City of Death
City of Death was the second story of Season 17 of Doctor Who. The first story to be filmed on location outside the UK, it was co-written by David Fisher, Douglas Adams and Graham Williams under the collective pseudonym of “David Agnew.”
The story marked Julian Glover’s second guest appearance on the series. It also featured a guest appearance by former Space: 1999 star Catherine Schell, as well as cameos by comedic actors John Cleese and Eleanor Bron.
City of Death had the highest average viewing figure of the Tom Baker era, with a rating of 14.5 million. It also has the all-time highest rating for an individual episode with 16.1 million. However, this rating is somewhat misleading, as the story was transmitted at a time when ITV were on strike, and therefore it transmitted without significant opposition.
Earth, 400 million years BC: the Jagaroth are trying to take off in their spaceship. However the pilot, Scaroth, tries to take off too soon. The ship explodes, seemingly killing everyone on board…
Paris, 1979: the Fourth Doctor and Romana II are at the top of the Eiffel Tower, admiring the view. The Doctor decides to take his companion to lunch at a particularly fine local restaurant and they take the elevator (after briefly contemplating flying). They take the Paris Metro and cross several streets to get to a place which the Doctor claims does a wonderful bouillabaisse.
At a château with a gargoyle’s face on one of its doors, Professor Kerensky complains of lack of funds for the experiments he is conducting for his employer, Count Carlos Scarlioni. The Count gives him three million francs but the Professor insists he will certainly need more to keep the experiments going.
At the restaurant, the Doctor and Romana experience a time distortion while an artist is sketching Romana. They examine the sketch and see that instead of Romana’s face, there is a clock face…. with a crack in it, almost like a crack in time. The Doctor thinks this gravely important. Romana suggests they sit outside, just in case.
Back at the château, Scarlioni is impressed by the Professor’s demonstration, though it was heavily flawed. The Count wants progress now and seems obsessed with time. He wants the next test today, but Kerensky doesn’t understand the urgency. The Count calls it a matter of time.
The Doctor tells Romana the time distortions must be a result of them moving through time fields so often. He shows her the picture, causing her to sniff that Gallifreyan computers draw a far better likeness. The Doctor cannot believe this attitude: he will show her the meaning of art and take her to the Louvre, one of the galaxy’s greatest galleries. He must show her a painting unique in the universe: the Mona Lisa.
Romana is not very impressed, but calls it “quite good”. The Doctor loudly declares it one of the finest pieces of art in the universe. A woman taking her students through the gallery asks the Doctor if he can move along.
Romana, having moved off for a few moments, returns and asks what she said. Before the Doctor can answer, there is another time slip back to the teacher approaching the Doctor. The Doctor stumbles into her, passes by others and then collapses onto a bench where a lady was reading.
A man in a trench coat gets the crowd out of the way and gets the Doctor on to the bench. When the man, Duggan, asks if he is all right, the Doctor tells him he just dented his head on his gun. Romana gets him up and takes him out. The lady on the bench nods to a man in a hat to follow. Duggan has already left to follow the Doctor and Romana.
Duggan follows Romana and the Doctor through Paris. When they arrive at another cafe, Romana tells the Doctor they have been followed. The Doctor knows: “By that idiot with the gun”. He tells Romana to look in her pocket. She takes out a bracelet the Doctor removed from the woman in the Louvre. It is a micromeson scanner which someone is using to monitor the alarms in the Louvre around the Mona Lisa. Romana thinks the bracelet is too advanced a piece of technology for a level 5 civilization. He tells her the bracelet is not the product of an Earth civilization. She asks if an alien is trying to steal the painting. Duggan turns up, pointing a gun into the Doctor’s back.
The Doctor, Duggan and Romana are confronted by men sent by Countess Scarlioni to retrieve the stolen bracelet. They escape. Duggan believes the thugs were the Doctor’s. The Doctor asks if Duggan is English. They ask Duggan who Scarlioni is. Duggan says everyone on Earth’s heard of Count Scarlioni. When the Doctor informs him they have only just arrived on Earth, Duggan accepts this but doesn’t really think the Doctor is serious. He gives up and is about to leave until the Doctor mentions someone might want to steal the Mona Lisa.
The Count instructs his wife to tell Hermann to bring the three to the château.
At the café, Duggan has told Romana and the Doctor that masterpieces thought lost for centuries are turning up all over the place. He thinks they are extremely convincing fakes but they stand up to every scientific test. Two new thugs point guns at the trio and order them to follow.
Back at the château, the Countess asks Hermann where her husband is. He does not know, but says the Professor is resting in his room. The Countess goes to the downstairs door but it is locked; she calls his name. Her husband stands before a mirror and removes his human face, revealing his true form: a one-eyed, green Jagaroth…
Two thugs shove the Doctor, Romana and Duggan into the château. Hermann takes them to the lounge and shoves the Doctor in at gunpoint. The Doctor falls but gets up, delighted by “such a wonderful butler: he’s so violent.” On his knees, he introduces Romana, Duggan and himself to the Countess. The Doctor crawls to a Louis Quinzechair. Dismissing Hermann, he invites himself to a drink and seats Romana and Duggan, preparing drinks for them too. He tells her he is a thief, Romana his assistant and Duggan the detective who caught him. When the Countess tells him she was under the impression that Duggan was following her, the Doctor says she is “a beautiful woman, probably” and that Duggan was likely after a dinner date. She asks who sent him. The Countess lets him know that the more he tries to convince her he is a fool, the more she will think otherwise. Romana picks up a Chinese puzzle box. The Countess insists she put it down, as she will never solve it; Romana opens it in seconds and takes out the bracelet. The Count enters and takes the bracelet. He seems curiously happy to meet these strangers, although he insists upon knowing why the Doctor took his wife’s bracelet. The Count ends the interview, making the Doctor jump up and talk of lunch with Duggan and Romana. When Duggan picks up a chair in defence, the Doctor asks what is it he thinks he is doing with a priceless Louis Quinze. Because Hermann can shoot Duggan, Doctor pretends to care more about the chair not being damaged. The Count orders Hermann to show them the cellar they will be locked in.
As he enthusiastically leads the way into the cellar, the Doctor questions Hermann. He learns that the château was built four or five hundred years before. The Doctor catches a glimpse of the equipment before Hermann locks them in a cellar closet and gives them a light which will last two or three hours. Duggan asks the Doctor what he is playing at – they could have escaped at least twice. The Doctor tells him his plan: let them think they have them safe and escape after finding out what they came for. He takes out the sonic screwdriver to open the door to the cell.
Romana calculates the horizontal length of the stairs and figures there must be an unseen area of the room. The Doctor, impressed by Romana’s mathematical skill, wants to look at the lab first.
The Doctor and Romana examine the equipment. The Doctor explains what is happening to Duggan. Kerensky comes down the stairs and Romana and Duggan hide. The Doctor acts as though he has only just arrived and claims to be fascinated by the Professor’s research. Kerensky puts an egg in the middle of his desk and activates the machinery. They watch the egg hatch and the chick inside grow to full size. The Doctor informs the Professor that he has got it all wrong.
Kerensky tells the Doctor that he is the world’s foremost authority on temporal physics; the Doctor replies that the world is too small a place to boast about. When Kerensky says he can solve the world’s famines, the Doctor observes that the chicken has become a skeleton and died. Kerensky has got the principle wrong — he has created a different space-time continuum, but it is incompatible with their own: he can stretch time back and forward, but cannot break into it. The Doctor reverses the polarity of the machinery and the chicken reforms and becomes an egg again. Kerensky is very impressed, but admits that does not answer many questions. The Doctor says that he should ask questions: that is a scientist’s job. At this moment, the Doctor sees Scaroth’s face in the time field and Duggan knocks out the Professor. Romana has found another room behind the wall.
The Count has created a mock-up of part of the Louvre to demonstrate his plan. He uses a sonic knife to cut through the glass with ease, then uses his device to disrupt the air around the laser beams so he can get at the picture. The Count gives the Countess’ bracelet to her, saying she must wear it always. When she asks how he did it, he smiles enigmatically and says he came from a family of geniuses.
The Doctor chisels on the brick. He tells Romana that the Professor thinks he’s breeding chickens but Scarlioni is using the equipment to distort time. Duggan tells them there are seven people in his address book that would be willing to pay for theMona Lisa for their private collection. To get through the last bricks, the Doctor needs some machinery. Duggan obliges by knocking into the wall. Inside, the trio finds a cupboard with a Mona Lisa inside – one that the Doctor claims is the real one. He finds five other “real” Mona Lisas. The Doctor recognizes the pigment and the brushwork of Leonardo da Vinci. Duggan explains that if there was a Mona Lisa hanging in the Louvre, no one would buy the others: they would each have to think they were buying the stolen one. The Doctor, impressed, says he would not make a very good criminal. The Count appears behind them and tells him, “No, good criminals don’t get caught.” Duggan knocks out Scarlioni, allowing them to go upstairs and sneak back into the house after knocking out the Countess, who was attempting to ambush them by herself. He asks Romana to look after Duggan as he leaves to meet a middle-aged Italian in the Renaissance.
He arrives at the Denise Rene Art Gallery, where the TARDIS is parked. He goes inside and says hello to K9, and asks how he is. The TARDIS de-materializes.
It materializes in Florence, Italy in the year 1505. The Doctor takes a moment to enjoy the Renaissance sunshine. He calls for Leonardo after whistling with some birds. He tells Leo that everyone loved The Last Supper and most of his other paintings; he asks if Leonardo remembers the Mona Lisa, “that dreadful woman with no eyebrows who wouldn’t sit still.” The idea for the helicopter took a longer time to catch on, however. A soldier points a long sabre at his face. Leonardo is engaged on important work for Captain Tancredi. The Doctor gasps, as if he knows the name. The guard asks the Doctor if he knows the name, which he of course does not. The guard makes the Doctor sit. Tancredi will want to question him; the Doctor wants to question Tancredi. Tancredi walks in.
The Doctor asks the Captain what he is doing here. Tancredi’s face is that of Scarlioni. He replies, “I think that is exactly the question that I ought to be asking you, Doctor…”
Romana and Duggan, having broken into the Louvre, find a guard on the floor and the alarms outside disabled. Duggan accidentally triggers the alarm and he and Romana are forced to flee. They break out of a window, split up and agree to meet back at the cafe.
Meanwhile, the professor has found the secret room, the other copies of the painting and the unconscious Count. As the Count stirs, he talks in his slumber – the same conversation he is having with the Doctor more than four centuries earlier.
Back in Renaissance Italy, Tancredi wants to know how the Doctor came to be in this time and country. The Doctor rambles off an excuse, claiming he randomly “pops” out of time and space willy-nilly, but Tancredi’s not fooled by this. Tancredi explains he is the last of the Jagaroth, and their savior. The Doctor has heard of the Jagaroth: they destroyed themselves in a war some four hundred million years ago. A few escaped in a dilapidated spacecraft and found Earth in a primeval, lifeless stage of its development. The ship disintegrated on take-off. Scaroth tells of how he was fractured in time, splinters of his being scattered across time and space, all identical, none complete. Scaroth asks what the mysterious blue box is. The Doctor acts as though he has never seen it before. He finds the (original) Mona Lisa and realizes the Count’s plan to produce more. While Scaroth collects the instruments of torture, the guard is instructed to confiscate the Doctor’s tongue if the Doctor talks.
The Doctor tries to humour the guard, telling him Tancredi is mad, to no avail; the guard says that when you work for the Borgias, you believe anything. The Doctor distracts and then knocks out his guard. He goes to the canvasses for the extra Mona Lisas, writes “THIS IS A FAKE” in felt tip pen and puts them face down. He also writes a quick note to Leonardo, “Dear Leo, sorry to have missed you. Hope you’re well. Sorry about the mess on the panels, just paint over them, there’s a good chap. See you earlier, love the Doctor.” As he is about to leave, Tancredi returns with the thumbscrews.
Romana painstakingly uses her sonic screwdriver to get into the closed cafe that night. Duggan smashes a window and climbs in. As they discuss the Count’s plan, Duggan has an epiphany. How did the Count know where the bricked-up Mona Lisas were and how did he know where to get them? Even Romana is stumped.
The Count shows Kerensky the end product of his labors: what he will make. The professor cannot believe his eyes: the plan will increase the very part of the project that Kerensky was trying to eliminate. It can work both ways. Kerensky thinks it is monstrous, what he is trying to do. He will never, ever do such a thing. Anyway, even the Count cannot afford such equipment. Hermann comes with the Mona Lisa from the Louvre. The Count tells the professor to continue with the work or he will die.
The thumbscrews are on the Doctor’s hand and the Doctor winces – the guard’s hands are cold. He cannot stand being tortured by someone with cold hands, so he reveals that he is a Time Lord. Tancredi asks about the girl and the Doctor stalls for time. As the guard moves to the thumbscrews, the Doctor asks a question – how he communicates with his other selves across time.
Back in 1979, the Countess gleefully talks to her husband about their recent heist. When she proudly thinks of the money they will get after their monumental theft of the Mona Lisa, the Count brags about the building of the Pyramids, mapping the heavens, inventing the wheel and fire and bringing up a whole race from nothing to save his own: he just wants a single life and to spare the lives of his people. He hears a voice and asks his bemused spouse to leave him. Once she has gone, he communicates briefly with his 1505 self but it proves immensely draining for both. Taking advantage of the distraction, the Doctor dashes into the TARDIS. The guard attempts to tell the Captain but he is dismissed by Tancredi. All the splinters of Scaroth appear and converse; there seem to be twelve of him, including versions living in ancient Egypt, Neanderthal days and classical Rome. The Doctor watches him on the TARDIS scanner as he proclaims that the centuries dividing him will be undone. The TARDIS de-materializes. It is now that Scarlioni realizes the truth about the Doctor and his girl…
The Doctor returns to the same museum in Paris, 1979.
In the cafe, Romana leaves a note for the Doctor: she feels their time would be better spent finding the real Mona Lisa. She wonders if Scarlioni has found a way to travel through time. There is but one flaw in this theory: Kerensky’s machine cannot function. As she tells a bewildered Duggan, you can have two adjacent time continuums running at different rates by all means, but without a field interface stabilizer you can’t cross from one to the other. Romana suggests they return to the château.
Outside the Louvre, two gendarmes tell the Doctor the news: the Mona Lisa has been stolen. He goes inside and confirms this.
The Doctor runs into the cafe and asks the bartender about the two people he was in with yesterday, reminding him that they were the people who kept being held up, attacked, breaking things… As the man turns to fetch a note, the Doctor confidently states they wouldn’t be mad enough to go back to the château. The bartender gives the Doctor Romana’s note, which says that they have gone back to the château.
Romana and Duggan, already caught, are led into in the lounge by Hermann to converse with the Count. The Count tells Romana the Doctor let it slip that she is an expert in temporal travel. The Count wants her to take a look at the equipment herself. If she refuses, he will destroy Paris. Looking at the equipment, Romana tells Duggan that the Count can indeed destroy Paris by blasting the capital into an unstable time field. Duggan asks her if she believes in all this time travel nonsense. She asks him if he believes wood comes from trees – time travel is just something she was brought up with. Kerensky wants to know why all the talk of destruction – his work was surely not designed for malevolent reasons! The Count asks Kerensky to go into the middle of the field cones; the field generator needs examination. Once the professor is there, the Count turns on the machine. Romana and Duggan can only watch, helpless, as the Professor falls, and withers and ages, until nothing but a skeleton is left…
The Count says the unstable time field has destroyed the professor. The whole of Paris is next unless Romana tells him how to stabilize the time field. Although Romana pretends not to care about the welfare of humans or Paris, Scarlioni sees through this and orders Hermann to kill Duggan. When she agrees to help him, Scaroth reveals his plans to her and orders that Duggan be locked up. Romana shall build a field interphase stabilizer…
An armed man, catches the Doctor in the château. The Doctor asks a maid to get the Count for him. The Doctor finds the Countess waiting for him.
Hermann tells the Count the Doctor has arrived, but he has already guessed this. As the Doctor enters a debate with the Countess about charm, discretion and blindness (specifically, the Countess’s willful blindness), he casually mentions that a green, one-eyed chap is ransacking the treasures of the art world to save his species, the Jagoroth. At this moment Hermann arrives and takes the Time Lord to meet his master, leaving the Countess to ponder on the thought. She removes a hidden book cabinet and takes out an ancient Egyptian scroll… only to find a one-eyed, green “god” exactly as the Doctor described!
In the lab, the Doctor asks Romana what she is building. It must be a Gallifreyan egg timer or some such – after all, he would be angry to find his assistant making a time machine. Duggan asks politely if they could get him out of his cell. The Count demands the Doctor help him. Of course the Time Lord refuses – after all, he is a trained professional. Romana insists all is fine – Scarlioni only wants to go back in time to reunite himself. He goes to say his final goodbyes to his wife, asking his butler to kill the trio any way he likes.
Entering the study, the Count finds his wife aiming a gun at him and demanding what on Earth she married. He smiles, informing her how easy it was to keep surprises from her – a fur coat here, a trinket there… It is now that Scaroth reveals his true visage and thanks his wife for always wearing that bracelet he gave her. He activates it and it quickly kills her. He takes the opportunity to tell her it doesn’t matter – soon, she will never have existed.
The Doctor blames Romana for giving Scaroth the missing component but Romana reveals her rigging. The Doctor tells her all he needs is one minute. If the Count is not splintered in time, all history will be changed. The two get an idea. They ask Duggan to knock over the door.
The trio run outs and face a gun-wielding Jagaroth, Scaroth in his real face. The Count is aware of the limitations Romana has put in the device. But he will go back and prevent the ship from exploding and himself from being splintered. As he vanishes in the time field, a blast destroys the time machine, rigged by the Count so the Doctor will not be able to read the settings on the dials. Duggan thinks it’s all over and wants a drink. The Doctor tells them they are going on a journey. Romana tells him four hundred million years ago. Duggan, thinking the pair mad, follows them out of the building.
In the museum where the TARDIS is, a man and woman discuss the function of the sublime colors of the redundant TARDIS. Romana and Duggan follow the Doctor past them, the Doctor tossing his scarf over his shoulder to almost hit the man and Romana. The trio go inside the TARDIS and it vanishes.
The Doctor is following the time trace made by the Jagaroth to four hundred million years ago. The Doctor, getting out of the TARDIS on barren rock, tells Duggan that they are standing on what will be the bottom of the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Romana tells the Doctor that Duggan is out of his depth. The Doctor finds the Jagaroth ship and the amniotic fluid from which all life on Earth will spring in the inert soup of low slurry. Amino acids form and fuse to make cells which develop into animal and vegetable life. Romana points out the Jaggaroth’s ship’s thrust motors are damaged and the idiots will try to take off on warp drive. The explosion which caused Scarlioni to splinter into time also caused the birth of the entire human race. Scaroth is there and calls to his brothers to stop trying to take off. The Doctor tells him he has thrown the dice once and he doesn’t get a second chance. Duggan punches Scaroth out. Scaroth’s time is up and he vanishes. Duggan points out that the ship is about to take off. The trio rush back into the TARDIS and it vanishes. The Jagaroth ship takes off and explodes, as it should. A mass of flame and radiation ignites the slurry soup.
Scaroth reappears at the château within the time field. Hermann sees it and before the monster can convince him that it is the Count, Hermann picks up throws something at the equipment. The time field machine blows up. A fire erupts, the stairs fall and the Count is blasted out of existence.
On the Eiffel Tower, Romana, the Doctor and Duggan talk about the fire. The only Mona Lisa not damaged in the fire is one of the copies, which probably has “THIS IS A FAKE” in felt tip written on its pallet. The Doctor proposes since a copy of a painting by the original artist is not a fake, then the surviving copy should be considered the real work of art. Furthermore, he tells Duggan if the authorities wanted to examine the painting so closely to determine its value, it would serve them right to be disappointed to find the writing. After all, if you have to X ray something to see if it is good art… they might as well have computer painting like they have at home. Duggan asks where they are from. The Doctor uses his hands to say, “I suppose the best way to find out where you’ve come from is to find out where you’re going and work backwards.” Duggan asks where he is going. “I don’t know,” he playfully says.
Romana tells him she doesn’t know either. The pair walks off toward the lift and the Doctor is laughing. Duggan buys a postcard of the Mona Lisa. He looks down at the small figures of Romana and the Doctor below the Eiffel Tower. The pair stop and wave, before hurrying off into the distance.