Number : Season 17, serial 2 of 6.
Which One : Noodle head alien – in Paris!
Cast : The Doctor : Tom Baker
Romana : Lalla Ward
Scaroth / Count Scarlioni / Tancredi : Julian Glover
Duggan : Tom Chadborn
The Countess Scarlioni : Catherine Schell
Kerensky : David Graham
Hermann : Kevin Flood
Soldier : Peter Halliday
Lourve Patrons : Eleanor Bron, John Cleese
Lourve Guide : Pamela Stirling
Written By : David Fisher, Douglas Adams & Graham Williams
Produced By : Graeme Williams
First UK Broadcast : 20th September – 23 October 1979.
Length : 4 x 25 minute episodes.
Plot : An alien (Jagaroth) stranded on Earth, pushes Earth technology (through-out the ages). In an attempt, to build a time-machine and undo the events; which stranded it – in the first place.
Whats good : Strong Euro-heist caper. Good concept. Julian Glover is back. Nice location work. Aliens influencing Earth scenario. Humourous turn by Tom Baker. Duggan.
Whats bad : Lalla Ward in a schoolgirl costume? More naughty than bad!
Review With Spoilers : City Of Death is the best serial of the Graham Williams era – by far. It was also the first Doctor Who serial to have location work, filmed aboard.
Paris, (the ‘city of love’, (or in Doctor Who’s case – is the ‘city of death’!) forms the impressive backdrop to a euro-heist story and gives Doctor Who (for once) – a much needed air of authenticity about proceedings – as yes, they really are in Paris!
City Of Death is about the last of the Jagaroth – known as ‘Scaroth’. Whose ship accidentally exploded, whildt taking off from Earth – 400 millions years ago. This had the consequence of splintering Scaroth – into 12 different bodies – into 12 different (past) Earth periods.
Hiding out as a human and possessing advanced alien knowledge. Scaroth sets about influencing (and pushing) Earth technological discovery to the limit. To create all of the required components to develop a time-machine (in the present day). To hopefully, go back in time and stop their blowing his ship up. This time-travel endeavour, is funded by the black-market trade of a cupboard full of (genuine) Mona Lisa paintings. All painted by Da Vinci himself – at 16th Century Scaroth’s request.
The Doctor and Romana (bizarrely dressed as a schoolgirl in this!) are sightseeing in Paris, when they are drawn into the dastardly scheme of Count Scarlioni (the present-day splinter of Scaroth!).
If the interference in humankind angle, wasn’t high stakes enough. Then we also have to contend with the uncovered fact, that the exploding Jagaroth ship; kickstarts the very first life on Earth. So the Doctor has more reason to stop Scaroth’s schemes, than just to foil alien interference.
Whilst Tom Baker continues to impress in the role of the Doctor, it is hard to think of a better bad-guy performance in Doctor Who – than Julian Glover as Count Scarlioni / Scaroth; save for Philip Madoc’s inspired turn, as Dr Soren in Brain Of Morbius.
“You underestimate the problems with which I was faced. My twelve various selves have been working throughout history to push forward this miserably primitive race so that even this low level of technology could be available to me now!” Scarlioni
Glover excels, as the debonair and sinister Scarlioni – and stranded pot-noodle-face, alien Jagaroth; Scaroth. A bad-guy turn, he was to go on and repeat successfully, as General Veers in Star Wars : Empire Strikes Back and as Donovan – in Indy Jones & The Last Crusade.
And that’s not to detract from Tom Baker’s performance, as the Doctor either; who also excels, with the right blend of manic charm – and gloating seriousness.
Not only do we have a good premise, story, strong location-work and strong-performances, firing City Of Death, along. We have a purpose written rare memorable musical-score, for proceedings.
Especially noticable, when the Doctor and Romana are running around Paris; which is alot more, than the usual reused stock musical interludes; usually dropped into pivotal scenes – in other serials.
The classic Who-trope of alien influence over Earth development scenario – is dropped in here. Which when done right, is a staple feature of the show. The freighter crashing in Earthshock wiped out the Dinosaurs. The Loch Ness Monster in Terror Of The Zygons, was a cyborg weapon, all of these things cleverly relate – to human evolution.
There is also an underlying layer of humour permeating proceedings, which serves to compliment the story. The Doctor’s dealings with Scarlioni’s tough butler Hermann and John Cleese’s humourous cameo, in the Louvre.
Even temporary extra-companion; Duggan. A private detective tracking the Mona Lisa theft, is a useful addition to the Doctor and Romana’s company. His doen-to-earth brute force, proving a nice counterpoint – to the Doctor and Romana’s higg intelligent alien-ness.
Graham Williams’ Doctor Who, had never hit these dizzying heights before and would not hit these heights, again. Duuring the full-run and remainder, of his tenure.
City Of Death shows what can be achieved if enough time, effort and craft; is devoted to the production.
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