Written by Douglas Adams, David Fisher, and Graham Williams
Directed by Michael Hayes
Doctor Who is a British science-fiction television series that has been around off and on since 1963. The main character is just known as “The Doctor” and is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. This means he travels through time to various places. One of his favorite places to visit is Earth. Typically, he has a companion traveling with him, usually female, sometimes male, sometimes one of each. He travels in a time machine known as a “Tardis” which is disguised as a British Police booth.
A Time Lord can regenerate if fatally wounded, which has accounted for all the different actors who have played The Doctor throughout the years. In this episode, he is portrayed by Tom Baker. Baker was one of the most popular incarnations of The Doctor, and by many fan’s assessments, he was the most popular.
In City of Death, the Doctor has taken his fellow Time Lord, Romana (portrayed by Lalla Ward) on a much-needed respite. They travel to Paris in the year 1979 and he shows her around the City of Lights. Unfortunately, during their visit, they notice ripples in time. Clues begin to surface, including alien technology showing up in unusual places, all pointing to Count Scarlioni (portrayed by Julian Glover).
When they are noticed by the Count, he has them imprisoned at his chateau along with a detective also hot on his trail, Duggan (portrayed by Tom Chadbon). The plot they uncover deals with multiple Mona Lisas and the attempt to steal the one from the Louvre.
While episodes usually deal with the Doctor having to figure out what exactly is going on, City of Death had more of a mystery feel to it along the lines of an Agatha Christie tale or a Sherlock Holmes novel. The pacing is great, allowing the viewer to work along with the Doctor on the mystery although it’s pretty much a given early on just who the alien is. Why he is there and how he has managed to jump across multiple time periods does make for a great story.
Tom Baker is his usual affable self, giving the Doctor the same jovial qualities seen throughout the series. Being on vacation for him seems no different than his everyday life, even set against the backdrop of Paris. Everything that happens he seems to take in stride and these parts of his character has been seen in the Doctor through the years. I think no one has done it better than Tom Baker, though. His delivery is perfect and he has the ability to convince viewers he honestly believes it when he is talking about aliens on Earth and traveling through time. His timing is great, even when he is against more notable actors in a scene and he makes up for it when other actors are weaker than he.
I was less than crazy about Lalla Ward as Romana. Mary Tamm portrayed the character in earlier episodes and seemed to be much stronger in character and quick-witted; the Doctor’s equal in every way. Ward is either getting the scripts painting Romana as more of the damsel in distress to the hero or that is her take on it for she doesn’t seem to convey the character with the same strength and self-assuredness that Tamm had. I find it hard to believe it’s the script as Douglas Adams (Hitchhikers’s Guide to the Galaxy) was the script supervisor through this portion of the series and oversaw both incarnations of this character as well as co-writing this script.
Julian Glover was brilliant as the villainous Scarlioni. I now know who Crispin Glover’s father was and see just where the edginess in his son’s talent comes from. He’s got an eccentric temperament that just seems perfect and keeps the character from being one-dimensional as a villain. He is an awesome villain, as witnessed by his turns as the villain opposite Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and as one of the Imperial Generals in The Empire Strikes Back among other appearances he’s made through the years. I thoroughly enjoyed his performance and it was something that really added to the episode, rather than it feeling like anyone could have slipped into the role.
The effects are the usual cheesy, even taking into account the context of the times. There are a few goofs along the way as well, but for fans, this adds to the endearing quality of the show. The fact that the actors put in so much effort and belief despite these effects really makes it fun rather than detracting from the overall story.
City of Death is a must-see for fans of the show as it has everything that made the show great and let it last for so many years. For people who aren’t fans or who haven’t viewed any of the old series, there’s enough here that you won’t feel lost or like you walked into the middle of something. It stands on its own quite nicely with some terrific performances and a mystery that goes nicely with the science-fiction elements.
– Information Text
– Paris in the Springtime
– Paris, W12
– Prehistoric Landscapes
– Chicken Wrangler
– Photo Gallery
– Eye On… Blatchford
– Doctor Who Annual
– Easter Eggs (includes a more extensive interview with Douglas Adams)