29 September 2015: The Magician's Apprentice/The Witch's Familiar review added.
27 December 2014: Last Christmas review added.
11 November 2014: Dark Water/Death In Heaven review added.
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CITY OF DEATH
"My dear, nobody could be as stupid as he seems."
Ah yes, City of Death. Wonderful, marvellous, fantastic, top ten stuff. Douglas Adams dialogue, great rapport between the Doctor and Romana, beautiful Paris locations and John Cleese as well. Wait a minute. What's that noise? That thumpy, floopy sort of squelching? Oh, yes. It's the sound of a giant wet blanket. City of Death is undoubtedly a crowd favourite, but we're not convinced it entirely deserves its reputation.
It's not as if it's not good. On some levels, it's brilliant. Douglas Adams contributes some great one-liners, which the excellent cast make the most of. Even the minor characters get to join in ("It's the Jagaroth who need all the chickens, is it?"). Julian Glover is excellent as the seaweed-headed Scaroth, definitively proving the point that the best villains are the least shouty, and Tom Chadbon is good as the Bulldog Drummond character although without fully exploiting its comic potential. The Paris locations add big chunks of atmosphere, making the thing look positively expensive. And the bond between the Doctor and Romana comes over beautifully, although we're not sure it's the writing, or even the acting, that gets the credit for that. Tom acts his socks off sending up his eccentric persona, and Romana's a huge improvement on the Miss Screamy we were subjected to in Destiny Of The Daleks.
There are some bits that don't work quite as well, of course. The soundstage prehistoric parts are pretty ghastly, as is the science (no life 400 million years ago? Huh?). The idea of aliens interfering in human development is a stonking SF cliche. And they're just a bit too enamoured of all those scenic Paris shots.
But it's not this kind of thing we object to - God only knows, we're used to it. What really leaves us cold about this story is the tone. This is Doctor Who in quotation marks. It's all so knowing and self-referential, right down to the Doctor reversing the polarity, that we can't invest in it at all. It's a shame, because it can be done - in The Pirate Planet, Adams produced a story that was both witty and believable. Here, though, the ironic framework holds us at arm's length from the story. The Cleese cameo really epitomises this - it drags us right out of the story to go "Ooh, look, it's John Cleese!" We know it's beloved by fans, but frankly, we hate it. It's totally look-how-cool-we-are-we've-got-Basil-Fawlty, and to add insult to injury the jokes about modern art couldn't be more obvious. Ugh.
So yeah, we can enjoy the witty lines, we can admire the characters, and that's about it. Shrug. It doesn't engage us on anything but the shallowest level. Nothing wrong with that, you say? Sure. It's light ent and nothing but, and that's fine. But given what else Doctor Who can achieve, it means it's nowhere near the top of our list.
MORAL: It's no use crying over split milk.
ANYONE FANCY A PINT?
Scarlioni's heavies take the Doctor, Romana and Duggan from the cafe, and all three of them are inside the house, but in the location shot as they go through Scarlioni's doors Duggan's nowhere to be seen.
WHEN THE BIG HAND TOUCHES THE LITTLE HAND
Why doesn't the world's supposedly foremost authority on temporal theory understand what the Doctor is saying about continua being incompatible? It's not that difficult, is it?
LESS IS MORE
Actually, surprise surprise, none of them are the real Mona Lisa, because the real one's a lot smaller than that.
I DON'T KNOW MY OWN STRENGTH
When Duggan charges the gap in the cellar wall, both the stone walls wobble.
I'M MAD, ME
The Doctor's wearing another revoltingly whimsical brooch, this time an oh-so-appropriate palette with tubes of paint. Yuk.
LOOK AT ITS LITTLE LEGS
The Jagaroth ship's awfully sweet, isn't it? Aaah.