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Oct 08, 2006

"I say, what a wonderful butler. He's so violent!"

So, City of Death. The serial which got the highest ratings in Doctor Who's history and is often claimed as one of the greatest stories in the show's entire run (I stand by the readers of Doctor Who Magazine that the actual greatest is Genesis of the Daleks). And, certainly compared to some other stories I've seen (I shall name no names, Mr G. Death) it's a fantastic little story, and it's one which I very much enjoyed and will no doubt watch again at some point in the future.

The trouble with 'reviewing' it is trying to saying something original about it. At this point in time, over 25 years since it was first shown, anything you could say about it - good or bad - has already been said far better than you could ever hope to explain it. So if this 'review' sounds familiar or is similar to something you've read elsewhere, you'll have my excuse, insincere as it may be, and I'm sticking to it.

First and foremost, it's absolutely wonderful to get away from the UK! Doctor Who spends far too much time in our motherland. Yes, I know it's a British show and we're supposed to be proud of it, but look at it this way - what were your favourite stories of the newer series? Chances are, if The Satan Pit wasn't the top one (which it is for me, I love that serial) then it was pretty high on the list along with Tooth & Claw. And, alien planet and creatures trying to kill everybody aside, it was great to get away from bog-standard England once or twice, wasn't it? Same with this serial. It didn't happen often, but when Doctor Who was set outside the UK, it's always nice to actually see it as with this adventure.

Next up, the cast. Julian Glover is, and I suspect always will be, utterly watchable, and it was an utter delight to watch him here. The other, incidental characters were also great fun, from Duggan and his obsession to breaking things to the Butler and... well, his obsession of breaking people, they were all good fun to watch. As for the two main leads, they did a great job and were clearly enjoying themselves. As I believe someone else here mentioned, it's fun trying to spot when the two have just emerged from a back alley having done some unmentionable deed. But they both do a good job with this serial and I believe I may even be warming to Mr Baker somewhat. Maybe.

Finally, the plot. It's a typical Douglas Adams script - a good idea with plenty of light-hearted moments scattered around... although, that said, it's also one of the problems I had with the story. At no point did I really feel any sense of menace, or that the main characters were in any danger. I had a rough idea of what was going to happen (you always do when watching a classic serial) - 7 Mona Lisas, set in Paris, giant green alien splintered across time, the big bang which kick-started life on Earth - but even so, I didn't feel much of a threat. It's not a huge flaw, but I tend to like my stories being much darker. Perhaps that's why I think Genesis is the best Doctor Who story. But whatever I feel, it's a small problem and doesn't stop the serial being a good watch.

One other point I feel I must point out - the ending. Did it feel rushed to other people as well? Scaroth has been punched out, and all of a sudden WHAM! Everything's all settled before you've had a chance to pause the DVD and figure out what the heck is going on. Did anybody else find this a but of a turn-off?

Anyway, those minor quibbles aside, it's a fun little story  and I mostcertainly don't regret having bought it, but it will be a while before I watch it again. I like my stories, and my Doctors, somewhat darker than this. And that, I believe, is why I'm not a huge fan of Tom Baker or, to a degree, David Tennant. When they do dark, they're very very good, but when they don't...

The Bumper Book of Made-Up Doctor Who facts has this to say about City of Death:
The real reason behind the story being set in France was that most of the shooting staff were alcoholics and needed the excuse to grab some cheap booze. Tom Baker is understood to have bought several trucks worth of liquor during the production and to have made Lalla Ward consume most of it, which would explain their brief marriage which ended when she finally sobered up.


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