Released October 2001
At its heart, ‘Colditz’ is a story about the relationships that develop between prisoners and and guards within a prison, but that core is surrounded by an astoundingly good historical science fiction tale as well. Having established that the Seventh Doctor and Ace are prisoners within Colditz Castle, writer Steven Lyons then introduces Klein, a woman working for the Gestapo who has intimate knowledge of the Doctor and his TARDIS. Suddenly everything changes as it is revealed that Klein actually arrived in 1944 in the TARDIS itself, coming from an alternate timeline in which the Nazis won World War II and attained control of the TARDIS after the Doctor was shot.
Nazis, and even a victorious Third Reich, are nothing new to Doctor Who, but Lyons proves to be adept at playing with assumptions and at keeping the plot twists coming. While it would have been easy to write that the TARDIS gave the Nazis the winning edge, it instead ends up being Ace’s CD Walkman that proved so vital to their war efforts. Likewise, Klein’s journey back in time actually ends up being the result of the machinations of a future Doctor from that alternate timeline in an attempt to correct his mistake. This is a story certainly not short on drama and paradoxes, but it all comes together to offer a superb package as the revelations are slowly but continually unveiled.
However, much of the success of ‘Colditz’ lies on the shoulders of the characterization of its main characters. Klein, in particular, proves to be fascinating as she emotionally portrays the gradual change from a typically ruthless Gestapo officer in charge to a woman who is constantly disrespected and undermined by the Doctor as he drives her to a destructive path that derails her own future. And it really is McCoy here who steals the show, proving to be at his most conniving and menacing as he outmaneuvers Klein at every step of the way. His impassioned speeches and outcries carry all that much more weight here since Klein is actually given the opportunity to justify her line of thinking and her future, making both characters much more sympathetic in the process as they go against each other.
Additionally, ‘Colditz’ also provides arguably Ace’s best portrayal in the Big Finish range so far, treading into some of the darker territory that the Virgin The New Adventures line took her. Staying true to her character, she always remains outwardly defiant, but Lyons is not afraid to let some of the travesties of history bleed through as Ace is also ordered to strip, has her belongings seized and searched, and is even blackmailed into offering sexual favours. None of this is overly gratuitous, but it does prove to be a key turning point and hopefully this heightened sense of realism is something that Big Finish can continue to capitalize on going forward. The Ace written here is clearly more mature than her younger televised self, and it’s great to see her taking substantial developmental steps forward in these audios as she works her way through very tough situations.
There have been some early Big Finish adventures that have suffered from some lacklustre supporting performances, but that is certainly not the case here. While the German and sometimes British accents on display are not necessarily the most authentic, they still serve to immerse the listener in the historical environment. Intriguingly, Lyons shows the differing viewpoints behind comrades in war as well, with David Tennant’s Kurtz enthralled by the power he has been given and Toby Longworth’s Schäfer simply but reluctantly doing what he feels is his duty. Interestingly, Schäfer develops a sort of mutual respect for Nicholas Young’s Gower, both characters so similar in their personal ideals despite being on different sides.
As with any good story, it truly is the relationships and contrasting viewpoints that really take centre stage. There is ample worthwhile discussion about the perceived merits of both sides, and everyone involved gives a gripping and emotional performance. Klein proves to be an immensely intriguing character who comes up short against the Doctor like so many before her, but it’s quite feasible that Klein will become a recurring Big Finish character simply given her extensive backstory. The only negative aspect to this story is that the sound effects often sound like they are made in a sound booth rather than in the authentic environment, the first time production values have become any sort of issue for a Big Finish production. However, while the sounds are noticeable, the story and performances are so strong that they easily overcome any other shortcomings.