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City of Death is a serial from the seventeenth season of the Britishmarker science fiction television series Doctor Who. It was made by the BBC and first broadcast in four weekly parts between 29 September 1979 and 20 October 1979 on BBC1. It features the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) and Romana (Lalla Ward). Set mainly in Parismarker in 1979, the plot concerns a scheme by an alien, Scaroth, to steal the Mona Lisa to finance experiments in time travel in the hope of averting the accident that marooned him on Earth four hundred million years previously.

The storyline for City of Death was devised by David Fisher but was heavily re-written by script editor Douglas Adams, aided by producer Graham Williams, and was broadcast under the pseudonym "David Agnew". It was the first Doctor Who serial to film on location outside of the United Kingdom. The fourth episode was watched by over sixteen million viewers, the highest audience ever attained by an episode of Doctor Who.

City of Death is believed to be the earliest produced Doctor Who story for which every credited cast member is still living.

Plot summary

Part One

Roughly 400 million years ago, a spaceship explodes on lift-off; its crew: the last survivors of the Jagaroth race. In 1979, the Doctor and Romana are relaxing in a Parisian café when the Doctor experiences déjà vu as a result of a time distortion. Elsewhere, in a secret laboratory, the scientist Kerensky complains to his employer, Count Scarlioni, about the lack of funds for his experiments. Visiting the Louvremarker to admire the Mona Lisa, the Doctor experiences another time distortion. He staggers and falls, brushing against a female visitor to the gallery. As he leaves he is followed by another visitor to the gallery, Duggan. Back at the café, the Doctor reveals that as he fell he slipped the woman's bracelet from her hand; he had recognised it as a micro-meson scanner – alien technology – being used to scan the security systems in the Louvre. The Doctor suspects someone is planning to steal the Mona Lisa. They are joined by Duggan who mistakenly believes the Doctor and Romana are working with the woman in the Louvre – the Countess Scarlioni. Meanwhile, the Countess realises her bracelet is gone and sends her henchmen to the café to retrieve it. After the Countess' men have taken the bracelet at gunpoint from the Doctor, Duggan reveals he is investigating the Count Scarlioni and his wife, the Countess. The Count has been putting an unprecedented number of lost art treasures on the market and Duggan has been engaged to find the source of these priceless works. The Countess' men return under orders to bring the Doctor to the Count. Alone in the laboratory, the Count removes his human face to reveal that of a Jagaroth.

Part Two

The Doctor, Romana and Duggan are brought before the Count for questioning. When the Doctor proves evasive, the Count orders that they be locked in the cellar. Examining the cellar, Romana deduces that it contains a hidden compartment. Using the sonic screwdriver, the Doctor effects an escape and comes across Kerensky's laboratory. He observes Kerensky at work and, learning that Kerensky is experimenting with time, realises that this is the source of the distortions he experienced earlier. Romana, meanwhile, goes to work on the bricked up section of the cellar. With Duggan's help they remove the bricks to reveal a cupboard containing six Mona Lisas. Examining them, the Doctor discovers they are not fakes; each of them is a genuine Leonardo da Vinci painting. Escaping the Scarlionis' chateau, the Doctor leaves Romana to look after Duggan while he uses the TARDIS to visit Leonardo's studio in sixteenth century Florencemarker. At the studio he is captured by a soldier working for a Captain Tancredi. The door opens and Captain Tancredi enters; the Doctor is amazed as Tancredi is revealed to be the Count Scarlioni.

Part Three

Romana and Duggan arrive at Louvre to find they are too late; the Mona Lisa is gone. At Leonardo's studio, the Doctor is curious as to how the man he knows as Scarlioni in 1979 can also be Captain Tancredi in 1505. He learns that Scarlioni/Tancredi is in fact Scaroth, the last member of the Jagaroth race. Scaroth's people were killed in an accident 400 million years ago when their spacecraft exploded and Scaroth became fragmented across time. Each fragment of Scaroth is working to advance mankind's development – aiding in discoveries such as fire and the wheel and the construction of the Egyptian pyramidsmarker – bringing mankind to the point where time travel technology is possible so that Scaroth can travel back and avert the accident. Needing money to finance Kerensky's time experiments in 1979, Scaroth has hatched a plan to steal the Mona Lisa, hoping to sell it seven times over using the original and the six copies he is getting Leonardo da Vinci to make for him. Under interrogation, the Doctor is forced to admit he is a time traveller. The Doctor makes his escape but not before he writes "This is a Fake" using a felt-tip pen on each of the canvases the copies of the Mona Lisa are to be painted on, leaving a note for Leonardo asking him to paint over them. Meanwhile, Romana and Duggan have returned to the chateau and have been captured. The Count demands that Romana assists Kerensky in his experiments or he will destroy Paris. Kerensky, meanwhile, has become concerned about the Count's intentions for the time field generator he is building. Displeased, the Count orders Kerensky to stand inside the time field generator. Romana and Duggan look on in horror as the Count switches on the apparatus and Kerensky is aged to death before their eyes.

Part Four

Threatened by the Count, Romana agrees to modify the apparatus to enable him to travel back 400 million years. The Doctor arrives at the chateau and challenges the Countess over her "willful blindness" telling her that her husband isn't human. Brought to the cellar, the Doctor discovers Romana's handiwork and realises that if the Count goes through with his plan then all of human history will be wiped out. The Countess confronts her husband who pulls off his face to reveal his true Jagaroth identity. Killing the Countess, Scaroth returns to the cellar and activates the machinery projecting himself back to the time of the accident. Romana reveals that he will only be able to stay in that time period for a maximum of two minutes – this is still enough time for Scaroth to prevent the accident. The Doctor, Romana and Duggan race across Paris, making for the TARDIS so that they can pursue Scaroth. Arriving on the primordial Earth, the Doctor realises that the potential consequences of Scaroth's plan are graver than he realised – it was the radiation from the exploding Jagaroth spacecraft that caused life on Earth to begin evolving. As Scaroth approaches his ship, Duggan delivers "the most important punch in history", knocking Scaroth unconscious before he can warn his compatriots of the impedning disaster. History is kept on its true course as the Jagaroth spaceship takes off and explodes. With the two minutes up, Scaroth returns to the chateau where he is killed by his henchman, Hermann. A fire starts in the chateau, destroying all the priceless works of art, including all but one of the Mona Lisas. Unfortunately, the surviving painting is not the original but one of the copies with "This is a Fake" written on the canvas under the paint. The Doctor reminds Duggan that art is worthless if its monetary value is all the matters. The Doctor and Romana say goodbye to Duggan at the Eiffel Towermarker.

Cast

  • Tom Baker as The Doctor. Baker found filming in Paris to be a very different experience to what he was used to in the UK where crowds would gather to watch the filming and meet the stars. Doctor Who was not shown in France at the time and so the cast and crew were largely ignored.


  • Lalla Ward as Romana: Ward found City of Death the most challenging Doctor Who serial she worked on but was pleased with the final outcome, saying, "We had to film loads of scenes in the rain and cold... there was no glamour in it at all... it was different from the ordinary stories too and I like the finished result". Seeing her costumes as an important part in creating the role of Romana, Ward clashed with costume designer Doreen James, rejecting the silver catsuit James had designed for her for the story. Ward came up with the idea for the schoolgirl costume she wore in conjunction with Tom Baker, recalling, "I thought it would be fun to wear something that little girls probably hated wearing because it might cheer them up... I didn't bank on the fact that I'd also get loads of letters from their fathers saying 'Cor! School uniform!'".


  • Julian Glover as the Count: Glover was a well established character actor who had previously appeared in Doctor Who as Richard the Lionheart in The Crusade (1965). Glover was reluctant to don the Jagaroth mask created for scenes where Scarlioni had shed his human disguise as he felt the mask would impede his performance. As a result, he is doubled by Richard Sheekey in many of these scenes.










  • John Cleese and Eleanor Bron as the Art Gallery Visitors: Douglas Adams knew John Cleese and Elenor Bron through his connections with Monty Python and Cambridge Footlights. On learning that both would working in BBC Television Centremarker on the day the art gallery scenes were to be recorded, he persuaded them to make a cameo appearance in a short scene written for "two Englishmen". Cleese and Bron agreed on the condition that there be no pre-publicity regarding their appearance; Cleese wanted them to be credited as "Helen Swanetsky" and "Kim Bread" but the BBC declined, failing to see the joke. During recording, Cleese and Baker also recorded two short comedy skits for the BBC Christmas tape.


Background

Origins

Writer David Fisher had contributed two scripts to Doctor Who's sixteenth season – The Stones of Blood and The Androids of Tara – and was asked by producer Graham Williams for further story ideas. Fisher submitted two proposals; the first of these became The Creature from the Pit while the other, The Gamble with Time, concerned a plot to rig the casinos in Las Vegasmarker to finance time travel experiments. Williams asked Fisher to rework The Gamble With Time as a Bulldog Drummond spoof. Fisher's draft script centered around Scarlioni, a member of the Sephiroth race, who had become fractured in time in an accident. The script was mainly set in the year 1928 with the Doctor and Romana, aided by Drummond-esque detective "Pug" Farquharson, on the trail of the stolen Mona Lisa, pursuing Scarlioni from Paris to Monte Carlomarker where his partner, the Baroness Heidi, is using time travel technology to cheat at roulette at the casino to fund Scarlioni's time travel experiments. Other settings included Paris in 1979, Leonardo da Vinci's studio in the year 1508 and prehistoric Earth. At this point, production unit manager John Nathan-Turner had worked out that the production team could afford to film on location in Paris with a stripped down crew. This necessitated a rewrite to Fisher's scripts to move the action to Paris and, for cost reasons, to drop the 1920s setting. K9 also had to be removed from the script as the cost of bringing the robot dog and his operators to Paris was prohibitive. However, Fisher was going through a divorce at this time and his personal situation meant that he was unable to perform the rewrites. This meant that script editor Douglas Adams, aided by Graham Williams, had to perform a complete rewrite of the story over the course of a weekend. According to Adams, Graham Williams "took me back to his place, locked me in his study and hosed me down with whisky and black coffee for a few days, and there was the script". The revised script, now titled The Curse of the Sephiroth, was credited to "David Agnew", a standard pseudonym used by the BBC and which had been previously used on Doctor Who for the season fifteen serial The Invasion of Time. The serial was subsequently retitled City of Death on 8 May 1979.

The idea of making six copies of the Mona Lisa to be sold to private collectors, after the real Mona Lisa is stolen, bears a striking resemblance to an alleged exploit of Eduardo de Valfierno.

Production

Assigned to direct City of Death was Michael Hayes who had previously directed the Doctor Who serials The Androids of Tara (1978) and The Armageddon Factor (1979) and had produced and directed A for Andromeda. He had prior experience of filming in Paris having worked there on adaptations of Maigret (1960-63) and other Georges Simenon stories for the BBC. Location filming took place in Paris between 30 April 1979 and 3 May 1979. It proved a difficult shoot as the dates coincided with the May Day holiday period which meant that many of the locations chosen for filming were closed, necessitating considerable improvisation on the part of the cast and crew. Model filming was conducted at Bray Studios between 8 May 1979 and 10 May 1979. These concentrated on the shots of the Jagaroth spacecraft taking off from the prehistoric Earth and were overseen by Ian Scoones, a veteran of Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds. Following rehearsals, production moved to BBC Television Centremarker where the remaining scenes were recorded in two blocks; the first between 21 May 1979 and 22 May 1979 and second between 3 June 1979 and 5 June 1979.

Broadcast

City of Death was broadcast on BBC1 over four consecutive Saturdays beginning on 29 September 1979. At this time, industrial action had blacked out rival broadcaster ITV and as a result, the serial scored very high ratings, averaging 14.5 million viewers over the four episodes; 16.1 million watched the fourth episode, the largest audience ever recorded for an episode of Doctor Who.

Critical reception

Audience appreciation ratings were taken for the first two episodes of City of Death and both episodes attained a respectable score of 64%. Listings magazine Radio Times published two letters from viewers regarding City of Death. Les Rogers of Hastingsmarker praised the serial's cast and the location filming; less impressed, however, was Paul R. Maskew of Exetermarker who felt the show was being played for laughs. Responding to similar criticisms from viewers, Douglas Adams wrote, "If the programme didn't move and take a few risks then it would have died of boredom years ago". Several viewers wrote to point out the discrepancy between the start of life on Earth of 4,000 million years ago and the date given in City of Death of 400 million years ago. Graham Williams replied, "The good Doctor makes the odd mistake or two but I think an error of 3,600 million years is pushing it! His next edition of the Encyclopedia Galactica will provide an erratum". Another viewer wrote to point out that the atmosphere of the primordial Earth would have been poisonous to the Doctor and his companions; Douglas Adams responded to this criticism, citing dramatic licence.

City of Death was voted into seventh place in a 1998 poll of the readers of Doctor Who Magazine to find the best Doctor Who story; the magazine commented that it "represented the height of Doctor Who as popular light entertainment for all the family". John Connor, writing in the fanzine DWB in 1991, hailed the story as "the best blend of kitsch, surrealism, fantasy and comedy-drama seen in our favourite Time Lord's annals". Vanessa Bishop, reviewing the serial's DVD release, described it as "imaginatively written, well-performed and beautifully made, City of Death is a story where pretty much everything works". Reacting to the serial, as part of Doctor Who Magazine's ongoing "Time Team" feature, Jacqueline Rayner said "you're suddenly, almost violently, made aware this is happening in our world... with people just getting on with their business and two Time Lords walking through it. I don't think I've ever experienced that with Doctor Who up till now... it's the tiny touches of mundanity amid the fantastical that lift the story even higher".

However, Doctor Who fandom's initial response to the serial was not so positive; John Peel, writing in the fanzine TARDIS in 1979, decried it as "total farce... I simply couldn't believe this was Doctor Who... the continual buffoonery is getting on my nerves". A similar view was held by Gary Russell who, reviewing the VHS release in 1993, said, "City of Death, like most Douglas Adams material is overrated and misses the mark for me, falling between the stools of good pastiche and bad parody and making fairly unsatisfactory viewing". This line was countered by Vanessa Bishop who called it "the Doctor Who story it's alright to laugh at... we must now accept that City of Death is funny - because if we didn't the Crackerjack-style sleuths, scientists and all... would leave it knocking about near the bottom of all the Doctor Who story ranking polls" and, responding to the criticisms about the levels of comedy, that "it's precisely these things that make it seem so special".

Continuity

In Part One, Romana makes a throwaway reference to a great art gallery called the Braxiatel Collection; the Virgin New Adventures novel series would later expand on this, introducing the character Irving Braxiatel, a Time Lord. Braxiatel also appears in the Bernice Summerfield series of novels and audio dramas and in the Gallifrey series of audio dramas.

The Mona Lisa also played a key role in the fifth serial of the third series of The Sarah Jane Adventures story, Mona Lisa's Revenge.

Outside references

Douglas Adams would later reuse elements of City of Death, along with the unfinished Doctor Who serial Shada (1979; 2003), in his novel Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (1987).

Other media

City of Death is one of the few Doctor Who serials from the series' original run (1963-1989) not to have been novelised by Target Books. Target approached Douglas Adams on a number of occasions with a view to commissioning a novelisation, offering their standard advance of £600; Adams replied saying, "I don't want to be embarrassing but I do have a tendency to be a best-selling author". Target, concerned that their regular authors would seek better terms, refused to change their offer. Several years later, Target editor Nigel Robinson offered an advance of £4,000 – double what was the standard advance at the time – but Adams again declined. Adams was unwilling to allow another author write the novelisation. An unofficial novelisation was written by David Lawrence and released on a not-for-profit basis by the New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club in 1993.

The serial was released on VHS videotape in April 1991 with a cover by Andrew Skilleter. It was re-issued on VHS in 2001. A DVD of the serial was released in 2005; this included several extra features including a commentary by Julian Glover, Tom Chadbon and Michael Hayes; "Paris in the Springtime", a making-of documentary; behind the scenes studio and special effects footage, the Doctor Who Annual, 1980 in pdf format and a spoof documentary called "Eye on... Blatchford" as well as on-screen text production notes and a photo gallery.

Ian Scoones' storyboards for City of Death's special effects sequences were published in Peter Haining's book Doctor Who – 25 Glorious Years in 1988 and a Scaroth figure was released by Harlequin Miniatures in 1999.

Notes

References and further reading



External links



Reviews



Fan novelisation




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