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The Guardian of the Solar System was first story of the fifth series in The Companion Chronicles audio range. It was produced by Big Finish Productions. It was written by Simon Guerrier and featured Sara Kingdom.
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...
Then and now, Sara's past is catching up with her. The cogs have come full circle...
The Old Men in the Clock (1)
Robert's voice recalls the events which led him here: how one thousand years ago the house of Ely, capable of granting wishes to its inhabitants, absorbed the spirit of Sara Kingdom so she could have a conscience; how he was sent to judge whether she could be a danger and befriended her; and how, after the disastrous outcome of a terrible war, he accepted to stay in there for life as a price for the life of his terminally ill daughter.
Twenty-one years later, Robert's daughter has left the house to see the world, leaving him alone. He has never seen her again, but he doesn't wish the house to bring her back. The house has also prevented him from aging, so she keeps having someone to care for. Now, Robert has one final wish, but before granting it, Sara wants to tell him one last story about her travels with the Doctor and Steven.
In the past, something attracts the TARDIS to land inside of it. The three travellers come out into a giant machinery, made of various chains and gears. The Doctor, wondering at the sight, recognises it as the inside of an enormous clock, and excitedly urges his companions to go exploring. Sara and Steven complie, albeit with much less enthusiasm. The Doctor describes to them how the clock works, and Steven asks whether it could affect the TARDIS. The Doctor dismisses the idea, but Sara notices the look in his eyes, and states that it did.
The Doctor doesn't reply, his attention drawn elsewhere. In the shadows amongst the chains, the crooks and the notches, there is an old man, dirty with oil and sweat, working at the machine. Sara sees others of them, all along the machinery, all examining and taking care of the chains and the mechanisms. Steven suggests they could explain them what this all means, and the three of them climb to reach them. The old men, though, do not seem to see or hear them, as intents as they are in their toil. They are slaves, Steven says, but a voice behind them contradicts him. It belongs to a young female Space Security Service agent, at whose sight Sara realizes she is back in her own time. They are prisoners, the agent says.
In the present, Robert remarks this doesn't sound too bad, compared to the treatment prisoners endured in the detention prisons of his time. At least, he said, the prisoners in the clock would still be useful to community, as any man should be: after all, everything comes with a price. Sara agrees on that.
In the past, the officer locks the travellers into an accessment cell. While Steven tends to the fatigued Doctor, Sara stands by the door, worrying that the prison guards may find out who they are, kill them and bring the taranium back to Chen. The officer comes back, and takes Sara away in another cell, where a man is waiting: it's Bret Vyon, Sara's brother. Sara hugs him, relieved, while Bret wonders at her presence here: she should be on Venus, he said, on a six-months posting duty. Sara recalls that she was, a year before her meeting with the Doctor and Bret's death, and understands they have travelled back in time. She tries to tell him the reason why she is here, but Bret doesn't believe her, and instead assumes she has been given a secret assignment she can't share with him. Eventually, Sara confirms his assumption, resigning to the fact that she can't change things, and that what will later happen to Bret is already fixed to happen.
In the present, Robert asks her if she really believes that. Sara replies she doesn't know.
In the past, Bret explains to Sara that the slaves are intelligent men, men who ask questions, too smart for their own good. They have been put here, to wonder about the workings of the clock and keep it working, and also to feed it, since the clock, using a technology similar to that of the house, feeds about their thoughts. The only thing Bret can't tell her is the purpose of the clock itself, because he and the other guards have sworn an oath of silence. However, he can bring her to the man who can tell her: Mavic Chen.
Sara is then brought to Chen, who remarks to Sara that the file he is reading on her, penned by Mark Seven, is very impressive, although he, being an android, "lacks the discretion of one of us". Sara is infuriated by his remark, since Mark was one of the best men she ever knew, but she stays silent. Chen asks her what she is doing here where she should be on Venus, and Sara, lying, replies she is here to know about the clock. Chen says the clock is the great secret of the Human Empire, the machine keeping it together. It does not only measure time, it dictates it: the swing of the pendulum causes space-time to bend, and thus serves as a counterweight to great hyperlines into space, thus allowing space travels to be swift and rapid. Otherwise, the Earth Empire would collapse, unable to stay united in its vast extension. Chen says he inherited the secret from the previous Guardians, but he doesn't like it: exploiting the old men is wrong, and people would not approve should they know. For that reason, he is looking for something to replace the clock. He then asks Sara what would she would have him do, now she knows, leaving her uncertain what to answer.
In the present, Robert insists that she grants him his wish. He has been trapped by her, like the old men were trapped in the machine, and the story is only delaying his freedom. Sara finally agrees. Robert dies, and his mind becomes the new identity of the house's conscience, while Sara comes back to life, looking older than she was. Now she is free to leave the house, while Robert can stay forever in the house and tests his power, as he always wished to do. Glad and delighted, Sara leaves.
The Guardian of the Solar System (2)
Sara comes back to the house, under a heavy rain, after two days. She is disappointed: Robert's daughter, when she left, took the only available boat. Now, there is no way to leave the island. Robert offers to provide her with a vessel off the island, but only if she finishes her story. Begrudgindly, Sara agrees.
In the past, the Doctor and Steven manage to unlock the door of their cell. They saw a long row of desert offices, and by using a monitor they discover what year they are in. Steven then proposes to use the monitor to trace Sara, and so they Steven find out what happened to her. Steven thinks they should go to the rescue, but the Doctor disagrees. As an agent of the Service, Sara's presence here can be explained, but if the two of them ran into Bret or Chen, then the future would be changed, with disastrous outcomes. The two men decide then to sabotage the Clock, set the old men free and run away in the confusion.
In the present, Sara has to stop and drink some water: she is not used to speaking. She comments that, when she told stories to Robert as the conscience of the house, she felt outside of the picture, while now she feels personally invested in it. Robert says that she now sees herself as part of the story, a cog in the machine. This brings Sara to ask whether she is changing the story, to which Robert replies that stories are always changing, and sometimes they may reveal the truth, even to the teller. What does this story reveal, asks Sara, that she never had any choice?
In the past, Sara is led into a discussion by Chen. He tells her that he had been mining taranium for fifity years now, hoping to make that metal the base for a new technology of space travel, to replace the Clock. Sara then starts giving Chen advice and discussing the possible uses of the taranium. Sara even starts hoping that she could change the future and avoid Chen's betrayal. In the end, Chen, pleased with her suggestions, tells her he will set things up so she get a promotion and come working in his staff on Earth.
When Sara comes out of Chen's office, Bret is waiting outside. The two brothers find a place to wait while the staff makes the necessary preparations for Sara's advancement. When the paper with the promotion comes, Bret reads it; to her terror, Sara recognizes the exact same surprise promotion she received that year while she was on Venus. She didn't change history, on the contrary, she contributed to its course. She cries on Bret's shoulder while he still congratulates her, until the guard tells them Sara has a seat on the next spacecart to Earth. Bret wishes her good luck and leaves her: that was the last time she would see him before his death.
In the present, Sara tells Robert she slipped away from the guard and went to retrieve the Doctor and Steven. On finding they did escape, she quickly figured out where they went, and ran to prevent them from destroying the Clock, thinking that, if they did so, this will change history.
In the past, the Doctor and Steven climb down, until the bottom end of the great pendulum, and start looking for a weak link. Steven notices that the old men are actually doing that too: they are trying to stop the Clock, to no effect. However, the Doctor insists that he, with his intelligence, should succeed where they fail. What neither he or Steven understand is that this is exactly how the Clock works: hope of escaping traps the old men inside it, it is the food on which the machine feeds.
When Sara reaches them, it is too late: the Doctor and Steven have become part of the machine. Tired and hopeless, Sara just surrenders to the Clock - and that sets her free from its influence. It had been designed to trap men inside of it with the hope to escape, but Sara has no hope. She understands that the future she saw, when Chen betrays Earth, is the result of her destroying the Clock: she has no choice in it. With this knowledge, she then stops the Clock from working and disrupts the mechanism. The Clock collapses, and amidst the confusion Steven, Sara and the Doctor leave in the TARDIS.
In the present, Sara blames herself for what happened afterwards: Chen's betrayal, the war with the Daleks, the death of her brother. She never had any choice, she angrily protests: she was ever, ever just a cog in the machine, playing a predetermined part. Robert replied she freed the old men from the clock, she saved the Doctor and Steven, she gave her life to the Clock as she did later in the house and with the colonists. All the stories she told him are about her sacrifice to save someone else, so that they could go free. Sara says this is not why she did it: she was tired of fighting, tired of being free from the order and impositions she had been given all her life. All she wished was to be free, at least once in her life, but every time there was no choice, she never had any choice - and that's why she shot Bret, without even questioning orders. It was her duty. She had no choice.
Robert says he can't absolve her of that, nor can he set her free from their guilt, but there is someone who can put things in perspective and help her. The sound of the TARDIS is heard: Robert has drawn the Doctor, in a later incarnation, to the house. It's up to Sara, now: going to him and talk, or stay in the house. She can choose.
- Sara's elder brother Bret Vyon was senior to her in the Space Security Service.
- Robert was told stories of the Daleks when he was child.
- Sara considered Steven Taylor to have been a good ally and a good man to have around in a crisis.
- Sara spent six months on assignment on Venus in 3999.
- The Great Clock is built using the same technology as the House in Ely, although Sara can't remember what the process is called, but it essentially treats the human mind as an equation.
- Based on this, the more the prisoners think they will escape the Clock, the more the Clock traps them, entering their minds and feeding on them.
- In the 40th century, androids were considered equal to humans.
- Sara refers to the alien races that could threaten Earth: Malphas, Zephon (pronounced Zenephon), Celation, Beaus, and the Eminence Gris.
- This story explains why Sara is always seen in her SSS uniform during The Daleks' Master Plan, despite travelling well outside her jurisdiction. Sara explains that she thought herself indivisible from her oath of service at that time, and that her uniform represented that oath.
- This audio drama was recorded on 25 November 2009.
- This is stated to be the last story Sara tells Robert, but The Drowned World indicated he's already heard the story of "the old men in the clock."
- Home Truths established that Sara stopped counting after 1000 years, implying she's been in the house for longer. This story makes it a flat 1000 years since that adventure.
- Robert once again relates the story of the Doctor, Steven and Sara's first visit to the intelligent house in Ely a thousand years earlier. (AUDIO: Home Truths)
- Robert recalls agreeing to remain in the house forever in exchange for his daughter's life. (AUDIO: The Drowned World)
- Sara recalls that she was sent to arrest the Doctor after he stole an emm of taranium from Mavic Chen, that her brother Bret was aware that he had allied himself with the Daleks, and that she killed him under orders of Mavic Chen. (TV: The Daleks' Master Plan)
- Sara also refers to her unwilling involvement in the experiment with molecular dissemination, which sent her, the Doctor and Steven to Mira, where they mett the Visians, an invisible, predatory species, and she saw Chen's betrayal. This persuaded her to help the Doctor and Steven, thus leading to their escape with the taranium. (TV: The Daleks' Master Plan)
- Sara refers to her visits to Liverpool (before it was flooded) on 25 December 1965 (TV: The Daleks' Master Plan) and Mars before it was colonised by humanity. (PROSE: The Little Drummer Boy) She also mentions an "ancient right gold cricket", of uncertain reference.
- Sara previously told Robert that she encountered a withered old man who was trapped in the workings of a clock. (AUDIO: Home Truths, The Drowned World)
- Mavic Chen is reading the report Mark Seven filed of the encounter he, Sara and Jason Corey had with the Daleks on M5 many years earlier. (AUDIO: The Destroyers)
- Sara refers to Robert's attempt to record her voice on a wax cylinder more than 20 years earlier. (AUDIO: The Drowned World)
- Sara mentions that the Doctor and Steven first met Mavic Chen and Bret on Kembel in 4000. (TV: The Daleks' Master Plan)
- Many years later, Sara would be reunited with the Doctor, by then in his fifth incarnation, and Steven in an alternative Death Zone on Gallifrey. (AUDIO: The Five Companions)
- The Eighth Doctor and Charley Pollard would later visit the inner workings of another giant clock in Caerdroia in the Divergent Universe. (AUDIO: Caerdroia)