David Tennant, playing a loathsome Nazi, continues the time-honoured tradition of trying to shoot his predecessor.
Colditz, for ignorant American listeners like me, is the Nazi equivalent of Alcatraz for British POWs. So of course the Doctor and Ace land smack in the courtyard don’t discover their poor navigational choices until too late. Separated from the Doctor, Ace quickly finds herself the object of Officer (Tennant) Kurtz’s unwanted attentions. To make matters worse, one Elizabeth Klein knows more about the Doctor than she should, and she’s determined to get her hands on the TARDIS. Rumours of D-Day are swirling, but if the Nazis acquire time travel, the Allied victory will be history– or rather, not history. Ace needs to escape before she’s shot, or worse, and her tendency to mouth off is not increasing her chances of survival. The Doctor needs to foil Klein’s plans before he contributes to the future she foresees. Both Ace and the Doctor will have to chooose their allies very, very carefully, since according to Klein, they’re each destined for a rendezvous with Nazi bullets.
Have a trailer.
Sophie and Sylvester are fine, but the standout performances belong to the guest actors: Tracey Childs as the formidable Klein, David Tennant playing a character more hateful than Barty Crouch, Toby Longworth as the put-upon Hauptman Schäfer in charge of Colditz, Peter Rae as a hapless POW journalist, and Nicholas Young as the stalwart Flying Officer Gowan. It’s a small, tight, effective cast, whose Venn diagram interrelationships remind me of roles in a stage play.
On the one hand, this is a well-plotted story, the guest characters are back up to Big Finish standards, the “trying to break out of an infamous Nazi prison” is a great kernel for a Who episode. Cliffhangers are tense enough to remind me: hey wait a minute, Ace is like older!Nyssa: she’s run out past the end of her TV canon, so she can die. I especially enjoyed the dynamic between the head of the prison, Schäfer, and the senior British POW Gowan. Their respect for one another as honourable warriors on opposite sides is a trope that goes all the way back to Homer’s Iliad, but it’s well-done here.
On the other hand, I had a little trouble with this one, and I can’t put my finger on why. Possibly because family history makes me twitchy about Nazi prison stories even when it’s fiction and not something that happened to my relavitves, possibly because I felt Ace was doing things that really and truly should get her shot. Apart from Kurtz, these Nazies seem awfully lenient. Or possibly it’s just that the sound effects in this one were distracting: metal echo-effects don’t sound anything like clomping around in a stone castle, and the incidental music kept barging in like a clumsy waiter interrupting the flow of conversation during some key moments. In the abstract, I think it’s a good story, but in my personal case I didn’t enjoy it all that much (It’s better on a re-listen).
Ace’s comments at the end were also a downer for me. While it’s necessary for her to grow and evolve, and I’m glad BF took the plunge to continue her arc, I’m going to miss her younger, more ebullient self on whom I had a serious fan crush in the 80s.
It was a nice touch that the real history-altering technology allowed to fall in the wrong hands is not the Doctor’s TARDIS, but Ace’s Walkman. The timey-wimey chess game between the Doctor and Klein in this story is clever. I liked her ruse inside a ruse, allowing the Doctor to think she was changing the past by taking the TARDIS from Colditz, when actually that, too, is part of her timeline. I look forward to seeing where the character of Klein will go in future Big Finish audios. Tracey Childs is excellent.
I also appreciate the way the good and bad British POWs and the good and bad German officers stationed at Colditz seem to complement one another, showing two sides of the same coin on each side.
Production Code 7U after Dust Breeding. By this time, Ace is starting to morph into her “special ops agent” role.
Finally, Big Finish has sorted out its continuity. This is the Ace we met in The Fearmonger, where she’s acting as the Doctor’s field agent instead of just a space tourist. So this is definitely Season 27. From now on, I don’t think we have any more “throwback” audios like Genocide Machine and Dust Breeding, where Ace seemed more like she was back in mid Season 26. So I’ll stop confusing you. From now on, they go in order. The Rapture builds directly on the aftermath of Colditz, whereas up until now there’s been little or no reference back to previous audios.