There’s a problem that I encounter every so often on this blog. Sometimes a serial is so good that it commands my complete, undivided attention for its entire running time, because there is barely anything that’s even remotely sub-par enough to break my concentration. This is a very good thing as a viewer – I’m completely lost in the story, as I often am when the current series it at its best – but annoying when I realise that I’ve completely failed to make any meaningful notes.
City of Death very much feels closer to modern Who than it does to An Unearthly Child, with time travel trickery at the centre of the drama, a relentless pace and energy throughout, and a consistent streak of humour that lifts every single scene. The Doctor and Romana are having a ball, as are the cast and crew. It’s brilliant, and it’s pure Douglas.
On the subject of The Doctor and Romana – they’re clearly shagging at this point. I know Tom and Lalla probably were, but I mean the characters. This is a dirty weekend. And I’m fine with that. They’re the same species and they’re equals; he doesn’t have a duty of care towards her like he does with most companions. Let them get on with it, they’re allowed.
The location filming in Paris really makes this serial stand out as being special, and I also loved the little excursion into Renaissance Italy. Julian Glover is brilliant as the Count/Captain/Scaroth, his performance aiding the air of mystery around him as The Doctor and the audience slowly work out what he’s up to. The stolen/duplicate Mona Lisa(s) are a great hook, and it all adds up to a unique and enjoyable atmosphere.
Duggan was also great, and I liked the little professor chap too, even though I couldn’t figure out where the hell his accent was supposed to be from. He sounded like Manuel from Fawlty Towers, which is apt considering who makes a cameo appearance in the last episode. That scene is, of course, brilliant.
The only downside was, once again, the lack of K-9. I worry about that little guy – his voice actor has gone, and now he’s been completely sidelined for two serials in a row. I know the behind-the-scenes reasons for these absences, but there wasn’t even a TARDIS bookend for him here. I hope he’s back properly for the rest of the season, as it feels like they’re discarding one of their greatest assets, and letting his tenure fizzle out.
But still, this serial isn’t losing any marks for that. Everything about it worked, so you can’t complain about what’s not there. A simply perfect set of episodes.