Friday, December 21, 2012
IN a Doctor Who Magazine poll of the series’ top stories of all time, this Tom Baker adventure from 1979 came in a resounding seventh, and the entertainment website io9 picked it as one of the 10 TV episodes that changed television. To describe it as a classic does not do justice to quite how good this story actually is.
A perfect blend of humour, pastiche, bold science fiction concepts and strong characterisation, the success of the script for this story is probably down to the fact that it was co-written by the legendary Douglas Adams, creator of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
With the cast and crew taking a rare trip out of the UK to film, the adventure celebrates its Parisian setting with a loving montage of landmarks, and captures the artistic essence of the City of Lights at many points in the proceedings.
A holidaying Doctor and Romana (Lalla Ward) experience the effects of time distortion, leading them to encounter the mysterious Count Scarloni (Julian Glover) and his wife (Catherine Schell), and inadvertently helping the investigations of Inspector Duggan (Tom Chadbon), who has been probing recent art thefts linked to Scarloni.
The discovery of six identical copies of the Mona Lisa, all genuinely painted by Leonardo Da Vinci before being hidden away behind a wall in Scarloni’s cellar, is somehow connected to time experiments being conducted by genius scientist Kerensky (David Graham) on the Count’s behalf.
The time travellers learn that Scarloni is actually Scaroth of the Jagaroth, last of his race following their destruction on primordial Earth, his persona fragmented throughout time but linked psychically across the ages. Scaroth has been responsible for pushing the development of humanity at key points over the centuries, with the aim of leading to the creation of a time machine which will allow him to travel back and save his people. The downside of this is that the explosion which wiped out the Jagaroth actually triggered life on Earth, something the Doctor is determined to ensure isn’t prevented by Scaroth’s machinations…
Featuring cameo appearances from John Cleese and Eleanor Bron, incredibly quotable dialogue and a first-rate script, City of Death has lost none of its charm or entertainment value more than 30 years after its original broadcast.
It is testament to the strength of this adventure that it works so well as an audio soundtrack, with Lalla Ward’s dulcet tones filling in the narrative gaps admirably, and both the characters and the dialogue have been crafted so well that you are easily lost in the story without consciously missing the visuals.
A stand-out release from AudioGo for one of the greatest Who stories ever. Miss it at your peril.