Wednesday, 15 May 2013

The Apocalypse Mirror written by Eddie Robson and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What’s it about: The TARDIS lands in the city of Tromesis on Earth – but it’s a world far from the one that the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe recognize. The buildings are ruined, the streets deserted. And against the devastation they see a ghostly mirror image of another place – the city as it was before disaster hit. People vanish here, and huge metal birds attack from the sky. Can the Doctor find the future, in a place that doesn’t have one?

Who’s the Yahoos: We get a little insight into Jamie’s first sight of the Earth from space when he visited the moon with the Doctor, Ben and Polly. They had to explain to him what it was and even then it was almost too enormous a concept for him to get his head around. Jamie is a background presence for the most part, observing the strange goings on but he really comes into his own at the climax, showing the confidence that the Doctor has imbued into his ability to get across a complex idea to many people. He refuses to sugar coat what is going on or to make it sound any less ridiculous than it really is, he takes to the microphone and tells the people of the damaged world that it is there pessimism and misery that has brought them to their knees and created the world that they live in. He offers them hope for a better future. Jamie uses his culture shock from when he first visited the future as a reference point to explaining how stepping into a new world can be a positive thing.

Brains’n’Beauty: There were predictions of an environmental disaster on the Earth in Zoe’s time but nowhere near as bad as the evidence that she sees here. Zoe is not above admitting when she is lost, technologically, because it is rather ahead of her time.

Oh My Giddy Aunt: It doesn’t last for long but I could listen to a whole two episodes worth of the Doctor arsing about in the console room and Jamie and Zoe (supposedly the children) frowning disapprovingly. They are so much fun together. But Robson wisely jumps into the story as soon as possible since he only has an hour to tell it in. The Doctor gets so wonderfully stroppy and upset when he is trying to help the rebels and they keep doubting his motives and methods.

Standout Performance: It might seem obvious to say this by now but Frazer Hines’ take on Troughton is so natural by now it is like the actor is putting on a comfy pair of slippers when he steps up to the mike. It doesn’t surprise me that Hines is one of the favourite narrators of the companion chronicles, he approaches the material with such gusto and it is clear he is enjoying every second of it. What’s interesting is the comment that Robson made in his interview in Doctor Who magazine, suggesting that because it is hard work for Hines to play both the Doctor and Jamie they are tailoring the stories so we can enjoy more of his impression of the Doctor. Omitting a villain because it is hard to play a three conversation between the Doctor, companion and nasty and thus making the threat far more conceptual.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘He fell! And I was below him so he fell on me!’ – not a fantastic line in itself but brilliantly capturing the very funny physical comedy that Troughton and Hines loved adding to stories.
‘We’ll present it how it is and people will either believe or they wont.’
‘We can save from disaster but we can’t save them from themselves…’

Great Ideas: Eddie Robson taps into a surreal, poetic form of abstract science fiction that Doctor Who rarely explored. Warriors’ Gate was probably the best example and it shares the same sense of unreal atmosphere. It feels like it is trying mimic Warriors’ in offering what looks to be the same location in different time zones with characters able to walk from one to the other if they fall down with a sickness but that is just a clever ruse to disguise what is really going on which is far more abstract than that. The imagery is extremely memorable, leaping from the audio like it has been drawn in exquisite detail in the strip of DWM – giant metal birds screaming from the sky and swooping in to carry away victims from a broken and desolate city scape. A meteorite is approaching the planet, the impact threatening to be enormous and destroy the city or throw up a dust cloud that will choke everybody and block out the sun. Cleverly Robson ensures that the population of this city are constantly questioning the Doctor and his friends intentions, as happens to be the way in every story when a population is in danger, but once the final twist is revealed it takes on a brand new meaning. It’s essential to the story, rather than merely objections to create some false drama. ‘EVERYONE IS ESSENTIAL! TOGETHER WE CAN BUILD THE FUTURE!’ screams what appears to be propaganda and the populace jeer and deride the message but it turns out to be the lynchpin of what this is all about. The trouble is that people expect the worst from the government, or think they are just out of for themselves. In this case that has a very real effect since both the cities that we see in this tale exist in the same spot. A few years back a group of engineers tested what they called a sympathy engine, the idea being that it would influence the environment and help shape the city into what people wanted it to be. As a side note, I cannot imagine a more dangerous device, given the darker impulses of humanity at it’s worst. It has created two versions of the city, one trying to go forward and one stagnating and the first to cross over to the other version was the engineers. The fracture is driven by peoples perception, they belong either in the decaying one (those who think that they doomed) or the other (those who aspire to a better future). It isn’t a sickness, seeing the other world, as soon as you start thinking about improving things you start to be able to see into the thriving world. Not visions of the past, but glimpses of a better present. It’s a case of changing the way that you think, you can create a better world simply by wanting to.

Audio Landscape: Sonic screwdriver, footsteps on gravel, the gramophones coming to life, climbing a ladder, ringing the doorbell, a beeping scanner, the flapping metal wings of the hawkers, a car screaming to a halt, the scraping of metal as the Doctor examines a hawker, a computer bleeping, the meteorite being destroyed by a laser, applause.

Musical Cues: Fox and Yason provide their usual sterling support, keeping the music quiet as Robson sets his eerie scene and than adding much to the drama of the tale as the hawkers swoop into action and attack the Doctor and friends.

Isn’t it Odd: Again like Warriors’ Gate, whilst a lot of The Apocalypse Mirror is clever and involving, because it is so abstract it can also by cold and uninviting, which little humour to give the proceedings bounce. I’m not sure that any of the guest characters really came alive beyond what the plot needed them to do (some argue, others aid) but this is one of those Doctor Who stories that works because the ideas are so strong and not the characters.

Standout Scene: The usual jeopardy fuelled cliffhanger is turned on its head, this only appears to be a moment of drama because we don’t have all the information to explain where she has gone. The first episode has built up the idea that the sickness and the hawkers being a menacing presence, as seen through the eyes of the frightened people of the city and so our first reaction to Zoe going missing is one of panic. Once the ideas click into place and we realise what is going, the cliffhanger becomes the moment when she was taken to a place of safety. It is sold as Zoe being taken because she found out about the meteorite rather and they wanted to stop her doing anything about it.

Result: Definitely a tale that could only be told in the experimental and daring season six, The Apocalypse Mirror is an attention grabbing fusion of awkward pseudo science, conceptual danger and poetic imagery. Robson takes hold of what could potentially have been a ropey idea (the idea that people can will a better world into existence) and dramatises beautifully, slowly easing us into the concept with some clever foreshadowing in the disquieting first episode before unveiling the idea in the second. It’s a Doctor Who story where fear and doubt and pessimism is revealed to be the most dangerous of weapons and hoping for a better future is the only way to make it happen. It’s certainly a moral that is well worth paying attention to. Compared to some companion chronicles this is quite a subtle tale (there are no singing puppets, people aren’t being burnt at the stake and giant squids aren’t attacking a harbour) but the just makes the impact of the message more important. Lisa Bowerman excels at these unsettling tales, adding much drama by allowing for stillness which in this case helps to drive home the excitement of the hawker attacks. There’s another stunning Fox & Yason score but since they have never disappointed that should be taken as a given. None of this conceptual horror would work if it wasn’t for the performers who are relaying the ideas to us and whilst I might question the use of Wendy Padbury (not because she isn’t any good, heaven forbid, but because she gets very little to do), Frazer Hines’s dual performance as the Doctor and Jamie is so finely honed by this point it genuinely feels like two different actors are sharing the same scene. Hines’ excitement for audio work is expressed in every syllable and he really helps to bring some humanity to this cold, ideas driven, tale. I found this quite absorbing: 8/10

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