Main Range 225a – Vortex Ice

Sorry for defacing the cover, but if you’ve been listening to BF for a while, the author’s name is a spoiler. He’s up to his usual tricks. However, that doesn’t mean this story feels stale or repetitive— quite the opposite. He’s reaching for his favourite tool to deliver a moving story that you’ll want to listen to more than once.

Dylan: Use the brake bar! You’re going far too fast!
Flip: I’ll be judge of that, mate!
Sai: Doctor, is your friend always so reckless?
Doctor: Always. It’s one of her most likable qualities.

Confession: I love Flip. She reminds me of a kitten, which is probably why Six adopted her. She’s the exact opposite of Evelyn in most respects: young, bubbly, headstrong, not particularly refined or educated, and yet she works surprisingly well with him, thanks to her curiosity and and ability to roll with the punches.

Alas, this story punches her pretty hard.

Our erstwhile travelers arrive in the depths of a mine just in time to welcome a scientific expedition on the trail of strange energy particles. An unknown disaster sealed off the mine, and Professor Chopra and her team are determined to get to the bottom of it. Naturally, they’re suspicious of oddly-dressed tourists strolling on a lower level.

Have a trailer. (Although it’s vaguely spoiler-y as well.)

A nasty surprise is waiting for them below— no, not that thing making a noise like a dying TIE fighter. There’s wonders, too, as well as more sinister discoveries. In classic Doctor Who fashion, this story picks up on a current real-world discovery, offering a more fantastic explanation than the prosaic one proposed by mere human scientists.

Flip and the Doctor’s newfound friends would very much like an explanation as well. They’re an international team of bright minds: the leader Professor Sai Chopra, Holly the physicist, Jannik the German exobiologist, and their erstwhile but clumsy spelunking expert, Dylan. There’s not much time to develop these characters in a one-hour story that’s heavy on plot, but they’re a likable bunch, enough for us to care when they stumble into danger. I appreciate that Big Finish found actors from the same countries as their characters, or who at least lived there long enough to sound like a native.

Flip carries an unusual (and unwelcome) emotional load in this story. Lisa Greenwood rises admirably to the challenge, elevating a standard monster story into a heartfelt one. The Doctor does his best to see her through, offering guidance as wisdom along the way. But there’s an interesting subversion of their usual narrative roles. At one point, they almost flip. So to speak.

All in all, an enjoyable and exciting adventure, much more fun for listeners than for Six and Flip.

There’s one small problem. Around the midpoint, there’s a surprise that’s meant to be confusing, which is cleared up later. However, one complication is never fully explained. Either it’s a plot hole, or I’m being dense. Probably the latter, since this author is far too good at what he does to have slipped up. Either way, it doesn’t detract from the rest of the story.

Spoilerific Comments

There’s a subtle irony to this story. Often, the Doctor and his companion are the first suspects when they stumble onto the site of a disaster. This time they aren’t, because it happened a hundred years ago. It will turn out that the explosion, at least, was the Doctor’s doing, although that’s not what caused the deaths.

I wanted you to be as surprised by the cliffhanger as I was, so I was trying not to alert prospective listeners to the fact that this is a Jonathan Morris temporal chutes & ladders special (cf. Eternal Summer, Flip-Flop, Haunting of Thomas Brewster,  Prisoners of Fate, Waters of Amsterdam). I had not looked at the cover art, and didn’t realise until forty minutes in that it had to be one of his.

Here’s the part I can’t figure out. While Flip and the Doctor’s timeline makes sense, I can’t square up what happened to the cyborg. It seems like it thaws from the ice, kills off the scientific expedition, piggybacks aboard the TARDIS to go back in time, and… encases Flip, the Doctor and itself in ice. At which point it’s trapped in a time loop, and there’s never a moment when it existed anywhere outside the cave (take that, Plato!), nor could it have come by spaceship or killed the miners.

I’m fairly sure the structure of this story is a möbius strip. I just can’t find the “flip” for the cyborg monster’s timeline. Unless it froze itself and accidentally froze its future self drawn back in time by the TARDIS. In other words, there’s two cyborgs encased in the ice. But in that case, wouldn’t they both thaw? So at least one of them would end up in the future, free to use the route Sai’s team used to escape to the surface?

Different authors choose to use or ignore the Blinovitch Limitation Effect for story purposes. Jonny Morris exploited it diabolically in Prisoners of Fate. I’m a little surprised he makes no mention of it here.

Why does the cyborg creature sound like a TIE Fighter?

Trivia note: one of the scientists mentions the giant crystals of Naica Cave, about 200 feet deeper than this fictional one.  The Cave of Crystals was discovered in Mexico in 2000:

Three months before this story was released, real-world scientists reported finding 10,000-50,000 year old still-viable microbes in Naica’s Cave of Crystals. Let’s hope they don’t find anything bigger.