THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Big Finish Productions
Colditz

Written by Steve Lyons Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2001
Continuity After Survival

Starring Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred
Also featuring Tracey Chilrds, Nicholas Young, Toby Longworth, David Tennant, Peter Rae

Synopsis: Two intruders are captured in the grounds of Colditz Castle, the most secure POW camp in Germany. At first, the guards think they're dealing with British spies. But the strangers arrived in an advanced travelling machine, the like of which they've never seen before. With this TARDIS in their hands, the Third Reich might triumph after all.


Reviews

Let them grow up! by Julian Shortman 5/11/01

The TARDIS lands during the Second World War – again! I’ve been here three times with the 7th Doctor now, counting Fenric, Exodus and Just War, and here I was along for my fourth outing. Was it worth it? Well…..yes. The toes of Exodus were firmly trodden on with a second ‘Oh no, bally Hitler chap’s gone and won the war! Who created that time paradox then?’ But then one can’t help but quite admire the time paradoxes conjured up by Mr. Lyons. He forged a cracker for The Fires of Vulcan, and this one was suitably mind bending and devious enough to be entertaining.

This was a solid and well scripted story, with all that we expected – Nazi scum, Toffy Brits, daring escapes and oh no, it’s 1965 and bally Hitler chap’s gone and won the war again. The elements were well woven together, and Klein was a strong enough villain to keep my interest as her time line crumbled around her.

Strangely enough, two of the weaker elements in this story were 7th Doctor & Ace. Now we’ve all been partial to the 7th Doctor’s passionate ‘I shan’t let you win you know!’ speeches, ever since we cringed our buttocks through Delta and the Bannermen. And we can expect an empassioned & uptight outburst every now and again in the face of gross injustice. But it felt like Sylvester was jumping head first into them every two or three minutes in this story. (How much of this was Sylvester, the Director or script directions it’s difficult to tell). And if it wasn’t bluster and outrage we had sarcastic ‘Oh you think you’re in control do you with me locked away and handcuffed and my TARDIS key confiscated and a loaded gun at my head? Well think again, cause I’m the Doctor don’t you know!’ I can take a smattering of both of these types of behaviour, but they were cropping up far too often for my liking here. I much preferred Sylvester’s quiet defiance that cropped up regularly in Dust Breeding.

And then there was Ace. Hmm.. this is going to be tough. I can’t deny that she’s one of my favourite companions in the history of Who. She was a breath of fresh air to the TV show when she came, and has remained a strong and likeable character on audio… until this adventure? Much as I didn’t want to, I genuinely began to feel that her character was predictable (and consequently dull) for a lot of this story. I think we’ve had as many ‘Gordon Bennett’s’ and ‘No there’s no nitro 9 in my rucksack, just a CD player’, and ‘Stitch this you traitorous scumbag’ as we can have now without it feeling tired and over used. I think it’s got to be one of the crucial dilemma’s facing BF – how do you keep Doctor Who past stories vibrant and alive after you’ve brought back a companion for a pile more outings? You see, Nyssa can’t grow up too much, or she’ll have grown beyond the Nyssa we saw in Arc of Infinity. Turlough can have the odd girlfriend , but he can’t mature too much, ‘cos he’s still a bit impulsive in Planet of Fire. Peri can’t grow out of her whining too much, otherwise that would nullify the image we had throughout Season 22. And how much can we let Ace grow up after Survival?

Personally, if BF has the willingness to step on the toes of the Exodus, I really hope they have the courage to step all over the NA series, and let Ace grow up in an original way. I loved her first departure in Love and War (and despised her resurrection as a hard case nutter later), but that’s not the only way she could have left the show. I’m relieved to say that at the end of Colditz there was a glimmer of hope that Ace will be allowed grow up in the BF audios. I think it would be a horrible trap if BF allowed the vibrancy & freshness of their audios to dry out from allowing past companions to become cardboard/predictable. I would like to challenge them to hack some sizeable holes in the net of continuity and allow fresh companions for the 5th & 7th Doctor. I don’t think anyone can reasonably argue that as new companions, Evelyn and Charley (and Benny) haven’t been resounding successes.

Finally a couple of comments on the production. Sorry to report that this has the worst music score I’ve heard so far on a BF audio – this one sounded as if it belonged in the 60’s and it should have stayed there. BF’s music scores have generally been impressive, and some very so. On occasions e.g. The Apolocyptus Elephant & Sword of Orion, they’ve been not so good and have been kept to minimal – which I find much more acceptable than having it slapped in your face and sounding unpleasant. The music was genuinely intrusive in parts and had me straining to hear dialogue beneath. Secondly, whilst I usually admire the realism in BF’s sound production (e.g. quality sounding Silurians, dripping dungeons), the metallic echo portrayed for the Colditz corridors did become quite unpleasant to bear with at times, and felt a little unsympathetic to this listener’s ears.

But having laid down these criticisms, I think I ought to redress some balance in a general way again, to say how satisfying it still feels to see new & original adventures coming out on a monthly basis. BF have given me a huge boost of air to the tiny flames of a dying enthusiasm in Who, and I hope they’ll continue to run with it for a good while to come. I’m pleased to hear Liz Sladen’s jumping on board ….now if only Tom would agree to do an audio, that would really be something to get hugely excited about.


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 15/11/01

I have a confession to make. Since I was a little boy I have always been fascinated by secret passages, hideaways, dark dusty places. My favourite book was a Rupert the Bear story where our hero was trapped with Bill Badger in a Department Store overnight! They found secret passages galore, moving from one dusty area to another, in their search for a way out. When I was 10 I discovered Colditz – a more grown up version of my childhood fascination. Colditz was full of underground passages, dark corridors, secret places. The whole purpose of it was to house Escapees. Those who were serial escapers from other prisons. It was a stronghold. More guards than prisoners it seemed. This was the ultimate jail. And yet Colditz is more famous for Escapes than any other place. Why? Because it was so difficult to escape from – a true test of the escapers' art.

I have recently been reading the definitive book about Colditz – by Henry Chancellor. I strongly recommend it. Dozens of prisoners and guards are interviewed, giving (as close as possibly can be) the full story of Colditz during the Second World War. The reason for reading this book – Doctor Who. So many factual books that I have read have been inspired by Doctor Who stories. My interest in the French Revolution (Reign of Terror), the tragedy of Pompeii (Fires of Vulcan), the English Civil War (Roundheads). Doctor Who stories have provided a launchpad for many factual interests in my life. So how would Doctor Who, and specifically Steve Lyons do with one of my great fascinations – Oflag IV C – Colditz Castle.

First and foremost credit must go (again!) to Big Finish. They have successfully created the atmosphere (as I envisage) of Colditz. From the Jack-boots on Stone Paving to the echoey rooms in the complex, I was there with the prisoners and guards. Steve Lyons has also chosen one of the best books to research from – The Colditz Story by Pat Reid. The above book by Henry Chancellor would have been better (a few of the dates are out) but that was unavailable when he wrote it. There is also a standard map of the complex in the CD box. Everything is portrayed accurately and well.

The 7th Doctor and Ace fit into this story better than any other Doctor/Companion team. Maybe the excellent Exodus and Illegal Alien gave me this theory – but both are terrific throughout. Ace's boisterousness particularly is effective, she can truly hold her own with all the blokes. The 7th Doctor is very good too. Sylvester McCoy gets to do his dramatic emphasis a-plenty, and you can just picture the gurning McCoy at the mike!

Successful too are the supporting players. The time-meddling Klein, the cold Kurtz, the sympathetic Schaffer, the naieve Tim, the patriotic Gower. There is quite a bit of stereo-typing going on here, but the characters are enjoyable – so that’s okay. My favourite was the “tally ho, boys” Flying Officer Bill Gower – there really were people like him at Colditz – he brought a really heroic feel to the whole thing.

I suspect the plot will be the thing that most people will discuss about Colditz though. As befits a Colditz story, there is quite a bit of Escaping going on, but it is not central to the action. There are many different facets to this story, and it is nice to see that the Escape angle is not over-emphasized. Steve Lyons is the expert at Temporal Paradoxes apparently. Fires of Vulcan showed that with the TARDIS in Lava scenes. Here he doubles, triples all that. Colditz has to be listened to a few times to capture all the complications of the TARDISs’ travels. On first listening there is just too much going on, too many switches to make sense of it. But there is also that much going on between prisoners, guards, Ace and the Doctor that the complexities of the plot can be studied later. It is a story for the multiple listener then, very much so.

I enjoyed Colditz very much. The pre-knowledge that I have of the place was not compromised (other than the dodgy dates) and I liked that. Above all though this is a fantastic showpiece for the 7th Doctor and Ace, in a magnificent setting. Steve Lyons is an accomplished writer – Historical Who has its’ Champion. 9/10


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 29/11/01

Colditz would probably work better as a piece of televised Doctor Who than it does as an audio. Steve Lyon`s script presents the old chestnut of the time paradox; unfortunately it doesn`t grab your attention from the beginning as his previous The Fires Of Vulcan did. Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred both tend to overact as well, in the opening episode. Things do gradually improve as the story goes on however. Two things do remain constant however... the effects from heavy footsteps, to gunfire and Tracy Childs` Klein; the highlight of Colditz in my opinion. Possibly because we`ve had DW overkill in the Second World War, I wasn`t as impressed with this as much as I wanted to be.


Hmmmmmmmmmm, Bit Of A Disapointment Really by Robert Thomas 19/2/02

First of all I want to point out two things.

The 1st is that in my reviews I rarely mention the music. This is because in my opinion the music helps set the scene and mood of the story so if I don't mention it, it was very good and didn't jar. This story however Big Finish have let themselves down with a lot of poor music that at some stages feels like the production team are taking the piss. So the less I mention the music the more I like it.

Secondly Steve Lyons is one of my favorite Doctor Who writers.

There are a few big ideas floating around in this story and is very hard to discuss without spoilers. The central idea which becomes more central in the later half of the piece is the crux of the story. Which is really detrimental to the story: it's a very good idea but because of the way this story is put across it feels like we have got stuck with the left overs of the central theme and not the main course. This adds to the feeling that the story doesn't really matter, which jars as the actors spend the whole thing trying to put over the danger of both the situations that they are in. Also because of a recent coup that Big Finish have, that reached over into the output about 13 months from the date of this review it is very much a missed opportunity.

Missed opportunity is the only way I can sum it up, its not particuly good and littered with so many what I deem mistakes. The rushed introduction to the story when not a lot happens, not enough characters are in here hence we get a few characters going over old ground. All the actors are good and can't be faulted. There is a feel to the production sound which I like and really made it feel like Colditz Castle, which oddly a few others have slated. Unfortunately this is the only Big Finish I cannot recommend to the reader. You might miss a little plot development with Ace, but there's not a lot in here to shout about so your not missing much.

Have I mentioned the music yet?


It's all a matter of time... by Joe Ford 27/5/04

A mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous, this is a story that has come in for a lot of unnecessary flak since its release that I'm not sure is entirely justified. There are some gaping flaws in Colditz and I shall address them shortly but there is also so much that is bloody good about this story, the excellent plot, the thoughtful dialogue, the unexpectedly powerful moments...

This is where the rot really started to set in for Ace. I can totally understand why Gary Russell wanted to try and do something fresh with the character and giving her a new name is a good start. However, it is handled so ham fistedly here and in subsequent stories that you can actually see the producer and writer pointing at a curtain and creeping over, brushing it aside melodramatically and revealing their brand new Ace, erm McShane. So aside from that awful name (couldn't her surname just have been Bloggs or something?) what else is radically different about this New Ace?

Well she hates Nazi's for one thing! No wait, Old Ace hated them too. Erm... she stands up to authority and mouths off to the wrong people! Nope, she used to do that too. Oh gee this is hard... she is resourceful and cunning, managing to get in touch with the escape committee and blackmail her way out of Colditz... well she always was good at escaping from places. No, the worst aspect of Colditz is just how intensified these attributes are, New Ace is no different from Old Ace except she is exaggerated to such a degree she seems to be a parody of her old self. Have you ever watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Then watched an episode of Angel, New Ace reminds me off the spin off show in all the worst ways. An obvious, unsubtle rip off of what has already gone, taking the worst elements of the old show/character and slapping it in your faces. And the producer's intentions are fairly obvious when Ace herself admits, "We all have to grow up some time."

However despite some truly embarrassing dialogue/acting ("Not Nazis! I hate Nazis!") Ace is actually vital to the story's success, she is the gambling chip that Klein, the villain if the piece has to manipulate the Doctor with. It is fascinating to see how Ace is used as an example of what outcome the war with Germany will have, in the universe where Germany wins Ace is killed trying to escape Colditz and in the one we know Ace survives the escape attempt. By introducing Klein, a character who exists from the universe where Germany occupies England, the audience has definitive proof that that outcome is possible and the will she/won't she death of Ace a distinct possibility. It makes the cliff-hanger to episode three especially good, so much emphasis is placed on the escape attempt, Tim's betrayal, the Doctor's desperation, Ace's determination that the moment Kurtz is pointing a gun her heart and the music cuts off the action I was frantic to learn the outcome. Very few Big Finish writers have constructed a story this well that I was so engrossed in the story that I couldn't turn the damn thing off!

There are lots of wonderful twists throughout that push the story forwards. What appears to just be another tale of historical nastiness soon blossoms into an intense SF drama. Klein turns out to be from another timeline. She travelled to this universe in the TARDIS, the Doctor being brutally tortured in Nazi occupied England. None of the events matter a jot in this story (aside from the death of Ace) because it is a later visit to Germany when the TARDIS is captured and the Doctor shot six times. And of course the tiniest of items has the greatest of significance, Ace's CD walkman that Kurtz steals in episode one is revealed in the last episode as the real cause for the Nazis to win the war, by using that technology to create lasers. Steve Lyons never likes to take the easy route but here he exploits his love for time travel conundrums and injects it into a well known historical setting, the resulting plot is constantly surprising and shifts in favour of the goodies and the baddies all the time. It is unable to predict and once you have started it insists you finish.

You could split the characters into two categories, the pathetic ones and the capable ones. I'm not talking pathetically written as it is clear Lyons has an excellent grasp on his characters, on how to use them to drive the story rather than letting his complex plot machinations take over. No, there are several individuals in the story, Sergeant Kurtz, Time Wilkins, who are driven by their own pathetic desires. Kurtz is the true villain of the piece, a real nasty piece of work who is desperate to go up, up and away in the Nazi ranks and is willing to use his job to fulfil his sadistic desires, roughing up prisoners and satisfying his lust on the female prisoners. He is a prisoner of his own failings, it is clear that the prisoners, his fellow guards, Klein, Ace and the Doctor are all running rings around the man, baiting him with hints and whispers that could lead to a promotion. He bullies people to think he is in control and rather sadly nobody seems to take him seriously because of it. His fate, torn apart by the Time Winds when the TARDIS takes off with his foot in the door is justifiably horrible considering his treatment of characters but I can't help but have a pang of sympathy for somebody who is so obviously bound to fail despite his strong-arm tactics.

Wilkins is another morally ambiguous character who injects the story with the uncomfortable idea of betrayal. On the surface he is all bravado and escape attempts but when it comes down to some action he whispers the British officers' plans to the Nazis, moaning on about his asthma and dodgy leg. I love the scene where Ace confronts him after they are re-captured, her anger and bitterness mirrors the audience's (and even worse, he is condemned by a scumbag like Kurtz, for a pathetic man to critisize you, you've got to have sunk pretty low) and yet as soon as the German officers leave you hear the British preparing to give him the beating of a lifetime and his punishment now seems too severe.

I love a paradoxical baddie and Klein, like the best of the best before her, escapes at the end of the day despite the fact that her timeline (at the moment) never existed. Does this means one day she will find a way so it will? The ending certainly seems to suggest so. She is cool and collected and has a scathing view of the human race when it lacks a Nazi influence. There are some glorious scenes between her and the Doctor where they argue about which timeline should have the right to exist, the dialogue in these scenes is electrifying. It is clever how no matter what the Doctor does to try and stop her timeline existing she always manages to find a way around his tinkering so that events take place the way she wants them to.

But best of all in the character stakes is Schafer, a gentler Nazi officer whose loyalties waver when exposed to the British as much as he is. His story is an intriguing one to watch, playing on opposite sides of the fence, retaining his Nazi arrogance and yet turning a blind to eye to certain obvious rule-breaking by the British officers. It is his revelation that something BIGGER than the war has been happening throughout the story that gives the climax its punch and his final scene where he moons over the death of Kurtz and receives comfort from a British officer that he will protect Schafer's name reveals how close their confinement has made them.

All this good stuff stirring up the emotions so what could possibly be wrong with the story. To be frank, the production. Realism is one thing, comfort is another and when every room in Colditz castle has an annoying echoed effect and starts to give you a headache you start to wish for a bit of historical INACCURACY. I enjoy the musical score much more than some others but I have to agree it is hardly incidental. Loud bangs and crashes do mute the tension at times rather than increase it and a constant drum does start to get weary. However the sting for the action scenes (such as the end of episode three) is excellent, it really gets the blood pumping so it's a bit of a mixed bag in all.

Plus it doesn't help when Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred, the two leads, are the weakest performers in the play. He continues to overact, spitting out emotional speeches and rushing where he should really be driving home some valuable lessons. She over emphasises every line, getting all shouty just to prove she is a girl with attitude and her over-the-top dialogue doesn't help one jot. Hardly inspiring when your guest actors outshine you.

Colditz remains a good enough play, compared to some of the later stuff to have come from Big Finish it is bloody marvellous but the serious production mistakes and obvious characterisation of Ace do wound the story. The story is very interesting and it's worth it just to meet Klein. All in all not the disaster Steve Lyons makes it out to be.