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Oct 05, 2006

Paris, Jagaroth

One thing I have noticed from watching these stories episodically for these Stripped Down session is that often very little happens from episode to episode but that you do not seem to notice this when you watch the stories in one go like the majority of us Who fans do. Anyway, I digress.

City of Death Part One

City of Death is another one of those stories where very little happens in the first episode. In the case of this story it doesn’t matter that not a great deal happens because it is all done so beautifully.

It starts off well enough with some great model work by Ian Scoones of the Jagaroth spaceship on prehistoric earth, followed by a great shot of the ship trying to take off and then exploding. All well and all Doctor Who.

Then for the next twenty minutes or so you wonder if you are in fact watching Doctor Who and not some strange French thriller of an episode of a holiday programme. Don’t get me wrong it is done beautifully and looks great and all and you can tell that Tom and Lalla are having a whale of a time waltzing around Paris. The question is: is it Doctor Who? The answer to that is, of course, a resounding yes. Doctor Who can be absolutely anything its wants to be and this is proved with stories such as this and Love & Monsters.

What I loved about all the sequences of the Doctor and Romana wandering through the streets of Paris was Michael Hayes direction. He was determined to really make this episode look different and he also shot scenes in front of stranger and stranger objects such as a ornate gate or a postcard rack, or through railings on top of the Eiffel Tower. He also made good use of the location. If you are going to go to all the trouble of filming in Paris you might as well show that you are actually there!

On the subject of Tom and Lalla they were so obviously into each other during the filming of this episode that part of it almost seem like it is a honeymoon video directed by a French auteur, you are just basically watching them wandering around savouring the sights and sounds of Paris enjoying each other’s company. Even Dudley Simpson’s music sounded French! This was certainly a different type of score from the other stories of this season and one can believe that he had been listening to French music or watching French films before starting work on the score for this story.

Apart from a few elements such as the slips in time and the work being done by Professor Kerensky in the basement of Count Scarlioni’s chateaux there is precious little science fiction in this episode but you just don’t care.

On the subject of Count Scarlioni, what a performance this was by Julian Glover. He is pretty much playing a Bond style villain, a role that he would later actually take in a Bond film proper. Scarlioni even sounds like the name of a Bond villain for christ’s sake! He brings a great sense of dignity and gravitas to the role of the Count that not even ripping his face off to reveal that he really has a head made out of spaghetti Bolognese can dent!

I must admit I really didn’t see that cliff-hanger coming when I first watched the story (what does that say about me, eh?) but I guess it was really quite obvious if you thought about it for a while. Also, it happens so out the blue that you are just not expecting it. That is what makes it such as good cliffhanger.

City of Death Part Two

So, after the jolly that was part one, this second episode is set virtually entirely in the Count’s chateaux, and contains some of the wittiest, funniest scenes ever seen in the history of Doctor Who.

This is partly down to the writing (it is written by Douglas Adams after all) and partly down to Tom Baker’s performance as the Doctor. Well in his portrayal of himself, because by this time Tom had stopped playing the Doctor and was just playing a version of himself. They might as well have changed the name of the series to The Tom Baker show because, at the end of the day, it was popular because of him and no matter what you say about Tom Baker he was always very watchable as the Doctor even in some of the more suspect stories.

This episode contains very probably the best lines ever uttered in Doctor Who and the scene between the Doctor, the Count, the Countess, Romana and Duggan is very possibly the wittiest scene ever in Doctor Who. The story is certainly the wittiest ever, and there is some very clever humour on display unlike in some of the other stories of the seventeenth season where they were often trying to be funny but failing miserably, City of Death is not trying to be funny it just is funny.

Lalla Ward as Romana is a perfect foil for this Doctor although in this episode she really has very little to do except to stand their and look pretty. Catherine Schell is also in the same boat as Lalla Ward in this episode, there but not really taking much part in the proceedings. Like Lalla, though she does a very good job of just looking glamorous.

You start getting more hints about how the Count is not all he seems, apart from the fact that he is actually a spaghetti headed alien obviously, when they find a roomful of bricked up Mona Lisa’s. Then the episode goes off on another tangent with the Doctor disappearing to Renaissance Italy to meet his old mate Leonardo. Then you get another very surprising cliff-hanger when as the Doctor is at the mercy of a comedy guard the door is flung open and a man looking very much like Count Scarlioni enters and demands to know what the Doctor is doing there. This is another example of something that you weren’t expecting happening. That is what good scripts do, always surprise you, and this was a very good script, despite the fact that it was written basically over a weekend.

Apart from that, after two episodes still very little has actually happened, but it is so enjoyable you just haven’t noticed that in reality fifty minutes have passed without a great deal going on.

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