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City of Death

Reviewed by Nicholas Withers


'It's the Jagaroth who need all the chickens, is it?'

Often hailed as one of the better stories of the season, and of the Fourth Doctor's reign, City of Death is an interesting example of Douglas Adams' vision of Doctor Who: the uneven mix of humour and serious science fiction that only the manic Tom Baker could get away with.

The plot intelligently deals with time travel and the ramifications of intervention, as well as reaching an almost philosophical level at the climax worthy of the Season 26 Doctor. Scaroth's attempt to alter the past and thus prevent his present and save his race, and his final failure is turned into a philosophical parable with the creation of new life from the destruction of the Jagaroth.

However the infamous implied 'flying' scenes and the humour often work against the seriousness of the issues being raised by the plot. The Doctor and Romana wandering through Paris hand-in-hand looks positively dubious in the light of Romana's school uniform costume (it's the old teacher, or in this case Doctor, and schoolgirl fetish).

The performances are good from most cast members with Tom Baker and Lalla Ward almost living the roles. Although the almost aloofness of Tom Baker makes it hard to take much of the story seriously, Julian Glover succeeds in combining the right measures of madness, genius and desperation to make Scaroth one of the better developed one story villains of the Fourth Doctor's tenure. This helps to counterbalance with Tom Baker's performance and ensure that the story is suitably credible. Perhaps the only real let down in the character stakes is Duggan who comes across as the very clichéd and two-dimensional bungling detective.

The sets are impressive and the use of location shooting is also good even if the endless wanderings of the Doctor and Romana serve as little more than a travelogue of Paris. Worthy of special note are the scenes where the Doctor visits Leonardo's workshop. These are cleverly executed, leaving one with a feeling of having been there despite the absence of Leonardo himself.

The special effects are also of a good standard with the Jagaroth make-up effects being especially notable. The Jagaroth ship was also impressive, its design appearing realistically alien.

If you are fan of the Fourth Doctor then City of Death is a definite requirement for the video collection. However like most stories of the era it suffers from Douglas Adams' rather heavy-handed humour and so might not be everybody's cup of tea. But at least it doubles as a sightseers' guide to Paris.

This item appeared in TSV 49 (November 1996).

Index nodes: City of Death