Doctor Who – City of Death. Episode Four

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Both the Doctor and Scarlioni have one last encounter with the Countess, although Scarlioni’s is rather more deadly. The Doctor once again switches from playful joshing to a more serious persona in a (double) heartbeat.  Tom’s in full pop-eyed form here.  Whereas the Count once again gets to show his true features, which comes as something of a surprise to his wife ….

This is another of those odd moments. The Egyptian scroll depicting a splinter of Scaroth had white skin with a green blobby face – was this a touch of artistic licence, or are all Scaroth’s splinters like that?  It would make undressing a little easier, as surely otherwise the Countess would have noticed that her husband was not as other men.  There’s the possibility that they shared separate bedrooms, but the way that the Countess went on the hunt for the Count at the end of the first episode implies otherwise.

I also have another burning question – how did Scaroth manage to make face masks throughout time and why did he always use the same face?  I’d have assumed he’d have wanted a touch of variety.

John Cleese and Eleanor Bron pop up briefly and are excellent. But everybody knows that.

There’s a chance to luxuriate with Ian Scoones’ modelwork again as the story reaches its conclusion. Unlike the cut-price effects on, say, Nightmare of Eden, there’s no scrimping here – film, instead of videotape, was used and the difference is quality is startlingly obvious.

For once, Duggan’s propensity for hitting everything that moves turns out to be a good thing. It’s another gag moment, but it works – although the following brief scene (as Scarlioni returns to 1979) has always seemed to be something of a bodge.  Possibly the clock was ticking ever closer to ten o’clock, which meant that something had to be cobbled together.  What we have – a brief shot of Scaroth and Hermann, an even briefer explosion and then an abrupt jump cut to the Doctor and Romana saying farewell to Duggan – is a little disorientating.

DUGGAN: Where do you two come from?
DOCTOR: From? Well, I suppose the best way to find out where you’ve come from is to find out where you’re going and then work backwards.
DUGGAN: Where are you going?
DOCTOR: I don’t know.

They don’t make them like this anymore. Indeed, they didn’t really make them like this back then, which is all the more reason why City of Death should be savoured.  Because it’s like a fine wine, with an attractive bouquet, etc, etc …

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Doctor Who – City of Death. Episode Three

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The Doctor jaunts back to 1505 in order to ask Leonardo Da Vinci why he painted so many copies of the Mona Lisa and runs into another mystery. A man – Captain Tancredi – who not only looks exactly like Scarlioni, but also has all of his memories ….

Peter Halliday is good fun as the harassed guard captain. Barely recognisable as the sadistic Packer from a decade earlier (maybe it was the hat) this is a character who’s no match for the wily Doctor.  Even if Tom delivers one of the least convincing punches ever seen to knock him out.  He should have taken lessons from Tom Chadbon.

Luckily for us, Tancredi is a very garrulous sort of chap who’s happy to stop and explain the plot (“the knowledge will be of little use to you, since you will shortly die”). This is something of a cop-out, but also a dramatic convention – how often does the villain not kill the hero, but instead chats to him about his wicked plans?  Possibly Douglas Adams intended this to be an obviously groanworthy moment or it might just have been that the clock was ticking and he had to make an info-dump and quick.

Back in 1979, Romana and Duggan are too late to stop the Mona Lisa from being stolen. I haven’t mentioned how wonderful Lalla Ward’s Romana is yet, which is a terrible oversight.  She’s wonderful.  Whilst the debate about a female Doctor continues to rumble on, it’s plain that we pretty much had one right here – Romana as the Doctor with Duggan as her dim companion?  Yep, I’d go for that.

The dialogue continues to sparkle as Romana propounds a theory.  “Perhaps Scarlioni has discovered a way to travel in time. Yes, perhaps he went back in time, had a chat to Leonardo, got him to rustle up another six, came forward in time, stole the one in the Louvre, and now sells all seven at enormous profit. Sound reasonable?”  To which poor Duggan can only respond that when he used to do divorce cases they were never like this!

Isolating the Doctor from pretty much all of the 1979 action during this episode obviously allowed Romana to take his place. She’s a more than adequate substitute, as seen when she dices with Scarlioni, but there’s still a hint of her inexperience (touched upon during the Key to Time season, where it was stated on more than one occasion that her knowledge lacked the Doctor’s practical edge).  It’s hard to imagine the Doctor agreeing to build Scarlioni a time-field interface so readily, but since it needed to be done to advance the plot and also because Duggan was threatened it doesn’t make her seem too dim or easily duped.

One of my favourite moments of the entire story occurs right at the end of the episode. After Kerensky ages and dies before the horrified gaze of Romana and Duggan, the Count flashes them an amused stare.  There’s something about Julian Glover’s coolness which appeals immensely.

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Doctor Who – City of Death. Episode Two

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The opening of this episode features some classic Tom Baker clowning (“what a wonderful butler, he’s so violent”) but back in 1979 many fans weren’t impressed. Browsing through the various fanzines which circulated during that era, it’s fascinating to take the pulse of Doctor Who fandom – for some it was pretty much a case of Tom Baker Must Go!  The levels of humour during the Graham Williams era continues to be an issue which divides opinion – although this period of the programme has picked up in popularity somewhat in recent decades (this first occurred during the early nineties when JNT was firmly out of favour).  That’s the nature of fandom, if someone’s out of fashion, like JNT, then that allows someone else (Williams) to be back in.  Personally, I don’t have an issue with enjoying both Williams and JNT, but that’s a whole other debate ….

Let’s take a look at some of this Tom-foolery –

Doctor: Hello, I’m called the Doctor. That’s Romana, that’s Duggan. You must be the Countess Scarlioni and this is clearly a delightful Louis Quinze chair. May I sit in it? I say, haven’t they worn well? Thank you, Hermann, that’ll be all.
COUNTESS: Doctor, you’re being very pleasant with me.
DOCTOR: Well, I’m a very pleasant fellow.
COUNTESS: But I didn’t invite you here for social reasons.
DOCTOR: Yes, I could see that the moment you didn’t invite me to have a drink. Well, I will have a drink now you come to mention it. Yes, do come in, everybody.
DOCTOR: Romana, sit down over there. Duggan. Now, Duggan, you sit there. Do sit down if you want to, Count… Oh, all right. Now, isn’t this nice?
COUNTESS: The only reason you were brought here was to explain exactly why you stole my bracelet.
DOCTOR: Ah, well, it’s my job, you see. I’m a thief. And this is Romana, she’s my accomplice. And this is Duggan. He’s the detective who’s been kind enough to catch me. That’s his job. You see, our two lines of work dovetail beautifully.

The Doctor continues clowning as he, Romana and Duggan are escorted downstairs and locked into a small cell. It’s only then that his expression and manner changes and he becomes completely serious.  This, for me, is key – I don’t have an issue with the Doctor mucking about if it’s made obvious (as here) that it’s just an act, designed to make his opponents underestimate him.  So once Scarlioni’s gone, the Doctor reverts back to being business-like and focused.

I can’t see a great deal of difference between this style of performance and the clowning of Troughton’s Doctor (who could equally turn serious when it was required). In every Williams-era story that I can think of, the Doctor “earns” his right to clown, by demonstrating at various points that there’s much more to him than meets the eye.

The Doctor’s interaction with Kerensky is also interesting. Keresnsky tells him that although Scarlioni is a true philanthropist he doesn’t ask too many questions, to which the Doctor tells him that “a scientist’s job is to ask questions.”  This harks back to similar exchanges in the past, such as with Sorenson in Planet of Evil, where the Doctor makes it quite plain that a scientist has definite obligations – not just to himself, but to the wider community.

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Doctor Who – City of Death. Episode One

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Given the fact that the script was written at great speed (or re-written, depending on how many of David Fisher’s original concepts actually made the final cut) City of Death sparkles throughout. It would be easy enough to quote huge chunks of the script, but I’ll restrain myself to the odd choice selection, such as –

DOCTOR: What Paris has, it has an ethos, a life. It has …
ROMANA: A bouquet?
DOCTOR: A spirit all of its own. Like a wine, It has …
ROMANA: A bouquet.
DOCTOR: It has a bouquet. Yes. Like a good wine. You have to choose one of the vintage years, of course.
ROMANA: What year is this?
DOCTOR: Ah well, yes. It’s 1979 actually. More of a table wine, shall we say. Ha!

For the first time, the series had actually travelled abroad – which gave the production a considerable extra gloss. It was obviously something of a guerrilla operation though, as seen by the way that some members of the public appear to be a little dazed and confused as they pass through the various scenes (presumably Michael Hayes and the others just pitched up and started filming).  This episode, as well as part four, certainly makes the most of the locations and – allied with Dudley’s music (the change of scenery seemed to have done him the world of good as well) – there’s a pleasing travelogue feel to these sections.

Yes, there’s nothing much going on during the first few minutes, but we’re in Paris! In the Springtime! The same trick would be repeated later, for example when Peter Davison’s Doctor spent the last episode of Arc of Infinity running around Amsterdam in a similar way to Tom’s Paris sprinting here.  But it was very much a case of diminishing returns.  Once you’ve seen the Doctor rushing through the streets of one town, you’ve rather exhausted that avenue ….

If one were being picky, I’ve never understood why the artist who sketches Romana was sitting directly behind her. Since that meant he couldn’t see her face, it seems a little odd.  It’s mentioned in the script (“I wonder what he thought I looked like?”) but it’s still a slightly strange piece of staging.  And his sketch (“a crack in time”) makes for a nice visual moment but goes unexplained otherwise.

City of Death has two prime guest performances – Julian Glover as Scarlioni and Tom Chadbon as Duggan. Catherine Schell is also more than solid as the Countess, although her character does lie in the shadow of her husband throughout.  David Graham’s Kerensky is amusing, although his comedy accent means that it’s impossible to take the character that seriously.

Glover just oozes class, charm and hard-edged villainy and without him the story would be much poorer. It’s possible to argue that he gives more of a James Bond style villain performance here than he did when he appeared in For Your Eyes Only.

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