"City of Death" is considered by the majority of fans as being one of, if not the most, successful Doctor Who story in the show’s history. It was based on a submission from David Fisher but which was finally written by Script Editor Douglas Adams and Producer Graham Williams under the BBC pen name David Agnew.
This story is set in Paris, and was the first Doctor Who story to feature footage filmed on location in a foreign country.
The title is possibly a play-on-words of Cité de l'amour (City of Love, as Paris is often known), and Cité de la mort (City of Death), the pronunciation of which is very similar.
This is the second story to feature scenes set in the Louvre. It had previously appeared in its capacity as the royal residence of King Charles IX of France in the 1966 First Doctor story "The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve". "City of Death" is also the show’s third story to take place primarily in and around Paris. The 1964 First Doctor story "The Reign of Terror" being the first.
Previously David Fisher had contributed two stories in Season Sixteen - "The Stones of Blood" and "The Androids of Tara". For this season he submitted two proposals. The first of these became "The Creature from the Pit" while the other, "The Gamble with Time", eventually became "City of Death". "A Gamble With Time", was set first in Las Vegas, then in Monte Carlo, during the 1920’s and was inspired by the Bulldog Drummond stories. David Fisher’s final submission for "A Gamble With Time" centred around Scarlioni, a member of the Sephiroth race, who had become fractured in time in an accident, and was mainly set in the year 1928 with The Doctor and Romana, aided by Drummond-esque detective "Pug" Farquharson, on the trail of the stolen Mona Lisa, pursuing Scarlioni from Paris to Monte Carlo where his partner, the Baroness Heidi, is using time travel technology to cheat at roulette at the casino to fund Scarlioni’s time travel experiments. Other settings included Paris in 1979, Leonardo Da Vinci’s studio in the year 1508 and prehistoric Earth.
When it was realised that the production team could afford to film on location in Paris with a stripped down crew a rewrite of David Fisher’s scripts had to be made to move the action to Paris and, for cost reasons, to drop the 1920s setting. K9 also had to be removed from the script as the cost of bringing the robot dog and his operators to Paris was prohibitive.
Because David Fisher was unable to perform the rewrites Script Editor Douglas Adams, aided by Producer Graham Williams, had to perform a complete rewrite of the story over the course of a weekend. The resulting story becoming "City of Death" and being credited to "David Agnew", a standard pseudonym used by the BBC and which had been previously used on Doctor Who for the 1978 story "The Invasion of Time". This in-house BBC alias was used to conceal the fact that both Doctor Who’s Producer and Script Editor had played a major role in writing the scripts, a practise frowned upon within the BBC at the time.
Julian Glover, who played Count Scarlioni, was a well established character actor who had previously appeared in Doctor Who as Richard the Lionheart in the 1965 First Doctor story "The Crusade". Julian Glover however, was reluctant to don the Jagaroth mask created for scenes where Scarlioni had shed his human disguise as he felt the mask would impede his performance. As a result, he is doubled by Richard Sheekey in many of these scenes.
Catherine Schell, who played the Countess, had previously appeared in the 1969 James Bond film "On Her Majesty's Secret Service". She also held regular roles in The Adventurer (1972-73) and season two of Space: 1999 (1975-78). She also played the part of Lady Claudine Lytton, in the 1975 film Pink Panther film "The Return of the Pink Panther" – a role which may have inspired her casting in "City of Death".
David Graham, who played Professor Kerensky, had previously provided Dalek voices in many of the First Doctor’s stories between 1963 and 1966 and had played the part of Charlie in the 1966 story "The Gunfighters". He had also voiced many of the characters in Gerry Anderson’s supermarionation series, most notably Thunderbirds in 1965.
Tom Chadbon, who played Duggan, was best known at the time for his role in The Liver Birds 1969–79; 1996. He would later return to the show in the role of Merdeen in the 1986 Sixth Doctor story "The Mysterious Planet" – the first story of the 1986 The Trial of a Time Lord season.
Peter Halliday, who played the part of a soldier, had previously appeared in the 1968 Second Doctor story "The Invasion" and the Third Doctor stories: "Doctor Who and the Silurians" (1970), "The Ambassadors of Death" (1970) and "Carnival of Monsters" (1973). He had also previously worked with Director Michael Hayes on the science fiction thriller A for Andromeda in 1961 and also starred in its 1962 sequel The Andromeda Breakthrough. He returned to Doctor Who as the Vicar in the 1988 Seventh Doctor story "Remembrance of the Daleks".
The two art critics, seen admiring the TARDIS in the Art Gallery, were played by Monty Python comedian John Cleese and well-known actress Eleanor Bron, who had been the first female cast member of the long-running Cambridge Footlights revue.
Douglas Adams knew John Cleese and Eleanor Bron through his connections with Monty Python and Cambridge Footlights and on learning that both would be working in BBC Television Centre on the day the art gallery scenes were to be recorded, he persuaded them to make a cameo appearance in this short but memorable scene.
As it happened, John Cleese was at the BBC Television Centre working on the final episode of Fawlty Towers. During recording, John Cleese and Tom Baker also recorded two short comedy skits for the BBC Christmas tape. Both John Cleese and Eleanor Bron agreed to take part on the condition that there was no pre-publicity regarding their appearance. They even both attempted to have their performances credited to pseudonyms, but this request was declined. This was John Cleese’s only appearance in the show whereas Eleanor Bron later returned to play Kara in the 1985 Sixth Doctor story "Revelation of the Daleks".
Douglas Adams appears in an uncredited cameo as a man having a drink in a bar.
K9 does not make an actual appearance in this story, but The Doctor is heard greeting him as he enters the TARDIS for his trip to visit Leonardo Da Vinci.
This story was the final Doctor Who story directed by Michael Hayes. Michael Hayes had previously directed the previous season’s "The Androids of Tara" and "The Armageddon Factor". He had also produced and directed A for Andromeda and had prior experience of filming in Paris having worked there on adaptations of Maigret (1960–63) and other Georges Simenon stories for the BBC. He subsequently worked on programmes such as All Creatures Great and Small and Skorpion before retiring during the Eighties.
Being the first story to be filmed primarily on location outside the United Kingdom the production team was plagued with many of the Parisian locations being closed due to a May Day holiday period which meant that many of the locations chosen for filming were closed, necessitating considerable improvisation on the part of the minimal crew and the three actors - Tom Baker, Lalla Ward and Tom Chadbon (who played Duggan).
Before commencing location shooting Head of Drama, Graeme McDonald, wrote to Graham Williams questioning why the adventure needed to be set in Paris in the first place, suggesting that the production would be much less complex if the action simply took place in the United Kingdom. Graham Williams responded by pointing out that as Scaroth’s plan hinges on the proximity of a priceless masterpiece - the Mona Lisa - no appropriate substitute could be found in the United Kingdom.
It has been reported that Tom Baker found filming in Paris to be a very different experience to what he was used to in the United Kingdom where crowds would gather to watch the filming and meet the stars. The cast and crew were largely ignored as Doctor Who was not shown in France at that time.
It has been reported that Lalla Ward found this story the most challenging Doctor Who story she had worked on but was pleased with the final outcome.
There was one major upset during the filming of this story. Seeing her costumes as an important part in creating the role of Romana, Lalla Ward clashed with Costume Designer Doreen James, rejecting the silver catsuit Doreen James had designed for her for this story. Lalla Ward instead came up with the idea for the schoolgirl costume.
This clash with the Costume Designer early on in the recording of this story ended Doreen James’ involvement with "City of Death" and with Doctor Who as a whole. At the conclusion of the first studio block, Doreen James informed Graham Williams that she was quitting the story and would not be returning to the show. She had been scheduled to design costumes for both "Nightmare of Eden" and "Shada" – stories due later in Season Seventeen. Her replacement for these later stories was Rupert Jarvis, while Jan Wright took over Doreen James’ duties, uncredited, for the final recording session of this story.
During this story it is revealed that all the Jagaroth, apart from Scaroth’s, were destroyed in a war 4 million years ago. The Jagaroth are warlike and callous, with knowledge of scanning, warp and holographic technology. Scaroth, attempting to take his ship into warp from Earth’s surface, was thrown into the time vortex, which resulted in him being split into twelve splinters (all in telepathic communication with each other). The twelve all landed in different times, led individual lives, and eventually died. Scaroth is recorded as an Egyptian god, and his lives include the Borgia serving Captain Tancredi, Count Carlos Scarlioni, a Norman soldier and an ancient Greek. All his selves have the same human face, a mask that can be ripped open down the middle and then instantly re created.
In the Virgin Book’s The Missing Adventures novel "The Sands of Time", the Fifth Doctor makes an offhand reference to Scaroth being involved in the construction of the pyramids in Egypt.
Romana is heard to state that she is 125 and so appears therefore to have picked up The Doctor’s vain habit of lying about her age as she stated she was 140 when she first met The Doctor in the 1978 story "The Ribos Operation".
The TARDIS can track the path of another time traveller. This ability was first seen in the 1965 First Doctor story "The Chase".
In the first episode, Romana makes a reference to a great art gallery called The Braxiatel Collection. The Virgin Books’ The New Adventures novel series would later expand on this, introducing the character Irving Braxiatel, a Time Lord. The first mention of The Braxiatel Collection appeared in "Theatre of War". Braxiatel also appears in the Bernice Summerfield series of novels and audio dramas as well as in the Gallifrey series of audio dramas.
The idea of making six copies of the Mona Lisa to be sold to private collectors, after the real Mona Lisa is stolen, bears a striking resemblance to an alleged exploit of Eduardo de Valfierno.
The Mona Lisa also played a key role in the fifth story of the third series of The Sarah Jane Adventures story, "Mona Lisa's Revenge". In this Doctor Who spin-off story one copy of the Mona Lisa comes alive and is then revealed to have been painted with paint made from sentient meteor rock.
It is revealed in the Big Finish Productions audio story "Dust Breeding" that The Doctor rescued one of the Mona Lisas for his own private collection.
When The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver he is heard to state that he last used it against the Daleks on Skaro. It is also revealed that Romana has a sonic screwdriver and that Scaroth has a sonic knife - which he uses to remove the glass from in front of the Mona Lisa.
Strangely Professor Kerensky’s computer makes the same sound as WOTAN from the 1966 First Doctor story "The War Machines".
The Doctor is heard to state that he ‘reversed the polarity’ of Professor Kerensky’s machine. This phrase is usually associated with the Third Doctor, but is occasionally uttered by his other incarnations.
The Doctor has obviously visited Leonardo Da Vinci before.
The Doctor is heard stating that he has met William Shakespeare and that wrote at least one copy of Hamlet for him, after Shakespeare sprained his wrist writing sonnets. The Doctor is seen meeting William Shakespeare in the 2007 Tenth Doctor story "The Shakespeare Code".
Look out for the scene in episode four where Romana is seen wiring up a British three pin plug in order to connect Scaroth’s time equipment to the French mains - which only uses two pin plugs and sockets.
The sketch of Romana is different when it's seen outside the café from the one seen inside. It is also never revealed who is doing the sketch, and why. Interestingly in the Short Trips story "Notre Dame du Temps" (published by Big Finish Productions in "Short Trips 2: Companions"), the Seventh Doctor returns to Paris to pick up the picture of Romana that the artist discarded.
Despite the TARDIS still being equipped with a randomiser, the device The Doctor installed in order to throw The Black Guardian off their trail due to The Key to Time incident (see "The Armageddon Factor"). The Doctor is still able to steer the TARDIS as usual if he chooses, as is shown by his short trip to the year 1505 and then back to 1979.
This story’s broadcast occurred during the final weeks of an industrial dispute which had kept ITV - the BBC’s major competitor - completely off the air since August. As a result this story enjoyed phenomenally high ratings, averaging 14.5 million viewers and reaching a peak audience of 16.1 million for episode four. These were, and still are, the largest viewing figures ever attained by Doctor Who for an individual episode and a whole story. This story is also very highly rated in a number of fan polls.
This is one of four of the televised Doctor Who stories that were never novelised by Target Books as they were unable to come to an agreement with Douglas Adams that would have allowed him or another writer to adapt the script. Despite being a very popular story Douglas Adams commanded page rates well in excess of what Target was able to offer, and he also refused to let anyone else tackle the story. An unsanctioned fan novelisation was written in 1993, by David Lawrence. Titled "Doctor Who and the City of Death" it was first released on a not-for-profit basis by the New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club. It was then re-released by TSV Books in New Zealand with a cover by Alistair Hughes. An official version of this story, written by James Goss, was finally published, by BBC Books, in April 2018.
Due to Douglas Adams’s influence, the script has his distinctive brand of humour and dialogue. Douglas Adams also reused part of this story’s plot, along with parts of the unfinished "Shada", for his 1987 novel "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency".
Ian Scoones’ storyboards for this story’s special effects sequences were published in Peter Haining’s book "Doctor Who – 25 Glorious Years" in 1988.
Footage of The Doctor from this story appears in the projection from the Cybermen’s datastamp in the 2008 Tenth Doctor story "The Next Doctor".
During broadcast of this story, Marvel Comics’ UK branch launched Doctor Who Weekly, which continues to this day, as the Doctor Who Magazine, to chronicle the Doctor Who franchise.
Also during broadcast of this story - on the 12th October 1979, between the second and third episodes - Douglas Adams’ famous novel "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy" was first published.
The first Doctor Who story to feature footage filmed on location in a foreign country.
The first Doctor Who story to be watched by more than 14 million viewers.
The first Doctor Who story to have an individual episode watched by more than 16 million viewers. This being the fourth episode.