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.

Doctor Who: City of Death (parts one and two)

If there’s a person on the planet who doesn’t think that “City of Death” is one of the all-time best Doctor Who stories, then naturally, that little contrarian would be sitting on the sofa with us, complaining that Julian Glover is too evil a villain, and that his alien other-self is too creepy and scary. I’ve shown several people this story over the years. Trust our seven year-old to be the first and certainly the only one to grumble about it being creepy.

Never mind him. “City of Death” is a magically witty, silly, and clever story with hilarious characters and some of the most consistently funny dialogue in the history of the program. The serial has an unusual origin. It started life as “The Gamble With Time,” a four-parter written by David Fisher and set in Monte Carlo, where the Doctor and Romana teamed up with a detective meant to be a pastiche of Bulldog Drummond to investigate a mysterious count using alien technology to manipulate casinos. At the eleventh hour, with most of the serial actually cast and rehearsals set to begin, “Gamble” was finally abandoned, in part probably because nobody in 1979 still cared about Bulldog Drummond, and, over four frantic days, Douglas Adams and Graham Williams rebuilt it into “City of Death.” They rushed off to France to film everybody jogging around Paris, and everything just clicked completely.

The rest is history. Accompanied by a publicity blitz surrounding Doctor Who‘s first overseas filming, “City of Death” hit the hugest ratings in the program’s history. In part that’s because ITV was actually on strike for the first three Saturdays this aired, but part four still had an audience of more than 16 million people. It’s one of the most amazingly quotable Who stories, although our son was baffled why I burst out laughing when the Doctor tells the countess “Well, you’re a beautiful woman, probably.”

Joining Julian Glover for this wonderful romp, there’s David Graham – still the voice of Parker from Thunderbirds – along with Catherine Schell, Tom Chadbon, and Peter Halliday in a small role. You’ve got seven Mona Lisas, timeslips, Louis XV chairs, alien technology, running through Paris, and a detective who’s very anxious to “thump” anybody. Even if this was creepy and scary, which it most certainly is not, I can’t imagine not loving this completely. Ah, well, our son does tend to enjoy the second half of Who adventures more than the first, so we’ll see what tomorrow night brings!

Thunderbirds are Go 1.22 – Designated Driver

A few chapters back, I wrote a bit about how great it is that the producers of Thunderbirds are Go tapped David Graham to return as Parker. It turns out that they also gave Sylvia Anderson another turn at the mic in this episode, which was originally broadcast three months before her death earlier this year.

Anderson plays Lady Penelope’s Great Aunt Sylvia, and she wears the same dress that Penelope wore back in episode 23. That’s one of several Easter eggs in the show, including a familiar tea pot and the original Rolls Royce design for what’s now called FAB Zero. There are probably a few more for people who know the props in the show better than we do.

This is a rare comedy episode, and it works really well. Daniel chuckled throughout most of it, and really loved a wacky mid-air rescue situation at the end. It was written by comedian David Baddiel and establishes that, in a radical departure from the original premise, Parker and Lady Penelope didn’t come late to International Rescue. In fact, Parker has taught all of the Tracy brothers how to drive, and it’s Alan’s turn. This was such fun.

Thunderbirds are Go 1.20 – The Hexpert

I believe I’ve only mentioned this once before, so I’d like to reiterate how much I appreciate the producers of Thunderbirds are Go bringing back David Graham as the voice of Parker. Many of the people who worked on the original series fifty years ago are no longer with us, and Graham is in his nineties himself, so I appreciate them reaching out. Parker is such a great character, and I love the winks toward his criminal past. One tiny change in the continuities that’s mentioned here is this: in the original, it’s implied that Lady Penelope herself gave Parker a second chance. This time, Parker mentions that it was Lady Penelope’s father, which I think is nice. It suggests that Parker’s been on the side of the h’angels for a little longer.

This episode was written by Kevin Rubio and Charlotte Fullerton. They’ve each written many episodes of American action cartoons like Ben 10 and The Clone Wars. Rubio is the fellow who co-wrote and directed that lovely parody film Troops twenty years ago. Good to see he was able to parlay that into a career.

(Note: I can play them, but I’m not presently able to get screencaps from Region 2 DVDs, so many of these entries will just have a photo of the set to illustrate it. Click the image to purchase it from Amazon UK.)