allow the spooks of the story to make their mark.

Result: Extremely good, Home Truths takes Sara Kingdom and really gets inside her head. Simon Guerrier should be forced to pay my laundry bill after scaring the ¤¤¤¤ out of me for over and hour, his script gives director Lisa Bowerman everything she needs to create a really scary ghost story. It works as both the narration and the story are given equal weight and one is used to cleverly explain the other. Jean Marsh and Niall McGregor make the most of their roles and give the story and edge of danger and mystery. I am a huge fan of season three and The Daleks’ Masterplan and this is another valuable element of both, giving more credence to Sara’s status as a companion and tackling another genre (horror) in the already multifaceted season. A real winner, the cliffhanging ending left me eager for more: 9/10

Buy it from Big Finish here:

1 comment:

dark said...

I confess I was a little worried about hearing this one again. First time through, I enjoyed it, but not only did I not know the big fat plot reveal, I also didn't know much of Sara Kingdom herself, not having heard the audios or seen her surviving stories. In addition, the amount of praise I've seen heaped on this story in particular, and the entire Sara companion chronicles arc in general I was rather wondering if it'd live up to the hype.

I can now say, not only did it live up to the hype, but sinse I now have at least read the novelization of The Chase and heard a few more audios with Sara, (not the least her literal return in the five companions), it actually struck me more forceably second time around.

The ghosts and the wish were as chilling as ever, indeed I don't think I'm going to get that "take it back!" out of my head, however now I noticed far more by way of little details. For example, where originally I didn't realize until the end that the Sara Robert was addressing wasn't what she seemed, a wise old land lady with a host of stories to tell, but I also caught far more by details of the three (possibly four), different worlds in this story.
Sara's memories of the ultra advanced world of the space security, a world of palm readers and tiny cubicals, th, strange, dark flooded earth of Robert's time, a time when photographs are unknown, the weerd, magical world of the house's technology and fantasy, and the last the familiar yet far more alien world of wandering in four dimentions with the Doctor.

Yes, the production is amazing, the music melancholic, and the acting superb, and the fact that I knew what the big twist was certainly didn't diminish the scary, but this time it was this aspect, the worlds within worlds within worlds, that absolutely hit me.
This is one I'd perfectly agree definitely deserves it's reputation.