Doctor Who: Flip-Flop [Big Finish]

Flip-Flop was the 46th entry in Big Finish’s “Main Range” or “Monthly Range” of Doctor Who audios (released back in 2003), featuring Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor and Bonnie Langford as Mel. It was a uniquely formatted story, featuring two sets of two episodes each telling parallel stories that could be listened to in either order.

(Daily Doctor Who #263)

Spoilers!

Flip-Flop is a very clever story, organized as it is for the “ending” (in other words, the last track in the release) to feed right back back into the beginning (the first track). The idea is that while looking for supplies to help them fight the Quarks on the space yacht Pinto, the Doctor and Mel land on a world that is in a disastrous state because of an assassination attempt that took place against their leader a generation ago, and the decisions that resulted from it. Consequently, there are people who are desperate to go back in time to change the flow of history, which the Doctor deeply opposes. Nonetheless it takes place, and when the Doctor, Mel and two main guest characters–Stewart and Reed–return to the present day, they find things massively altered, but not necessarily for the better.

Stewart and Reed then force the Doctor to take them to a day earlier to prevent themselves from going back in time in the first place…but of course this doesn’t work because history is already altered a day earlier. Stewart and Reed end up getting killed in this new history while the Doctor and Mel interact with their alternate timeline counterparts. Eventually, the Doctor and Mel realize that their own alternates will soon be showing up and they beat a hasty retreat in the TARDIS, trusting their counterparts to sort out the mess that’s been left behind.

And that covers one half of the adventure (two of the four episodes). The rest of the story then shows what happens with that other Doctor and Mel…which turns out to be pretty much the same thing, but with the timelines reversed (or flip-flopped, as one might say). There are some differences, naturally, but for the most part the story follows the same narrative beats. There’s a bit of fun to be had on the second time through as you are figuring out what was going on in certain scenes of the other half of the story, but for the most part the interest at this stage is limited to just recognizing how elegantly clever the whole thing.

Unfortunately, being clever is not the same thing as being good. Once you realize that the second half of the adventure (whichever half that happens to be) is just going to repeat the structure of the first, and leave you in that same place of uncertainty, whatever fun there is to be had is drained away and the whole thing becomes more of an exercise in perseverance. Its not there is anything wrong with the production–it’s all done well and the cast is good, including of course Sylvester McCoy and Bonnie Langford. But stories tend to work best when they actually go somewhere, and this one quite intentionally does not. It’s an impressive narrative trick but results in an unsatisfying listening experience.

Obviously, others may not mind it in the same way, and that’s fine. But for my money, I’d have much rather listened to a story about the Doctor figuring out what is going on and breaking the cycle, rather than just ending as caught up in it as he started.

Although a sequel which explains what happens when two separate versions of the Doctor and Mel show up on on the space yacht Pinto at the same time to fight the Quarks might have been interesting.

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