Thursday, 3 September 2009

Doctor Who: City of Death

Part One

“Do you mean an alien’s trying to steal the Mona Lisa?”

“It’s a very pretty painting.”

For these cash-strapped times we begin with some shockingly excellent modelwork far superior to anything we’ve seen recently. And then, no less un-shoestringly, we’re in Paris, 1979. Just after leaving Skaro. Courtesy of the Randomiser for both landings. Er, yes…

Of course, this story is flawless in every way (well, there’s one piffling little thing in a later episode, but that can wait) so I’m having to try very hard not to spend the whole review gushing and quoting bits of funny dialogue or people might assume I’m the sort of person who does that in conversation, which simply wouldn’t do. So I’ll not quote any of the dialogue from the Eiffel Tower in an attempt to ration myself. It’s all fab though. And so, unusually, is Dudley Simpson’s incidental music. 

I realise what was going on off screen, but for me there’s absolutely no doubt that what we see here on screen is the Doctor and Romana obviously being a couple. The doctor’s clearly been dancing. Look at all the holding hands and the body language as they frolic amongst Notre Dame, the Place de la Concorde, and the Louvre. Oh, and Paris is very pretty by the way.

What’s that Romana just said? “Braxiatel Collection”? Pah! we’ll be heating no more of that, I’m sure.

There’s some nice directing from Michael Hayes, not at all harmed by the location- I love the shot through the postcard rack with the postcard removed. Through all these scenes Duggan is following our heroes, but within minutes settles down to the companion role for our two Doctors.

Interesting cliffhanger- we’ve established from the talk of playing games that the Countess is aware she’s basically just Scarlioni’s beard, but she doesn’t know the half of it…

Part Two

“What I don’t understand is why a man who’s got six Mona Lisas wants to go to all the trouble of stealing a seventh.”

Oh dear, the scene where the Doctor, Romana and Duggan are brought before the Countess and the Count is so damn quotable that I could spend the whole of the next page just quoting from it. But I’ll restrict myself to “My dear, no one could be as stupid as he seems”. Julian Glover is utterly perfect in the way he delivers his lines. It helps that he’s clearly loving it. Even the fact that the room is designed to fit a concept of what’s classy that, er, may have dated just a little, doesn’t detract from this perfect scene.

There’s a nice in-joke after our heroes are locked in the cellar where the Doctor asks Duggan if he’s like to “stay on as my scientific advisor?”, but that’s enough quotage for now. Honest. Other great stuff includes the Count’s lecture on how the Mona Lisa is going to be stolen, Duggan hitting people and the unravelling of the plot. 

Best of all though is the cliffhanger- I love the way Peter Halliday’s mercenary says of Captain Tancredi “He’ll be here instantly”- nicely postmodern, that- and it’s Scarlioni…

Part Three

“You know what I don’t understand?”

“I expect so.”

Hmmm, so the Jagaroth ship exploded 400 million years ago, not, say, 4.6 billion, and we’ll be given this figure again and again. I shall pretend this isn’t happening though as I insist this story is perfect in all ways.

I love Scarlioni / Tancredi’s “I think it’s time we conducted this conversation more formally” before calling for the thumbscrews- but I’m quoting again. Just one more; “When you work for the Borgias, you’ll believe anything!” The Mona Lisa plot becomes clear- Scarlioni is getting Leonardo to paint a further six of them in 1505 so that once he’s stolen the one in the Louvre in 1979 he’ll have seven of them, one each for every potential buyer. Except that the Doctor has just written “This is a fake” on all of them in felt tip. Brilliant!

Meanwhile, we have the Romana / Duggan team-up. Twice Romana sneaks into a building and twice Duggan smashes through a window! Once we’re back to Scarlioni, though, we get my only problem with this story- Scarlioni’s splintered selves being responsible for the pyramids, fire, the wheel and the mapping of the heavens. I don’t like it when it’s implied that humans aren’t clever enough to do all those things so aliens must have done them. Still, one gripe ain’t bad.

There’s something a bit peculiar about this episode though- in the scene where the Doctor walks into the café to enquire about Romana and Duggan, with the television in the background showing (in English, apparently!) the news of the Mona Lisa being stolen, there’s a man at the bar, who appears in no other scene, and says “I’ll see you, eh?” as he takes his leave. This looks very much like a cameo to me- not Douglas Adams, surely?

Part Four

“On the contrary, Doctor, you’re going to help me.”

“I am?”

“You are indeed. And if you do not, it will be so much the worse for you, for this young lady and for several other people I could mention if I happened to have the Paris telephone directory on my person.”

Poor professor! Interesting conversation between Scarlioni and Romana afterwards, though. It’s here that it strikes me what a mind-blowingly paradoxical concept it is to have splinters of Scaroth scattered through time- the later splinters must have their personal timelines altered many times by the earlier ones.

The professor’s death is followed by that of the Countess (I rather liked her). There follows a race against time in which we get to see some of the bits of Paris we missed out on in Part One such as the Arc de Triomphe and, er, some taxis. But just at the point the Doctor and co, anxious to travel back and stop Scaroth, reach the TARDIS, we get another fab scene with Eleanor Bron and yer actual John Cleese. This is roughly the last point where the possibility of this story being ranked anything less than the top spot so far disappeared utterly. Even the fact that prehistoric Earth features an obvious matte painting doesn’t detract from anything.

And the ending is perfect. Duggan’s punch saves the day! The Doctor has arranged for one of the Moma Lisas with “This is a fake!” written on it in felt tip to be hung in the Louvre, but that’s fine because it’s what it looks like that matters. Wow.

Well, that was stonkingly good, perfect, genius. 5/5, obviously. The best story so far, easily. For the first time in 13 years we have a story that’s actually better than The Massacre. I’m still reeling from how good it was. There’s a reason for my policy of rationing my viewings of this story to avoid diluting the pleasure of each viewing!

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