Thursday, 10 March 2011

The Mirror Effect written by Stewart Sheargold and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: Do you believe in the mirror or do you believe in yourself? Under the ice on a cold world lie the derelict remains of the lost Grid 4 Mining Station. Inside the station is a mirror, an ancient alien artefact, its existence known to few. Inside the mirror is one Professor Bernice Summerfield, and she can't get out. Trapped and alone in a place she cannot trust, with her friends distorted and turned against her, she is haunted by fears and reflections. And inside Bernice Summerfield is a little baby creature that wants her to be mother.

Archaeological Adventuress: Talk about getting under the characters skin, this is easily the most intense character study of Bernice so far outside of the books (belters like The Glass Prison have the luxury of time and first person narration to explore her in more depth). She’s just drawing attention to herself and as always the limelight has to be on her – Professor Bernice Surprise (‘I’m here!’) Summerfield, pseudo adventurer and heroine to a dozen ex civilisations! Or at least according to Jason. Doesn’t react all that well to the threat of dismemberment. Can you imagine what it is like to have a hideous, hairy thing like Adrian paw at you? Who does she need more in her life, Jason or Adrian? Can they be a family together? From Bernice the creature took the knowledge of birth, that she loves him. She is as clear as glass, she understands love. Braxiatel has to remind Bernice that she has a real child at home and if she gives herself over to the creature they will have to mother her child. She is thrilled to hear Peter’s first words and tells him she loves him very, very much.

Benny’s Gang: The mirror separates Braxiatel and Adrian from Bernice and Jason – separating the weak from the strong? Braxiatel lives a cosy life in his Collection, occasionally reaching out to bring somebody like Bernice into his life but only so he can use them. Braxiatel only does what he thinks is best. Has Brax turned Benny into a shadow of her former self? Did Braxiatel create the nightmare Benny from his own fears, his own concerns for her? Why does everybody need Brax’s approval before making a decision? Brax doesn’t care about Jason or Adrian but Bernice is valuable to him, property of a gentleman. Why doesn’t Braxiatel have a reflection like all the others? Is he so twisted that he cannot possibly get any worse?

Jason wants Bernice to need him like oxygen, for her to tell him that Peter is half his and that she can see it in his eyes. And his worst nightmare is Adrian taunting him, telling him that Bernice will learn to love him as she loves their son and Jason wont be needed (especially since she doesn’t like a threesome – even poking at Jason’s relaxed sexuality). He murders the fake Adrian through pure anger. Jason feels he wants to squirm his way in with Benny through Peter. He loves her so much he doesn’t have to say it, she’s inside him all the bloody time, they parted company for what felt like a thousand years. He fears water so much he is willing to go through the mirror to escape the filling lift shaft. Jason tries to warn Bernice about Braxiatel but faints under the strain of his hypnotically induced headaches…

Bernice is Adrian’s mate and his partner and he wont do anything to harm her. His greatest fear is Bernice thinking of him as her pet, her loyal dog, that he used her like a chromosome mixing bowl and she will be scarred for life. He longs for Bernice and so he thinks it must be love.

Standout Performance: Lisa Bowerman gets another chance to stretch her acting wings, to play a darker version of her usual character and she’s terrifying.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘What am I to you? Am I just a body, someone to sleep next to? A mate to spawn your offspring? A tool to use when you need something for your Collection?’ – Bernice finally turns on the three men in her life that pull her in so many different directions.

Great Ideas: It’s old, too old and there’s something lingering. The others don’t bleed. A five-man excavation team with both Bernice and Jason, trying to get under the ice. They found the mirror and Bernice went through it and when she returned she was changed – and manipulated the others into killing each other. Doctor Carnivel was murder a long time ago but she is here and manipulating them all, bringing out their desires and preying on their worst fears. The creature in the mirror has been trapped for so long, it has been sending parts of itself out for centuries in hope of contact with someone who can help but has now lost all the parts it has sent. It is only through contact with others that it stays sane, it reflects them, shows them part of themselves that they do not always see. It takes the fear, hurt and pleasure that manifests and absorbs parts of their personality and creates a singular one of its own. Each time you go through the mirror it takes a part of you. The creature wants to be reborn via Bernice, to be her child. Braxiatel was the finance behind the expedition to this planet, he knew about the alien spacecraft under the ice and traced it to this world. He wanted the mirror for the collection. He was greedy and wanted the power over every other collector. He didn’t know the mirror would have tried to reanimate itself – he sent those people to their deaths. Adrian smashes all the mirrors to find Bernice.

Audio Landscape: Water dripping, dribbling, gushing, heavy breathing, the creaking mirror, shattering Benny, knee deep in freezing cold water, whispering voices, shattering Adrian, crunchy snowy footsteps, the echoing void inside the mirror, Bernice’s horrific childbirth screams, Jason’s nightmare about Peter, the screaming baby, Peter gurgling, Wolsey purring,

Musical Cues: The music is constantly there but never overwhelms the action. First and foremost is the character revelations and David Darlington’s score bubbles away in the background.

Isn’t that Odd: The early scenes lack focus, its not until you understand what is going on that this really comes together.

Standout Scene: A kiss between Jason and Adrian – unforgettable! Jason thinking he is going to drown is a genuinely horrific scene. There are few audio scenes that have unnerved me more than Bernice being forced to give birth to the mirror creature.

Notes: There are massive hints in this story that the Braxiatel Collection is more than meets the eye and its owner is hiding many dark secrets from its inhabitants. Braxiatel hypnotises Jason at the end of this story because he is the only person who sees that he doesn’t have a reflection. Any further thoughts that Braxiatel isn’t above board will give Jason the most terrible migraine…

Result: Revealing all of the things about the regulars characters that they would rather not admit to, The Mirror Effect is in turns confusing and startling. The performances of Lisa Bowerman, Miles Richardson, Stephen Fewell and Harry Myers are exceptional and they all get inside their characters heads with disturbing effect. It really is one of the strongest casts Big Finish flaunts. The first ten minutes might confuse you but stick with this one because it plunges into much darker waters than the series usually attempts. What I really like is how it quietly sows seeds for lots of the more dramatic revelations of later seasons, which the audience is privy to but the characters no nothing about. All is not as simple as it seems on the Braxiatel Collection and I cannot wait to find out what precisely is going on: 8/10

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