Big Finish are trying something slightly different with this trilogy in the Doctor Who Main Range, with having two one hour long stories in each release, seemingly related by similar titles. This month, we’re joining the Sixth Doctor and Flip with the stories Vortex Ice and Cortex Fire; today, I’ll be reviewing the latter of the two tales, Cortex Fire, written by Ian Potter.
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.
Distress. A crescendo of electric music mixed with chimes. Old meeds new. A sweeping statement that something is wrong, yet whimsical. This is how you open an episode of Doctor Who. Intrigue, whimsy and wonder.
Then we’re thrown right into a conversation between the Sixth Doctor and Flip. The familiar element to this tale. Ian Potter knows what he’s doing.
Then we get the trope that’s becoming all too common for Doctor Who, especially in Big Finish. After listening to countless Big Finish releases (I’m aware that this is a first world problem, just stay with me) the trend of the Doctor and his companion being separated to introduce a B-Plot is becoming all too common. Especially when they’re separated unwillingly. Now, I know that this is so the characters have the common goal of being reunited; but part of me wishes that we could come up with a different way for this to happen.
The rest of the first episode is filled with flames and road rage; even if the roads are in the sky. For some reason, the first episodes of Cortex Fire really reminds me of Series 3 of the revival. The story seems like a brilliantly bizarre mashup of Gridlock and 42. Who knew combining those two episodes would work so well?
Personally, I always connect the Sixth Doctor to the political climate, and to politics in general. Therefore, the political angle of this story feels right at home.
The cliffhanger to the first episode is a somewhat intriguing one, however it doesn’t have that emotional punch that I’ve had from some other stories; but on the other hand, I’m not sure it necessarily needs it.
Considering the first episode was extremely political, it seems that the second episode will focus more on the philosophical side of life, creating a nice balance in the story.
The revelation in the second episode about what the Cortex actually is has to be the strongest part of the story, even if it is in a very expositional, but in the context of the tale, it works brilliantly.
The conclusion of Cortex Fire is a pretty obvious one, but it’s a nice ending to the story; it even reminded me a bit of the end of The Family of Blood in the best possible way.
I know that this review is rather short by my standards, but that’s because a lot of what happens is intrinsically linked to enjoying the story. Ian Potter has created a fun hour filled with some complex themes, albeit in a lighthearted(ish)way. If you want a quick fix of Sixie with some escapism, this story might be for you.
Should you want to purchase Vortex Ice/ Cortex Fire, it’s currently available from Big Finish for £14.99 on CD or a £12.99 download which you can purchase here.