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Doctor Who: City Of Death by David Agnew (actually Douglas Adams and Graham Williams)

01/02/2012. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Doctor Who: City Of Death in the USA - or Buy Doctor Who: City Of Death in the UK

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region 2 DVD: pub: BBC BBCDVD 1664. 2 DVDs 99 minutes 4 * 25 minute episodes with extras. Price: GBP 4.50 (UK) if you know where to look). cast: Tom Baker, Lalla Ward, Julian Glover, Catherine Schell, Tom Chadborn and David Graham.

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While holidaying in Paris, 1979, the Doctor (actor Tom Baker) and Romana (actress Lalla Ward), together with heavy-fisted detective Duggan (actor Tom Chadborn), uncover the plot of Count Scarlioni (actor Julian Glover) and his wife, the Countessa (actress Catherine Schell), to steal the Mona Lisa and experiments in time travel under his direction by Professor Kerensky (actor David Graham). The latter causes temporary time jumps that only Time Lords are sensitive to, hence their investigation. Fleetingly captured by Scarlioni, they escape and leaving Duggan and Romana to get to the Louvre and stop the theft, the Doctor travels back in time to visit Leonardo da Vinci to solve the mystery of seven Mona Lisa paintings and runs into Captain Tancredi (actor Julian Glover) who is forcing the artist to work, even if we don’t actually see him. The Doctor is forced to reveal that he and Romana are time travellers and in the present, Romana is forced to create a time stabiliser to enable split fragments of Scaroth to unite and return to his doomed spaceship four million years into the past to save his race.

The Doctor manages to escape from Italy and return to the present but is too late to stop Romana making the device. Romana divulges that she limited its use to two minutes, which the Doctor thinks would be long enough for Scaroth to complete his task and prevent the creation of organic life on Earth. To stop him, they have to return to the past but will they have enough time?

‘The City Of Death’ is often witty and you really do have to pay attention to what the Doctor and Romana respond to the questions they are asked. Romana also reveals she’s one hundred and twenty-five years old and has her own sonic screwdriver. It’s also the first time that both the Doctor and Romana wear decorative broaches which was carried on for several regenerations. Considering that Duggan went back to before the dawn of life on Earth, it’s odd that he’s never been added to any companions list. With an ITV strike, this story also had the highest viewing figures ever at 16.1 million in the UK.

The audio commentary is with director Michael Hayes and actors Julian Glover and Tom Chadborn. Glover admits that as much as he liked the script, he wasn’t a lover of the mask but only had to wear it for a couple days. There was some discussion about the mask being bigger than Glover’s actual head. I was surprised no one had come up with the answer in that looking like a green spaghetti that it could be compressed inside the mask and, as an alien device, could have compressed it anyway. Then again, there was also some misinterpretation in Scaroth living through all those centuries when it was different fragments of the alien co-existing in different centuries. Hayes points out that the exteriors were filmed in Paris in May and they actually had a little snow. He also pointed out that the French are nonchalant when it comes to filming on their streets and carry on as per normal, unlike the Dutch who will stand and watch. Again, the actors get caught watching the story and getting hooked into what was going on. I think we should be getting to the stage that this is proof that even the actors who performed in the show can still get caught up in the story.

There is an entire DVD devoted to extras. The biggest being at forty-five minutes, ‘Paris In Spring’, where there is an examination in detail of writer David Fisher’s original story and how because of expense, was drastically reworked by Douglas Adams over a weekend. There is further discussion on Adams’ role with ‘Doctor Who’ as writer and scriptwriter.
‘Chicken Wrangling’ and ‘Prehistoric Landscapes’ examine how the special effects were made. It’s worth pointing out that cameraman Harry Oakes also worked on the Century 21 shows. ‘Eye On Blanchford’ is a humorous look at Sardoth, a fragment loser of the Jagaroth who didn’t even get a human mask.

‘Paris, W12’ is the biggest gem containing twenty minutes of out-takes from the making of this story. There are demonstrations of how the actors look out for each other, show patience and keep their sense of humour most of the time. I did wonder if Tom Baker had considered that the thumbscrews might have been modified to prevent thumbs being damaged in it was why it would never draw tight. I did wonder about why Scaroth’s mask split over his single eye than from the back but considering the problems they had taking it off that might just be as well.

Apart from being the first ‘Doctor Who’ story that was partially filmed abroad in Paris, this is also an intelligent story and hasn’t lost anything in the past thirty-three years. As Julian Glover himself points out in the audio commentary that although what Scaroth was going to do would end mankind, the original motive was to save his own people. Admittedly, they weren’t a particular nice people but I guess the same could have been said about the human race over the centuries. As what returned to the present was the complete Scaroth, it does make you wonder what the comment was in the other eleven locations when the various fragments suddenly disappeared and why would da Vinci still complete the seven Mona Lisas when not under duress. For the moment, the human race is saved and you’ll have to watch the story for yourself to see what I’m getting at.

GF Willmetts

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