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Doctor Who - City of Death

episode 105

UK 1979
produced by
Graham Williams for BBC
directed by Michael Hayes
starring Tom Baker, Lalla Ward, Julian Glover, Catherine Schell, David Graham, Kevin Flood, Tom Chadbon, John Cleese (cameo), Eleanor Bron (cameo)
written by David Agnew (= Douglas Adams, Graham Williams), based on an idea by David Fisher, script editor: Douglas Adams, music by Dudley Simpson

Doctor Who, Doctor Who (Tom Baker), Doctor Who (classic series)

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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Time travellers Doctor Who (Tom Baker) & Romana (Lalla Ward) take a vacation from saving the universe in Paris & visit the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa ... But trouble is never far for the Doctor: At first he & Romana experience ripples in time, then he discovers a highly advanced bracelet used to spy out the Louvre on the arm of one of one of the visitors of the place - who will later turn out to be the Countess Scarlioni (Catherine Schell) -, then he & Romana meet insurance detective Duggan (Tom Chadbon), who loves punching people & thinks the Doctor & Romana are art thieves, bent on stealing the Mona Lisa, & at long last, the Doctor, Romana & Duggan all become captives of the Count Scarlioni (Julian Glover), just because the Doctor couldn't resist stealing the Countess' bracelet.

The Count Scarlioni is a prolific art dealer who has a sheer endless supply of priceless masterpieces, all authentic. So much so in fact, that the company Duggan works for has grown suspicious of him ... & for some reason they think he wants to steal the Mona Lisa ...

But Scarlioni also has a few darker secrets, he has a laboratory in his cellar where the ingenious but naive scientist Kerensky (David Graham) tries to build a time machine for him (but thinks he is merely looking for a way to speed up the growth of chickens), and eventually, the Doctor & company learn that he has actually six authentic Mona Lisas walled up in his cellar.

After the Doc & company have escaped, the Doctor travels back to 16th century Florence to visit Leonardo Da Vinci, then in the Borgias'  employ, & learns he was commissioned to paint 7 identical Mona Lisas by a certain Lord Tancredi - who turns out to be Scarlioni himself. & Scarlioni it turns out is the last of the Jagaroth, whose spaceship was blown up 40 million years ago - an explosion that started life on earth as it is - & his being scattered across history in telepathically linked entities - which explains why he in the 20th century has a limitless supply of priceless masterpieces. But Scarlioni is not happy on earth, & thus wants to go back in history to prevent himself from blasting his spaceship, & thus he needs a timemachine. Only, without the blast, life on earth would never have developed ...

Then, the Mona Lisa from the Louvre is stolen, by Scarlioni's gang of hoodlums ... but what, might you ask, ahs that to do with going back in time 40 million years - easy, to build a tim,e machine, Scarlioni needs money.

Unfortunately, eventually Scarlioni finds out that the Doctor & Romana know a thing or two about time travelling, gets rid of Kerensky & persuades Romana - who fails to grasp the bigger picture - to help him build the time machine.

Soon, & before the very eyes of the Doctor, Duggan & Romana, Scarlioni goes back to the beginning of life, & now have to rush to the Doctor's time machine, the TARDIS, to prevent Scarlioni from preventing himself from blowing up his ship ... which is when Duggan does what he does best, as he knocks Scarlioni out. The spaceship blows up & life on earth is saved once more ...

John Cleese & Eleanor Bron have an amusing cameo appearance as museum visitors who mistake the Doctor's time machine (that looks like a London police phone box) for a work of art.


Many fans think City of Death to be the bet Doctor Who episode ever - which I find vastly exaggerated. As I see it, the fact that the episode is held in such high regard is mostly based on massive & impressive namedropping - written by Douglas Adams fresh from his success with the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy-radio series, a cameo by John Cleese, then immenself succesful with Fawlty Towers, & Julian Glover & Catherine Schell as impressive villains - & its extensive Parislocation-shooting to boost up production values (in fact, the series otherwise rarely left Great Britain, often not event he studio as such).

I have to admit it, Adams'  story about an alien that has become a crooked artdealer to build himself a time machine is quite funny in a twisted but intelligent way, however the overall tone of the episode doesn't fit the theme of the story. For the most part, it looks as if Tom Baker & Lalla Ward are on a romantic holiday (which might even be true to a point, in real life they got married a year later), time is actually wasted with them parading in front of famous tourist sites (the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Louvre, an extensive Metro-ride) instead of telling the story, and the whole thing just looks so darn happy, just like a light romantic comedy - when really it is about the erradication of life as it is.

That all said, in the context of the Doctor Who television series it isn't bad as such, it's just nowhere near the best episodes either.

By the way, City of Death was the episode with the highest ratings for Doctor Who - the classic series at least - ever, but partly that can be attributed to a strike at rival network ITV at the same time that seriously limited competition.


review © by Mike Haberfelner


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On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide


A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD



Stell Dir vor, Deine Lieblingsseifenoper birgt eine tiefere Wahrheit ...
... und stell Dir vor, der Penner von der U-Bahnstation hat doch recht ...
... und dann triffst Du auch noch die Frau Deiner (feuchten) Träume ...


Und an diesem Tag geht natürlich wieder einmal die Welt unter!!!


Bauliche Angelegenheiten
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Michael Haberfelner


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