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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Callan – That’ll Be The Day

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Written by James Mitchell. Directed by Mike Vardy

That’ll Be The Day certainly has a strong opening – we begin at David Callan’s funeral.  The mourners include Hunter, Bishop, Colonel Leslie, Cross and a clearly distraught Liz.  A late arrival is Lonely, who comes complete with an impressive floral display (which he’s naturally pinched).

One of the few moments of levity in the episode occurs when a disbelieving Lonely hears the vicar’s fulsome tribute.  He describes Callan as a humble man of peace – a far cry from the person that Lonely knew.  So Lonely comes to the conclusion that they’re burying the wrong man!

Arresting as this is, it’s not very logical.  If Callan had been a public figure (a politician, say, or a civil servant) it would have made sense to stage a mock funeral.  But as he’s not, the only thing the funeral does is to make Lonely convinced that Callan isn’t dead after all.

In Mitchell’s original draft script, Callan and his Russian counterpart (originally called Lonsdale, later renamed Richmond) were apprehended at the same time – both sides then agree on a publicity blackout so they could be exchanged.  This makes the reason for the mock funeral slightly more plausible, but it’s still a problem.

Also present at the funeral in Mitchell’s draft script was Toby Meres.  He didn’t feature in the final program, but he is mentioned (and will return later in the series).  Somebody who does make an appearance is a previous Hunter, Colonel Leslie (Ronald Radd).  Since he doesn’t speak a word, for anybody not familiar with the first two series he could be taken for just another extra.  But for those who’ve seen the black and white episodes it’s a lovely touch.

Callan isn’t dead of course, he’s a prisoner of the Russians and currently undergoing interrogation at the Lubyanka.  The first time I saw this episode I assumed it was the second part of an existing story – mainly because of the cold open.  We’re told that Callan was on assignment in East Germany, that the girl he was with was killed and that he was then taken to the Lubyanka.  It’s very jarring that this is all tell, not show.  A modern series would have no doubt set this plot-line up at the end of the previous series, closing on a cliffhanger of Callan’s abduction.

He’s clearly in a bad way – his head is shaven and he’s been pumped full of drugs.  In many ways he’s in a similar state to how he appeared in Death of a Hunter, although it’s true that here he’s more aware of what’s happening – in Death of a Hunter his moments of lucidity were few and far between.

Karsky (Julian Glover) is given the task of interrogating Callan.  Just as Callan has his counterpoint in Richmond, Karsky has an obvious opposite number in Snell (Clifford Rose).  Whilst Karsky is using drugs to interrogate Callan, Snell is doing the same to Richmond.  And Karsky and Snell are very similar character types – neither are cackling villains, instead they view their subjects with detachment and, especially in Karsky’s case, seeming compassion.

Karsky knows that Callan will eventually tell them everything – the drugs will ensure that.  But if Callan cooperates then the drugs won’t destroy him.  So why fight?  Naturally Callan replies in the negative, but it doesn’t shake Karsky’s composure at all.  As might be expected, Julian Glover is excellent in these scenes, as is Woodward, and these two-handed moments are the highlight of the episode.

T.P, McKenna’s Richmond is an interesting character.  At this point he seems to have been created simply to solve the problem about how to extract Callan from the clutches of the Russians.  But he makes an unexpected return towards the end of the series in several key episodes.  He doesn’t have a great deal of screen-time here, but he still manages to make an impression.

Another indication that Callan and Richmond are two sides of the same coin is demonstrated when it’s decided to exchange them (much to Hunter’s displeasure – he considers swapping Richmond for Callan is a bad bargain).  Both Callan and Richmond are holed up in adjoining hotel rooms in Helskini – and they each offer their handlers a drink (which are refused).

Callan’s miraculous return from the dead comes as a shock to some, especially Cross.  You get the sense that he’s just started to enjoy being the top man in the Section and now that’s cruelly taken away from him.  Patrick Mower would leave the series after episode five, so Cross only has a limited character arc in series four, but it’s still quite effective.

In series three, Cross was several rungs below Callan – the older man was quicker, sharper and always more capable.  He’s maybe slightly closer in ability now, but he also possesses character flaws which will prove to be his undoing.  He’s always had a certain sadistic attitude – witness how he plays Russian Roulette with Lonely (admittedly with blanks) – and over the course of the next few episodes we’ll see how he gradually steps further and further over the mark.

Hunter’s meeting with Callan is a rather frosty affair.  He admits that if it was his choice he wouldn’t have had him back.  But Callan is back and since Richmond was a top man it’s a matter of prestige for the Section that they can’t be seen to have swapped him for a lesser prize.  But how can they prove to the Russians that Callan is Richmond’s equal?

Promotion is the obvious course …..

The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes – The Moabite Cypher

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Barrie Ingham as Dr John Thorndyke in The Moabite Cypher by R. Austen Freeman
Adapted and Directed by Reginald Collin

Dr John Thorndyke (Barrie Ingham) and his faithful assistant Dr Jervis (Peter Sallis) come to the aid of a man kicked by a police horse.  The man never regains consciousness and after talking to the police they learn that it’s possible he was an anarchist plotting to assassinate a visiting Russian archduke.  Thorndyke is intrigued by a strange letter recovered from the man’s body – written in some sort of code – and turns his energies to deciphering it.

Created by R. Austen Freeman, Dr John Thorndyke appeared in around sixty novels as well as numerous short stories.  The Moabite Cypher formed part of the short-story collection John Thorndyke’s Cases (as did A Message from the Deep Sea adapted for series one) and can be read here.

What makes The Moabite Cypher so enjoyable is the relationship between Thorndyke and Jervis.  Ingham’s Dr Thorndyke is an intellectual tyrant – always convinced that he’s right about everything – whilst Dr Jervis plods along several paces behind, acting as his loyal Watson.  Whilst he contributes little to the story, it’s amusing to see Peter Sallis steal scene after scene.

Possibly the best moment comes when the pair are travelling back to London.  They accompanied Alfred Barton (Julian Glover) out of town – apparently to visit his sick brother, although Thorndyke was well aware that Barton wasn’t all he claimed to be.  Barton’s plan was to strand them in the middle of the countryside and then return to Thorndyke’s London rooms to ransack them.  As Thorndyke wearily tells Jervis how obvious it was that Barton was a wrong ‘un, it’s hard to take your eyes off Sallis.  He doesn’t have much dialogue, but his facial expressions make it plain exactly how he feels.  Lovely stuff.

Thorndyke is a fairly insufferable character, which is highlighted when he later confronts Barton.  Barton pulls a gun and threatens to shoot – but Thorndyke seems not to even consider for a moment that he’ll pull the trigger.  He does, of course, and Thorndyke is lucky to escape with just a graze.

Apart from Ingham and Sallis, Julian Glover is excellent as usual.  It’s not the largest or most interesting of roles, but Glover’s just so good with villainous roles.  Derek Smith gives an unforgettable turn as Professor Popplebaum.  He plays it with such gusto that I can’t make my mind up whether it’s one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen or one of the best.  If you’re familiar with Lewis Fiander’s appearance as Professor Tryst in the Doctor Who story Nightmare of Eden then it certainly hits those giddy heights.

Obviously fake facial hair is another aspect of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes that it’s sometimes difficult to ignore and there’s a breathtaking example here – George Innes as Adolph Schonberg.  Schonberg sports a bushy red beard and a similar amount of red hair.  It looked so fake that I was half wondering if it was actually a disguise – but no, it seemed to be genuine (in the story at least).

Reginald Collin, who both adapted and directed the story, throws the odd little flourish in.  We open with some sepia-toned archive footage, which is followed by a studio shot, also in sepia (which then becomes colour after a few seconds).

Barry Ingham is very clipped and precise as Thorndyke.  There’s more than a touch of Sherlock Holmes about his performance (he finishes by saying the problem was elementary) and it’s clear he would have made a very good Holmes.  He never did alas, but he did voice Basil The Great Mouse Detective, which was close.

Blakes 7 – Breakdown

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Gan’s limiter has malfunctioned and it’s turned him into an uncontrollable psychopath.  Although Blake and the others manage to subdue and sedate him, it’s obvious that he needs urgent medical attention.  After reviewing the various options, Avon mentions to Blake that the nearest facility, XK-72, would be ideal.

Zen refuses to take the Liberator on a direct course (due to unspecified dangers) so Jenna has to pilot the ship without computer assistance in a desperate race against timeBut although they eventually reach their destination, can they they trust the brilliant surgeon Kayn (Julian Glover)?

Poor Gan.  Always something of a third wheel, even this episode (in which he ostensibly takes centre-stage) doesn’t really do him any favours.  The main problem was that he was just too nice and affable.  Blakes 7 thrived on character conflict – you could take any two from the remainder of the crew (Blake, Avon, Vila, Jenna, Cally) and instantly an interesting dynamic would be created.  For example, Blake/Avon, Avon/Vila, Vila/Jenna, Cally/Blake, etc.  But teaming Gan up with anyone else never worked nearly as well because of his status as a friendly everyman.  True, there was a slight edge between him and Avon, but then Avon disliked everybody!

And whilst the others were defined partly by their skills (Blake the organiser, Avon the computer expert, Vila the locksmith, Jenna the pilot, Cally the telepath) Gan had little to offer apart from his strength.  So he was fated to remain a background player, constantly overlooked in favour of the other, more dynamic, crew-members.

It’s therefore ironic that Breakdown – the one episode in which his problems are the main part of the story – doesn’t allow him a great deal of effective screen-time either – he spends the majority of it either unconscious or in a mad rage.  So basically Gan just becomes a piece of malfunctioning machinery which Blake and the others need to fix.

Having said that, he does have one good scene.  Gan is under restraint in the Medical Room (both for his own safety as well as the safety of the others).  Although the limiter is causing him extreme pain, he’s still devious enough to pretend that he’s fine.

CALLY: How are you feeling?
GAN: Tired. Very tired. What’s been happening?
CALLY: You were ill. We’re trying to get to a place where you can receive medical treatment.
GAN: I’m all right. Just that I, I can’t remember. Why am I being held down like this?
CALLY: When the pain was too much for you, you became violent, and we were frightened you might harm yourself.
GAN: I’m sorry, I just can’t remember. I’d like to sit up. Help me, will you, Cally?
CALLY: I think you should stay where you are until we can get help.
GAN: I’m all right. A bit uncomfortable. I’d like to sit up.
CALLY: There is some turbulence. You’re safer where you are.

But Cally does release him and by way of thanks he throttles her.  Although brief, it’s a disturbing moment – not only for the visual image, but also for the questions it raises.  We know that Gan was a convicted murderer – but was that a one-off crime or is the malfunctioning limiter now showing us his true nature?  This would have been a fruitful area to explore in a future story, but alas it was never exploited.

Gan’s opening fight with Blake is good fun and it’s also quite noteworthy as director Vere Lorrimer chooses to shoot it with a hand-held camera.  This style of shooting is commonplace now, but at the time it was quite rare.  It helps to add a little punch to what is otherwise a fairly static episode (that’s unavoidable since the majority of it takes place on the Liberator).

Breakdown was clearly written as a budget-saving show.  Apart from the regular Liberator set, we only see a small office on XK-72 (which looks like Servalan’s office, redressed) and there’s just three guest actors.  But it’s a great consolation that one of them is Julian Glover.  Glover is someone who seems incapable of giving a bad performance and his presence helps to boost the second part of the episode considerably.

Before they reach XK-72, they have to brave the terrors of the unknown.  This is a fairly blatant plot device to slow their journey down and if it works at all it’s because the regulars convince us that they’re in danger.  Although this section of the story does drag a little, there’s the odd dialogue gem, such as –

AVON: Blake, in the unlikely event that we survive this …..
BLAKE: Yes?
AVON: I’m finished. Staying with you requires a degree of stupidity of which I no longer feel capable.
BLAKE: Now you’re just being modest.

The other interesting part of Breakdown is the way in which it shows us where Avon’s loyalties lie.  Blake and Avon discuss various likely places that could treat Gan.  Avon dismisses one and tells Blake that because it’s six hundred hours away “you haven’t anything like that much time.”  It’s a moment that goes unremarked, but the fact Avon says “you” and not “we” helps to highlight that he still sees himself as an outsider – Gan is Blake’s problem, not his.

Later, his loyalty is put to the test when he considers leaving the Liberator and remaining on XK-72.  Whilst visiting the facility, he’s told that Federation pursuit ships are on their way.  He knows he could stay in safety on XK-72 but decides to go back and warn the others.  When he returns he also backs up Vila who’s persuading the reluctant Kayn to begin his operation on Gan (Kayn is the one who’s called for the Federation and earlier declared he had no intention of operating).  Avon’s decision to return to the ship is a key moment, but it’s another character beat that’s underplayed – he’s the only one who knows he had a chance to escape and it’s obvious he won’t share this information with the others.

The operation succeeds, but the bad shooting of the Federation pursuit ships has serious consequences for XK-72 (“say goodbye to one bolt hole” remarks Avon).  Minus points for the final scene featuring all the Liberator crew having a good laugh – partly because these endings are reminiscent of Star Trek (Spock and McCoy clashing, whilst Kirk looks on with a grin) but mostly because it seems a little off, especially since XK-72 is now a smouldering ruin.

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