DW: Flip-Flop Review

I’ll be honest with you, this time last week Flip-Flop wasn’t part of this marathon. It’d been well over a decade since I listened to it last and the fact it takes place on Christmas Eve/Day had completely slipped my mind. Still, a random look at a forum thread on “Doctor Who stories set at Christmas” and here we are! Flip-Flop isn’t actually very Chirstmassy, beyond a few mentions here and there, but it is very cleverly written! So let’s take a look…

Synopsis:

Christmas Eve in the year 3060 and the planet Puxatornee is home to a prosperous human colony.

A space craft has arrived in orbit carrying the Slithergees, a race of obsequious alien slugs. Their home world has been destroyed and they are humbly requesting permission to settle on the first moon.

And if they don’t get permission, then they are humbly threatening to declare all-out war.

The future hangs in the balance. The decision rests with Bailey, the colony’s president — but she has other things on her mind…

Christmas Eve in the year 3090, and the planet Puxatornee has changed beyond all recognition.

The Doctor and Mel arrive, on a completely unrelated mission to defeat a race of terrible monsters, and soon discover that something rather confusing has been happening to history…

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

The Good:

For such an early release, that’s not a bad CG render of a new alien…

Basically this story’s big catch is that’s its split in two halves, “White” and “Black”, and you can listen to them in either order, Black then White, or White and then Black, and the story will make sense. How? Well…

White: The Doctor and Mel arrive on Puxatornee looking for “Leptonite crystals” as they are deadly to Quarks, whom they are currently facing off against. When they leave the TARDIS they’re arrested, by name, and told they’d already confessed to their crimes of being Slithergee spies. While The Doctor speculates tripping over one’s footsteps being tricky business they meet Lieutenants Stewart and Reed (Francis Magee and Audrey Schoellhammer), who put them in prison… where they’re saved by a different set of Stewart and Reed who look more like resistance fighters. After escaping the pair find out that Puxatornee is a wasteland due to a war with a slug-like race called the Slithergee, a war that led to the atmosphere being poisoned. President Mitchell (Richard Gibson) is developing a time machine with a plan to go back in time and stop the assassination of the former President Baily (Pamela Miles) at the critical time of potential peace talks with the Slithergee, assuming that will save the planet. Despite The Doctor’s warnings Mel and Stewart are flung back in time 30 years, so The Doctor and Reed follow in the TARDIS.

The Doctor is too late, however. By the time he arrives in the President’s office her apparent assassin, Clarence (Daniel Hogarth), had been killed by Stewart. Reed tells Baily to make peace with the Slithergee at any cost and then the four of them head back to 3090 to see the results, The Doctor knowing leaving Reed and Stuart in their own past would just do further damage to the timeline. When they arrive they find a Puxatornee where all of humanity in enslaved by the Slithergee, used as seeing eye dogs (seeing eye humans?) and President Bailey as her wits end trying to keep the human race together. After a while Stuart and Reed demand to go back to when they left in the time machine and stop themselves, which The Doctor complies, but shows them that the timeline where they left in a time machine has now been replaced with one where the Slithergee control the human race on the planet, so there’s no going back, they don’t believe him and run off. The Doctor and Mel, who are caught as dissidents to the Slithergee, soon escape and depart, realising that the two different Stuart and Reeds they’ve met mean there are another set of Doctor and Mel about to materialise, so they may as well let them handle it…

This DWM preview comic actually depicts events from just before the story, which is a nice touch!

Black: The Doctor and Mel arrive on Puxatornee looking for “Leptonite crystals” as they are deadly to Quarks, whom they are currently facing off against. When they leave the TARDIS they’re arrested, by name, and told they’d already confessed to their crimes of being dissidents. After The Doctor trips over something, he and Mel are saved by a pair of resistance fighters named Stuart and Reed. Our duo finds out that the humans on Puxatornee are enslaved by a slug-like race called the Slithergee after their cowardly President gave into their demands 30 years ago. After a few escapes and recaptures, plus an appearance of an entirely different Stuart and Reed who appeared to be more militaristic, the freedom fighters force The Doctor to take them back 30 years so they can assassinate President Bailey and save the planet. The Doctor is unable to stop Reed as he kills the President in cold blood, and then frames her secret lover Clarence to boot. In order to stop further damage to the timeline The Doctor takes Stuart and Reed back to 3090…

When they arrive they find a wasteland, as without Bailey’s original peace talks they went to war with the Slithergee, and although they “won” the war ended up with their atmosphere poisoned and the planet dying. Eventually Stuart and Reed demand to go back to when they left in the TARDIS and stop themselves altering history, because at least in the old past they had a chance of survival. The Doctor, enraged, brings them back to that point but just to show them that it’s still a wasteland because the timeline they knew had been replaced. They don’t believe him and head off into the distance. The Doctor and Mel, who are caught as Slithergee spies, soon escape and depart, realising that the two different Stuart and Reeds mean there are another set of Doctor and Mel about to materialise, so they may as well let them handle it…

So as you can see you can then put the White side on and it will continue flowing, and endlessly looping. It’s incredibly clever and good fun … well, most of the time.

The Bad:

While the Slithergee are funny, their voices are straight out of a cartoon, there is a slightly disturbing message with them. You see they arrive as “harmless refugees” looking to live peacefully on one of Puxatornee’s moons, but then eventually take over and enslave the majority population and have anyone who speaks up against them arrested for “hate crimes”, often talking about how no one can understand their Ethnic upbringing and how they want nobody to celebrate Christmas because “they don’t, so it’s an affront to the Slithergee”. So… yeah, harmless refugees ending up taking over and being allowed to do it because they call out “hate crime” any time someone comes after them? Sounds like the future some rather unpleasant far right wing political parties think is going to happen, and while I’m still going with it being an intentional, on-the-nose satire of the thoughts of those rather stupid people, it can still be easily read as a good bit of propaganda for them, and in that sense it made me feel a little uncomfortable.

The Continuity:

A smaller, textless version of the cover, because… Why not?

Apart from a battle with the Quarks being mentioned at the start of each story, who first appeared in the Second Doctor TV story “The Dominators”, there isn’t a lot.

When going out into the radiated atmosphere The Doctor gives Mel a pair of “Anti-Radiation Gloves” which he said a past version of himself created. This comes from the First Doctor story “The Daleks”, where William Hartnell flubbed his line of “Anti-Radiation Drugs” but due to the cost of re-filming at the time it was left in…

Overall Thoughts:

Flip-Flop is a mind-bending story of a time loop that can technically go on forever if you wanted to just keep playing White then Black. Each story has background bits that then make sense when you hear the next half, and generally it must been a real headache to achieve. Some uncomfortable villains knock it down a bit, but I can’t say it isn’t still fun to listen to…

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