I love `City of Death'! It's my favourite Tom Baker story from `Doctor Who'. It's truly a masterpiece as much is the Mona Lisa! A vintage `Doctor Who'. Not the best vintage admittedly. More of a table wine you might say. I'm glad I managed to watch `City of Death' as it's a true classic. It's become an inspiration for many of own `Doctor Who' stories including my first one, one I set in Bath (the city, not the actual bath) and one I'm currently doing at the moment on a 1930s cruise ship.
I watched this story first time when I was invited to stay overnight with some friends who are a married couple and `Doctor Who' fans like me. We were working on a `Doctor Who' quiz for a drama camp in the summer of 2008, and the following morning over a breakfast of egg sandwiches we watched `City of Death'. Knowing my love for `Doctor Who', they'd thought I would enjoy this. And I certainly did! I love every minute of it. I bought the DVD not long after watching this.
This is a 2-disc set with the story on the first disc and special features on the second.
This story comes from the sixth season of Tom Baker's era and was written by David Agnew, who actually doesn't exist. David Agnew was actually three people who contributed to the story's writing. `City of Death' was actually written by Douglas Adams from the ideas and original storyline of another `David' - David Fisher and script edited by producer Graham Williams. It's a funny, witty and cleverly well-written story with a good plot and lovely dialogue that even Paris will make it even more delicious and excite your taste buds.
I enjoy the stories written by Douglas Adams and it's a real treat to watch or listen to something that has Adams-esque humour from time to time. Douglas is well-known for 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy'
, but this is not that story. Here he brings a terrific `Who' story that's a comedy drama in itself and is lovely to watch. I don't get some of the science stuff running through, but I always look forward to humour. This has got to be one of the highlights of his season and is well remembered by Who fans.
Douglas rewrote the scripts of this story under a heavy dose of whisky and black coffee given to him by Graham Williams who locked him in his study. Do have some sympathy for Douglas please! But from those long nights of writing and rewriting, Douglas brings a cracking good and fantastic Doctor Who story that's managed to win in the top 10 of stories in the `Doctor Who' poll. I love the humour that runs through this story and it's certainly a feel good story about questions of art and how we perceive art in a new light rather than just thinking they're pretty which I found interesting.
`City of Death' is a story about the Doctor and Romana taking a holiday in Paris, 1979. I really love the Paris locations in this story. They seem so lush, eloquent and lovely to watch that even now makes me want to go Paris, even if it's for a daytrip or a two-day holiday and have a lovely French cup of coffee with a chessy ham crossiant or crêpe to go with it. Watching the Doctor and Romana walking and running about the streets of Paris and seeing all the landmarks such as Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Champs-Élysées and of course the Eiffel Tower was a joy to spring. Even Dudley Simpson's gorgeous incidental music supporting the background of the Doctor and Romana exploring Paris made my heart skip a beat. I even feel like singing the music now.
But the Doctor and Romana's holiday is cut short as something strange is going wrong with time. The two of them experience time loops for two seconds in a café. With them being Time Lords, they know that's something's amiss. The Doctor soon takes Romana to see the Mona Lisa in the Louvre - one of the greatest art galleries in the whole galaxy. With a happy fists detective named Duggan on their tail, the Doctor and Romana soon end up in the chateau of one Count Scarlioni with his wife the Countess, who are involved in an organised crime to steal the Mona Lisa - one of the greatest treasures in the universe, according to the Doctor.
The cast are superb in this story! As well as Tom Baker and Lalla Ward, they are supported by a good group of supporting actors.
One of my favourite actors in this story is Julian Glover playing Count Scarlioni. I've met Julian Glover twice at conventions, most recently in Cardiff at the beginning of March this year. I like Julian Glover as an actor. When I first met him I spoke on behalf of a friend who admired him in the James Bond film he did afterwards that he was a very good actor. `I know,' he said in reply. I laughed. Of course. What else is he going to say? I've seen Julian in plenty of other things apart from `Doctor Who' such as `The Avengers', `The Saint' and also in the James Bond film 'For Your Eyes Only'
and of course in `Star Wars' and `Indiana Jones' too. Recently I told him how much I enjoyed seeing him in many of these films and TV shows he's done. The only thing is he's always playing villains. `It happens to the best in people' is what he said when I told him, and it's true especially when you cast nice people to play villainous parts. I enjoyed meeting Julian Glover as well watching him.
The character Julian plays in this is actually an alien who was the last of a race who were wiped out during the prehistoric age of Earth. He is Scaroth, the last of the Jagoroth. The Jagoroth are a `vicious, callous, war-like race' according to the Doctor. Aliens who have faces like spaghetti and have `only one eye and green skin'. Scaroth got splintered into twelve versions of himself across time and space in Earth's history when his ship exploded during the prehistoric age. Scaroth is trying to restore himself and get back to where his spaceship 'is/was' and stop himself pressing `the button'. To do this he intends to use Leonardo Da Vinci and rustle up many copies for the Mona Lisa to fund his time travel experiments. Are you with me so far? It is confusing I grant you. But trust me, Scaroth a great villain and wonderfully played by Julian Glover who definitely knows how to play villains with charm, finesse and menace. If only he had the Paris telephone directory under his person.
Also in this story is Catherine Schell playing the Countess, wife to Scarlioni, and possibly her first name's Heidi I hope. I enjoyed watching Catherine Schell playing this exotic aristocratic lady married to the Count. Catherine comes from Hungary and her amazing accent adds to the character pretty well. She's a beautiful woman `probably' and so well cast for this character she's playing. I like it when she's there at the Louvre and is seemingly mysterious. She obviously thinks the Count's a genius. Bit strange though that the Countess didn't know her husband was an alien. He obviously kept it well hidden from her. But she's a truly mesmerizing and interesting character to watch. I love the scenes she has with the Doctor regarding Shakespeare and she thinks he's mad and he tells the Countess about being willfully blind to the Count's alien origins. When the Countess learns the truth about the Count, she's terribly shocked and terrified. She points a gun at him, and has a terrible end when Scaroth deals with her. I found it chilling when Scaroth spoke to her in that charming alien voice as she lay there on the floor of their nice chateau living room.
There's also Tom Chadbon playing the detective Duggan. Duggan's a pretty rough sort of a character...and a bit thick. He likes to hit things or people rather than holding back. `If it moves, hit it!' as the Doctor describes his philosophy. He likes to smash glass, especially when it comes to breaking a bottle of wine. If you want to open a bottle and you can't uncork it, Duggan's your man as he'll smash the bottle open for you to serve your wine. The Doctor finds it annoying when Duggan tends to hit things first before he gets to ask a question. But Duggan's got a good heart and is definitely on the side of good. He even gets to help out Romana as her `glamorous assistant'. I found it funny when Duggan doesn't get the time travel nonsense and goes blank when Romana's explaining it to him. I found Duggan really funny and a pleasure to watch and is a true ally to the Doctor and Romana.
The rest of the cast include David Graham playing Professor Kerensky (who's a bit like Manuel from `Fawlty Towers' to me when playing the part); Peter Halliday (who played `Packer' from `The Invasion' playing the Soldier in Da Vinci's study in Florence, 1505 who's a little dim and `simply paid to fight'; Kevin Flood playing Hermann, Scarlioni's `violent' but loyal butler and Pamela Stirling playing the timid but sweet Louvre Guide who the Doctor bumps into on the odd occasion.
One moment I really enjoyed in this story is seeing the cameo appearance of John Cleese and Eleanor Bron playing art lovers in a museum who comment on the TARDIS standing there. To see John Cleese was a treat and a surprise when I first saw it with my friends. I knew John Cleese already for 'Fawlty Towers'
and I think he was still working on series 2 of that series at the same time he did this cameo. Also seeing Eleanor Bron was a delight and this would be before she did `Revelation of the Daleks' and when I saw her in `A Little Princess' as a little boy. They comment on the TARDIS police box's artistic design, and I love it when the Doctor, Romana and Duggan go inside and take off to stop Scarlioni walking past Cleese and Bron. Cleese and Bron watch them go in and the TARDIS dematerialising and they are impressed. It's a very funny moment and I enjoyed watching it even if it was a minute or so. Seeing John Cleese with Eleanor Bron was pure magic and is a classic moment in the story. And `since it has no call to be there, the art lies in the fact that it is here!'
Of course the star worth mentioning in this story is Tom Baker. He's on top form and is into his game as the Doctor in this story. He clearly loves the script and dialogue, and he's at his best playing the Doctor in this story. Tom loves the humour and wit of Douglas Adams and it suits his Doctor pretty well. I love the scenes where he's taking the mick out of the villains first and then becoming deadly serious towards the end when he confronts Scarlioni. I found it funny when he's pushed about by Hermann the butler and looks up with that wild grin and says `I say! What a wonderful butler! He's so violent!' I love it when he's introducing himself, Romana and Duggan to the Countess before ending up in a Louis Quinze chair to sit in and helping himself to a drink. He's so funny when he goes `Hello there!' and I love it when the Doctor has witty and funny dialogue to say when he's either with his friends or against his enemies. I love his scenes with Kerensky and I enjoyed when he barks `Duggan! What are you doing for heaven's sake! That's a Louis Quinze' when Duggan's about to throw the chair. I liked it when the Doctor's trying to persuade Scarlioni not to tinker with time and that he's going to stop him with his warnings. Tom's great as the Doctor in this and it's one of his best performances.
Lalla Ward's good in this too and clearly enjoys doing another Douglas Adams styled script. Her Romana gets to dress up in a school girls uniform which is a bit unusual, but Lalla was rather keen on the idea. I liked it when Romana thinks computers can draw pictures better and the Doctor admonishes her by taking her to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa. Also when Romana's unlocking the puzzle box much to the Countess' annoyance was a funny moment. Lalla's Romana is quite childlike much like Tom's Doctor is and the two bounce each other by this story in their working relationship. Romana's truly shows off Time Lady quality in this story and is pretty good when leading Duggan or facing Scarlioni back at his chateau and down in his lab.
The story is full of humour and lovely comedic moments to enjoy. But it's also a story that questions about art and how we as people perceive it. Some perceive art for its wealth, fidelity, precision and even as a badge of status. We take art for granted sometimes and forget or become ignorant of what it represents. When seven copies of the Mona Lisa are made, the Doctor writes on the paintwork `THIS IS A FAKE!' in an attempt to foil Scarlioni's plans somewhat. It doesn't work out the way the Doctor had in mind, but in defeating Scaroth one of the Mona Lisas survives being burnt from destruction in the lab. And this one happens to have the words `THIS IS A FAKE' underneath. Duggan is aghast that the Doctor's casual about it to be put on show in the Louvre. `But it's a fake! You can't put a fake Mona Lisa up in the Louvre!' Much debate ensues since Da Vinci painted it anywhere and about whether or not it matters what it looks like. In the end, the Doctor has the final say in that the point of painting is not for wealth or fame but for the human achievement it contains. So just because the Mona Lisa has `fake' written underneath, it doesn't affect what it looks like. It's a beautiful painting and should be cherished for years to come. So when you visit Paris and see the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, do appreciate its beauty and what it represents. Although do be careful not to get sucked into the painting and replaced by Mona Lisa herself as what happened in `The Sarah Jane Adventures' story 'Mona's Lisa Revenge'
The special features on this DVD include the following.
On Disc 1, there's a commentary with director Michael Hayes as well as actors Julian Glover and Tom Chadbon (why weren't Tom Baker or Lalla Ward on this since they liked the story so much?). And there's an info-text option commentary to watch during the story. Sadly no incidental music track to watch with Dudley Simpson's music in the background I'm afraid.
On Disc 2, there's a very informative 45-minute documentary called `Paris in the Springtime' written by Jonathan Morris. It focuses on the making of `City of Death' itself and the huge contribution made by Douglas Adams to the series. It features interviews with cast and crew as well as from two New Series writers including Steven Moffatt (who's now head writer on the series today) and Robert Shearman (who wrote 'Dalek' back in 2005).
There's `Paris, W12' featuring studio recording sessions of `City of Death' made in London; `Prehistoric Landscapes' focusing on the effects of the sequences set in the primeval time of Earth with Scaroth's spaceship; and there's `Chicken Wrangler' focusing on the making on the special effects for the `chicken' sequences in the story. There's a photo gallery for this story. There's a pretty funny spoof called `Eye On...Blatchford' that tells the story of the `second-to-last' of the Jagoroth and his life on Earth. There's also a PDF file for the `Doctor Who Annual 1980' on this disc. There's also lots of Easter Eggs to look out for on this disc, including Douglas Adam's trip to Paris with `Destiny of the Daleks' director Ken Grieve and also a funny comedy sketch between Tom Baker and John Cleese which I enjoyed.
If you're looking for comedy-drama in 'Doctor Who', then this is the one for you! It gives me great pleasure to watch this story over and over again whenever I can. Douglas Adams makes it work and the humour shines out pretty well. With Julian Glover playing the villain, Tom Baker as the Doctor, a fantastic cameo from John Cleese and Eleanor Bron and lovely witty dialogue from Douglas Adams himself, it provides the perfect ingredients for a good Spanish omelette. A classy stylish `Doctor Who' story that's one of my favourite and one that I cherish for years to come.
`Bye, bye Duggan!'
At the end of 'City of Death', there's a announcement for the next story 'The Creature from the Pit'
which can be seen next Saturday...which you don't have to wait for since it's already out on DVD.