Twenty five stories into Big Finish’s main range of Doctor Who CDs and I am reminded that I should never presume. For instance, last week I made the comment that these stories have a prerequisite: there needs to be an alien menace. So one story later, Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred wanted me to know that they were happy to accommodate by leaving out said alien menace. Instead we go for a place of real life horror: Colditz castle, a German Prisoner of War camp. Even as the war is drawing to a close, the Doctor is shot in the shoulder and Ace and the Doctor are captured. They are brought to Colditz castle where they are separated and experience some of the brutality of World War II. This leads to Ace’s backpack being confiscated along with her walkman (a now-antiquated piece of technology, ironically) creating a parallel timeline in which the Germans won the war.
Right off the bat, I need to mention that Feldwebel Kurtz sounded like a German David Tennant. I was blown away to discover why: it was David Tennant doing a very believable German accent. (Well, I say believable; I mean it had me fooled but I’m no expert!) Kurtz is a brutal man and tries to garner favor with Ace by not shooting her for her acts of aggression. This theme does set this story apart more than just in the violence level, due to the insinuated nature of what Kurtz is asking for. To go along with adulthood, Ace is starting to grow up and accept her name. So much so that at the end of the episode, she tells the Doctor that it’s “time to grow up” and she should be called McShane from now on! (I need to say, even though I’ve seen Tennant in other things, like Secret Smile and Bad Samaritan, I still have a hard time thinking of him as a bad guy. But he does it brilliantly!)
The story is basic in concept: attacked, separated, find one another and a way out, escape. But a spanner is thrown into the works. The first cliffhanger has Elizabeth Klein show up and she wants the Doctor’s TARDIS. That caught me totally off-guard! I should point out that I listened to this on a 3 hour drive, so I played the episodes back to back, which was both fun, but also a mistake. A mistake because episode two also ends with the word TARDIS. This time, it’s that the Doctor was taking Klein back to his TARDIS only to find it missing because the TARDIS she wants is the same one that got her to the past. <Queue dramatic music> She’s from the future where the Nazi’s won the war. Now, the Doctor has to prevent that future from happening. (I’d comment on how episode three ended, but it blended so naturally, that I barely noticed it. I had to go back when I completed the story to kick off part 4 just to remind myself how 3 ended. It’s not that it wasn’t good, it was just completely expected, whereas the first two cliffhangers were actually cliffhangers!)
Needless to say, we know the good guys win, the Doctor and Ace escape, etc etc… nothing unual there. But it’s David Tennant’s end that is morbid and leads Ace to really coming to terms with growing up. He is both in and out of the TARDIS as it dematerializes, cutting him in half. Even with all his Nazi brutality, both Ace and the Doctor agree that no one deserves to die that way. (Perhaps this is the reason Capaldi’s Doctor can’t dematerialize in The Husbands of River Song? Maybe the Doctor does something to the TARDIS to prevent that from happening in the future? I love continuity, so I’m always looking for it!) The only real negative I have for the story is a small continuity thing that pervades Doctor Who: the TARDIS translation of other languages. Frankly, I should never hear jawohl becuase the TARDIS should be translating. I should simply hear “yes sir”. But I imagine since we all know the word, the TARDIS just assumes for us.
At any rate, it is a very good story. And McCoy didn’t roll his r’s even once, that I noticed, so Ace isn’t the only one growing up! But I was left with another thought; a far more frightening one. The Doctor destroys an entire timeline when he prevents Klein’s time from happening. It alludes to a fragility of life and time that really doesn’t enter the picture often. It’s only if we really think through the ramifications of this that we realize what it means. We always know the story will right-the-wrong and we will get back to what is “supposed to” happen. But what does that mean to all the possible futures? What about all of those “what if’s” that never happen?
I’ll end the same way I ended the listening experience. I put the CD’s in their case, in preparation of the next story and noticed a layout of the map of Colditz castle. It’s not much, but it is something if you want to have a general idea of what the castle layout is like. Just a small illustration that helps the imagination. In truth, it did not differ from what I had imagined anyway, so I don’t feel like I needed to see that first. But it is a nice touch and something I will miss when I get to future stories, where I only have the digital subscription! ML