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a touch of l'amour
on April 27, 2003
City of Death is distinguished from the other Tom Baker Who episodes by virtue of two things: 1) it is essentially a comedy, rather than a campy drama with strong tongue-in-cheek humor (like most Who episodes) and 2) there is a definite, quasi-romantic vibe going between Tom Baker and his wife (and ex-wife) to be, Lala Ward. Maybe it was the Paris setting; maybe Tom and Lala were so ga-ga for each other at this point they couldn't hide it; but I can't recall any episode with any female companion where the relationship seems quite so intimate. These two factors make "City" a bit of a departure from the norm. I am not as enamored of this episode as many fans are, but it is still very enjoyable. On the downside, I found the long travelogue shots of Paris to be a bit boring and time-consuming, the actor who plays Professor Kirinsky to be a giant ham, and some of the plot elements to be absurd beyond the usual level of absurdity (no one in that cafe seems to care about the goons who keep coming in to stick up the Doctor at gunpoint). Those are, however, pretty weak criticisms. On the plus side, Baker, who was beginning to flag a bit in his enthusiasm for the role at this point in his seven-year run, clearly had a ball with the fast-paced, completely comedic script. His biggest strength as an actor was always his ability to recognize when a plot moment or bit of dialogue was ridiculous, and then use humor to make it fly. In this episode he gets plenty of chances and clearly enjoyed all of them. The Duggan character was hackneyed (nice trenchcoat) but also quite funny as a sort of male Leela who is not terribly bright but terribly keen on breaking things and punching people in the face. His interplay with the Doctor is very good ("Duggan, if you do that again I am going to take very severe measures with you." "Oh yeah? What are you gonna do?" "I'm going to ask you not to do it again."), and he works equally well with Romana. Skaroth's polite, homicidal butler is also a huge kick ("Kill those two fools please, Harold," says Skarroth. "With pleasure, sir," replies the butler). The brass ring however goes to Julian Glover as Skarroth/Count Scarleoni, who sci-fi fans will always remember as General Veers in "The Empire Strikes Back", one of the fortunate imperial officers who Vader does not strangle for ineptitude. Glover has beautifully campy dialogue and he plays it out with relish as a profoundly evil villain who never loses his sense of whimsy or humor ("This is going to be a treat. Please remain here while I bring the instruments of torture.") even when he has to wear the disgusting Jaggeroth costume. The plot seemed thin and somewhat confusing at times as it goes along, but everything ties in very nicely at the end....except for the fact that for such a warlike race, the Jaggeroth don't seem to be able to take a punch very well. I guess that's why they're extinct. Anyway, while I don't regard "City of Death" as a classic, it remains a must-have for the true fan's collection.