The Apocalypse Mirror (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 31 May 2013 - Reviewed by Andrew Batty
The Apocalypse Mirror
The Apocalypse Mirror
Big Finish Productions
Written by Eddie Robson
Directed by Lisa Bowerman
Released May 2013
In a decaying city in Earth’s future steel birds stalk the skies and people are vanishing from the streets. Jamie, Zoe and the Doctor soon learn that the city’s days are numbered, but can they do anything to save it before they vanish like so many citizens before them?

The Companion Chronicles were created to solve two main problems for Big Finish telling stories featuring the first four Doctors. By having older versions of the Doctor’s friends relate stories of their adventures Big Finish avoided the problems of not having an actor to play the Doctor, and the companion actors being much older, allowing them to play the character at a similar age to themselves. The approach also opened up new ways of telling stories, and the rage has often made use of clever framing devices and narrative tricks.

The Apocalypse Mirror is a somewhat experimental release, which moves away from the familiar Companion Chronicles approach described above. While it is narrated from Jamie’s perspective, it lacks any kind of framing device and is highly unusual in that all three of the regular characters are ‘voiced’, with Wendy Padbury on hand as Zoe, and Frazer Hines taking on both Jamie and the Doctor. Big Finish have been keen to promote this side of the play with the DWM preview calling it “the most authentic Second Doctor Companion Chronicle yet”.

In the past Big Finish have been adamant that they would never re-cast the Doctors who are no longer with us, but this play is the closest they have come to this. Since this isn’t a full-cast play they can just about get around calling it ‘recasting’ (as Hines voices all the characters bar Zoe), but it sails very close to the wind. The problem is that even though Hines’ take on Troughton’s voice is very good, it will only ever sound like Frazer Hines doing an impression of Patrick Troughton, rather than the real thing. Recreating the past in such detail feels like a fairly futile aim, and with The Companion Chronicles already offering a neat solution to the lack of the first three actors to play the Doctor it’s hard to see why Big Finish are veering away from a format which works so well.

Given the decision to have all three regulars ‘voiced’, it’s a shame that Wendy Padbury couldn’t have been more to do as Zoe, as she disappears from the story half way through, and doesn’t return until the conclusion. The play’s supporting characters are all drab and forgettable (however, given the revelations in the play about the nature of the city and its inhabitants, the dullness of the characters is probably intentional) and giving one of these characters the second voice, rather than Zoe, might have made them more distinctive.

Where the play excels is in its imagery. The setting of the neglected and part-derelict city is wonderfully evoked in Jamie’s narration, and the Hawkers (the metal birds which grace the CD’s cover) are a memorable and very visual menace. There is a good sense of mystery created around the disappearances of the city’s people and the strange ‘nostalgia sickness’ which causes people to see flashes of the city’s greater days and these mysteries are resolved in clever and unexpected ways. Jamie is used very well throughout the play, with his sense of wonder authentically captured and Episode Two gives him a rather lovely speech arguing against cynicism and despondency.

Overall The Apocalypse Mirror is a play which is high on atmosphere but low on the storytelling complexity we’ve come to expect from The Companion Chronicles. Trying to have all of the regulars voiced is an interesting experiment in the way The Companion Chronicles tell stories, but one which feels like a bit of a backwards step, trying to solve a problem which doesn’t really exist.