31 Cool Things About
“City of Death”
(And 19 Stupid Ones)
(But we're not telling you which is which)
(We're expecting you to work that out for yourselves)
By Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore
Originally published in Celestial Toyroom Issue 386
1. The model landscape of primeval Earth 400 million years ago is fantastic. It has depth and texture.
2. Although perhaps not accuracy. While the landscape is barren and the Doctor states that there was no life at that point, monocellular life evolved 3.8 billion years ago, and by 400 million years ago the Earth was full of plants, arthropods and fish. So it’s entirely possible that destroying the Jagaroth did absolutely nothing to prevent human evolution, and the absence of the Jagaroth would just render the human race slightly less advanced.
3. Also, if there was no life, how is it that the Doctor, Romana and Duggan can breathe on the primeval Earth?
4. We’re not sure whether the Jagaroth mask is bad, good, so bad it’s good, or what.
5. Of course, if the Doctor and Romana can fly, then taking the lift is ostentatious—a bit like taking a moving sidewalk instead of walking.
6. Given how quickly they get down from the top of the Eiffel Tower, the Doctor and Romana apparently do fly at the end of the serial.
7. The picture of Medusa on the door of Count Scarlioni’s chateau looks remarkably like Tom Baker with his tongue out.
8. The Paris in this story is a bit of a sanitized, Amelie-type Paris, with no homeless people, dog excrement, annoying street artists, pornography, overpriced baguettes, racist locals or posters for punk concerts. But, well, who cares.
9. Julian Glover got his part in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only because Cubby Broccoli and his wife happened to see this serial. That’s one to remember for the next time somebody asks you what Doctor Who’s contributed to the wider arts world.
10. Herman the Butler is astute and well-educated as well as violent. He’s also a wine expert and a Cordon Bleu chef. A butler like this is considerably more valuable than six Mona Lisas. Count Scarlioni should just sell Herman.
11. It’s very difficult to know the true value of objects at the time, so it would appear that Scarlioni is continually giving tips to his former selves: “By the way, this printing thing really catches on, so stash away a few Gutenberg Bibles.” “That Mona Lisa’s worth a few bob, get Leonardo to knock up some copies.” And so on.
12. One hopes that he also had a few words with his Sixties self, and told him to stash away a copy of “The Evil of the Daleks.”
13. The book the Doctor reads in the café is called Debat sur la France de Demain, or “Debate on the France of Tomorrow.”
14. The sequence with the artist in the café sketching Romana seems to imply that artists have preternatural knowledge regarding the nature of time.
15. Braxiatel may have a great art collection, but he was also responsible for employing that stupid cow Bernice Summerfield, so balance is restored to the universe.
16. Why does Scarlioni have the two henchmen shot when they return the bracelet? Evidently, because they don’t also bring the people who took the bracelet in the first place.
17. The image of a tentacle-faced one-eyed alien in a natty suit got ripped off for “Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks.” Albeit less successfully.
18. Apart from the final sequences of episode 4, Richard Sheekey doubled Julian Glover for the scenes requiring him to wear the Jagaroth mask. Which is funny, since although Glover plays six different faces of the Jagaroth, he spends very little time as the Jagaroth himself.
19. The info-text on the DVD for this serial says the Doctor doesn’t drink alcohol. Which is strange, since he’s seen with a glass of wine in the first scene in the café, and knows enough about wine to use it as a metaphor for Parisian years at the start of the story.
20. Although Romana winces when she sips the wine Duggan pours for her in the café, the implication is that she has found something in it (probably, considering Duggan’s approach to opening bottles, a bit of broken glass).
21. Graeme McDonald, Head of Serials, apparently was concerned that the budget wouldn’t stretch to French location filming and suggested that the story be rewritten to feature a British-owned masterpiece. How ludicrously parochial.
22. The plot of the serial is heavily indebted not just to the 1966 caper movie How to Steal a Million, but also to another example of the genre released the following year, Gambit, which involved the theft of, and multiple duplication of, a valuable statue.
23. A variation on the idea of a holographic projection that you can walk into and interact with would also appear later in “The Nightmare of Eden.”
24. Duggan smashing through the weakened portion of the brick wall with his shoulder would be more convincing if the rest of the wall didn’t wobble when he pushed it.
25. This is a very impressive serial for wigs, though you can spot two Scaroth splinters with Julian Glover’s real hair during the “the centuries that divide me shall be undone” sequence.
26. That sequence also indicates that the Jagaroth’s eye is in the part of its head which corresponds to the human forehead. How does he see?
27. Although Scaroth has twelve selves scattered through history, we only see six of them, which makes one wonder who the others are.
28. “See that window?” says Duggan, who then runs off camera and we hear the sound of breaking glass. Well, they had to save money somewhere, we suppose.
29. At that, though, who puts a window in the middle of the Louvre, with all those light-sensitive Renaissance paintings?
30. The Doctor writes “This is a Fake” on three canvases only, despite his later implication that he did it to all of them.
31. Count Scarlioni’s dressing gown is an Expressionist masterpiece.
32. Even when in leisurewear, Scarlioni’s clothes always cover all of him apart from face, neck and hands, suggesting that the rest of him is alien-looking (and that the Countess has never seen him naked). Although two of his earlier splinters appear bare-chested, so he must have had a human bodysuit at some point as well.
33. Scarlioni’s got a lot of competition for his assertion that he invented human civilization: the Fendahl, the Daemons, and the Osirians all would seem to have a prior claim.
34. Why do the two gendarmes tell the Doctor that the Mona Lisa has been stolen, and then walk into the building with him as if he’s some sort of authorized person? Why don’t they just tell him to sod off and chase him away to let the forensics people do their work?
35. The gendarmes speak English to the Doctor and the TV in the café broadcasts in English. This might be assumed to be the usual Doctor Who translation bit, except that the café customer in episode 3 speaks in French.
36. Taken in combination with the wonky translation in “The Reign of Terror” (“we shall meet at the sign of Le Chien Gris”), this would suggest that “Time Lord gifts” don’t work too well on French.
37. There’s a certain similarity between Kerensky’s time-travel apparatus and the device the Cybermen use to display past images of the Doctor in “Earthshock,” though whether there’s an actual intended connection is unknown.
38. Although Scaroth asserts he needs Romana’s technical expertise to help him build a field interface stabiliser, when we next see her, she’s just wiring a plug.
39. Whatever the Doctor says, Scarlioni’s not ransacking the art treasures of history; if anything, he’s doing a grand job preserving them for future generations.
40. Scaroth’s splinters may have been dispersed in time, but they don’t seem to have gone very far in space, as the ones we see appear to come mostly from Europe, with one from the Middle East (i.e. Egypt).
41. The fact that there’s two jackal-headed gods on Scarlioni’s Egyptian papyrus suggests one of them’s Upuat, later played by Julian Glover in The True History of Faction Paradox. The other one, of course, is Anubis, later played by Peter Halliday.
42. Scarlioni didn’t go to see his wife in episode 4 with the intention of killing her, but just to “say his farewells”; he only kills her when she pulls a gun on him and threatens him.
43. Though the fact that he built a killing device into her bracelet would indicate he suspected she might do something murder-worthy at some point.
44. The idea of shifting the entire world back in time first appears in Doctor Who in “The Invasion of the Dinosaurs.” This would, of course, also have killed his wife.
45. After Scarlioni uses the device to go back in time, Duggan says “well, that’s got rid of that then,” and apparently assumes the story’s over. Well, since the villain’s vanished and there’s been an exciting explosion, you can see his logic.
46. In 2001, artist Mark Wallinger put a pair of TARDISes in the Oxford Natural History Museum as part of an art exhibit. Cue recitations of the John Cleese/Eleanor Bron speech by geeky undergraduates.
47. “Where are we?” “This will be the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.” “We’re standing on land.” “He’s out of his depth.”
48. The Doctor describes the Jagaroth as “a vicious, callous, war-like race”. But frankly certain humans in this serial have been showing themselves to be pretty vicious, callous and war-like, so why stigmatize the Jagaroth?
49. Although this is still one of the most successful serials in Doctor Who history in critical, fan and ratings terms, we’re still waiting for the Character Options Jagaroth spaceship playset.
50. Now that the 1979 Scaroth is dead, what are the other ones going to do?