Top critical review
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on 3 April 2016
This is the 25th story in the Main Range series by Big Finish, first released in 2001. Written by Steve Lyons, this story features the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy), travelling with Ace (Sophie Aldred). This is an Ace who is still young and impetuous, always armed with the trusty rucksack with rope ladder, Nitro-9 and everything else she feels she will need while travelling with the Doctor. It’s that impetuosity that gets the Doctor and her in trouble in this story, as when the Tardis lands, she heads outside straight away. The Doctor, following her, finds that they are in a large courtyard, but when the men with the guns start towards them, and the spotlights fall on them, the Doctor is horrified to realise exactly where they are.
This is a story that has two quite distinct threads going on, that are at the same time also linked. The Doctor and Ace are prisoners in Colditz Castle, in 1944. Separated, the first thread follows the Doctor as he discovers that there is an even bigger threat that has arisen; both to himself personally, and indirectly to Ace and the entire world. In the second thread, Ace, believing that she knows she can get out of Colditz, having seen the movies, infiltrates the British prisoners who are planning escape, and tries to resolve the situation for herself. If she can save herself, surely that’s one less thing for the Doctor to have to worry about.
I found the first thread of the story, that following the Doctor and the other person who turns up to present the bigger threat, to be very successful. Played very well by Sylvester McCoy and Tracey Childs, the two protagonists in this thread play their dangerous game; where and how it will end remains a mystery even as the twists and turns in the narrative are followed. Even the Doctor seems surprised as to how things start to unfold, and it’s great to see the interaction going on with these characters.
The second thread of the story, Ace’s experience in Colditz, was not so successful to me. The threat to an imprisoned young woman with no papers, and no identity, in the middle of enemy territory in 1944, bears no thinking about. But that threat, while inferred, never materialises for Ace, as indeed we wouldn’t want it to. Secondly, the idea that this same young woman, turning up out of nowhere, would be immediately taken into the confidence of British POWs who are planning, as is their duty, to escape from Colditz, seemed unrealistic to me. The realism of Colditz and the POW experience was not brought home. It’s difficult to criticise either BF or Steve Lyons for that, as that’s not the type of story we would really want to experience as part of the BF audio range, but it did mean that the experience of the story for me as a listener was somewhat lessened.
I would more than happily listen to this story again, knowing and understanding that overall it is an interesting and entertaining story, and important to the Doctor Who universe for the thread of the story following the Doctor, and for the rather sobering experience of growing up that Ace undergoes through her incarceration in this brutal period of world history.