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. Sylvestor 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 TARDIS's 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
And so on to 'Colditz', a story maligned as a result of its notoriously poor production values. This frequent criticism of the story is not entirely unfair; the sound effects are atrocious, with distinctly odd-sounding footsteps and gunshots, and a general feel that this is not taking place in Colditz Castle, but in a recording studio. Suspension of disbelief is thus compromised from the start, but if the listener can get past this problem, what remains is a story with an engaging plot and some excellent characterisation.
The plot of 'Colditz' largely concerns life within the prison and the relationships between the prisoners and guards, but also features a more traditional science-fiction element represented by Klein and her back-story. This works well; having established the set-up by imprisoning the Doctor and Ace within Colditz Castle, writer Steve Lyons suddenly increases the suspense, and adds no small measure of intrigue, by introducing Klein at the end of Episode One, a woman ostensibly working for the Gestapo who knows of the Doctor and his TARDIS. A further development comes at the end of Episode Two, as it is revealed that Klein not only knows of the TARDIS, she also actually arrived in 1944 inside it, hailing from a timeline in which the Nazis won World War Two and acquired the Doctor's TARDIS after he was shot and apparently killed. This potentially introduces a tiresome cliché, which the Doctor noting that an alternate timeline in which the Nazis won is "the oldest paradox in the book", and indeed it not only litters the science fiction genre, but it has been explored before in Doctor Who in Terrance Dicks only half-decent novel in the range, 'Timewyrm: Exodus'. Nazis too, and the Doctor and Ace's reactions to them, have also been used previously in other novels, in Lance Parkin's 'Just War' for example, but nevertheless, Lyons handles the plot well by keeping the revelations and surprises coming. It is so blatantly obvious that capturing the Doctor's TARDIS could be used as a means of giving the Third Reich the edge it needed to win the war that I was genuinely surprised when it turned out that, in fact, it is the capture of Ace's anachronistic CD Walkman that actually changes history. Likewise, I was not prepared for the final plot twist, as the Doctor realises that Klein's entire trip back to 1944 from her aberrant future has been orchestrated by an alternate Doctor from that same timeline, as a means of correcting his original mistake and undoing the damage to history.
Much of the reason that I find 'Colditz' so engaging despite the distinct lack of polish that the production displays lies with characters such as Klein. When Klein first appears she is a stereotypical Gestapo officer, ruthless, cold and efficient. In the sense that she remains true to her beliefs throughout, she stays a stereotypical Gestapo officer for the remainder of the story, but the beauty of the character lies in her exponential loss of control over the situation as the Doctor, who treats her with the contempt that she deserves throughout, proceeds to undermine her authority and aims, eventually forcing her to flee Colditz and play a significant role in aborting her own past. McCoy gives one of his finest performances for Big Finish, recapturing the power and dignity that he brought to the role during Seasons Twenty-Five and Twenty-Six, and many of his best scenes are with Klein. She briefly gains the upper hand when she first meets him by threatening to have Ace shot, after which he disrupts her plans at every turn, such as when he steals and alters her identity papers so as to expose her as a fraud. The Doctor's best scenes however come when he discusses Klein's version of history, which she defends staunchly; the Doctor's response is predictable enough, but it works even better than it might have done because McCoy side-steps the usual pitfall of trying to convey anger through shouting, by seething with quiet fury instead. He hisses the line "Built on how many corpses!?" with tremendous emotion when Klein defends her idealized, Aryan world, scornfully reminding her that she has blonde hair and blue eyes and is therefore genetically predisposed to being favoured by Hitler's Reich. It also helps that Lyons makes and effort to really allows Klein to justify her version of history and speak passionately of the good points that she perceives within it, only to bring her arguments crashing down via the Doctor's contemptuous responses. The icing on the cake is of course that Klein ultimately proves to be a pawn of the Doctor all along, albeit an alternate version of the Doctor.
Ace too does well out of 'Colditz'. After her lacklustre characterisation in 'The Genocide Machine' and 'Dust Breeding', Lyons gives he rather more to do here as she is faced with the horrors of Nazi Germany, especially at the hands of Feldwebel Kurtz, who orders her to strip at one point and later tries to blackmail her into providing sexual favours for him. It is often the case in Doctor Who, especially considering the target audience of the television series, that companions, like the Doctor, have an air of invulnerability about them; there are obvious exceptions such as Adric's death, but for the most part companions face life-threatening dangers on a regular basis and survive unscathed, with no hint of the psychological damage that could be caused as a result. The New Adventures changed all that, and to an extent Big Finish have adopted a similar approach; although Ace remains both positive and defiant here, she is brutalized not by alien monsters but by other human beings. Whilst Lyons is careful not to go to far, being ordered to strip and having her belongings searched subjects Ace to a violation that has actually happened to people, and although it is not unduly dwelt on here, such moments bring home the reality the dangers faced by the Doctor's companions in a way that is easier to relate to than being threatened by Daleks or Haemovores. The difference between the often-fantastical natures of Doctor Who and of the historical setting of Colditz Castle is further highlighted by the scene in which Ace tries to persuade Gower to help her escape early on and suggests some of the series' traditional, and ultimately unlikely, means of escape, such as pretending to be unconscious in her cell until the guard enters and then taking him by surprise. Gower's measured response to her reckless enthusiasm is to explain the reality of the situation; anyone who actually manages to escape risks being shot, a fate that Ace briefly faces at the end of Episode Three.
Having thus placed the often-unrealistic character of Ace into a more realistic situation than is usually the case in Doctor Who, Lyons takes the wise approach of staying true to the character whilst developing her somewhat. In keeping with the direction in which the character was starting to travel at the end of the television series, the script portrays her not as a stroppy teenager, but as a young woman who learns from her experiences; the result is to make the character instantly more likeable and also, by chance or by design, to better cater to Sophie Aldred's abilities as an actress. The result is that Ace is a more convincing character here than she has ever been outside of the novels and for the first time Aldred's performance doesn't irritate me. Having said that, the decision to declare this loudly with the line "Time to grow up. It's Dorothy McShane now" does rather feel as though Big Finish are trying to make a point of the fact that they are attempting to make Ace more appealing to their audience (according to their writer's guide, they have been making a conscious effort to improve the character's popularity) and is unsubtle to say the least; Ace's response to Kurtz's rather gory death tells us a great deal more about how much she has grown up than a spurious decision to abandon her nickname. The change in the character is welcome, but the change in name is tokenistic, and it will be interesting to see how long it lasts.
Finally, the characterisation of the supporting characters is also highly effective, for the simple reason that Lyons treats them all as human beings, including the loathsome Kurtz. Kurtz is not simply a two-dimensional villain, he is portrayed, again via small flourishes of the script rather than by blatant exposition about his character and background, as a pathetic and bitter little man who is constantly frustrated and humiliated, who relishes the small amount of power that he has been given but who will never be a respected member of the Reich that he so admires, or even a member of the Nazi party. David Tennant's German accent isn't entirely convincing, but it is passable and he gets sufficient emotion into the part to compensate. Kurtz also works well because he is contrasted with Toby Longworth's Schäfer; it's an obvious approach to remind us that in war there are human beings on both sides, but it works because it is true. Whereas Kurtz is everything the audience might expect from a German officer in a drama set in World War Two, Schäfer is a man doing what he sees as his duty with reluctance and trying to make life as comfortable as possible for his charges in the process. In short, he's a decent fellow forced to serve Nazi Germany by circumstance and the desire to survive. The mutual respect between Schäfer and Gower highlights this perfectly; they are both men serving their countries, on opposing sides, but who have much in common and are able, to an extent, to confide in each other, such as when Schäfer angrily tells Gower, "It's not right that prisoners are kept on starvation rations". As with Tennant, Longworth's accent isn't totally convincing, but again the enthusiasm with which he approaches the role compensates, and the same is true of Nicholas Young's performance as Gower, despite the fact that he adopts a bog-standard English officer accent straight out of old war films. Some officers might have actually sounded like that; most probably didn't…
In summary then, 'Colditz' is an effective story that rises above the shortcomings of its production rather well. It also, incredibly, manages to make me find Ace interesting, marking a subtle but important change in her character that Big Finish would go on to pursue further…
As with the previous release, Colitz is a story of two distinct styles – half historical, and half science fiction. Unlike The Eye of the Scorpion however, the quality of the two styles is reversed.
The historical aspect of Ace attempting to escape from Colditz is at best mediocre. Unfortunately lazy war films have long since turned WW2 prisoner of war camps into clichés, and Colditz never moves away from the generic standard characters. The upper class ‘what ho!’ style British Officer, the surprise cowardly traitor (who no doubt would be played by Richard Attenborough in the movie version), the sadistic Nazi guard, and the sympathetic ‘fair play’ German officer who the British secretly admire– they’re all here. And unfortunately – that’s it. Big Finish traditionally work with small casts – but it’s very difficult to try to create a convincing prison environment with only 2 British prisoners and 2 German guards.
While the historical angle is pretty standard and predictable fare, the science fiction side is far more successful, as the Doctors time intrigue with scientist Klein makes for an ingenious story. The only possible reservation one could have here is to argue that Lyons is simply offering us another variation on his ‘lost TARDIS’ plot of The Fires of Vulcan – which is fair enough, though the use here is different enough for me to forgive the similarities. I do have one problem with the plot though – is it really possible to make nuclear bombs just by taking apart a CD Walkman? I find it hard to believe that the Germans could have won the war by examining this device – otherwise what’s to stop any country now advancing their nuclear weapons programme simply by paying a visit to their local electrical store?
The cast are reasonable, but while there are no awful performances few rise above the stock nature of the characters. Sylvester McCoy is excellent throughout EXCEPT where he puts on his ridiculous gurning shouty voice – I do wish he’d stop doing this. Elsewhere we have the beginning – possibly – of some overdue character development for Ace as she drops her alias for good at the climax. All well and good, though it does rather fly in the face of established New Adventures continuity. I wouldn’t mind so much if Big Finish ignored the NA’s completely, but the fact that they manage to name check Danny Pain (from No Future) earlier in the play (never mind Benny’s appearances elsewhere) makes Big Finish’s attitude to Virgin rather piecemeal and inconsistent. There’s also a huge missed opportunity in not featuring a cameo appearance from Paul McGann (which should have been easy enough to record) as the (alternative?) 8th Doctor…
So all in all Colditz is at least a semi-successful 7th Doctor audio, and is enjoyable and entertaining fare. Except…
There is one fly in the ointment – and it’s a big one. While the quality of Big Finish’s scripting and acting has varied from play to play, thus far every release has boasted top-notch production. Colditz however, sounds absolutely awful. It’s difficult to know exactly what went wrong, but to my ears it sounds like a post-production problem. Almost all of the dialogue sounds as though it has been treated to give the impression of taking place within Colditz’s stone rooms. While it’s reasonable enough to expect some impression of the characters surroundings, it’s so overdone here that it’s like listening to the cast talk to you through a cup tied to a piece of string. Ghastly. There’s also a hideous moment in episode 4 when Sylvester mucks his line up and garbles his words, but instead of retaking it they leave the bungled line in there as though editing was as difficult as in Hartnell’s day, so maybe the production was plagued during recording as well.
It’s a pity the poor production turns so many people off of this story, as it’s not half bad. The ending is wide open for a sequel – but I guess after the lacklustre reception there won’t be one…
Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred return to their roles as the Seventh Doctor and Ace respectively in the latest release from the Big Finish Production lab, and I must say an outstanding release as usual. I won’t go into a history lesson about Colditz Castle and the like but those who have been watching ‘The Great Escape’ this Christmas (or any other Christmas because it’s always on at this time of year) will know the basic setting of the play.
Colditz also tackles several issues attached to the whole Nazi character and heavily hints of Ace’s near rape incident with a Nazi officer.
Gary Russell does some great direction for this adventure, also, Toby Richards and Emily Baker provide some very thrilling incidental music to the scenes and make it feel like it belongs in that Season 27. Tracy Childs, star of Howard’s Way features in this play as the ever sinister(ish), appropriately named Klein. Her character is a good choice for a recurring villain or even acquaintance in future adventures.
The trouble with this story is that it is very ‘Whoops! When we did that we changed time itself and prevented such and such from happening and instead this may happen…” All in all well worth buying and listening to on a Sunday night, very atmospheric and interesting.
'I'm sorry, but if you thought that escaping from Colditz was going to be easy, you'd better think again. Fast.'
When the TARDIS is forced to land, the Doctor is unable to tell Ace where they are precisely. After a brief inspection of the dark courtyard they find themselves suddenly making a desperate escape attempt as they come face to face with the German guards of the most secure Prisoner of War camp in Germany during the Second World War - Colditz Castle. As Ace has to contend with one of the guards taking an unhealthy interest in her, the Doctor might be in more trouble than he realises for one individual knows more about him and his TARDIS than they should...
Steve Lyons returns to the audio range to which he previously scripted the excellent The Fires Of Vulcan, which showed the Seventh Doctor in a more sombre mood than he perhaps should have been, and did the amazing task of making one of the poorest companions in the history of the television series Mel into a believable, interesting character. Considering this, and his good work within the Doctor Who novels, the twenty-fifth Big Finish Doctor Who audio Colditz promises much - but does it deliver?
Well the answer is yes... and no. The script is good, but it's a rare case of how the play is realised letting it down. Colditz is quite enjoyable overall, but some of the performances and the way that the production aspect has been achieved undermine the quality. The first episode is not as good as those that follow. It has some trite opening dialogue to establish just where the Doctor and Ace have landed with Ace effectively describing the area to the listener and it's very badly conveyed. The feeling through this episode though is of procrastination. Setting the scene and laying the foundations for the story is necessary of course in any type of fiction, but a lot of what's done here feels like padding before the real story begins with the introduction of Tracey Childs' character Klein. After this the story really splinters into two, with the Doctor and Klein forming one element and Ace's attempts to escape Colditz forming the other and this is part of the problem. Whilst there is nothing wrong with either of these plots in theory, the lacklustre performance of Sophie Aldred really ensures that her plot never lives up to it's potential. The plot involving the Doctor which revolves around the presence of Klein and what she truly wants is the most memorable aspect of Colditz.
Despite the fact that this was a writer the calibre of Steve Lyons, part of me wasn't looking forward to it very much, and it's because with the exception of The Fearmonger, The Fires Of Vulcan and The Shadow Of The Scourge, the Seventh Doctor stories haven't been as good as many of the other Doctor's releases. This is down to two things really firstly the quality of the scripts and secondly the main performers. The script here is fine, setting up an interesting situation which then develops into something very intriguing by the end of the first episode, but there is fault in the performances of the lead characters here.
The way that Sylvester McCoy plays the Doctor on audio is quite different to the way that he played the role on screen, which is understandable and acceptable (as it has been for the other Doctors), but whereas his fellow Time Lord actors have built up their Doctor's character, McCoy seems to be stagnating. It's no coincidence that McCoy's best performance in these audios so far was in The Shadow Of The Scourge where he was given something different to work with, and the result was spectacular. His Colditz performance is acceptable - it's not outstanding, but it's not bad at all even despite his tendency to over-act when angry which is most evident during a scene in the final episode. With the Doctor's subplot as strong as it is, McCoy does well enough with his material to ensure that that element of the drama remains interesting throughout.
This was Sophie Aldred's fifth audio she's featured as Ace, and her continued presence in the Seventh Doctor stories is proving to be a problem. The other 'past' Doctors have all had a lot of variety in the companions that they've been paired with. The Fifth Doctor has had three of his television companions (and gained another in the process), the Sixth has been teamed up with different companions, but the Seventh is almost always teamed with Ace. The Shadow Of The Scourge featured Bernice Summerfield from the New Adventures (as well as Ace), and The Fires Of Vulcan featured Mel and the variety that this gave the Seventh Doctor stories was in part one of the reasons why they were as successful as they were. Aldred's performance in Colditz ranges from average to poor. It's not a subtle performance at all, with the scenes where Ace is angry (which is practically all of them) prone to her over acting, and coupled with a subplot for her which seems rather tame compared to that which the Doctor finds himself involved in Colditz is not a good story for Ace. As for the events of the ending concerning her, it's good to see BF trying to develop Ace as a character, but with such extensive development for her already in the New Adventures I'm unsure whether this change will be a success in the long run.
There is a quietly impressive guest cast for this story, and whilst none of them are very well known names, they perform their roles well. The star of the guest cast without doubt is Tracey Childs as Klein, whose arrival in the story enlivens what was threatening to be a very average first episode with the genuine sense of mystery she brings with her as her character knows far more than she's should do about the Doctor and who he is. The way that Lyons has scripted her character is quite excellent, with the mystery seeming to lead in one direction as to her true identity only for it to be something quite different. Childs proves herself to be an excellent actress, particularly in her scenes with the Doctor. David Tennant, who was seen as the maniacal artist Gordon Stylus in the first episode of the Reeves' & Mortimer 'Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)' revival, is seen here playing Feldwebel Kurtz, and his performance is commendable, as he gets to show a real nasty side to his character which is well conveyed through Lyons writing and Tennant's acting. Nicholas Young, who has been appearing in Big Finish's Tomorrow People audios, is the archetypal British officer capturing the stiff upper lip quality you'd expect perfectly in his role as Flying Officer Bill Gower. The only slightly disappointing offering amongst the guest cast was that of Peter Rae as Timothy Wilkins, whose performance didn't feel right somehow.
But the most annoying aspects of Colditz come in the form of the music and the sound design work. Colditz is the debut within the Doctor Who range of Toby Richards and Emily Baker as the composers, and they follow Jim Mortimore & Jane Elphinston and David Darlington as new composers to have made their debuts in the last three releases. But whereas Mortimore & Elphinston's wonderfully evocative score to Project: Twilight enhanced the drama superbly, breathing added life into the drama, and Darlington's The Eye Of The Scorpion music complimented the drama perfectly, the score for Colditz seems very forced and is seriously intrusive on the drama. The sound effects too aren't anywhere near as good as usual, with the voices of the actors drowned out in crowd scenes and other times difficult to hear.
It's a shame really that Colditz doesn't live up to the potential it's script had. Through a combination of production errors and a performance from Sophie Aldred that really doesn't carry her side of the story the way that it should makes Colditz feel rather average in comparison to some of the other releases this year. It's an enjoyable enough drama, but it definitely could have been a lot better...
The Big Finish range has developed a serious problem, at least in my eyes. It isn't the general acting style or standard, which is fantastic, nor is it the post-production, which has been consistently excellent throughout. The direction, whoever may be responsible for it, is superb, and since December last, the cover art has been beyond brilliant. The overwhelming problem that now dogs Big Finish is that it is beyond criticism. That's right folks, it's too good, and I'm fast running out of words with which to sing its praises.
Colditz is a perfect example of this. Nearly everything about Colditz is right. The acting is perfect, the new-to-Doctor Who musicians deliver a stunning job, the post-production, while not stunning, gives what it needs to, to the tale, the seventh Doctor and Ace once again work brilliantly together, bringing all the life their era of the show possessed to the audios. In fact, I feel a correction is necessary: everything about Colditz is right.
A small guest cast in an audio story is always an advantage, meaning that characters are much harder to confuse. In this particular audio the cast is not only small, all its members have a key role in the action. Both of these factors work hugely to the benefit of the story, and although this is not always the case (a small cast can sometimes be a let-down), here, a large cast would only have hampered the story. I say this only because all the important narrative functions were taken by the seven cast members, and incidental characters that served no purpose would only have been an insult to the plot.
This is similar to author Steve Lyons's earlier audio The Fires of Vulcan. In that audio, all the characters had a distinct role to play, a purpose to carry out. This is true of other writers, admittedly, but here it is so noticeable that only the roles most pertinent to the plot were included, not wasting time with "frills", that it deserved a mention.
The plot itself is very engaging and thoughtful, similar in some ways to The Fires of Vulcan, yet different in many others. True, it is a historical fiction based around the "Oh my God how are the Doctor and companion going to get out of this one?" theme, but it also focuses on the concept of the fragility of history, with a surprising twist to illustrate this point.
Unsurprisingly for Lyons, this story is clearly set during the Virgin New Adventures, which is a pity, as from one line in the opening scene, we know we can expect the Doctor to pull a master plan from up his sleeve and save the day. Luckily, this is only a minor point in the story, although the entire plot does revolve around it. Still, this is only a major problem if you like plots to move in straight lines, not in the past and possible relatively improbable future timelines.
This miserable little quibble aside, every aspect of Colditz is perfect. Perhaps the best part of Colditz is that taken by Tracey Childs, the enigmatic Klein. Episode One sets the scene nicely, but is slightly lacking in tension, until a woman claiming to represent the German government arrives out of nowhere at the end of the episode, knowing far more than she should about the Doctor's TARDIS. Once it is established that Klein isn't exactly a local, we are left in suspense for most of Episode Two and a bit of Three, until Klein reveals herself.
Throughout the audio, Childs easily steals the show with her calm malevolence and later fanaticism. Klein will go to any lengths to obtain the Doctor, and Childs plays the part exactly right. Initially, there appears to be a problem with her accent, but that is easily explained, but once she is revealed to be British, her accent never returns to the clipped English-German one we hear in her first scene, it stays English.
Feldwebel Kurtz is, in a word, horrible. He is the most evil and nasty character that, in my opinion, the entire range has produced. He takes apparent delight in tormenting Ace from the first scene he is in to the last. David Tennant is brilliant in this role. Combining ferocious nastiness with a quiet sense of pure evil, he manages to make himself potentially the most hated character Who has produced (rivaling even Adric). His raw villainy is, though, a joy to listen to.
In stark contrast, his German superior officer, Hauptmann Julius Schäfer, is probably the most likable character of the story. Voice artist Toby Longworth performs this role very well, giving this fascinating character the depth it deserves. Schäfer comes across as a decent man who is doing something he believes is wrong, but equally has no choice about. In the end, he has to choose between what he believes in truly and his life. If he does not perform his duty, he will be executed for it, but if he does it will mean the death of millions. This is an interesting dilemma which is played out well during the course of the story and ends believably and well.
Far more straight-thinking and certain of where he stands is practical, sensible British prisoner-of-war Flying Officer Bill Gower. Marvelously voiced by Tomorrow Person Nicholas Young, Gower initially seems to be patronizing and high-handed, but once Episode Two starts his character really warms up, making him very likable, as well as brave and honorable. His hot and cold friendship with Schäfer is very well acted out, as is his whole role. Big Finish's fondness for bringing their ranges "together" with actors crossing over is, in this case, absolutely justified.
Exactly the opposite is wimpy Timothy Wilkins. Peter Rae manages to do what Young achieves, but in reverse. He starts off seeming to be brave and helpful, but reveals himself to be a cringing coward who can't keep his mouth shut. These scenes are particularly well written and make excellent listening.
Once all these characters have fulfilled their roles in the chain of events, they are dealt with in a realistic way, not in the happy-ending who-cares-what-would-have-happened-in-real-life way that some writers have a tendency to do (Paul Cornell). The conclusion to the story is most satisfactory, but the last line, given by Ace, sounds so cheesy and "done" that, while it is unexpected, it leaves the listener on a down, which is a huge shame. Otherwise, though, the story and acting in Colditz is perfect.
Ace, in this story, has a very strong role, being independent from the Doctor for most of the Story. Sophie Aldred puts in a very good performance, although in Episode One she does tend to get a bit worked up over little things. After this initial hot-temperedness, she settles down to be more sensible, if somewhat strong-headed, and though she still gets worked up, it is managed in a more restrained way, making her a lot more easy to bear.
Sylvester McCoy performs his usual quiet yet knowing Doctor that he has established during his run of audios. Though he is slightly different here from the Doctor of his other adventures, this being set in the NA range, he is still strangely likable despite his constant meddling and upstaging. The scenes in which he gets very emotional do not quite fit him, but he performs them well enough, though him being serine and omnipotent fits him better. It is impossible to judge the better one between his TV and audio character, as they are so vastly different, yet so incomprehensibly endearing.
The post-production by new-to-Who artists Toby Richards and Emily Baker, however, is not so brilliant. It is by no means bad; it just isn't all that good either. The acoustic added to voices in the Solitary Confinement cells is rather irritating, and many of the sound effects sound as if they have no part in the action; they're just pasted on. The panning is very samey, with characters not appearing to move at all, despite where the noises they are making are taking place in stereo. For example, a door will open on the left, and the person opening it will speak from the centre of the room. This is only noticeable on headphones, but it isn't ideal for an audio of the 21st century.
The music, however, is very, very good. There are a few cues that are very out of place and unnecessary, and in some scenes it is, but otherwise, the music is exactly suited to the period in which it is set, with some cues obviously imitating the German style of the time. The music is also, in some places, quite sophisticated and interesting, and, unlike the last two Big Finish scores, this one will stand up very well on its own.
The last attribute that Colditz possesses which very few other audios do, is that it is fun, easy listening, and grabbing even after the first hearing. The last audio that was engaging time after time after time, like this one, was, oddly enough, Dust Breeding. Before that, The Shadow of the Scourge, and I have never listened to any single audio as many times as The Fires of Vulcan. Why this is, I couldn't begin to guess, but with this in mind, it is indeed a great pity that we have to wait until September next year for another New Adventure.