Colditz by Steve Lyons

The sound design is blamed for the failure of "Colditz", and perhaps rightly so. Voices double-up unconvincingly instead of echoing in supposedly echoey rooms, and there are some gunshots in Episode 3 that sound like someone crunching a bag of biscuits underfoot. But should the writer should also take some responsibility for levelling the tone of the script at the hopelessly optimistic realism its subject matter demanded? It's not poor Alistair Lock's fault that he had Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred and a handful of bad accents in the same melting point as a drama set in Nazi Germany during the war (not being bothered to look it up, I'm unconvinced Colditz Castle wasn't on an island somewhere, but the script says it's in Germany so we shall assume it was so). "Schlinders List" this ain't.

The way to go was Season 24 parody, or perhaps the substitution of Sophie for Bonnie might have turned this into a rival for "The Fires of Vulcan", and the more swallowable turn it needs to be. With regards the former idea, I'm thinking "'Allo 'Allo", "It Ain't Half Hot Mum" and so forth. The script actually acknowledges that Colditz has already been turned into a parody of ghastliness, Ace muttering about having played the board game and this is the avenue the play should have followed. We're talking Big Finish here - and can anyone do a half-decent German accent? And the British - well, they all spoke like Teddy Meldrum in "You Rang M'Lord" and used words like "beastly" and "bally" didn't they?

There's a scene early on where Ace is asked to remove her clothes for "de-lousing", and another later where she is propositioned for "special kindness" by Kurtz. There's a depth of feeling struggling to break through, seriousness akin to mentioning the actual horror of the millions executed during the war in the midst of one of those silly flashing bed knobs scenes in "Allo Allo". The writer is in fact as mismatched as the setting, and should have been sent off to write something else. This Colditz castle ends up being staffed by three people and run by someone who insists he is "not fighting a war" - a nice take on the usual German=bad English=bally good, but Colditz Castle? No wonder Hitler lost the war, given he was so carelessly staffing his maximum security prisons. Perhaps it would have been more prudent to set the story in a remote outpost, dumb down the scale a little, and choose a setting more befitting a play with a cast of seven people.

The silly time travel plot helps, and one suspects Lyons has something of a "thing" for the TARDIS, here as in "Vulcan" it's at the centre of an apparent paradox. Klein is not weighty enough to make a good returning villain though, so another grand plan ends up as a one-hit-wonder. You do suspect, though, that this script is every bit as good as "The Fires of Vulcan", it's just less ambitiously realised. The difference is "Vulcan" is performed, scored and directed as a BBC1 Christmas Day film premier, where-as "Colditz" is the "Play for Today" on Radio 2 somewhere, while you do the ironing.

Russell blamed the sound design, and he's right, it's not shit hot. But is he forgetting that he only asked for, commissioned and directed the thing? Own up to some responsibility, please.


CD Facts

Part 1 - Tracks 1-10

Part 2 - Tracks 11-20

Part 3 - Tracks 1-8

Part 4 - Tracks 9-17