So my meanderings take me at last to the Sara Kingdom trilogy, that set of Companion Chronicles demonstrating how Big Finish refuse to be beaten by such concepts as ‘didn’t Sara Kingdom die?’. Before diving in too deep, and to save the time of the rapid reader, these are wonderful and are ‘Must Buy’.
If you are still here you may like to know that these were written by Simon Guerrier (he of Graceless and a whole host of other titles) and of course they star Jean Marsh. The trilogy is rounded out with Niall MacGregor as Robert and directed by Lisa Bowerman. According to my strict definition of a companion (which nobody cares about) Sara travelled in the TARDIS but all within the same adventure (Dalek Master Plan). Jean Marsh herself suggests in one of the CD Extras that she also wasn’t identified as a companion at the time.
Be that as it may, I discuss each tale in turn then justify my assertion that these are amongst the best that Big Finish has to offer. On to the stories (and spoilers…)
Home Truths: this story quickly sets out the central concept – at some point in the future the Earth is waterlogged and on the Isle of Ely stands a ‘haunted’ guest-house run by Sara Kingdom to which a character called Robert is travelling. All we know (at first) is that he has come to hear a particular tale.
We flash back to the time Sara travelled with the Doctor and Steven on their random escape from the Daleks. One destination they reach is a ‘perfect’ house that seems to grant wishes and also contain the bodies of a newly married couple. As the tale is told we realise that Robert is the latest in a line of representatives of the governing elite come to judge Sara.
Slowly we understand how the house in the tale works, how the married couple died and the moment that led Sara to merge a copy of herself with the house to save the Doctor and how this has over a thousand years become the guest-house and that Sara herself is a disembodied voice. The tale told Robert leaves to make his report, leaving Sara alone in the house once more with only her guilt at killing her brother for company.
The Drowned World: oddly the thing that immediately struck me was that this was first of the new run of the Companion Chronicles. I took that as a promotion following Home Truths having been the fifth in season three though maybe the numbering means nothing!
Back to the story, the format starts somewhat like a re-run of Home Truths: Robert is back as the council aren’t sure if Sara should be allowed to continue, Sara tells a tale of asteroid miners and an aquatic alien which has some resonance with the reality of Robert’s world in that the world is suffering from disease and from what appears to be the continued collapse of the ecosystem.
Things take a sudden twist though when Robert of his own accord decides that the power of the house to seduce with its wish granting powers and that Sara should then and there without even completing the story.
Some years later Robert returns with his ill daughter to the now deserted house to plead for Sara’s help – he is able to do this by telling the incomplete story which Sara then finishes explaining how she saved the day with her resolve to do the right thing and stand up to the foe. The audio ends with Sara offering Robert a choice – her help if he stays with her!
The Guardian of the Solar System: this seems to be many people’s favourite but for me it overreached slightly and I personally prefer the previous two stories (there is not much in it and they are all excellent).
The set-up is that Robert is now living in the house, his daughter left when she reached 21 and he is being kept alive by Sara for company. Finally Robert asks to be allowed to die but before that Sara gets permission to tell one last story…
The last tale concerns the TARDIS crew ending up on Earth before the events of Dalek Master Plan and Sara meets Mavic Chen and more importantly her brother Bret Vyon who she would one kill! Sara then goes on to slowly set in motion the events that would become the setting for Master Plan realising that she can not change history as it is now written.
Sara rescues the Doctor and Steven when they become trapped by a sinister giant clock that slowly traps its victims in its workings. The tale told Robert is allowed to die…
Of course Robert is now the house ghost and Sara gets a body! This is not enough, what she needs is the absolution that Robert can not grant – he can however draw the TARDIS to the house! Before we know it the TARDIS appears but it isn’t the First Doctor inside…
On that note the story ends.
Why are these amongst the best?
Even counting the usual quality writing, production, performing and directing this set works well as a trilogy with narrative across the three stories, within each story and also within the ‘stories inside stories.’
The fact that Sara is dead is neither trivialised nor glossed over. The set-up is not over explained but there is plenty to give us context – we know not the date but do know that the world is a sorry place. This is indeed a tale of deus ex machina except it is about conscience not the consequence of power.
This then is what Big Finish is superb at – it tells good stories and tells them well.