Vortex Ice and Cortex Fire are an unmemorable duo, though the former is at least a fun spin on time travel, even if the rest of the story is pretty dull. Cortex Fire on the other hand is generic as generic gets, not bad, not good, just… there. Ah well, at least this is the second (and third, I guess) story to feature Flip recently, and once again she was actually an enjoyable companion, so it seems the Big Finish writers have managed to pull her back into an actually consistently good role…
Official Synopsis (for Vortex Ice):
In search of ‘exotic particles’, the Doctor and Flip arrive 700 feet underground, in a mine in Northern Mexico – only to run into a scientific expedition. Among their number, an exobiologist. They’re all on the hunt for alien life! Deep underground, the team finally uncovers a cave of vast crystals – like ice, despite the heat. And inside the crystal: something frozen. Something trapped in time. If only it were something simple, like a monster. But it’s far, far worse than that.
Official Synopsis (for Cortex Ice):
The Doctor brings Flip to the futuristic city of Festin, the best vantage point to witness a unique astronomical light show. In a city governed by the all-powerful network known as the Cortex, they’re soon identified as outsiders – nihilists, perhaps, responsible for a wave of terror that’s been sweeping the city… But the truth is different. The people of Festin are burning up. Spontaneously combusting. And no-one knows why.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Cast of Characters:
The Doctor (Colin Baker) – The Doctor wants nothing more than to show Flip the wonders of the Universe, though sadly those wonders often contain danger, and his newish companion seems to be drawn to danger like a moth to a flame…
Flip (Lisa Greenwood) – Still having fun running about the universe with The Doctor, though she is soon about to learn that classic lesson all companions eventually learn: following The Doctor means being exposed to unavoidable death, both good and bad…
The Scientific Expedition (Shobu Kapoor, Orlando Seale and Monty D’Inverno) – A mix of accents and specialities, this team… well, they barely get a chance to show any personality or interesting dynamics before they start getting picked off one by one…
Khoralla (Rebecca Todd) – A citizen of Festin that gets caught up in spontaneous combustion, flying cars and evil mental energy from another universe… in other words, gets caught up in a Doctor Who story!
Flip the miner seems uninterested in her job… that’s a shame.
Vortex Ice is a tale of two halves, but the half that deals with time travel is fun. The Doctor, Flip and the generic scientists find another Doctor and Flip encased in ice alongside a cybernetic octopus, as you do, and it then plays around with them getting frozen, then The Doctor having his memories effected leading to Flip having to go through the adventure again while acting like it’s new to her. It’s kind of hard to explain, but it works well. Flip having to escort the scientists around knowing full well they all die and that time has to be preserved the same way she saw it the first time is a classic pothole in the often fun road of time travel.
The rest of Vortex Ice is a bit of a rushed non-starter, a problem with the less-than-an-hour run time. As hinted at, the scientific team are stock characters with no personality, the creature is just a generic screaming thing stalking people in caves, and I’m pretty sure it never gets defeated as The Doctor takes it back in time to be frozen by the vortex ice that it spewed in the past, meaning two versions of the octopus creature are trapped when they thaw themselves out in the future, and neither get defeated as one gets taken back in time, but the other one, the one presumably that was frozen the first time round, escapes towards the surface… unless I missed something… *shrugs*
Cortex Fire is a victim of the time limit again, as the setting is nicely painted, a world where the magnetic atmosphere allows for flying cars and such, but again the characters are pretty dull and don’t get a chance to develop into anything as they’re thrown into a run-around pretty quickly. The final threat being a psychic force trying to break into this universe through sacrificing the planet was a pretty much a stock idea at this point (weird as it is to say) and not very interesting. I’m sure if this story was one of your first Who audios you’d like the soundscape and plotline, but after all these years this just felt… dull.
The one thing you can say about both these stories is they completely stand on their own, not real connections to any past story.
Vortex Ice and Cortex Fire suffer from the same problems as most of the Fourth Doctor Adventures and other one hour stories, they have good ideas, but not enough time to fully develop them or their characters before the end has to be reached. If I hadn’t enjoyed the time travel aspect of Vortex Ice, this would be a 2, but that at least pushed it to a…