Colditz – The Undefeated (19th October 1972)

Like The Colditz Story by Pat Reid (the book which the television series drew liberally from) the television series also didn’t begin at Castle Colditz. We had to wait a little while before entering the imposing edifice of Oflag IV-C.

The opening few minutes of this debut episode are interesting. It features a selection of black and white archive footage, over which is dubbed Churchill’s defiant post Dunkirk speeches. Only slowly (when Edward Hardwicke is spotted amongst the throng of captured British soldiers) does it become apparent that the original footage has been mixed with newly shot material, degraded into flickering black and white.

You have to tip the hat to a number of extras who gamely agreed to have their heads shaven (all part of the process for prisoners of the German system). Understandable that Hardwicke didn’t go through this, but it’s a shame that his bald cap is so incredibly unconvincing. Luckily he only has to wear it for a short time – the fact he swiftly regains a full head of hair serves as a handy indication that his time spent in this camp can be measured in months.

Michael Sheard was born to play nasty Nazis, meaning that it’s no stretch for him to take on the mantle of the Kommandant. It’s just a shame that he didn’t have more to do.

Pat Grant (Hardwicke) quickly falls in with a group of fellow prisoners who are equally dedicated to escaping as he is. Mark McManus (as Lt. Cameron) is instantly recognisable but it took me a little longer to pin down where I knew Julian Fox (playing Capt. Freddy Townsend) from. Eventually the penny dropped – a late era Jon Pertwee Dalek story ….

John Golightly (Capt. Ian Masters) gives a nice performance. Pat’s first point of contact in the camp, Masters initially seems to be resigned to his fate – content simply to sit and play cards whilst the news of the war from the Allied side goes from bad to worse. But once Pat mentions that he plans to escape, Masters springs into action with considerable zeal.

There’s a lot packed into this episode – it features multiple escape plans, which culminate with Pat and some of the others tasting freedom (albeit only briefly). Pat’s recapture means that he’s earned entry to a very special prison camp, one which is supposed to be escape proof. Colditz ….

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