This grim and claustrophobic drama chronicles the lives of the prisoners in Colditz Castle from the arrival of the first British prisoners after Dunkirk until the liberation of the castle by the Americans in 1945. Colditz was a "special" camp, designed by the Nazis to hold high-risk and politically important prisoners. Many of the series' plots are based on real events
Was recently repeated on the UK TV channel "Yesterday" to coincide with its finally having "escaped" onto DVD.
Tropes present in the series include
- Ace Pilot
- The Alcatraz: Castle Colditz, the supposedly inescapable prison for important prisoners and escape artists.
- All Germans Are Nazis:
- Mostly averted - the army officers don't necessarily agree with the Party line, and there are the odd German civilian resisters - this becomes extremely obvious as the war draws to a close.
- A German friend of Player's sees this stereotype developing in Britain, and despairs about it — but he goes on to say that he thinks the best way to defeat Nazism is for Britain to surrender, bringing the war to a close and removing the Party's wartime support.
- Badass Greatcoat
- Becoming the Mask: Wing Commander Marsh tries to get himself invalided home by pretending to be insane, despite being warned about how authentic a performance he'll have to pull off for it to work. Several other inmates start to worry that he's going insane for real, but it's left ambiguous. Once Marsh has been sent home, Preston receives a telegram from the man's wife that reveals he's been taken to a British mental institution, and he forbids anyone from attempting to use the same method again.
- Big Damn Villains: The Germans, at the behest of Preston, saving the life of a Polish traitor who was about to be hanged by his fellow prisoners.
- Bluff the Impostor: In one example Brent grills a new captive on their mutual alma mater, reports that his story checks out... and after he leaves, the newbie confides in the others that he suspects Brent of being an impostor.
- The Bus Came Back: Carrington
- Cacophony Cover Up
- Character Development: Carter learning to deal with his injury.
- Da Chief: Preston, to first appearances. Initially, the officers don't believe he's actually interested in setting up escapes. Very soon, however, they begin to grasp what his strategy is, and begin to accord him respect more worthy of a Reasonable Authority Figure.
- Debut Queue: At the start of the first season, Pat Grant, Simon Carter and Dick Player get an episode each to introduce them and show their escape attempts from other camps. Phil Carrington and Colonel Preston are introduced in episode 4, along with Colditz Castle itself. Finally the German security officer, Hauptmann Ulmann is introduced in episode 5.
- The Dragon: Ulmann, head of security.
- Dressing as the Enemy
- Eagle Squadron: Carrington, an American volunteer in the RAF.
- Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: The Kommandant is almost always referred to as such, though on a few occasions he's addressed by his first name, Karl. We never learn his surname.
- Great Escape: Once an Episode, unless they're working towards a slower-burning mini-arc
- Escape Tropes: Pretty much every single one shows up at some point.
- Go Among Mad People: one inmate tries to get invalided out by playing the insanity card. Tragically, he's apparently Driven to Madness in the process.
- Go On Without Me: Each contingent of prisoners has a dedicated "escape officer" keeping track of the various plans, who's unable to escape himself.
- Going for the Big Scoop: An American journalist writing a sycophantic book about the inevitability of German victory is intensely distrusted by the other captives, until it turns out he was hiding military secrets in the text to be smuggled out to America.
- Grand Finale: The last few episodes mostly avoid attempts at escape as the prisoners and guards deal with the approach of the end of the war. With one notable exception.
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Player is harboured by one during an escape attempt.
- Hufflepuff House: The various Allied contingents mostly keep out of each others' way, so we don't see much of the French, Polish etc except as background.
- Humiliation Conga: Mohn's exit is an epic example, getting an entire Villain Episode dedicated to his falling star. First he realises his beloved Reich is actually going to lose; he tries vainly and pathetically to cajole the prisoners into testifying that he treated them well; he's sacked from his post; his girlfriend denies she knows him; and after receiving no less than three The Reason You Suck Speeches from Preston, the Kommandant and Carter, flees ignominiously hanging underneath a farmers' cart.
- I Am Very British: A new arrival is suspected of being a spy precisely because he's such a stereotype. Nope, he's just really, really posh.
Pat: I didn't realise anyone was that English these days.
Player: You don't think he's... too English, do you? [...] Seems to me he's a German's idea of what an Englishman looks like.
- I'll Pretend I Didn't Hear That: "There has been no Polish court-martial!"
- Insult Backfire:
Kommandant: [angrily] Well, Major, I'm delighted to see your actions were motivated as ever by duty instead of compassion!
Major Mohn: Thank you, sir.
- Interservice Rivalry: The prison is run by the Wehrmacht, and the Kommandant is extremely distrustful of the SS and Gestapo. Mostly averted between the RAF, Army and Navy inmates, friendly rivalries aside.
- Just Following Orders
- Know When to Fold 'Em: One of the final episodes is dedicated to Mohn coming to terms with the inevitability of German defeat and the tenuousness of his own position as a Nazi Political Officer.
- The Laws and Customs of War:
- The Brits refer occasionally to the King's Regulations' stipulations on being taken captive.
- The Kommandant follows the Geneva Convention as a matter of honour, since the Third Reich didn't officially sign it, and this is a frequent point of friction with Party officials and the SS.
- Model Planning: Models of the castle made out of Red Cross Parcel boxes are used in various episodes to demonstrate escape plans.
- Multitasked Conversation: At one point, Carrington and some American officers realize that they're being set up by the Germans when they're swapping stories with the British officers. He purposely draws them out by loudly claiming to be writing down something important, upon which a guard rushes in and snaps up the piece of paper. It turns out to be the first few words of the Declaration of Independence.
- Nazi Nobleman: Played with. Player has a friend who's an Austrian aristocrat, and he hates the Nazis... but he still thinks the best chance for their defeat is for Britain to surrender, thinking that once the war ends, without a war to fight the German people would reject Nazism. Thus he's cooperating with German intelligence, and tries to recruit Player as a mole.
- The Neutral Zone: Switzerland. The nearby American embassy as well, at first. However, more realistically than usual, their neutrality is dependent on their (officially, at least) not taking sides at all - which includes harbouring POWs.
- Never Recycle Your Schemes: Justified: you can't reuse a plan if Ullmann has learnt how it was done. Occasionally averted with schemes that fail without being discovered, though. Tragically justified with the "insanity plea" method; see Becoming the Mask.
- No Peripheral Vision: Subverted; Carrington evades pursuit by hanging from a ledge... only to get a rifle butt to the fingers.
- Obfuscating Insanity: Attempted by Wing Commander Marsh, though after a while the doctor and Preston start to worry that he's Becoming the Mask.
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: More like Cowardly Bureaucrat; an American consul refuses to give Player so much as the time of day when he seeks sanctuary, as "the American government can't be seen to take sides".
- Officer and a Gentleman: Preston; also lampshaded in regards to the Kommandant, which Mohn regards as being a symptom of identifying with his British captives.
- Pet the Dog: A German corporal is assigned to discover whether W/Cdr. Marsh is faking insanity or not based on the fact that be had a brother with mental health problems. He starts off skeptical and antagonistic, but he eventually becomes convinced that Marsh is genuine. The first sign of this is when he gives Marsh a toy plane to replace one the guard had broken on purpose earlier.
- The Political Officer: Major Mohn.
- POW Camp: Of The Alcatraz variety.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: the Kommandant
- Right Under Their Noses: The "ghost holes" - two prisoners fake an escape, hide within the castle, and let the search for the supposed escapees peter out before they make a real attempt, by which point nobody will miss them.
- Run for the Border: Usually Switzerland (though officially they're not allowed to harbour POWs).
- Scary Shiny Glasses: A local Gestapo officer.
- The Scrounger: André Vaillant.
- Shaggy Dog Story: The glider scheme. Played for drama regarding the pilot;
Well this'll make a good anecdote for the folks back home - the glider I worked on for months and never flew. I suppose it'll be a humourous story... they wouldn't understand if I told it any other way.
- Shown Their Work: The real British "Escape Officer", Major Pat Reid, was the show's technical consultant.
- Sleeping Dummy
- Smart People Play Chess: Carter and Major Mohn. It's a popular pastime among the other inmates, but these two take it seriously and at one point play a game while they discuss a recent escape attempt.
- Smug Snake: Mohn.
- Sorry, Billy, but You Just Don't Have Legs: Carter's leg injury makes him unfit for escape attempts, which leads to him becoming escape officer.
- Stiff Upper Lip: Several of the Brits, but Preston in particular.
- The Stool Pigeon
- Technically a Smile: Mohn at one point tries to get chummy with the inmates. It's creepy.
- Those Wacky Nazis: Mostly play the part of the vague, rarely-seen Bigger Bad, especially in the form of the SS and Gestapo. Eventually The Political Officer enters the scene in the form of Major Mohn.
- Translation Convention: Invoked and averted. While German characters mainly talk to each other in English, there are many scenes where they speak in German. French and Polish prisoners often talk among themselves in French or Polish respectively, with another character translating into English if necessary.
- Video Inside, Film Outside: Except the last episode, shot entirely on location film to depict an escape attempt which succeeds.
- Also played with on any scene set in the prisoners' courtyard. It's obviously a studio set, but it's recorded on film to make it look as if it's actually outside.
- Villain Exit Stage Left: Major Mohn, towards the end.
- We Need a Distraction
- World War II
- Worthy Opponent: for the most part, the relationship between the Kommandant and Colonel Preston