Many Doctor Who fans argue that if you show City of Death to a newbie to entice them into watching the classic series there is only one direction to go--down. While this is probably overstating the case a tad, City of Death could certain be considered the fine china you break out for company or the special restaurant you impress your in-laws with.
When I was in grade 6 our class went on a five day trip to Paris. Like so many people before me, I instantly fell in love with the city. I stood at the top of the Eiffel Tower (just like the Doctor, Romana and Duggan) gazing in awe at the city. I got lost in the Egyptian section of the Louvre. I saw Time Bandits on the Champs-Élysées. Some school mates and I walked out the wrong exit of the Galeries Lafayette department store and witnessed a street full of colourful call girls.
But most potently, I remember one warm evening, as we were being led through the streets of the city, we walked through a garden. The smell of the flowers and the dazzle of the lights made me drunk with joy. Paris indeed had a bouquet.
So in City of Death the Doctor and Romana were suddenly skipping through my own memories. Oh what bliss. And it was so clever and funny to boot. I think I may even have woken my parents up, laughing so hard when Count Scarlioni quips "My dear, nobody could be as stupid as he seems."
Honestly the entire thing is so brilliant, and Doctor Who produced it! Time cracks, and jaunts back to see Leonardo DaVinci, and John Cleese and Eleanor Bron coolly critiquing the TARDIS in an art gallery. The chemistry between Tom and Lalla. And Maya from Space: 1999 with a cigarette holder. And that sparkling dialogue: ‘...it will be so much the worse for Mister Duggan, this young lady, yourself, and several thousand other people I could mention if I happened to have the Paris telephone directory on my person.’ Douglas Adams is on fire.
And you know what? Even though when the Count is removing his human face it looks utterly naff and amateurish, the actual Jagaroth mask with the white suit looks remarkably funky and iconic.
If there is one directive I can give anyone watching this story, it's to savour it. Let time pass between viewings. When you return to it, its charms are heightened. I recall when I first got it on VHS that I kind of overdosed on it. The temptation is great. I rather wore out the rewind button on a couple of sequences.
A couple of years ago, my partner and I spent a couple of days in Paris. Let me just say that he looked at me oddly as I requested he take my picture in front of the Eiffel Tower, whereupon I turned, looked up and waved, "Bye-bye Duggan!" I suspect I wasn't the first and I certainly won't be the last. Although I don't recommend fainting in front of the Mona Lisa--they don't take too kindly to such stunts.
Original viewing date: October 27, 1984
Wine: A French table wine: "Ventoux" from the Rhône Valley.
Music: "Captain of My Heart," by Double. Okay it's a terrible song, but it was in heavy rotation at the time I watched this and there are a couple of notes at the beginning of the song that remind me of a couple of notes in Dudley Simpson's score during the final shot.