08 September 2016

Audio Review: Bernice Summerfield - The Mirror Effect

And so the third series of Bernice Summerfield's audio adventures grinds to a close. The Mirror Effect isn't entirely representative of this series, but in some ways that makes it a completely appropriate way to end things.

I'll start by saying I didn't find all that much to like in this story. I can see what producer Gary Russell and writer Stewart Sheargold were going for - a claustrophobic, introspective hour - but it really didn't work for me anywhere near as well as the idea should on paper.

We begin right in the midst of the action as Benny and Jason arrive by unknown means in some kind of icy cavern. Before too long, they're acquainted with Dr Carnivel and have been made aware of some kind of disaster that took place in the mining station, for that is where they are. At the same time, Adrian Wall and Irving Braxiatel have materialised a few miles above them in the main base. Across the hour, we see the foursome attempt to meet up again, despite the best efforts of a malevolent mirror.

It's through the mirror that Benny, Adrian, Jason and Brax came to be on Grid 4. But it's no ordinary mirror, as it begins to get inside the minds of our heroes and animates their worst nightmares into being, in the form of the others' thoughts. It turns out that this is what killed Carnivel's colleagues, this plague of the mirror. Indeed, it very nearly succeeds in killing Jason when he believes himself to be drowning, locked in a lift. It's only thanks to Brax that he survives this, confirming he's not quite the villain the producer (who scripted segments of his part) or the mirror would like you to believe.

Benny is of course afforded the lionness' share of the action, allowing Lisa Bowerman to face off against various versions of both her fellow cast but also herself. Soon, she's utterly confused about what's real and what isn't as she plunges further and further into the mirrors, and I wasn't far behind. She is once more highly enjoyable, reinforcing Gareth Roberts' theory that it's impossible to write Benny badly, but other highlights include Harry Myers' Adrian Wall. His snarling, Cockney dog-man has been a hit for me since his first appearance in The Green-Eyed Monsters, and I enjoyed his part in proceedings just as much here.

The Mirror Effect is notable for me for being my first encounter with Brax, and it's interesting to finally hear him in action. I know a fair amount about Brax (he's a Time Lord, the Doctor's brother, owns the Braxiatel Collection etc.) but I didn't really have a feel for what the character was like, or what he was about. I think I picked the right story to get some answers of that ilk. Brax is very high-handed and domineering. Like most Time Lords, he always presumes he knows best and doesn't suffer fools gladly. He seems to stand only for himself and the betterment of his Collection. Miles Richardson gives Brax an upper class tone that was initially a little grating on these ears, but that just adds to the overall impression it seems I am supposed to get of Brax. He tolerates Benny and the gang just as much as they tolerate him.

The post-production is pretty impressive, even astonishing when you factor in that David Darlington had to compose it all in a single day. He should be commended for his efforts as he adds much-needed atmosphere to what I found to be quite a flat, dry tale. Echoes are occasionally overdone but you can't have everything when working at that kind of time scale, and even so I'm pretty sure I only noticed it because I listen out for things to include in my reviews.

Director Russell gets some nice alternative performances from four of the cast - interesting to note Carnivel is played by Richardson's then-wife Beverly Cressman - and while it is interesting that Brax is apparently such a dark character that he has no evil reflection it's a shame we didn't get to hear Richardson take on another side of him as Brax is relatively single-note as it turns out. By now Stephen Fewell has Jason very clearly defined, allowing him to play quite an irregular character when called upon. His and Adrian's rivalry doesn't look set to end any time soon, and I'm not overly disappointed about that.

In Simon Guerrier's mind-bogglingly comprehensive Bernice Summerfield: The Inside Story, Sheargold notes a number of developments in the life of The Mirror Effect. For one thing, I think Bernice Summerfield Through the Looking Glass would've been a much better title, but going further back than that I'm actually interested in what the story set on the oil rig may have turned out like. In any case, I just couldn't find anything to grab my attention here. I did try, but this is very long and I struggled. The confusing nature of it only repelled me further and I'm sorry to say this is probably my least favourite of the series so far. The only bits I thought to myself I really enjoyed were those with Joseph right at the end, commenting on babysitting. I like experimental stories very much, but so far in this range I'm enjoying the more outrageous, light-hearted episodes far more than the 'serious' ones.

So all in all this is a competent play, but little more. I found little to latch onto and although all the character bits and bobs should've been captivating, I found them interesting at best. This was a bit of an experiment, and for me it's not worked, but that's OK. Better to try and fail than fall into a rut. What has worked for me is this series. I've taken quite the gamble in hoovering up a substantial number of the older titles and I'm so glad it's paid dividends. Although it may have had its lacklustre moments, I'm still really looking forward to diving into Series 4. Benny and Lisa Bowerman can carry a duff story quite easily it would seem, giving me great confidence. The parts of the other leads, particularly Brax are mildly interesting but all the best drama lies with Benny. I'm still not entirely sure about what happened and how Carnivel seemed to know Benny and Jason but I really want to move on from this now. In a word, The Mirror Effect is decent.

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