In any countdown of favourite Doctor Who stories, ‘City of Death’ always lands somewhere near the top of the pile.
Despite apparently being concocted from the bare bones of an unfinished script at the eleventh hour, the story involving multiple copies of the Mona Lisa and a villain fractured through time scores on all fronts for its sheer entertainment value. No wonder then, when you scratch the surface of the pseudonym David Agnew, you find the comic genius of Douglas Adams, then Script Editor, and Producer Graham Williams.
The dialogue is pure Adams; intelligent, witty and packed with double-entendre. Tom Baker and Lalla Ward are both on top form and the Doctor here has much in common with the incarnations seen in the current series; a friend to historical characters such as Leonardo da Vinci and Shakespeare.
Able support is provided by Tom Chadborn as the plodding sleuth Duggan, who acquires a pseudo-companion role and allows us to keep up with the Gallifreyans, as well as being more than a little handy with his fists. The villain of the piece, played in a memorable performance by Julian Glover, convinces with his motivation to ensure his species’ survival at any cost.
On narration duties for this version, we find Lalla Ward sounding barely different from her alter ego on the soundtrack. She coolly furnishes the transitional shots of Parisian streets with smart detail and moves the story on in an engaging manner.
Despite being rather familiar with the tale on screen, it is interesting to see what jumps out of the audio when the visuals are removed. We could not help but notice the similarity between the voice of Scaroth and the Vogon Captain from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Another thing that shines through is the marvellous score from composer Dudley Simpson, one of his final contributions to the series.
In any format, ‘City of Death’ is an essential slice of Douglas Adams and Tom Baker at their finest and we challenge any true Doctor Who fan to admit that they have visited the top of the Eiffel Tower and not shouted “Bye bye Duggan!”
Extras: Also included is an interview with Lalla Ward who speaks about her time on the show, and in particular filming in Paris. She talks in particular about the sequence where Romana is constructing Scaroth’s time travel apparatus and how she fought for her role as a heroine not to be compromised. Going further, she discusses alterations to the tone of the show at the end of Series 17 with the departure of Graham Williams and the arrival of his successor John Nathan-Turner.
In addition, the CD release comes with scans of the original camera scripts for the story in PDF format, which are fascinating to pore over and follow how the script was translated to the screen.
Released on 6 December 2012 by AudioGO.
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