Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Guardian of the Solar System written by Simon Guerrier and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: Space Security Agent Sara Kingdom is dead, her ashes strewn on the planet Kembel. But, in an old house in Ely, Sara Kingdom lives on… Now joined in the house by her confidante Robert, Sara recalls her travels in the TARDIS with the Doctor – and a particular adventure when the ship appeared to land inside a giant clock, where old men are caught in its workings… And behind this nightmare is an old enemy: Mavic Chen, Guardian of the Solar System. Then and now, Sara's past is catching up with her. The cogs have come full circle…

SSS: How awful for Sara to meet up with two of the people that brought her life to a spectacular close, her brother Bret Vyon and her boss Mavic Chen. To know that the former will die at her hands and the latter would betray the Solar System and to be able to do nothing about it is a real test of her character. She can still see the look in her brother’s eyes when she killed him. It was such a long time ago but it is still raw. When Sara followed the Doctor and Steven into the laboratory knowing there was no way out for them, with every intention of killing them both and she couldn’t have predicted the way things panned out. Sara felt small and insignificant within the workings of the machine but it dwarfed the petty concerns of people. When she meets up with Bret in his past before she has killed him she has the awful realisation that she couldn’t save him, a sick feeling that all that she has done is set in stone. It didn’t take much for Chen to convince Sara of his good intentions because she so wanted to believe that the man she had always admired was working for Earth’s best interests. It didn’t matter that Sara was going to screw time over because she had her brother back and she was going to do everything in her power to save him. She realises in her decision to destroy the clock that with a sense of crushing inevitability she is responsible for setting up the events that lead to her brothers death, to her defection and (although she wouldn’t know this) her death. She feels like a fly trapped in amber, a cog in a machine of time and her wish is to break the cycle and be free of her responsibilities to the timeline.

Humble Husband: When Robert’s daughter got sick he would have done anything to save her…even ask the House to provide the cure which went against his beliefs as a rational man. He has to want it, to wish to spend the rest of his life with the ghost of Sara and the house would do the rest.

Hmm: Mavic Chen dispatched the whole Space Security Service after the Doctor when he stole the Time Destructor and Sara Kingdom was one of the agents that caught up with him. Sara always thought he was an extraordinary man with eyes as bright as his silver hair, twinkling like stars.
Being inside the intricate workings of a clock mechanism absolutely thrills the Doctor and he gets to admire the workmanship from an angle he has never had the opportunity to do in the past. Sara might say that the clock was magic but the Doctor would not allow that. Steven has a lot of patience with the Doctor (so did Peter Purves with the William Hartnell!) and had broken through that period that took the Doctor time to warm to you. They were now the closest of friends. The Doctor had never been one for sitting quietly – he was forever being caught and escaping as regular as clockwork!

Aggressive Astronaut: Steven knew how to handle and prompt the Doctor as they had travelled together a long time before they met Sara. She always thought he was tall and handsome, a pilot of the old kind where you needed nerves of steel and a great sense of humour.

Standout Performance: Jean Marsh once again delights and her chance to play Mavic Chen made me applaud her, she gets Kevin Stoney’s theatrical and oriental performance spot on.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I was trapped. I’ve always been trapped. Just a cog in the machine.’
‘The clock was reaching into my mind…’
‘I know Mavic Chen and my brother have escaped and that I’ll catch up with them later.’
‘So what’s it going to be…’

Great Ideas: This the last story that Robert is going to hear because after he had his wish granted and his daughter got better and grew up in the house and left him he has no wish to keep living this existence of hermitage. People wish terrible things within the house that can grant them at Ely. The TARDIS materialising in the workings of a giant clock – now that is a premise I can get excited about! Whilst difficult to get a sense of scale, the vast and intricate interlocking parts were larger than some of the rockets that Sara had flown in – it was a whole city made up of blocks larger than houses keeping perfect timing. Old men keep the machine going, frail and exhausted. They were smart and intelligent men put inside to wander the workings of the clock…and they taught the clock to feed. Mavic Chen’s usual act is a theatrical Mandarin wheeling through politics because it amused him not because he cared. The clock doesn’t just measure time, it dictated it. The great mechanism sat so heavily that it caused space-time to bend and worked as a counter weight to the great avenues through hyperspace. Sara can be explained away because she was a member of the SSS but the Doctor and Steven first met Mavic Chen and Bret Vyon a year from now on the planet Kembel and if they met now history would be rewritten. I love the philosophy that even though stories might not always be true they always have the ability to reveal truth to those who are listening. Chen is so convincing that even though she knows what his real goal turns out to be she gets a sense that despite being ruthless, pragmatic and vain he was working in Earth’s best interests. Sara realises with some horror (shared by the audience) that Mavic Chen had no choice but to side with the Daleks because she destroyed the clock and his hyperspace link. When the TARDIS lands and the Doctor waits in the console room wondering why he has been brought by Robert to Sara’s ghost and she panics at the thought of trying to get some answers from him.

Audio Landscape: Crackling fire, huge cogs turning and metal hitting metal – the workings of the clock make for a super audio landscape, its very interesting to hear a ticking clock in the house in Ely – a demonstration of the ticking clock from the outside of the workings, doors banging, a sudden breath, a cold biting wind, the screaming hinges of a closing door, the prisoners screaming as the flames leap up and destroy the clock, the alarm sounding.

Musical Cues: These melancholic Sara Kingdom stories bring the absolute best out of Fox and Yason. They have the ability to take this exceptional material and make you feel something gaping and empty inside yourself as the story takes place with their music.

Isn’t it Odd: I don’t necessarily buy that it was Sara’s fault that Chen took created the Time Destructor to hold the universe at ransom – the destruction of the clock might have forced him to seek ulterior means of power but his all encompassing ego would have driven him to something of the sort eventually. Alternative means of conquering, yes – but the nutter that we meet in The Daleks’ Masterplan is clearly so much in love with his new allies that as soon as the idea occurred to him he must have been dazzled by the possibilities.

Standout Scene: In an awesome twist of Robert’s fate Sara grants his wish to let him stay and be part of the house, to know what the house was capable of and how far he could reach. I really thought that he was going to die but to swap places with Sara, to allow her the chance to breath fresh air and feel the wind on her face…it is an awesomely powerful exchange that really engaged my emotions given all the build up. The last scene literally took me breath away and the last line gave me goosebumps – so many possibilities (Sara could leave with the Doctor and have more adventures…but which one?) and so skilfully left for the audience to decide.

Result: Guardian of the Solar System is less of a story in its own right and more of a continuation of the previous two Sara Kingdom stories but as a conclusion to the trilogy it proves to be very satisfying. Simon Guerrier has struck on such a winner with his Sara arc and there really isn’t a weak moment in all three exceptional stories. The story of Robert lacing through all these memories links the trilogy and the format of the Dalek Masterplan makes the vignettes of stories feel as though they are the perfect length. What’s more he has managed to take an is she/isn’t she companion and turn Sara into the definitive article for me and adding a number of wonderful stories to what I already consider to be a Doctor Who masterpiece. None of these achievements are easy and Guerrier’s skill with both the first person narrative and running arcs should be applauded. Lisa Bowerman’s direction has never been better than in this remarkable trilogy, nothing is rushed and yet there are still moments of great tension and drama and some incredible shocks and the performances she coaxes from Jean Marsh and Niall McGregor are extraordinary. Somewhere in the depths of Doctor Who’s arsenal of storytelling lie three Sara Kingdom companion chronicles and they contain some of the finest drama, moments of poetry and philosophy and represent this crazy little series at its most meditative. Breathtakingly good imagery too: 10/10

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