“Flip-Flop is a unique innovation in storytelling.”
That is how Big Finish describes Flip Flop. I wonâ€™t argue as I agree it was a brilliant story telling Idea. A glimpse at what life would be like in an alternate universe. Sort of like the 3rd Doctorâ€™s experience in “Inferno”, only this time the Doctor didnâ€™t just slip into an alternate universe he helped to create one.
To give you an idea as to why it is unique letâ€™s talk about how Big Finish works.
The majority of the audio plays are 2 disc releases with 2 episodes on each disc. Normally the discs are labeled “Disc One” and “Disc Two”. For Flip Flop there is a Black and a White Disc. The idea behind this is that the listener can choose whichever disc they want to hear first and still be able to follow the story completely.
Ok now that you are caught upâ€¦
The Doctor and Mel arrive on the planet Puxatornee on Christmas Eve in the year 3090. Depending on which disc you start with they either encounter Human military officers, or Alien creature know as the Slithergee. Either encounter completely baffles them as they realize that they are already wanted “criminals” before they even got the chance to settle in.
The Doctor and Mel are in the middle of a Paradox.
“Oh No!” I hear you say, “a story that uses time travel in the plot.” Yes.
But donâ€™t worry itâ€™s not obtrusive it is merely used as a tool to get the characters from point A to point B while delivering a highly enjoyable story.
Now please do stop interrupting.
Puxatornee is not the happiest place in the universe and its story is told through two alternative timelines.
In one reality they are taken to a prison cell and the Doctor believes that he can pick the lock in an effort to get free, however, this does not work as he finds that he had already done this before and as a precautionary measure the lock has been reinforced to prevent further tampering.
Next our heroâ€™s meet Stewart and Reed, two characters present in both versions of reality. The two of them are convinced that their world should be different, they feel that they should never have had to grow up the way they did. While they have lived very different lives one thing that both versions of Stewart and Reed agree on is that the trouble started on Christmas Eve in the year 3060.
As the story unfolds we are told a tale of a tragic love story revolving around Puxatorneeâ€™s President Bailey, which got lost in the confusion of a political dispute between the people of Puxatornee and the Slithergee race thirty years earlier.
In the year 3060 the Slithergee asked President Bailey if they could occupy one of Puxatorneeâ€™s moons, as they say they had no other place to live. And depending on which version of the future you are currently on Bailey either gave the Slithergee all that they asked for and more, or she started a war with them. No matter what choice she made the people of the year 3090 would condemn her for making the wrong one.
Itâ€™s that sort of thinking that make Stewart and Reed come up with the plan to travel back in time to force President Bailey to make the “right” choice.
The Doctor and Mel get caught up in the confusion and are either forced to travel back to 3060 or do so out of necessity. When Stewart and Reed are done their mission they force the Doctor to return them back to 3090 so they can live “happily” in their new version of the future. They are not as happy as they would like to be in their new version of the present when they find that nothing seems to have changed.
Despite the Doctors assurances that time has changed Stewart and Reed decide to take a look around for themselves. Finding that history did indeed change and from their standpoint for the worse, they once again have the brilliant plan to go back in time to change history back to the way it was.
The Doctor tries to tell them that they have already tampered with time enough and to do so again could have grave consequences. All his efforts were for nothing as he once again is forced to take the two for another trip in the TARDIS, only this time they plan to go back to Christmas Eve 3090 a couple of hours earlier and stop themselves from ever going back in time in the first place.
As you could guess this did not work out for them and after a few more run-ins with the locals the Doctor and Mel decide that they should get out while they can. But one other problem has presented itself. The Doctor and Mel landed the TARDIS exactly where they did when they first arrived, just a few hours earlier. Now it is almost the time it was when they arrived the first time. So they must get in the TARDIS and leave Puxatornee, before they arrive on Puxatornee.
However confusing things may seem they are surprisingly easy to follow, this is due to writer Jonathan Morrisâ€™s careful attention to detail, although it may require a second listen just for good measure.
If nothing else this story would be worth the listen for Morrisâ€™s writing alone. His ability to keep track of the characters in every reality and how their actions fold in one each other is nothing short of amazing.
One could argue that this story has no ending due to each disc setting up the next, but really I feel it shows a truer version of how the Doctors intervention would be. Normally the Doctor would swoop in, get caught up in some political plot to shift powers, and in a day or so fix the problem and then disappear into the cosmos.
In reality one man can make a difference, but can he make that much of a difference?
Flip Flop is one of very few stories that show us that life isnâ€™t that simple. It allows us to see that when the Doctor is done his job, at the end of the day, the people still have a lot of work ahead of them to pickup the pieces of their lives.
“Flip-Flop is a unique innovation in storytelling.”
Yes it is, but not just in its use of time paradoxâ€™s giving us the option to choose which disc to listen to first. It also shows us that there are some things that even the Doctor canâ€™t fix.
After all he is only human. Half anyway.
Brian A. Terranova