Sunday, November 18, 2012
This is a great timey-whimey story, and introduces the great villain Elizabeth Klein, who we would have to wait a LONG time before we heard from her again (though the wait was well worth it). The guest cast is very strong in this story. Big Finish regular Toby Longworth is good as the likeable German Schaefer. Nicholas Young of The Tomorrow People fame plays the honorable Flying Officer Bill Gower who serves as a leader for the Allied prisoners. The respectful "friendship" between Gower and Shaefer is an interesting subplot to the story. It's clear they respect and possibly even like each other despite being on opposite sides of the war. When Gower blackmails Shaefer, you can tell that Shaefer is shocked and hurt by the betrayal of trust, but at the same time, as Gower says, they aren't on the same side. Perhaps most important in the guest cast is the wonderful Tracey Childs as Klein. Klein is a wonderful villain - ruthless and devoted to her version of the "proper" future, but very sharp. At the end when Klein escapes, you knew they had to bring her back, but they sure did wait a while to do it. Childs would go on to be in "The Fires of Pompeii" featuring the 10th Doctor. On a related note, the other notable guest star is David Tennant (yes, that David Tennant) playing the comically inept German soldier, Kurtz. Kurtz serves primarily as a foil and threat for Ace, but more on that later.
The crux of the time paradox in this story is that somehow the Doctor and Ace's arrival in Colditz changes the future. This causes the Nazis to be triumphant in the war. Klein ends up working in the 1960's trying to figure out the mysteries of the Doctor's TARDIS. She ends up traveling back to 1944 to capture the Doctor (who was documented as arriving, but escaping Colditz) so she can bring him back to her future and force him to help her understand how the TARDIS works. As we find out at the end, she was actually manipulated by an alternate future version of the Doctor, who manipulates Klein into going back to 1944 so she can avert the changes that caused history to go on the wrong track. (Confused yet?) It's a delightful paradox, and much later, on a future release, we actually get to hear this alternate Doctor (played by Paul McGann, of course) trick Klein into making the fateful trip.
This is one of my favorite McCoy stories. For the most part he's at his best. Quietly, trying to figure out what's going on, while outwardly seeming totally in control while manipulating his captors (particularly Klein). Childs and McCoy have real chemistry, so I am glad they were finally reunited much later. The only down part of his performance is when he goes on an angry tantrum towards Klein about her "glorious Reich". I never find McCoy convincing when he does these angry rants.
The story also features the beginning of an attempt to have Ace seem a bit more grown up. Frankly, Ace drives me crazy in this story. You would think that finding out your in a Nazi POW camp might be a source of concern, but Ace never seems even slightly worried about her predicament. Her constant taunting and belittling of poor Kurtz, makes it hard for us listeners to take him seriously. Tennant's delightful over the top performance just adds to him being more of a comic figure. But, there are times where Kurtz is supposed to be really threatening Ace's life, but I never took him very seriously. At times I found myself rooting for Kurtz to shoot and kill Ace since she was getting on my nerves so much. When we find out at the end that it was Ace's CD Walkman (and not the TARDIS) that gave the Nazis the technology they used to win the war, it makes her survival through the story even more annoying.
The other real drawback of this story is its post production. I hate to rip on it, because this is usually something that Big Finish always gets right, but it's very distracting here. The music has some appropriate military style percussion, but its augmented with blaring synths, which feels very out of place with the setting. Also, some of the sound effects are just not up to par. There are a lot of conversations taking place in echo inducing corridors, but the reverb effect used is very unconvincing.
Still, despite some significant flaws with the realization of writer Steve Lyon's script, the story is very enjoyable. It's a very clever time travel paradox idea. The performances from the actors are top notch, and there's a lot of fun to be had here. Most importantly, it created the character of Klein who Big Finish has gone on to do more fun stories with.