Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 5/20/17 9:26 pm
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In Vortex Ice, the first part of the latest Monthly Range double-bill release finds the Doctor (Colin Baker) and his companion Flip (Lisa Greenwood) arriving in a Northern Mexican mine, where they soon encounter a speleological expedition, on the hunt for alien life. The two groups team up, only to find themselves being hunted through the caves by a monster of some sort. But when one member of the group knows more than they're letting on, it leads to conflict among the team. Will they be able to set aside their differences to work together, or will the mine be their grave? Vortex Ice is a fun, clever little time travel story, featuring a couple of brilliant performances by Baker and, in particular, Greenwood. Jonathan Morris' script was a clever little temporally complex script, which also served to promote Baker's comedic chops quite a bit. Combined with a solid soundscape and sound track by Joe Kraemer and Josh Arakelian, the story itself was a fantastic, surprisingly deep story to continue what has been a solid year for the Monthly Range so far.
The two stars of this story were Colin Baker and Lisa Greenwood, once again reprising their roles as the Sixth Doctor and Flip Jackson. Baker is a delight here, as he often is, portraying his Doctor as grumpy at times, and funny at times. But where he truly shines in this release is in the more scared and reflective moments of the story. When he finds the eponymous Vortex Ice contains himself and Flip, Baker's performance changes almost immediately. He's still calm and in control, but there's a sense of urgency that pervades his performance here. Likewise, the future incarnation's small speech to Flip as he loses his memory in the TARDIS is a sad reflection on the life of a time traveller, and Baker sells the hell out of that little speech, sadly explaining to Flip that there are some moments where they have to soldier on and pretend as if they know nothing. It's a theme that's explored often in Doctor Who, but rarely does the Doctor comment on it, and the fact that Morris was able to do so with a Doctor who can really sell the hell out of it is a triumph for this story.
Lisa Greenwood also returns as Flip Jackson in this story. While Colin was strong in his performance here, Greenwood delivered a fantastic performance that was one of the highlights of the story. I always appreciate it when an actor is able to play dumb in a story, but rarely are they able to do so as well as Greenwood did here. Going back, there are a couple of moments where it's clear that the main Flip of the story knows what's going on, but by and large, her performance had me completely fooled throughout. Flip always brings an air of fun to the stories she's involved with, with her cheeky disbelief and irreverence towards the Doctor and all his grand gestures and long speeches. It's a quality I see in the current TV companion Bill, and one that makes Flip standout from some of the other Sixth Doctor companions. But beyond that, Greenwood also delivers a strong emotional performance in the closing minutes of the story, when she questions the Doctor and asks why she can't save the people, as she comes to terms with having to lead people to their death. Greenwood conveys the sense of horror and hopelessness that the character has in that moment extremely well, and it makes for a standout performance in this set.
Jonathan Morris' script for this story was a clever little tale, with some dead clever bits of time travel in the story. The highlight of the story was the idea that a future version of the Doctor and Flip had been encased in ice, and that the Doctor was being set up to continue this adventure. But the dead clever part of it was making the Flip trapped in ice the "original" Flip, who had yet to experience this adventure. It made for a far more interesting dynamic between the "original" Doctor and the "future" Flip throughout the story, in my opinion. If they had stuck with making the Doctor and Flip both from the future, then it still would've been an enjoyable story. But having the version of Flip who was there for the entire story be the one from the future makes the story more sinister and nihilistic in a way, with that fact underlined by the ending moments, as the "original" Doctor explains to the "original" Flip that she must lead everyone to their deaths. It makes for a rather interesting type of story for each companion; the one where they are helpless to stop the march of time, and Morris' script does a wonderful job making it hit hard to listeners. Flip's devastation at her inability to help, and the desperate way that the Doctor explains this fact to her, before he loses his memory of the moment. It makes for a strong emotional story, and really elevates this story beyond some of the other stories. Morris also excels at the funnier bits of the story; he's excellent when writing the banter between the Doctor and Flip, with their playful fighting, and with Flip in particular, writing her extremely well, as she cuts through the grandeur and pomposity of the Sixth Doctor. I also quite liked how he wrote the scenes between the two Sixth Doctors, as it felt downright hilarious to hear how two Sixth Doctors would interact (spoiler alert: it goes about as you'd expect it to). Morris effortlessly is able to skirt the line between hilarious and serious with his script, and it really elevates the story beyond the normal.
Finally, I'd like to make special mention of the world that Joe Kraemer and Josh Arakelian did on the sound design and music for this release. Kraemer did an excellent job with the music here, giving the whole story a creepy atmospheric soundtrack, with shades of the Fifth and Sixth Doctors' eras. But it was his work alongside Arakelian for the sound design was absolutely stellar work, much like the high quality of Big Finish's sound design work. The atmosphere of the story really felt like an abandoned mine, 700 feet under the ground. Little touches, like the occasional drip of water, or the echoing of a rock being disturbed underfoot, and such, really enhanced this story, making it feel much more visual than it was. Big Finish's sound design work is some of the best in the business, and so I always like to draw attention to especially strong sound design work.
Overall, Vortex Ice starts out this release with an exceedingly strong story. The two central performances of Colin Baker and Lisa Greenwood were absolutely brilliant, with the former delivering a varied performance throughout, while the latter gave a surprisingly deep performance throughout the story, really stealing the show. Likewise, Jonathan Morris' script was funny at all the right times (at the beginning and to break the tension throughout), but was at it's best when it focused on the more emotional moments, and the deception that Flip undertook in this story. Combined with the excellent behind-the-scenes work by Joe Kraemer and Josh Arkelian, this release really pops, and feels like one of the best Sixth Doctor stories in recent memory.