The highest rated story in the 26 year history of the original run of Dr. Who, The City of TimeDeath is a perennial fan favorite. Written by Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) and Graham Williams and featuring Catherine Schell of Space 1999 fame along with a humorous cameo of John Cleese, this is one of the better episodes from Tom Baker's run as the doctor. Now the entire four episode story has been lovingly restored and released on DVD in region one by Warner Brothers.
The Doctor (Tom Baker) and Romana (Lalla Ward) land in Paris in 1979 for a little R&R. While they are sitting in a café, and later while visiting the Louvre, time splinters. Something that noone aside from the two Time Lords notice, and something that could have drastic effects.
In a seemingly unrelated event that comes to the Doctor's attention: famous works of art that were presumed lost for centuries have been coming up for sale on the market. All the scientific tests that are run show that they are authentic, but the coincidence is too large to ignore.
All of these newly discovered lost works have gone through the hands of Count Scarlioni (Julian Glover.) When the Doctor is "asked" to the Count's castle at gun point once he's found investigating, he gets locked in the basement where he makes an amazing discovery: The count has six paintings of the Mona Lisa hidden, and they are all original.
The Count isn't what he seems to be. He's actually an alien named Scaroth who's ship crashed on Earth millions of years ago, causing him to become splintered in time. Now he's trying to get back and stop his ship from crashing, something that could mean the end of all life on Earth.
This was a good story, one of the best of the season. From the opening scene of a spaceship taking off from an alien landscape and exploding, the program flowed very well. It had everything that makes a great Dr. Who story: a high stakes problem, a quick moving story with an interesting villain, and a good dose of humor. Douglas Adams was the man most responsible for this story, and you can definitely see his influence in the script. There are a lot of humorous lines that make the show fun, such as when the Doctor comments "I say, what a wonderful butler! He's so violent!"
Of course Tom Baker was the prefect Doctor to play this script. He adds just the right touch of humor to the role. He gets a lot of laughs, but take away from the gravity of the situation. As if that wasn't enough, John Cleese has a brilliant cameo that is the funniest part of the show.
The show wasn't perfect however. Julian Glover's Scaroth outfit looked like the rubber mask and gloves that is was. It wasn't a good effort, even for Dr. Who. However that other special effects were excellent. The prehistoric landscapes and Jagaroth ship really looked good.
This was Doctor Who's first foreign shoot. They shot on location in Paris and showed the Louvre, Notre Dame, and the Left Bank and the other sites. Given the strength of this show, they should have done more stories on the continent.
This four episode story comes on two DVDs in a
single width keepcase. The first disc has the entire story, and the
second one is reserved for extras.
The stereo soundtrack is clean and clear and sounds very good. There isn't much use made of the soundstage, but that's not surprising. Hiss, dropouts and distortion are not present. For a 25 year old episode of Dr. Who, this sounds very good.
The Restoration Team has done another wonderful job on the video to this show. The full frame color transfer looks very good. The colors are bright and solid and the detail is very good. While the image is just a tad soft, it is much sharper than I remember it being when it was shown on PBS years ago. There is a bit of a mosquito noise in the sky shots, but aside from that digital defects are nonexistent. A very nice looking disc.
This two disc set has a great number of bonus features that really cover this episode throughly. I was really pleased with the number and quality of the features. My only complaint is that neither Lalla Ward nor Tom Baker play much of a part in any of the extras. Their contributions and reminiscing would have added a lot to the package.
The first disc has optional informational subtitles giving trivia and behind the scene info on the show, as well as an audio commentary by director Michael Hayes and actors Tom Chadbon (Duggan) and Julian Glover (Count Scarlioni). Between these two, just about everything you could want to know about the show is covered from their time in Paris to the writing of the show. It was interesting to hear Hayes state that he thought the special effects and costumes were very good for the time. (The Jagaroth did leave something to be desired.)
The second disc of this set is given over to an ample set of extras. One of the most interesting is Paris in the Springtime, a 44 minute short that covers the filming of the story in depth, including a synopsis of the original Dr. Who story that City of Death was based on, The Gamble with Time written by David Fisher. There are also clips from an interview with Douglas Adams recorded in 1985 which were fun to see. The cast are also interviewed, but Tom Baker and Lalla Ward are conspicuously absent.
Paris W12 is a 20-minute reel of on the set recordings that show how things worked behind the scenes. It has optional liner notes that appear on screen. Prehistoric Landscapes is a great 2˝ minute reel of the models that were used for the prehistoric Earth sequences. This footage really looked good, and the sound effects and music gave it a lot of character.
Chicken Wrangler shows how the aging chicken effect was done, and Eye on Blatchford is a rather humorous parody of a BBC human interest show. This 13 minute featurette shows what it would be like for an alien to try to fit into a small British community. There is also a picture gallery and a Dr. Who annual in .pdf form that is accessible with a DVD-ROM drive.
There is also a very funny ad for the Mark III Jagaroth Battlecruiser hidden as an Easter Egg. Highlight the Paris in Springtime selection on the second disc, and then press "left" on your remote. That should highlight an invisible Dr. Who logo. Press enter to see the commercial.
This is one of the better stories from the latter part of Tom Baker's
tenure. The story was strong and well plotted with a good amount
of humor. This is one of those shows where everything comes together
in the right way to make a really fun and exciting show. This is
a DVD that even casual fans should pick up. Highly Recommended.