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Oct 06, 2006

Are you warm, are you real, mona lisa?

City of Death one of my favourite Doctor Who stories, certainly in the top five, perhaps even the top three.  Rather than transcending the format, it takes full advantage of it, with elements of humour, time travel, history, big ideas, excellent characterisation and horror balancing, for once, just perfectly.  I can tell its a favourite because I've stood at the top of the Eiffel Tower with a copy of the opening scene and read it out-loud.

The long travelogue moments in Paris with Tom and Lalla dashing about the city are some of the most cinematic to appear in the series and its a shame that the classic show was so studio bound for much of the time.  But they also represent the spirit of experimentation happening all over.  Some knock the Graham Williams era but forget that City of Death was one of its products and simply might not have happened under Hinchcliffe or Holmes.  See this far-sighted quote which flashed on-screen during the excellent Paris in the Springtime documentary on the dvd.

Imagine -- North Africa or Iceland.  Amazing.

There is, however, one element that has always bothered me.  The Mona Lisa.  Throughout the story much is made of the fact that it's supposed to be the greatest painting in the entire galaxy and it might well be -- but the real painting only features in this story at the very end when Duggan buys a postcard.  For the rest of the time we're treated to a rather sad looking copy which appears to have been painted along with Nancy, impressionistic paint strokes which might have worked in long shot but hardly look right in the close ups selected by director Michael Hayes.

It's just difficult to understand why a print couldn't have been utilised which at least looked like it could be in Leonardo's hand.  I remember being fooled once by a print which had be plonked in a nice frame with a varnish applied (although not far enough to buy it) and given that there needed to be seven identical works that all look this same this would surely have been the way to go, and less hassle for the prop department painter.

But that seems somewhat churlish given that none of the sets look like they were created other than Studio B in Television Centre and that the Louvre in particular looks a bit small (compare and contrast with the famous running scene in Jean-Luc Godard's brilliant new wave film Bande A Part).  There's also the moment when Duggan breaks through the cellar wall and the foam back of one of the 'stones' can clearly be seen.  And the boom mike in the Renaissance scene. 

The important thing to remember then, is that script, those performances and that fact that actually most of this extraneous stuff is unimportant if you can suspend your disbelief.  Under those circumstances, me?  I'll believe anything.  Probably.

Comments

Just been listening to the audiobook "The Ancestor's Tale" by Richard Dawkins, narrated by him and his wife... Lalla Ward.

The book is about traveling back in time to learn about the various ancestors of the human race.

When I hear the delectable Lalla speak, I can just imagine the time lady, in her bonnie schoolgirl outfit, piloting the TARDIS back towards the pool of slime from which all life emerged.

(Except that as a scientist, Dawkins' accuracy is somewhat higher than Douglas Adams'!)

I like to think of the blatantly inaccurate Mona Lisa replica used for filming the story was a meta-joke by Douglas Adams about reproducing art. There's a lot of semi-pretentious talk about the meaning of art in the main documentary on the City of Death dvd, and Adams probably found using such a hideous reproduction hilarious.

Actually I think its more likely that they couldn't get the rights to use the real image and went for this instead. Although that wouldn't explain the postcard at the end.

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