“Hello? I’m Phillipa Jackson, I’m a stowaway, and she’s not imagining me, is she? You heard, deal with it! This Salvage 2 thing is coming to eat us for dinner so get with the program… Okay? Me out.”
Boy, will it be nice not to have to deal with Flip for a bit…
Petulant, childish, surprisingly crass, obnoxious and dangerously impulsive, my earlier experience of her in Wirrn Dawn left a skewed impression that she was more feisty and brave (both positives) than pushy, immature and demanding (all decided negatives).
But this last trilogy (which included the return of Sil in Antidote to Oblivion and a sentient planet in Brood of Erys) has shown that first impressions are not always accurate ones. To some extent or another, I’ve come out of the last few months with what’s developed into something of an active distaste for the character.
While particulars (and the level to which Flip grates on the listener or no) do vary from one instance to the next, the stories always run to template in one respect. After throwing negative vibes and nasty jibes at just about anyone in earshot (known or unknown, human or alien, familiar or stranger), she indubitably makes an incredibly stupid blunder which results in (surprise!) serious consequences for herself and by extension the Doctor, who’s ever left to pull her fat out of the fire and clean up her messes. The listener is left to mentally fume at the character, wishing we could tell her to grow the hell up already…
Loving parents have to clean up after their obnoxious children when they act out. Pet owners also, when their beloved furry ones crap all over the floor and furniture. But who among us would bother to pick up the pieces and clean up the messes for which such a person is directly responsible, much less with such surprising regularity?
And this brings us to the denouement of this episode. Without giving too much away, if we’re all very lucky, the laws of gravity and re-entry will hold true and do what I can only imagine all too many of us have been aching to do for some time now. See ya, Flip. Sadly, I can’t exactly say it’s been a pleasure…
“Tranquility you said. Tranquility. Not some old space station…so which planet are we looking at? Doesn’t look like much.”
“Look again, Flip. The large continent directly below. Doesn’t it seem familiar at all?”
“Look, there’s Bangalore, just coming into view.”
“Yeah, well, I’m sure it’s very nice.”
“(exasperatedly) Flip…in your time only a very few individuals have been privileged enough to take in such an extraordinary view of the entirety of the globe!”
“Yeah, and there it is. Out there. Where’s next?”
Landing aboard an Indian space station (co-funded by British dollars), the Doctor and his troublesome companion find themselves in the middle of a cleanup operation. Remember all those bits of space junk orbiting the planet since the dawn of space travel (or at the very least, since the days of Skylab)? This team is out to rectify the situation…but there’s something out there amidst all the detritus, something alien, sentient and worse, perhaps malfunctioning…
“You wouldn’t be anywhere without us.”
“…Do you want to know what British investment bought?”
“I do know, I was on the board that authorized the payment. Why do you think the British government hired me?”
“Your people skills?”
“…It bought a coffee machine. Thank you very much for that. It’s been vital.”
While the Doctor tries to negotiate with the alien intruder, he’s more or less harassed by the presence of and antagonistic banter between nasty British project investor Jessica Allaway (Kate McEwen) and the proud, territorial project director Salim Jahonguir (Tariq Bhatti).
But Salim is hiding a secret of his own, one that may have no small impact on the matter at hand. And for God’s sake, what stupid leap into danger has Flip embarked upon this time?
Each of the stories in the latest run of “Old Sixie” adventures has been marked by a surprising level of contentiousness and conflict among the incidental characters. Whether this is directly due to Flip’s antagonistic nature (alternating with an utter lack of respect or concern for anyone or any events surrounding) or no is open to debate, but the indisputable fact is that whether we’re talking Antidote, Erys or Scavenger, everyone seems to be at each others throats.
While this has also been an earmark of the Tegan character throughout her run, Fielding’s perennially dissatisfied Aussie airline stewardess had her intrinsic nastiness offset by a “full Tardis” of characters to play against. While some (the Doctor, Nyssa) were far more levelheaded and did their best to remain patient and not submit to exasperation with her incessant jibes, others (Adric, the early Turlough) nearly proved her right by dint of their own, often greater issues. In effect, she occupied something of a middle ground – unpleasant, but not necessarily rotten at core, and seldom causing issues.*
*That said, she did display an occasional “let me pilot the Tardis/take me home now” fit of childishness as a device to set off a particular adventure, which does bear some lineage to the far more abrasive and tantrum-prone Flip…
Flip, on the other hand, is all id. No limits, no controls, no apparent concern for anyone but herself and her own affairs. The “terrible twos” personified, though frighteningly without having matured a whit in what would seem to be an exponential factor of that age. And while Tegan may or may not have caused a problem or two along the way, Flip causes dozens, with several occurring in the course of a single story. At times, it’s all the listener can do to pick his or her metaphorical jaw off the floor in disbelief at her utter stupidity and callous lack of concern for consequences to herself or those around her.
It is hard to get into details about this particular adventure without giving away what pleasures may lay in wait for the dedicated Whovian listener, except to say that author William Gallagher pulls things very much into the realm of the 1979 Star Trek film. There’s a bit of myth and archetype, a bit of longstanding romance and plenty of hard SF fascination with equipment and technology and the speculative particulars surrounding the idea of putting humans into orbit above our planet.
But you also have to deal with a lot of shouting, sniping and backbiting. And most of all, you have to put up with Flip at her absolutely most obnoxious – trust me, no matter how you felt about her earlier appearances and behavior therein, until you get to Scavenger, you simply haven’t seen anything yet.
Anjli Mohandra (late of the televised Sarah Jane Adventures) and newcomer Tariq Bhatti come off far more expressive and effusively emotional than the Indians of my acquaintance (and trust me, that’s a rather large and wide-ranging group in terms of background), while still proving familiar enough in other aspects of demeanor to be quite recognizably Desi.
Colin Baker gives his usual assured performance, if simultaneously coming off far more tense and irritable than we’ve come to expect, given the cast and situation surrounding.
Howard Carter offers a far cheesier, more obviously bombastic score than usual, seeming to tap into the Russian symphonic modality: all marching beats and pomposity, effecting drama through swells in volume. Perhaps it can be argued that all this chest beating and strutting about is suitable to the story in a sort of Moonraker/Star Trek the Motion Picture/The Black Hole modality, but when compared to the high standards we’ve come to expect from Big Finish and moreover Carter himself, this particular score proves bit too on the nose for my tastes.
Sadly, that’s about all that can be said here – at least two characters, Kate McEwen’s detestable Jessica Allaway and Lisa Greenwood’s Flip herself proved quite annoying throughout, to the point where one actually finds oneself wishing them the worst possible outcome. And that says quite a bit in and of itself.
While it does seem that Big Finish have left themselves an opening by which to bring the character back in the future, there is a certain ring of finality to all this. Oddly, one gets the distinct sense that this was being built up as one last great act of heroism on the part of the character…though in practice, selfless action of any sort never appears to have crossed her mind.
Whether you find some clues to refute that assertion or no, the fact is that the sensibility of tragic heroism doesn’t come off in any real respect, leaving her more a victim of her own impulsiveness and inherent idiocy than any sort of grand finale of bravery in the interest or defense of another.
Far from a tearjerking farewell to a beloved companion lost in the line of duty, one feels she gets exactly what she deserves, and further that it was only a matter of time as to when said karmic comeuppance would come into play and the final bill come due at last.
So allow me to conclude this one with a bit of a sendoff – simple but heartfelt. Goodbye, Flip.
And if I may be quite frank, good riddance.