‘City of Death’ (TV)

city of death dvd


Please feel free to comment on my review.

Paris in the Springtime

I love ‘City of Death’! It’s my favourite Tom Baker story from ‘Doctor Who’!

It’s truly a masterpiece as much as the Mona Lisa is! A vintage ‘Doctor Who’. Not the best vintage admittedly. More of a table wine you might say. I’m glad I managed to watch ‘City of Death’, as it’s a true classic. ‘City of Death’ has also inspired me to write some of my fan-fiction ‘Doctor Who’ stories such as ‘The Railway of Time’ and ‘The Austen Code’ from ‘The Fifth Doctor by Tim Bradley’ series.

I’ve had the DVD cover of ‘City of Death’ signed by Lalla Ward at the ‘London Film and Comic Con 2017’ in July 2017 and Julian Glover at the ‘Worcester Comic Con’ in August 2016. I hold very fond and cherish memories of ‘City of Death’ and consider it to be my second favourite ‘Doctor Who’ story (my first favourite is ‘Black Orchid’ from the Peter Davison era).

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I first watched this TV story when I was invited to stay overnight with two friends who are a married couple and ‘Doctor Who’ fans like me. We were working on a ‘Doctor Who’ quiz for a drama camp in August 2008. The following morning, over a breakfast of egg sandwiches, we watched ‘City of Death’.

Knowing my love for ‘Doctor Who’, they’d thought that I would enjoy this story. I certainly did! I loved every minute of it! Not long after watching the story, I eventually purchased the ‘City of Death’ DVD whilst on a day trip to Bath. We still had builders working on our family house during that time!

‘City of Death’ was released on a 2-disc DVD set in 2005. The story was on Disc 1 with the special features on Disc 2. It is a four-part story from the sixth season of Tom Baker’s era and is by David Agnew. David Agnew?! Who’s he then? Well in actual fact…David Agnew does not exist! At all! Ever!

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The story is by Douglas Adams; from the ideas of David Fisher and was script edited by producer Graham Williams. It is a funny, witty and cleverly well-written story, with a good plot and containing some lovely dialogue. It makes Paris even more delicious to watch and it will excite your taste buds!

I enjoy the stories by Douglas Adams and it’s a treat to watch/listen to something that has Adams-esque humour in them. Douglas is well-known for ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’, but this is not that story. Here he brings a terrific story that is a comedy drama in itself and it is lovely to watch.

I don’t get some of the science stuff that’s featured in this ‘Doctor Who’ story, but I always look forward to the humour by Douglas Adams. This has got to be one of the highlights during Season 17 and it is well-remembered by the ‘Doctor Who’ fans, especially since ITV was shut down at the time.

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Douglas Adams rewrote the scripts of this story under a heavy dose of whisky and black coffee given to him by Graham Williams in his study. From those long nights of writing and rewriting, Douglas delivered a cracking good and fantastic story, managing to win in the top ten stories of ‘Doctor Who’.

I love the humour that runs throughout this story. It’s certainly a good-feel story that questions art and how we appreciate and perceive art in a new light, rather than just thinking they’re pretty which I found so intriguing. I’m not claiming to be an expert on art culture, but I appreciate its significance.

In the story, the Doctor and Romana take a holiday in Paris, 1979. I love the Paris locations in this story. They seem lush, eloquent and lovely to see. It makes me want to go Paris, even if it’s for a day or two. I would love to visit Paris and have a cup of tea with a cheesy ham croissant or crêpe with it.

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Watching the Doctor and Romana walking and running about the streets of Paris and seeing all the landmarks such as Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Champs-Élysées and of course the Eiffel Tower was a joy. Even Dudley Simpson’s gorgeous incidental music in the background made my heart skip a beat.

But the Doctor and Romana’s holiday is cut short, as something strange occurs with time. The two experience time loops in a café and they both know that something’s amiss. The Doctor soon takes Romana to meet the Mona Lisa in the Louvre – ‘one of the greatest art galleries in the whole galaxy’.

With a happy fists detective named Duggan on their tail, the Doctor and Romana soon end up in the chateau of one Count Scarlioni with his wife, the Countess, involved in an organised crime to steal the Mona Lisa – ‘one of the greatest treasures in the universe’ (according to the Doctor apparently).

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Julian Glover guest stars as Count Scarlioni. I’ve met Julian at some conventions. I like Julian Glover as an actor. I’ve seen Julian in plenty of other works as well as ‘Doctor Who’. These include ‘The Avengers’, ‘The Saint’; the James Bond film ‘For Your Eyes Only’, ‘Star Wars’ and also ‘Indiana Jones’.

Scarlioni is actually an alien disguised as a human and is the last of a race that was wiped out during Earth’s prehistoric age. He is Scaroth, the last of the Jagoroth. The Jagoroth were a ‘vicious, callous, war-like race’. Scaroth is an alien with a face like spaghetti and he has only ‘one eye with green skin’.

Scaroth got splintered into twelve versions across time and space in Earth’s history. He is trying to restore himself and get back to where his spaceship ‘is/was’ and save himself. To do this, he intends to use Leonardo Da Vinci and rustle up copies of the Mona Lisa to fund the time-travel experiments.

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Are you with me on this so far? It is confusing, I grant you. But trust me, Scaroth is a great ‘Doctor Who’ villain and Julian Glover wonderfully plays him. Julian knows how to play villains with charm, finesse and menace. His performance is not over-the-top and is actually threatening when he’s calm.

Catherine Schell guest stars as Heidi the Countess, wife to Scarlioni. I enjoyed Catherine’s performance as this exotic, aristocratic lady married to the Count. She’s a beautiful woman ‘probably’ and well-cast to play the Countess. I liked it when she’s at the Louvre and is so mysterious.

Heidi thinks the Count’s a genius. Bit strange though that the Countess didn’t know her husband was an alien. I love the scenes she has with the Doctor regarding Shakespeare and he tells the Countess about being wilfully blind to the Count’s alien origins. When she finds out, she gets terribly shocked.

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Tom Chadbon guest stars as detective Duggan. Duggan is a pretty rough character…and a bit thick. He likes to hit things or people rather than holding back. “If it moves, hit it!” as the Doctor describes him. He smashes glass, especially when it comes to breaking a bottle of wine instead of uncorking it.

The Doctor finds it annoying when Duggan tends to hit things first before he gets to ask a question. But Duggan’s got a good heart and is definitely on the side of good. He even gets to help out Romana as her ‘glamorous assistant’. I liked it when Duggan does not get the time travel stuff and goes blank.

The guest cast also includes David Graham as Professor Kerensky (who is like Manuel from ‘Fawlty Towers’); Peter Halliday (who played Packer from ‘The Invasion’) as the Soldier in Da Vinci’s study in Florence 1505; Kevin Flood as Hermann, Scarlioni’s butler and Pamela Stirling as the Louvre Guide.

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One moment I enjoyed from this story was the cameo appearance of John Cleese and Eleanor Bron as art lovers in a museum who comment on the TARDIS standing there. To see John Cleese was a joy and a surprise when I first saw it with my friends. John Cleese played Basil Fawlty in ‘Fawlty Towers’.

Both Cleese and Brom comment on the TARDIS and I love it when the Doctor, Romana and Duggan walk past; go inside the TARDIS and take off to stop Scarlioni. It is a very funny moment and I enjoy watching it every time. Even though ‘it has no call to be there; the art lies in the fact that it is there.’

Tom Baker is on top form as the Doctor. Tom clearly loves the humour and wit of Douglas Adams that suits his Doctor well and shows him at his best. I love the scenes where he’s taking the mick out of the villains first and then becoming deadly serious towards the end, as he is confronting Scarlioni.

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I found it funny when he’s pushed about by Hermann the butler and has that wild grin when he says “I say! What a wonderful butler! He’s so violent!” I love it when he’s introducing himself, Romana and Duggan to the Countess before he ends up on a Louis Quinze chair and helps himself to a drink.

I love it when the Doctor has witty dialogue. I love his scenes with Kerensky and when he barks, “Duggan! What are you doing for heaven’s sake?! That’s a Louis Quinze!” I also like it when the Doctor persuades Scarlioni not to tinker with time. It’s one of Tom’s best performances in the show.

Lalla Ward is good as Romana and she clearly enjoyed doing this Douglas Adams-styled story. Her Romana gets to dress up in a school girl’s uniform, which is bizarre. I enjoyed it when Romana thinks that computers can draw pictures better and the Doctor admonishes her by taking her to the Louvre.

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Also when Romana is unlocking the puzzle box, much to the Countess’ annoyance, was a funny moment. Lalla’s Romana is quite childlike much like Tom’s Doctor is, as the two bounce each other. Romana also shows off her Time Lady qualities and is good when leading Duggan or facing Scarlioni.

The story is full of humour and comedic moments. But it’s also a story that questions about art and how we as people perceive it. Some perceive it for its wealth, fidelity, precision and even as a badge of status. We take art for granted sometimes and forget or become ignorant of what it represents.

When seven copies of the Mona Lisa are made, the Doctor writes on the paintwork ‘THIS IS A FAKE!’ in an attempt to foil Scarlioni’s plans. It doesn’t work out the way the Doctor had in mind. But in defeating Scaroth, one of the seven Mona Lisas survives and it happens to be one of the ‘fakes’ ones.

Duggan is aghast that the Doctor is casual about it being put on show in the Louvre. The Doctor has the final say in that painting is not for wealth or fame, but for its human achievement. So just because the Mona Lisa has the word ‘fake’ written underneath, this doesn’t affect what it looks like.

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The DVD special features are as follows. On Disc 1, there’s a commentary with director Michael Hayes; Julian Glover and Tom Chadbon. There’s also an info-text commentary option to enjoy.

On Disc 2, there’s a making-of documentary called ‘Paris in the Springtime’ with behind-the-scenes cast and crew interviews. There’s also ‘Paris, W12’, featuring studio recording sessions of ‘City of Death’; ‘Prehistoric Landscapes’, focusing on the effects sequences and ‘Chicken Wrangler’, focusing on the ‘chicken’ special effects.

There’s a funny spoof called ‘Eye On…Blatchford’, which is the story of ‘second-to-last’ of the Jagoroth. There’s also a photo gallery of the story and a ‘Doctor Who Annual 1980’ PDF. There are also some Easter Eggs to look out for on this DVD disc.

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If you want comedy-drama in ‘Doctor Who’, then this is the one for you! With Julian Glover as the villain, Tom Baker as the Doctor, a fantastic cameo from John Cleese and Eleanor Bron and lovely, witty dialogue by Douglas Adams himself, this provides the ingredients for a good Spanish omelette!

‘City of Death’ is a classy, stylish ‘Doctor Who’ story that is one of my favourites and one that I will cherish always! I have dreams of going to Paris from watching this story and it’s definitely a story that became my inspiration with writing my own fan-fiction and embracing my love for the TV series.

“Bye, bye Duggan!”

‘City of Death’ rating – 10/10

doctor who city of death novelization  doctor who city of death novelization audiobook


Please feel free to comment on my review.

Romance à Paris

I absolutely loved reading/listening to the novelization/audiobook of ‘City of Death’!

‘City of Death’ is one of my favourite ‘Doctor Who’ stories with Tom Baker! It has an ethos; a life; a spirit all of its own; a bouquet. I love the humour; I love the story; I love the characters; I love Julian Glover’s performance as Scarlioni/Scaroth and I even loved John Cleese and Eleanor Brom’s cameos.

The story was released on DVD in 2005. It was a joy to watch when I saw it in 2008 with friends over a breakfast of egg sandwiches. Tom Baker shone throughout with his opulence and witty quips. ‘City of Death’ was the highly-watched story in 1979. It’s well-loved by the fans and well-loved by me too!

So it came as a surprise when I discovered ‘City of Death’ would be novelized into a book for 2015. I thought, why novelize it? There’s nothing wrong with ‘City of Death’ at all! It’s perfect! But of course this book adds more to the story. I was looking forward to finding out more and to revisit Paris again.

‘City of Death’ was originally meant to be novelized by Gareth Roberts, who novelized the lost Douglas Adams story ‘Shada’ in 2012. This book follows the same line of book as ‘Shada’ did, in that it’s so big and chock-a-block full of detail. It was like another ‘Worshipful and Ancient law of Gallifrey’!

Sadly Gareth Roberts wasn’t able to novelise ‘City of Death’ as hoped, which was a shame since he did a good job on ‘Shada’. ‘City of Death’ was then novelised by James Goss, who does a cracking good job. He’s no Gareth Roberts, but the spirit of ‘City of Death’ shines throughout this great book!

The book is based on the TV scripts by David Agnew, who is actually Douglas Adams from a story by David Fisher. It was interesting reading this book and discovering from James Goss’ Afternote how much detail was being put into the book and what changes were made to certain scenes in the story.

Thankfully not much has changed in the story through the book. ‘City of Death’ is still the same, cracking good, French cheese omelette I love and how I remember it from watching it on DVD. What James Goss has done very well is enhancing the characters and giving more to Scaroth’s background.

I was surprised by how absorbing the book was. Certain scenes were expanded on in great detail and the thoughts and feelings of certain characters are explored including the Doctor; Romana; Duggan; the Count; the Countess; Hermann; Kerensky and the Louvre Guide now called Madame Henriette.

The book is divided into 19 very chunky chapters with titles. The book is also divided into four episodes for us to enjoy with the chapters inside. This book took me quite a while to read/listen to, but I took my time reading/listening to the book, as I enjoyed every minute of it before I finished it to the end.

The audiobook is read by Lalla Ward, who played Romana in ‘Doctor Who’. She does a fine reading of the story and provides some interesting interpretations of the characters. The audiobook is an 8-CD set. That’s quite a lot of CDs for one big book. But it was great listening to these CDs each in turn.

I’ve had the CD cover of ‘Doctor Who – City of Death’ signed by Lalla Ward at the ‘London Film and Comic Con 2017’, Olympia, July 2017. I’ve enjoyed sharing with Lalla how much I consider ‘City of Death’ to be one of my favourite ‘Doctor Who’ stories. Lalla also has fond memories of the story too.

Each episode of ‘City of Death’ begins with a quotation in the book. These quotes range from texts and people such as ‘The Pursuit of Love’; Cole Porter; Napoleon Bonaparte and Hôtel du Nord. I hadn’t realised how much research James Goss put into writing this book and in making it so French.

Chapter 1 has a very long prologue adding to the prehistoric scenes with Scaroth’s ship taking off and exploding. Goss adds more background with Scarlioni and Heidi meeting each other for the first time; how Duggan ended up in Paris at all and how Kerensky worked for the Count in the first place.

There are additional scenes where Leonardo Da Vinci is painting the Mona Lisa in his study in 16th century Florence and where Shakespeare is playing croquet which was interesting and unusual. I expected more of David Fisher’s ‘Gamble with Time’ original story in this novel. Sadly there was not.

This takes us to Chapter 2 for the Doctor and Romana to appear properly. I sometimes felt that Goss’ novelization of ‘City of Death’ was rather slow and wasn’t quick enough in getting to the Doctor and Romana in Paris. But reading those earlier scenes was well-worth it and does adds more to the story.

As I drink this cup of coffee (not French sadly), I’d like to mention how pleased I was that the Countess’ first name was Heidi. I knew it was Heidi from watching the ‘Paris in the Springtime’ DVD documentary. But she was simply referred to as ‘the Countess’ and I didn’t feel that was quite right.

Scaroth’s background, as I mentioned before, is delved deeper in this novel. More is given about what happened to Scaroth after he was splintered into twelve selves throughout Earth’s history and how he formed the gestalt link, as his first self in primeval times makes contact with his other selves.

It was also interesting reading how Count Scarlioni forgets who he really is when he rips his mask off at the end of ‘Part One’. I thought he was getting rid of the itch in his right eye when reading it. But he does it to find out that he’s alien and he seemed to have forgotten about it which was a surprise.

In the book (and the TV story), it is implied Scarlioni shaped humanity from its beginning to the present when he was splintered across time in various periods of Earth’s history. This is to indicate that human is a result of the Jagoroth’s destruction. This I will never agree with, but it was intriguing.

I liked how Duggan is developed as a character in the book. There were references to his ‘chief’ back home and he is written as constantly growling and wanting to throw a punch. Lalla Ward’s voice for Duggan was amusing to listen to, as she makes him more aggressive compared to how he was on TV.

Professor Kerensky was also interesting to read as a character. More is explored about his ego when he’s working for Count Scarlioni and how he imagines the wealth; fame and achievement he will get for creating his Kerensky Accelerator. It makes him not the innocent scientist he was as seen on TV.

It was interesting reading how Countess Heidi was developed in the book. Her marriage to Count Scarlioni is touched upon in the book, but not too greatly and explicitly as I expected. It’s clear the Countess is very close to the Count, even though she does not realise her husband is really an alien.

There is a new scene featured in the book. In ‘Part Three’, Romana gets to be out on the town with Duggan to Paris at night-time. This was interesting and was never portrayed in the TV story. Romana gets drunk and was funny to listen to as Lalla gets to play Romana being tiddly as never done before.

In the original script apparently, it was Romana who smashes the vase onto Countess Heidi’s head when she, the Doctor and Duggan are escaping. This is resurfaced at last in the book and I prefer it being Romana who hits the Countess on the head with a vase rather than Duggan as seen in the TV story.

The Doctor gets to be angry with Romana in ‘Part Four’ of the story. He goes boiling with anger when he finds she’s been making a time machine for Scarlioni. This was never shown in the TV story between the Doctor and Romana and I wonder if that was a new addition to the novel by Mr. Goss.

John Cleese and Eleanor Brom get an extended cameo as the art critics in the book compared to the TV story. They’re also given names as Cleese is called Harrison and Brom is called Elena (not Kim Bread and Helena Swanetsky). I had not realised this extended cameo till halfway through the novel.

The artist who drew a sketch of Romana, now called Bourget, also has an extended appearance. There is more added about why he drew a sketch of Romana with a fractured clock in the face. It was funny when he tried to draw a clock and it ends up with the face of the Mona Lisa in the centre.

I like how the Mona Lisa has her impact in the events of the story (all seven of them). Her smile keeps shinning throughout both in good moments and bad moments. It’s a surprise she didn’t step out and cause trouble when she did in ‘The Sarah Jane Adventures’ TV story, ‘Mona Lisa’s Revenge’.

K-9 also gets to have an appearance in the book compared to his non-appearance in the TV story, even if it’s for a little bit. John Leeson even gets to voice K-9 in the audiobook when Duggan talks to him. This was a nice addition, although I do wonder if it was necessary to have K-9 in the book at all.

Kerensky’s death scene in ‘Part Three’ is very elongated compared to what was shown in the TV story. The death is taken from Kerensky’s point-of-view when he’s inside the time bubble, as he’s slowly aged to death. It’s very horrifying and disturbing to read, as he is slowly being bored to death.

The most important aspect of this book that appealed to me was the humour of ‘City of Death’. The jokes are still there, as well as the wittiness of the story. Goss adds some of his own embellishments to the story in the descriptive narrative and plot, which makes ‘City of Death’ juicier like French wine.

The locations of Paris are touched upon. I like how Goss elaborates on some of the background and history of Paris in the book when the Doctor and Romana are running around from the Eiffel Tower to the Champs-Élysées to the Louvre. He did his research and it makes me want to go to Paris now.

It was interesting how people perceive art differently in the book as well as on TV. Romana sticks to it that computer pictures are better than hand-painted ones; Countess Heidi is diligent in the wealth the Mona Lisa will give her and her husband and Duggan is so appalled that the Mona Lisa is a ‘fake’.

As I said before, there is an Afternote by James Goss on the background to writing this novel. It was interesting how James Goss approached this story and how he depended on the rehearsal scripts for the description and detail as well as adding in Tom Baker’s adlibs and jokes that worked great on TV.

‘City of Death’ has been a great ‘Doctor Who’ book to read/listen to. It was one of my favourite TV stories from the series and it was interesting to see how more is added to the story in the book. Very much in the same vein as the ‘Shada’ book, this is a treat and delight in a Douglas Adam-style of way.

‘Doctor Who – City of Death’ rating – 9/10

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2 thoughts on “‘City of Death’ (TV)

  1. The story which started my love for Doctor Who, ITV were on strike so we only had BBC1& 2 to watch & when the announcer said next up is Doctor Who i was intrigued.

    I’ll never forget hiding under my nans table terrified as a four year old when Scaroth rips his face off & reveal that slimy green creature with one eye lol.

    Excellent written review Tim which brings back great nostalgic memories for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Simon.

    Glad you enjoyed my review on ‘City of Death’. I think this story would bring back nostalgic memories of you. I’m pleased my review helped with that! 😀

    Thanks for sharing your memories of watching this story when you were watching ‘Doctor Who’ at 4 years old in 1979. It must have been exciting times for you, especially with ITV on strike and BBC 1 & 2 as the only channels available to you at that time.

    How could you be scared of Scaroth back then?! It was only a guy in a mask! Hehe! I’m pleased those memories of you seeing Scaroth with his one eye stood out for you when you watched the story.

    Did you enjoyed my review on the ‘City of Death’ novelization/audiobook? I’ve recently read and reviewed the novelization/audiobook of ‘The Pirate Planet’ read by Jon Culshaw and really enjoyed it. I’ve added my review on the novelization/audiobook to ‘The Pirate Planet’ TV review.

    Thanks for your kind comments, SImon.

    Tim. 🙂


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