Serial Review: City of Death (Season 17)
“City of Death” is often cited by fans of the classic series to be among the finest serials in all of Doctor Who. It is the second serial of Tom Baker’s sixth season, and the second to feature Lalla Ward as Romana II. Some would say it is the last gasp of Baker at his best, and certainly the finest of Douglas Adams’ run as script editor of the show.
While on holiday in Paris, the Doctor and Romana accidentally stumble into an intergalactic plot to steal the Mona Lisa from the Louvre. Their first hint that something awry is going on in terms of the greater scheme of things is that the pair experience a couple strange skips in time, in which a few seconds suddenly repeat themselves. It is a jarring experience for the Doctor and Romana, and leads them on their little mission to basically figure out what the hell is going on.
My first impression of the serial is that it was brilliantly shot. The story is set in Paris in the 1970s, and has easily my favorite on-location camera work of any serial I have seen previously. Director Michael Hayes is entirely impressive here; he may have only directed three serials of Doctor Who, but he is certainly a worthwhile name for the quality of work in this serial alone.
As far as it being among the best serials in the classic era, I’m not so sure. It is brilliantly directed, with solid acting and an above average plot, making it at the very least a quite good serial, but the best? I haven’t seen the entirety of classic Who, but there are at least a few serials I can think of off the top of my head that I prefer significantly, notably “The Invasion” and “The Tomb of the Cybermen” from Troughton’s era, as well as “The Silurians” and “Spearhead from Space” from Pertwee’s. That being said, it is certainly my favorite Fourth Doctor story so far. Tom Baker is not my favorite Doctor (far from it), but it is hard to argue with this story’s quality, as well as the strength of his on-screen chemistry with Lalla Ward. Not a top five serial for me, but certainly upper echelon.