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24 September 2014

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City of Death

Production Code: 5H

First Transmitted

1 - 29/09/1979 18:00

2 - 06/10/1979 18:15

3 - 13/10/1979 18:00

4 - 20/10/1979 18:15


The Doctor and Romana are enjoying a holiday in Paris, 1979, when they become aware of a fracture in time. During a visit to the Louvre to see da Vinci's Mona Lisa, the Doctor purloins from a stranger, Countess Scarlioni, a bracelet that is actually an alien scanner device.

He, Romana and a private detective named Duggan are then 'invited' to the chateau home of Count Scarlioni, where they find hidden in the cellar six additional Mona Lisas - all of them originals! The Count is revealed as an alien called Scaroth, last of the Jagaroth race. He was splintered in time when his ship exploded above primeval Earth, and in his twelve different aspects has since been guiding mankind's development to a point where time travel is possible.

His intention is to go back and prevent the destruction of his ship. To finance the final stages of this project, overseen by the misguided scientist Kerensky, he plans to steal the Mona Lisa from the Louvre and then secretly sell the multiple copies that one of his earlier splinters has forced da Vinci to paint.

The Doctor realises that the Count must be prevented from carrying out his plan as the explosion of the Jagaroth ship provided the energy that initiated life on Earth. Following Scaroth's trail in the TARDIS, he travels back to primeval Earth. Duggan fells Scaroth with a punch, thereby ensuring that history stays on its proper course.

Episode Endings

Countess Scarlioni goes to Kerensky's laboratory to try to speak to her husband, but he has locked the door. Inside, the Count pulls off a mask to reveal beneath his human features the cyclopean alien face of Scaroth.

Investigating the mystery of the additional Mona Lisas, the Doctor travels back in time to Leonardo's workshop to talk to the painter. There he is caught by a soldier and introduced to Captain Tancredi - who looks identical to Count Scarlioni, and knows who the Doctor is.

The Count invites Kerensky to examine the field generator of the time travel equipment. When he does so, the Count operates the machine and Kerensky ages to a skeleton before the eyes of the startled Romana and Duggan.

The Doctor and Romana say farewell to Duggan at the top of the Eiffel Tower. A few moments later they wave up to him from the ground below, and run off into the distance.


Bulldog Drummond.

Caper movies such as The Pink Panther.

Bob Shaw's The Giaconda Caper.

The Maltese Falcon.

Dialogue Triumphs

The Doctor : "I say, what a wonderful butler! He's so violent!"

Countess : [Speaking of the Doctor.] "My dear, I don't think he's as stupid as he seems."

Count : "My dear, nobody could be as stupid as he seems!"

Duggan : "You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs"

Romana : "If you made an omelette, I'd expect to find a pile of broken crockery, a cooker in flames and an unconscious chef!"

Count : "I am Scaroth. Me, together in one. The Jagaroth shall live through me. Together we have pushed this puny race of Humans, shaped their paltry destiny to meet our ends. Soon we shall be. The centuries that divide me shall be undone."

Romana : "Shall we take the lift or fly?"

The Doctor : "Let's not be ostentatious."

Romana : "All right... let's fly, then."

The Doctor : "That would look silly... we'll take the lift."

Duggan : "You know what I don't understand?"

Romana : "I expect so."

Kerensky : "It's the Jagaroth who need all the chickens, is it?"


The Doctor can mirror write, carries an Instant Picture camera, felt-tip pen, hammer, and torch. He can recognise Leonardo's brushwork and pigment, and has heard of the Jagaroth. He seems to be able to speed read (see An Unearthly Child, Shada). He and Romana like red wine, and have crossed the time fields so often that they're sensitive to time disturbances (see The Evil of the Daleks). He overrides the Randomizer in order to make precise journeys.

Romana can solve puzzle boxes in moments, calculate accurate lengths from sight, and has a sonic screwdriver of her own (see The Horns of Nimon). She states that she's 125 [and appears therefore to have picked up the Doctor's vain habit of lying about her age: see The Ribos Operation].

The TARDIS can track the path of another time traveller (see The Chase).

On Gallifrey, painting is done by computer. Notable museums include the Academius Stolaris on Sirius 5 (see Frontier in Space), the Solarium Panatica on Stricium, and the Braxiatel Collection.

The Jagaroth, apart from Scaroth's shipful, were destroyed in a war 4 million years ago. They are warlike and callous, with knowledge of scanning, warp and holographic technology. Scaroth, attempting to take his ship into warp from Earth's surface, was thrown into the time vortex, and split into twelve splinters [all in telepathic communication]. The twelve all landed in different times, led individual lives, and eventually died.

Scaroth is recorded as an Egyptian god, and his lives include the Borgia serving Captain Tancredi, Count Carlos Scarlioni, a Norman soldier and an ancient Greek. He claims to have caused or encouraged the progress of the pyramids [see Pyramids of Mars: there were a lot of pyramids built for different reasons, and perhaps Scaroth thought that humans should emulate the Osirans and set them to this technological task], the wheel, fire, and stellar mapping.

All his selves have the same human face, a mask that can be ripped open down the middle and then instantly re created [The Jagaroth gift for holography (items in the recreation of the Louvre can be touched) suggests that this is a holographic, if touchable, mask, which can be instantly reassembled, and has a lifelike, mobile, appearance. Perhaps the earliest of the Scaroth splinters created it, and left it for the others to find. Unless the technology's really great it would seem that Scarlioni and his wife have never had sex.

Life on Earth was caused by the explosion of the Jagaroth spaceship. The Doctor states that Scaroth can't change history [but he's talking philosophically, saying that he should be content with his fate: if Scaroth really couldn't change history then the Doctor wouldn't need to stop him (see Carnival of Monsters]. Scarlioni's treasures include: A Gainsborough painting, several Gutenburg Bibles, a Ming vase, and the first draft of Hamlet.


The Doctor's Age

Aliens and the Origins of Mankind


Paris in autumn/winter 1979.

Florence in 1505.

The Mid Atlantic, 4 million years ago.



Some time after The Masque of Mandragora, the Doctor met Leonardo Da Vinci and the model for the Mona Lisa, who 'wouldn't sit still'. He knew Shakespeare (a taciturn boy) and advised him on metaphor, writing out some of Hamlet when Shakespeare sprained his wrist writing sonnets.


Kerensky's computer makes the same sound as WOTAN from the story The War Machines.

John Cleese and Eleanor Bron make a cameo appearance as eccentric art dealers in part four.


In episode one, the wrist of Scaroth's monster glove flaps about.

The sketch of Romana is different when it's seen outside the café from the one seen inside (and just who's doing the sketch, and why?)

In episode four Romana wires up a British three pin plug in order to connect Scaroth's time equipment to the (French) mains.

The prehistoric atmosphere seems quite breathable [the Doctor extended the TARDIS atmosphere] and there's land to stand on, too.

Life had already started 400 million years ago.

Cast & Crew


The Doctor - Tom Baker

Romana - Lalla Ward

Art Gallery Visitor - Eleanor Bron

Art Gallery Visitor - John Cleese

Count - Julian Glover

Countess - Catherine Schell

Duggan - Tom Chadbon

Hermann - Kevin Flood

Kerensky - David Graham

Louvre Guide - Pamela Stirling

Soldier - Peter Halliday


Director - Michael Hayes

Assistant Floor Manager - Carol Scott

Costumes - Doreen James

Designer - Richard McManan-Smith

Film Cameraman - John Walker

Film Editor - John Gregory

Incidental Music - Dudley Simpson

Make-Up - Jean Steward

Producer - Graham Williams

Production Assistant - Rosemary Crowson

Production Unit Manager - John Nathan-Turner

Script Editor - Douglas Adams

Special Sounds - Dick Mills

Studio Lighting - Mike Jefferies

Studio Sound - Anthony Philpott

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire

Visual Effects - Ian Scoones

Writer - David Agnew This was a pseudonym for Douglas Adams and Graham Williams, who put together the final scripts after initial drafts commissioned from writer David Fisher failed to meet with their approval.

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

'Exquisite... Absolutely exquisite.' Witty, happy, plotted so hard that you can sing it, this is as gorgeous as 'This Old Heart of Mine' sung by the Isley Brothers outside your window on a spring morning while Emma Thompson gently massages your feet with aromatic oils. It's a pity that the rest of Doctor Who exists to make this story part of a bigger continuity, because it deserves to stand alone. Just when you think it can't get any better, John bloody Cleese appears.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

City of Death mixes time travel, spaghetti-headed aliens and hard-boiled detectives in a tale of an alien race's fight for survival, and the sublime Parisian ambience supplied by virtue of a brief location shoot in the French capital - made possible by judicious budget balancing on the part of Graham Williams and production unit manager John Nathan-Turner - is the icing on the cake.

From the opening shots of Scaroth in his ship the viewer gets the feeling that this story is going to be something really special. Visual effects designer Ian Scoones pulls out all the stops to present an alien landscape second to none, and the simple spider-like design of the Jagaroth ship is both elegant and effective. Doctor Who has often been derided for the questionable quality of its effects, and yet those showcased here still stand up to close scrutiny many years after they were created.

As Chris Dunk wrote in Oracle Volume 3 Number 4, dated January 1980: 'The opening sequence could hardly have been more effective. The modelwork was great, and the backdrop, an empty, inert Earth, four million years past, was eerie and formidably exciting. Desolation and death were thus even suggested in the opening frames, but few could have had an inkling of how history would eventually turn full circle...'

City of Death succeeds in part simply because it is unlike any other Doctor Who story before or since. 'The way in which City of Death is played, scored, photographed and so on is not typical Doctor Who,' noted Tim Ryan in Peladon Issue Six, dated May/June 1990. 'It has cinematic qualities. [Does] that famous shot-through-the-postcard-rack and the sequence that [follows] look like Doctor Who to you? [They seem] to me to have escaped from some weirdo French thriller! And what about Dudley Simpson's incidental music?... One can well believe that Dudley has flown over to Paris to sample the atmosphere - at least that's the way it sounds. His music for the story is positively epochal; it's ornately structured; cyclical yet free-falling; marvellously arranged - it's like a... well, a film score! And what about the special effects, the Jagaroth ship and all?... No painted washing-up liquid bottles here!'

Daniel O'Mahony praised the story in Star Begotten Volume 3 Number 1/2, dated winter/spring 1989: 'City of Death has everything a classic needs - a cracking good storyline, mostly brilliant characterisations, the humour that should always be present in Doctor Who..., mucho-brilliant cliffhangers (all of them) and lots of gratuitous violence.' John Connors joined in the accolades in DWB No. 89, dated May 1991: 'In May 1979 the Doctor Who crew created a little slice of history... by flying to Paris for... film work - the first ever foreign location shoot the series had seen. But, in retrospect, it was more than that; from that moment on, they were on course to create the best blend of kitsch, surrealism, fantasy and comedy-drama seen in our favourite Time Lord's annals. Originally dismissed as too camp and silly to be of more than passing interest, City of Death has been reassessed and reconsidered to the point where it's now a strong contender for the crown of best story ever. It's not hard to see why.'

Early reaction to the story was, as Connors suggested, not always so positive. John Peel was particularly concerned about the level of humour on display, as he explained in TARDIS Volume 4 Number 6 in 1979: 'With Doug Adams joining, the format seems to have stabilised now - as pure farce. To my mind, the acting once more was appalling... French gangsters in turned-up collars and hats! Good grief! And Duggan was so stupid as to be unbelievable. On the whole I simply couldn't believe that this was Doctor Who. Humour on the show is one thing; the continual buffoonery is getting completely on my nerves.'

This point was also picked up by Dunk: 'The only thing that I can find to fault the production team on... is the apparent need for Tom Baker to "play for laughs"... Whether these are ad libs or not, I believe that many of them are unnecessary, not contributing to the success that Doctor Who enjoys.'

In retrospect these criticisms can be seen to have been misplaced. The humour in City of Death is actually quite delightful, and one of its main attractions. Tom Chadbon's performance as the ever-enthusiastic private eye Duggan is nicely light-hearted and David Graham's outrageously-accented portrayal of the ill-fated scientist Kerensky is excellent.

The story's major plus point in terms of casting, however, is Julian Glover as Count Scarlioni. Glover brings a certain dignity and authority to any production in which he appears, and here he is perfectly cast as the totally controlled and ruthless Scaroth. Catherine Schell is also admirable as his wife, although her attractiveness unfortunately serves to highlight the slight oddity that, presumably, they have never enjoyed conjugal rights - unless it is only Scaroth's head and hands that look alien!

The mask used for the Jagaroth is actually the one aspect of the production that is less than wholly successful, in that it is clearly much larger than Julian Glover's own head and so could not logically be accommodated within the human disguise worn by Scaroth for most of the action. One can only assume that the creatures are able somehow to scrunch up their heads, which might also perhaps explain why Scaroth feels the need to relax by tearing off his human disguise at the end of Part One - an action that otherwise seems to serve no purpose but to provide the obligatory cliffhanger.

These are mere quibbles, though, and in no way detract from the fact that City of Death is in almost every way a triumph, belying the fact that its scripts were hurried last minute rewrites.

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This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.

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