Monday, 26 May 2014

Story 105 - City of Death

In which the Doctor and Romana visit Paris, in 1979. After a trip to the Eiffel Tower, they go to lunch. The Doctor notices that an artist is sketching Romana. Unhappy that she is aware of this, the man scrunches up the drawing and throws it to the floor. As she picks it up she and the Doctor experience a brief time disturbance. Time jumps back a few seconds. Strangely, the artist has sketched Romana with the face of a clock, with a crack across it. Elsewhere in the city, Count Scarlioni has just observed the latest experiment by Professor Kerensky, who has a laboratory set up in the basement of Count's mansion. Kerensky is experimenting with time. An argument about art leads the Doctor and Romana to the Louvre - and Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece "Mona Lisa". Here, they experience another temporal disturbance. The Doctor seems to accidentally fall against a woman - stealing her bracelet as he does so. Their odd behaviour attracts the attention of a man in a raincoat, who decides to follow them back to the cafe they were in earlier. Here, the Doctor shows Romana the bracelet, and she recognises it as an advanced alien artefact. The man in the raincoat arrives. He is Duggan, an English private detective. He has been employed by a group of art experts to investigate a number of rare and priceless works which have recently been put up for sale by Count Scarlioni. The Count seems very interested in the "Mona Lisa". It was from the Countess Scarlioni that the Doctor removed the bracelet. Two men turn up, armed with guns, and force the Doctor, Romana and Duggan to accompany them back to Scarlioni's mansion.

The Count sent the men to retrieve the bracelet and find out who they are. They are locked up in a cellar just off the laboratory. Romana spots that the room is shorter than it should be. There is a blocked off section. Duggan breaks this down and they fins a number of wooden cabinets - inside which are copies of the "Mona Lisa". Examining them, the Doctor realises that they are all originals, all painted by da Vinci. They realise what the Count is planning. The bracelet is a holographic recorder, which has been used to study the security systems around the painting in the Louvre. Scarlioni plans to steal this, then sell that and these copies to a number of buyers - all of whom will get the "original" and who will never advertise the fact they have bought the stolen work. Escaping from the cellar, the Doctor returns to the TARDIS - parked in a Left Bank gallery - and travels to Florence, 1505, to learn about the alternative paintings. He is shocked to discover Scarlioni is here - in the guise of one Captain Tancredi.

It transpires that Scarlioni and Tancredi are different aspects of one alien being - Scaroth, of the Jagaroth race. These belligerent creatures wiped themselves out a very long time ago. Scaroth is the last survivor. When his ship was destroyed on prehistoric Earth, he found himself splintered through time. There are twelve aspects to him, the latest being the Count. Each "splinter" has helped to further mankind's development so that Scarlioni will have the means to travel back in time - to stop the destruction of his spaceship. Before returning to 1979, the Doctor writes "This is a Fake" on all the panels which da Vinci is about to use to paint the alternative copies. He will simply paint over this - but in 1979 x-rays will expose the words and render the copies worthless. Romana is forced to help Scaroth / Scarlioni complete his time travel device. Their usefulness at an end, he kills Kerensky and the Countess. The Doctor has worked out that it was the radiation from the exploding spaceship which helped trigger life on Earth, so Scaroth must be stopped. Duggan joins the Doctor and Romana in the TARDIS as they travel back in time to prehistory. Duggan knocks the alien out. His time travel device automatically returns him to the laboratory. His henchman, seeing him in natural tentacled, monocular form, wrecks the device. Both die in the blast, and the mansion is destroyed.
Only one copy of the "Mona Lisa" survives the fire. Duggan is horrified that it might be one of the ones with the Doctor's handwriting underneath - but the Doctor points out that it is what is on the surface that counts most in art...

This four part adventure was written by David Agnew, and was broadcast between 29th September and 20th October, 1979. This story is the first ever to be filmed outside the UK. Production Unit Manager John Nathan-Turner (whatever happened to him?) worked out a budget that would allow for overseas filming.
The last time the pseudonym "David Agnew" was employed, the writers were the producer and the script editor - and that is the case here as well. David Fisher had submitted a story called "A Gamble With Time". Fisher was unable to complete rewrites on this, and so Graham Williams and Douglas Adams stepped in to do a page one rewrite. Some elements of Fisher's story do survive. "Gamble" also concerned an alien splintered in time, and there was the English detective (knick-named "Pug" - for pugilistic), but the setting was Monte Carlo in the 1920's rather than modern day Paris. Rather than steal and sell art treasures, the Count would have been using alien tech to cheat at the gaming tables to raise funds for his time travel experiments.
Yet again, K9 is missing - left back in the TARDIS throughout. The Doctor does say hello to him - off camera.

This story features in most people's top ten list of Doctor Who stories. It has a very clever plot, and an abundance of humour. Performances are uniformly great. Tom Chadbon's Duggan takes a little bit of getting used to - he can be quite cartoon-ish at times - but you would like to see him travel on with the Doctor and Romana by the end of the story. The stand-out performance is Julian Glover, as Scarlioni and the other Scaroth splinters. Catherine Schell is the Countess - a beautiful woman (probably). After years of providing Dalek voices, David Graham makes his second on-screen appearance in the programme, as the ill-fated Professor Kerensky.
Peter Halliday turns up as Tancredi's guard.
As well as the number of quotable lines, this story is also famous for the John Cleese / Eleanor Bron cameos in the final episode. They appear as a couple of art lovers, admiring the TARDIS as it stands in the trendy gallery. Exquisite.
Episode endings are:
  1. Scarlioni proves to be a Jagaroth, as he pulls off his face mask to reveal a single eye and masses of tentacles...
  2. In 16th Century Florence, the Doctor is confronted by Captain Tancredi. He knows who he is, and he is identical in appearance to Scarlioni...
  3. Trapped in his own machine, Kerensky is aged to death by Scarlioni...
  4. The Doctor and Romana bid adieu to Duggan at the Eiffel Tower. He buys a postcard of the "Mona Lisa" as a souvenir of his recent adventures.

Overall, one of the very best stories. Hard to fault it on any aspect. The spaceship model work is some of the finest seen in the programme. Some people moan about the Jagaroth head being too big to fit under the human mask, or question what kind of a relationship the Countess must have had with her husband, but that's all inconsequential. If you wanted to introduce someone to classic Doctor Who, you couldn't go far wrong using this as an example.
Things you might like to know:
  • Thanks mainly to an ITV strike, this story holds the record for highest ever UK audience - just over 16 million viewers for one of the episodes.
  • Both Douglas Adams and director Michael Hayes appear on screen - Adams in a bar and Hayes on the Paris Metro.
  • This was a good time for Adams. His book of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy was published during the period this story aired (12th October 1979).
  • Some elements of this story will reappear in Adams' Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency.
  • The first issue of what has now become DWM was published during the run of this story as well - the first ever Doctor Who Weekly.
  • Dudley Simpson's distinctive score for this story features references to George Gershwin's An American in Paris.
  • The Doctor recognises his own handwriting when the Countess shows him the Hamlet manuscript. He says Shakespeare had sprained his wrist writing sonnets. This might just be a bit of a joke on his part, but he does describe knowing the playwright as a boy as well. If Hamlet was written about 1603, this doesn't contradict the Tenth Doctor story The Shakespeare Code, as that features a younger Shakespeare.
  • The Doctor blames the year of their visit to Paris on the Randomiser - 1979 not being all that special. (I remember it. It was mostly rubbish...). The Doctor appears to disconnect the device twice - to get to Florence and then to the Earth of 400 Million years ago.
  • This is the third televised story to see the Doctor visit Paris. The last time he visited it, in The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve, the Louvre also featured - then still as the royal residence.
  • Filming abroad did not go without its mishaps. Famously, Tom Baker triggered a burglar alarm when he pushed too vigorously on the door of the gallery in which the TARDIS was supposed to be parked. Everyone did a runner, leaving JNT to sort out the authorities. Michael Hayes also had problems with the local gendarmes. He had set up a camera to check angles on shots of the Eiffel Tower. Despite the camera having no film in it, he was still forced to move on.

1 comment:

  1. It's one of the best stories during the Graham Williams reign!