Reviewing Who – City of Death

Doctor: Tom Baker

Companion: Lalla Ward

Script writer: ‘David Agnew’ (David Fisher, Douglas Adams and Graham Williams)

Producer: Graham Williams

Director: Michael Hayes

Originally aired: 29th September 1979 – 20th October 1979

Episode 1: The story opens with a alien-looking landscape of endless rock, upon which perches a black spider-like spaceship on the point of take-off. Its pilot has serious qualms about this, but is surrounded by crackling voices crying, “Scaroth, you are our only hope!” like a choir of demented Princess Leias, and he defies the risk. For a moment it looks like they’ll manage it – then the ship appears to warp in mid-air and explodes into a violent ball of fire.

“Marvellous,” says the Doctor, before the image has quite faded. He’s romping about in Paris with fellow Gallifreyan Romana, under a springtime canopy of pink blossoms and blue skies. In his fourth incarnation, the Doctor is all brown curls, long stripy scarf and crazy energy, but serene and sailor-hatted Romana keeps up easily. These two are utterly comfortable together, finishing one another’s sentences, bantering about bouquets, and looking outrageous on French public transport. For once, it seems, there isn’t a crisis that needs their immediate attention – they’re going to have a lovely relaxing holiday in Paris 1979…

Then suddenly we are whisked away, coming face to face with a Scary Door that has Scary Door music. On the other side, in an underground laboratory, a depressed-looking man in a lab coat is bemoaning his strained budget to a second man in a nice suit. Nice Suit, rather bored, soon interrupts by handing over a wad of francs. While Lab Coat puts his eyes back into his head, Nice Suit – otherwise known as Count Scarlioni – summons a minion and orders him to ‘discreetly’ sell off a Gutenberg Bible.

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Romana have ensconced themselves in a café. He suddenly tells her that there is an artist behind her making a sketch and she turns instinctively to see, offending the temperamental genius, who screws up the drawing, throws it at their table, and stalks off in a huff. Then there is a kind of hitch and the scene repeats, rather like a faulty DVD. Only it isn’t my DVD that’s faulty. It’s time itself. Which couldn’t have anything at all to do with the count, who is muttering darkly about time and demanding his pet scientist perform more tests immediately. The Doctor and Romana don’t know that – nor are they all that interested. A crack in time? Meh. We’re on holiday, people! They end up in the Louvre, in front of the Mona Lisa. The Doctor is all enthusiasm, but Romana is not so easy to impress. Really, she points out, it’s just a woman with no eyebrows.

Just then, a second distortion in time sends the Doctor into a dramatic staggering faint halfway across the room and into the lap of a total stranger. This is an elegant-looking woman who turns to watch him leave with a few notes of portentously sultry jazz, but a bystander in a trenchcoat takes that interest one step further by trailing the Time Lords halfway across Paris. He’s not very good at it and the Doctor and Romana are fully aware of him behind them. They stop at another café to discuss the matter. The reason they are being followed, the Doctor explains, is that he nicked something from the Louvre – well, to be precise, from that woman he fell into at the Louvre. It is a highly advanced scanner disguised as a bracelet, which she was using to study the security systems.

ROMANA: You mean an alien is trying to steal the Mona Lisa?

DOCTOR: It is a very pretty painting.

I love this show just for conversations like that.

Unfortunately, it is interrupted by the arrival of the man in the trenchcoat. He wants to talk to the Doctor and has a gun to help convince him. The Doctor and Romana walk into the café with their hands in the air and no one bats an eyelid, though no one actually goes near them either.

Meanwhile Count Scarlioni is having a rather interesting conversation with the lady from the Louvre, who turns out to be his wife, not to mention his accomplice. He is entirely unworried when she mentions the trenchcoated detective who was watching her at the gallery but switches suddenly to absolute fury when he hears how the Doctor swiped her bracelet. The countess assures him she has taken care of things, and indeed she has – the café is now hosting two more men with guns and the detective, Duggan, has just lost his. The Doctor hands over the bracelet, the thugs obligingly leave, café life continues to go on as normal. These people are unflappable.

Duggan decides that the Doctor must be in cahoots with the count and countess and trying to prove his innocence with a fake stick up. He attempts an impromptu interrogation but gets such irritating answers that he’s about to give up and stalk out in disgust when the Doctor flips the conversation around to the Mona Lisa. That gets Duggan’s attention. Under the combined forces of cluelessness and Gallifreyan charm, he explains that all of a sudden masterpieces are showing up in the art world and his job is to find out how someone could make such extraordinary fakes. At the centre of it all is Scarlioni, but somehow he always remains clean…well, up until his thugs show up again in the café and insist that everybody at the table comes along to meet the boss.

Even the countess seems to have concerns. She goes down to the laboratory to find her husband, only to come up against a locked door. While she knocks and calls from the outside, ‘Carlos’ tears open his own face – revealing writhing green beneath…

Episode 2: The Doctor, Romana and Duggan are ushered through the Scary Door from the first episode into a dainty parlour, and by ushered I actually mean shoved. The Doc falls flat on his face but pops up again straight away like a cartoon clown. “I say, what a wonderful butler! He’s so violent!” He then cheerily dismisses the aforesaid violent butler (who ignores him), performs all the introductions with his usual flair, and even pours himself a drink. The countess doesn’t know quite how to handle this. You know she’s lost all control over the situation, butler Hermann and his gun notwithstanding, when Romana picks up an antique puzzle box off the table, solves it in ten seconds flat and produces that bloody bracelet with a calm flourish. Fortunately for the countess, her husband arrives at this point to dampen everyone else’s spirits with his air of sophisticated menace and totally intact face. She stops smoking for a moment to share her findings.
COUNTESS: My dear, I don’t think he’s as stupid as he seems.

COUNT: My dear, nobody could be as stupid as he seems.

It’s a rare moment of marital accord in a relationship that seems founded on bizarre jewellery, theft and intricate powerplay. Duggan attempts to break it up, literally, with a chair, but the Doctor stops him, which is how shortly afterwards the three of them end up sulking in a cellar. Well, Duggan is sulking – the Doctor has a plan and a sonic screwdriver, and Romana is busy calculating a mismatch of proportions between the room they’ve been locked in and the staircase outside. While the Doctor sonicks the door and sneaks out to snoop around the count’s laboratory, followed by a very grumpy Duggan, Romana continues to investigate her own mystery. They all quickly find somewhere to hide when the door to the cellar opens and the count’s pet scientist, Kerensky, descends the stairs. Without noticing the intruders, one of whom really wants to bash him over the head, he continues his experiments. Placing an egg between a pair of technicolour prongs, he activates his machine, accelerating the chicken through its life cycle in a matter of seconds.

The Doctor interrupts. Of course he does, he just can’t help himself. “What you’re doing is terribly interesting,” he says, popping up behind poor terrified Kerensky, “but you’ve got it wrong.” Well, he’s got a point – the fully grown bird between the prongs has fallen into a pile of bones, something Kerensky has been trying unsuccessfully to stop happening. The Doctor promptly solves the problem but before he can settle down for a nice sciencey chat Duggan knocks Kerensky unconscious. He wants to escape while the going’s good. The Doctor is more interested in finding out what Romana’s been doing all this time. While the boys squabbled and talked about dead chickens, she’s found a hidden room.

It’s a pity, really, because now would be quite a good time to escape. The Count is busy showing off to his cohorts in a very theatrical burglary rehearsal upstairs. He, as it turns out, owns a sonic knife, not to mention a device that can bend laser bars. Guess what their plans are for tonight?

Downstairs, Duggan has been overruled. He finds an outlet for all that pent-up rage by using his shoulder to hammer a gap in a five or six hundred year old wall. On the other side is the promised hidden room, lined by cobwebbed cupboards. Bug-eyed with interest, the Doctor opens one, revealing…the Mona Lisa. He opens another one. Another Mona Lisa. There are six doors in all, and six identical masterpieces. The Doctor sums the weirdness: “What I don’t understand is why a man who’s got six Mona Lisas wants to go to all the trouble of stealing a seventh?” Duggan finally has something to contribute apart from punching things – he is a detective, after all. He knows of at least seven people who would pay for the stolen painting just to have it as their own secret gloat, but none of them would buy it while it’s still hanging in the gallery.

The Count calmly confirms this theory. He has appeared behind them with a gun, only he doesn’t know he’s in the same room as Mr ‘Human Battering Ram’ Duggan, and soon enough he’s sprawled unconscious on the floor just like Kerensky. The trio head upstairs and Duggan knocks out his third resident of the night, intercepting the countess with a priceless Ming vase to the head before she has the chance to shoot them. They then split up, Duggan leaving with Romana while the Doctor slopes off to collect the TARDIS. It disappears from the Louvre (where I am sure it was illegally parked) and reappears, with unusual accuracy, in a Renaissance sitting room littered with painting equipment. Yes, the Doctor has gone to pay a call on his old chum da Vinci. Only it seems the painter isn’t home. Instead the Doctor is accosted by a bad-tempered bloke in armour and told to wait for Captain Tancready.

Almost immediately, the door opens, and in walks the count.

Episode 3: Also breaking into the Louvre that night, and with suspicious ease, Romana and Duggan find the Mona Lisa already stolen. Kerensky, meanwhile, has woken up and stumbled across the other six. He finally begins to have a few doubts about his employer, who is stirring on the floor and muttering mysteriously. He is, unbeknownst to Kerensky, echoing the words of his Renaissance doppelganger Tancready, who in his turn is questioning the captive Doctor. He wants to know how a man from Paris 1979 can just show up in Florence 1505.

DOCTOR: I don’t know, I don’t seem to be able to help myself. There I am, just walking along, minding my own business and pop! I’m on a different planet or even a different time. But enough of my problems, what are you doing here?

TANCREADY: I will tell you. The knowledge will be of little use to you, since you will shortly die. * Sweeps aside cloak, sinks into conveniently located throne-like chair, gives Doctor a brooding stare. * I am the last of the Jagaroth. I am also the saviour of the Jagaroth.

He goes on to explain that he, together with a few other survivors from the Jagaroth’s terrible war, landed on the Earth some four hundred million years ago; how they tried to leave but the ship blew apart, killing the others and fracturing the count himself throughout history. Having got all that off his chest, he realises that this questioning thing has got turned around and tries to return to his interrogation. The Doctor nimbly eludes him, bounding over to a version of the Mona Lisa propped up in a corner of the workshop. Following his line of reasoning aloud, he works out that Leonardo must have just completed it and has been persuaded to do up another six, like you are when a guy with a sword is involved – who, incidentally, has stood stolidly by during all this talk of aliens and time travel without changing expression once.

TANCREADY: I think it’s time we conducted this conversation somewhat more formally. (to the guard) Hold him here, while I collect the instruments of torture. If he wags his tongue, confiscate it.

I’m not sure the guard knows what ‘confiscate’ means but ‘torture’ lights up all the right brain cells. The Doctor tries to go all conspiratorial, but this guy is not paid to contemplate the ethics of working for a madman; he is paid to fight. The Doctor goes onto plan B, whipping out a Polaroid, blinding the guard with the flash of the camera and knocking him out with a handy pop on the chin, then briskly getting to work labelling all the canvases in the studio with the words ‘this is a fake’ in felt tip. He also leaves a note for Leonardo, but before he can actually escape Tancready returns. With the thumbscrews.

At this exciting point the count, back in Paris, finally comes to properly. He is helped to his feet by Kerensky, who is clinging on to his illusions as best he can. Told he has been serving the Jagaroth all along, he ventures: “It’s the Jagaroth who need all the chickens, is it?” The count is sort of stunned with contempt. While all that is happening, Romana is quietly sonicking her way into what should by now be recognised as the Stick-Up Café. Duggan arrives shortly afterward by breaking a window – cue another piece of infinitely quoteable dialogue.

ROMANA: You should go into partnership with a glazier. You’d have a truly symbiotic working relationship.

DUGGAN: What?

ROMANA: I’m just pointing out that you break a lot of glass.

DUGGAN: You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.

ROMANA: If you wanted an omelette, I’d expect to find a pile of broken crockery, a cooker in flames and an unconscious chef.

And that is why I love you, Romana.

The count has dropped the pretence. Well, part of the pretence, he’s still got his face on. That’s of little comfort to poor old Kerensky, who is staring at the blueprints for a machine that will do the precise opposite of what he thought his work was meant to do – it will turn back time. All to bones, so to speak. Finally realising his boss is a raging megalomaniac, he refuses to comply. And he’s not the only one noticing there’s something weird about Scarlioni. The countess, gloating happily over the success of the Louvre robbery, accidentally triggers a rant about mapping the heavens and inventing the wheel. The count has a case of voices in the head, never a good sign. The other parts of himself are echoing in a rare moment of unison, begging to be reunited. As this is also affecting Tancready, the Doctor uses the moment of distraction to escape into the TARDIS and materialise the hell out of there.

Romana and Duggan are still waiting for him the Stick-Up Café, though by now it’s morning and they’re running on caffeine. In further evidence of her excellence, during a few minutes casual conversation Romana proceeds to deduct pretty much everything that the Doctor went back to 1505 to find out. By the time the Doctor reaches the café, they have returned to the chateau, and Duggan’s obsession with breaking windows has got them caught. Far from being annoyed, the count is very pleased to see them – well, he’s pleased to see Romana, anyway, whom he intends to use to finish work on the machine. Or else, as he politely explains, he’ll destroy Paris with the deeply unreliable one he already has. To prove what he can do, he tricks Kerensky into standing between the machine’s prongs and switches it on, reducing the terrified man within a matter of seconds to a crumpled skeleton.

Episode 4: “The unfortunate effect of an unstablised time field,” Scarlioni says brightly. He would be quite happy to do that to all of Paris if Romana does not show him how to stabilise it. Given the circumstances, she agrees, and Duggan is locked up out of her way.

Upstairs, the Doctor has arrived, shown into the parlour by a glowering thug and met by the countess. Being an appalling show-off, she can’t resist producing her husband’s first draft of Hamlet, and being an equally appalling name-dropper, the Doctor can’t resist telling her most of it is in his handwriting. She thinks he’s mad. It’s mutual. He thinks she’s mad, deliberately blinding herself to what she is living with.

DOCTOR: A man with one eye and green skin, eh? Ransacking the art treasures of history to help him make a machine to reunite him with his people, the Jagaroth. And you didn’t notice anything? How discreet, how charming.

She laughs as the Doctor is led away by Hermann, but then suddenly stops as inside her very selective head a bell starts to ring. Digging about in her husband’s library of precious texts, she opens a box of Egyptian scrolls and finds one with a green Cyclops of a man among the gods…

In the cellar, meanwhile, the count is attempting the same threat on the Doctor that he used on Romana. The Doctor, however, has worked out one crucial detail that Romana hasn’t – that if the explosion of the spaceship never happens, neither will history – and he flat out refuses to co-operate. Not that it does any good, because Romana has already completed the stabiliser. With his three troublemakers locked away, Scarlioni heads upstairs to farewell his wife. She is waiting for him. With a gun. Well, he does have rather a lot of them lying around, what did he expect? Distraught, she demands the truth, and he gives it to her. He shows it to her, tearing off his face to reveal the Jagaroth beneath. The gun drops in her shock and he uses the opportunity to rid himself of the accomplice he no longer needs; her bracelet gives off a violent pulse and she falls to the floor, dead.

Everything is falling into place for Scarlioni. In a last-ditch effort to stop him, Duggan smashes open the locked door of their cell, but the count is already between the prongs of the machine. He disappears and the machine explodes, taking with it any chance they have to follow him…or so he thinks. He doesn’t know much about Time Lords. The TARDIS follows him to the inhospitable desert from Episode 1. They see the Jagaroth spaceship in the distance and head towards it, across the rocks and between the primordial soup that is waiting on a massive dose of radiation to form life as we know it. Guess who’s here in his nice suit, with his shiny gun, trying to stop that from happening? Just when it seems that Scaroth, last of the Jagaroth, cannot be stopped, Duggan knocks him out with what may be, as the Doctor puts it, “the most important punch in history”. Scaroth goes flying and vanishes, Romana’s inbuilt limitations kicking in to bring him back to where he started, in Paris. Unluckily for him, Hermann is there in the cellar to witness his arrival. What is a violent butler to do when a green Cyclops shows up in his master’s laboratory…?

In the fire that results from the destruction of the count’s machine (not to mention the count) all of the Mona Lisas bar one are destroyed. Of course, it’s one of the ones with ‘this is a fake’ drawn under the paintwork in felt tip. Duggan isn’t happy about that, but he has a bigger question on his mind.

DUGGAN: Where do you two come from?

DOCTOR: From? Well, I suppose the best way to find out where you come from is to find out where you’re going and then work backwards.

DUGGAN: Where are you going?

DOCTOR: I don’t know.

ROMANA: Nor do I.

DOCTOR: Goodbye.

Bemusedly, Duggan watches them go from the top of the Eiffel Tower: a girl in a sailor hat and a man in a long stripy scarf who turn to wave up at him, laughing, then run away together to who knows where…

The Verdict: This is one of the very few Doctor Who episodes that have been filmed outside Great Britain and you can tell that the director got a bit overexcited about it, including lots of footage of the Doctor and Romana running about hand-in-hand through the streets of Paris. The first episode, at least, doesn’t have much sense of urgency – in fact, for once we get a glimpse of what it might be like in between adventures, when the Doctor doesn’t have to save the world from its latest peril. Tom Baker had longest run of any Doctor in the show’s history (so far!) so the quality his stories is very variable, but as far as I’m concerned this is one of the best. It is an unapologetic romp, complete with zany characters, crazy science, and four episodes of gorgeously zinging dialogue. I mean, Douglas Adams. Do I really need to say more?

Join me in May for a very different sort of Doctor, who would rather a stick of celery to a jelly baby and is perhaps a touch too idealistic for his own good. “There should have been a better way,” is one of Peter Davison’s most remembered quotes as the Fifth Doctor, but when he lands in the middle of an android rebellion, I somehow don’t think it’s going to be as simple as scribbling this is a fake…

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