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Oct 06, 2006

A Tale of Two Cities

This week on ‘Holiday ‘79’, Cliff Michelmore will be basking in the delights of Florence 1505, while back in the studio we’ll be showing you how to take advantage of those ever-popular cheap package trips to Paris.

City of Death Part 3

Okay, ‘Who’ cliché of the week - Romana is a female version of the Doctor, with the point driven firmly home in this story by having her own dumb ’n’ blonde (though this time, male) sidekick in order to a) explain the plot to and b) generally act superior towards in a slightly condescending manner. Anyone who still yearns for the likes of Joanna Lumley or - Gawd fakkin help us - Catherine Tate to one day take the title role could start here…and bear in mind just how much worse the real thing could be.

The pairing-off of the regulars is necessitated by the fact that this episode takes place in two different - though equally sartorial - settings. So while Romana and her new sidekick try to stop the stealing of the Mona Lisa in 1979, the Doctor has found that Leonardo’s been busy knocking off multiple copies of his signature piece all the way back in 1505. Though why he takes so long to notice the first copy - the original, you might say - sitting on a stand when he’d already taken a languorous tour of Da Vinci’s study in the previous episode is, frankly, anyone’s guess. But never mind the details, feel the banter as Baker, Glover and Peter Halliday - in one of his innumerable ‘Who’ guest roles - play ‘who can give the most dead-pan reaction’ along to some more excruciatingly witty Douglas Adams dialogue. There’s even a moment that dates this story more than anything else: when the Doctor takes a picture of the marvellously matter-of-fact guard with a Polaroid camera. I mean, what year other than 1979 could it be..?

Back at the chateau, Kerensky is plumbing new depths of gullibility as he reacts to Scarlioni’s delirious mumblings about the Jagaroth as proof he is helping some noble cause with all the chickens he’s producing. Perhaps I’m being a bit too harsh on the oddly accented scientist, as he’s certainly got grounds for employee grievance given that a) his boss seems to be stark raving bonkers and b) his initial remit of producing food for all mankind has swiftly descended into producing a half-arsed time-travel machine on pain of death. Had the professor survived his untimely end - of which more later - then I think we’d have been looking at some sort of landmark case in employment tribunals.

Kerensky's initial remit of producing food for all mankind has swiftly descended into producing a half-arsed time-travel machine

Whilst Romana and Duggan reconvene at the TARDIS-substitute café - the owner of which hasn’t noticed that a) two English-accented tourists appear to have been there all night and b) one of the pair has smashed a window to get in - Scarlioni helpfully enters exposition mode to give us some background on the ancient race of the Jagaroth. With the aid of a flick through the family tree - during which we see ‘Cleopatra Scaroth’, ‘Jesus-look-alike Scaroth’ and ‘Romany-looking Scaroth with a slightly Crusades-ish nose-guard’ - it seems that the Jagaroth are just one more of at least half-a-dozen Who races to have a decent claim on the human race’s existence and all its subsequent development. Stand back Azal, Fenric and all the other pretenders to the throne - there’s a new (old?) player in town…

And being episode three, there’s of course a sudden drying-up of plot; so we’re once again treated to some completely unnecessary - though undoubtedly more pleasing on the eye - running around Paris as the Doctor, Romana and Duggan rush from their respective locations to get back to the chateau. Where Romana is given the very simple choice of building a fully functional time machine for the Count in exchange for him leaving Paris’ beautiful landmarks - not to mention Paris itself - standing.

Ultimatums ahoy! But at least the Doctor’s escaped the prospect of torture by cold hands and - having called back at the Louvre (where, bizarrely, two guards treat him like some specialist investigator) - he arrives at the café to find Romana and Duggan already on their way to the chateau (and you’d be forgiven for expecting Brian Rix to pop up at this point). And before you can say ‘not more location filming filler’ he’s on his way in hot pursuit just as Romana is stalling on her Deal or No Deal dilemma. Unconvinced by the Count’s ability to build a stable warp field (or some such), she’s forced to witness some of the worst ‘Dad dancing’ outside of a family christening; as Kerensky’s naivety finally costs him his life and he gyrates himself into a time-accelerated grave like some bizarre body-popper.

forced to witness some of the worst ‘Dad dancing’ outside of a family christening

Should have stuck to the Saturday-night comedy double-act, methinks…

(The Bumper Book of Made-Up ‘Doctor Who’ Facts has this to say about City of Death 3: in polite circles, the dialogue for this episode has been used as a template for charming dinner party conversation. Except for the bits about warp fields)

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