It makes me giggle… I get a regular number of hits on my blog per day, and it displays on my dashboard when I log in. Then, I publish my review for Dead Air and tag David Tennant, because a large part of that review had to do with his spectacular performance, and my readership triples. I guess you have to give the readers what they want! Well, I’m not a click-whore, and even though David Tennant is again a part of this post, I’m not going to tag him, because this one’s about the character he plays, not him. Ha! Bucking the system! I’m such a rebel!
Much of my time lately has been either devoted to playing Doctor Who: Legacy or listening to audios. We did finish our rewatch of the Eleventh Doctor’s episodes, up until “The Day of the Doctor,” but I really don’t have much to say about that. I liked the seventh series better than I did the first time I saw it, but still not all that much. *shrug* So, my blog post, at least for the last few days, have been all about audios.
“Colditz” is #25 in the main range of Big Finish audios, and features the Seventh Doctor and Ace. They land in Nazi Germany and are immediately captured and imprisoned in Colditz Castle, famed for being the prison to which repeat escapees from other POW camps are sent. This audio is known for being David Tennant’s first appearance in a Doctor Who story, playing Feldwebel Kurtz (a feldwebel is a sergeant), recorded back in 2001.
First, an opinion on the audio with minor spoilers.
This audio is a bit of an enigma. It introduces the character Elizabeth Klein, a high-ranking Nazi officer who appears to know what a TARDIS is but doesn’t have any interest in it. She’s instead interested in the Doctor himself, and her story is very interesting, well-written and well-acted. On the other side, the depiction of Colditz Castle and Ace’s internment there is uneven at best, and completely unbelievable at worst. Without going into much more detail, I’d have to say this audio comes out to be pretty average, worth listening to a few very good performances and for Klein, but not a keeper.
Now, discussion with major spoilers.
A Nazi prison camp. Not just any Nazi prison camp, but a specially-created high-security one. The concept itself brings to mind a gritty, dark story, of cruelties and despair, into which Ace is thrown while the Doctor is ripped away from her. The story does attempt to go in that direction: I was amazed (and impressed) at Kurtz’s threats to Ace that he was going to come to her room at night and rape her. He didn’t say it outright, but it was heavily implied, and I could not believe that Doctor Who would even touch on such a subject.
However, the atmosphere never materialized. It didn’t take very long for me to get the impression that when Big Finish came up with the idea of setting a story at a Nazi prison camp, the author immediately did research on them by watching Hogan’s Heroes. It’s true that only the POWs who escaped multiple times from their first camps were sent to Colditz and that they continued to scheme to escape once they were interned at the castle, but the prisoners in the audio seemed almost happy to be there. The background sounds were almost party-like, and the prisoners talked freely of their next plans to escape. They even had equipment, such as radios, secreted away from the rather ineffectual Nazi guards.
Then Ace is added to the mix. She maintains that she’s not a spy but is unable to explain why she’s in Germany in the first place, and the Germans accept that without blinking. Whenever she comes into contact with the Nazi officers, she mouths off and refuses to do anything they ask or command, and she’s never so much as even slapped for her insubordination. The German officers – Kurtz and his superior Schafer – sputter at her, but that’s about it. It was so unbelievable that at some points, I was rooting for the Germans, that they would grow a backbone and smack Ace around a bit.
The real meat of the story is in the events surrounding Klein and the Doctor. She knows about the TARDIS because she comes from an alternate future in which the Nazis won the war; they have the TARDIS but don’t know how to use it, and she’s come back to get the Doctor to force him to teach her. He realizes he needs to shut down the alternate future, and he does so (I won’t say how, but it’s very indicative of the Seventh Doctor’s manipulative nature), but in the process, Klein challenges him, asking why he’s the one who gets to decide which version of history is the one that stands, and why she and all the people in her timeline must be sacrificed for it. The Doctor doesn’t waver throughout the discussion, but it should raise such questions in the listener’s mind.
Many of the minor characters were rather, well, unbelievable. One of the prisoners, a journalist, promises to help Ace escape, but gets cold feet just before they put the plan into action, and instead of telling her that he won’t do, he goes to the Germans and rats on his fellow prisoners, so that they are captured and punished. Why? I have no idea. Mr. Tennant’s Kurtz was actually very interesting, an unapologetically despicable character (and well-portrayed; if you’ve ever wanted to hate Mr. Tennant, this is the performance to listen to). A small-minded man, devoted to the Third Reich and reveling in his power over the prisoners from his rank as feldwebel, his hands are still tied by the Geneva Convention, which requires him to treat the prisoners fairly. He’s ambitious, but not very smart, unable to play the games needed to rise in rank or become trusted by the commandant. All of this results in him brandishing his power about and simply being exceedingly cruel to everyone he can. Ace and the other prisoners play on his paranoia to manipulate him, which works sometimes and backfires other times. He was quite a horrid man, but he didn’t deserve his gruesome death, torn in half as the TARDIS dematerialized with him halfway in the door – another shocking scene that I was surprised to find in Doctor Who. If the audio had had the nerve to maintain this kind of atmosphere, allowing the Germans to dominate and preventing Ace from owning the camp, it would have been one of Big Finish’s best.