Doctor Who: City of Death (parts three and four)

The great big question, of course, is not whether the Doctor, Romana, and Duggan will save all of human history by defeating Scaroth on the shores of primeval Earth four hundred million years ago, but whether our son would come to his senses and enjoy this story. Happily, he did, and even conceded that the first half was also pretty exciting. Of course he enjoyed Duggan. Heroes in Doctor Who who just want to punch and thump their way through the narrative are pretty rare, so Duggan’s fists-first approach resulted in a few giggles. When Duggan observes “That’s a spaceship!” in part four, how could you not just love the guy?

But our son is also very clear that Scaroth is, somehow, one of the creepiest and scariest of all Who monsters. “He’s just got one eye, and no nose, and no mouth,” he told me with some urgency. He also loved/hated the part where Catherine Schell unrolls an old parchment to see that one of the green-skinned, one-eyed splinters of Scaroth was hanging out in ancient Egypt with Thoth and Horus and, presumably, Sutekh, and I could feel our son’s skin crawl across the sofa.

Part four also has the delightful cameo appearance of Eleanor Bron and John Cleese as a pair of art snobs critiquing the TARDIS, as they’ve mistaken it for an installation in a gallery. When it dematerializes, Bron, without a note of passion in her quiet voice, calls the installation “exquisite,” having no real idea what she’s seen. I love this bit. It certainly takes you out of the story to see John Cleese making a cameo, but it’s so funny that it’s impossible to object. The whole production’s like this. If there’s a flaw anywhere, who cares.

3 thoughts on “Doctor Who: City of Death (parts three and four)

  1. Yeah, should have mentioned it last time, but Tom Chadbon is also great in this story. I remembered him from the 1974 horror movie The Beast Must Die, in which he plays an amusingly obnoxious alcoholic artist. It’s low-budget but quite entertaining. And then around the same time as City of Death he effectively played the mercenary Del Grant in the Blake’s 7 episode “Countdown.” Chadbon and Paul Darrow had a great rapport in that one, so I’m not surprised that years later he was asked to reprise the role in the Big Finish audio dramas.

    Anyway, this story has such incredible dialogue. I guess Douglas Adams was responsible for most of it. Amazing that he came up with such a humorous & intelligent script literally over the weekend, although as I understand it the actors also did a certain amount of improvising. In any case, it’s an endlessly quotable story.

    COUNTESS: My dear, I don’t think he’s as stupid as he seems.
    SCARLIONI: My dear, *nobody* could be as stupid as he seems.

    SCARLIONI: Oh no, on the contrary, Doctor, you’re going to help me.
    DOCTOR: I am?
    SCARLIONI: You are indeed. And if you do not, it’ll be so much the worse for you, for this young lady, and for thousands of other people I could mention if I happened to have the Paris telephone directory on my person.

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