The mutually beneficial relationship between Douglas Adams and Doctor Who is probably best summed up in this story, one that takes daring leaps with historical fact, the possibilities of time travel and popular culture. The lightness of tone and sharp one-liners are reminiscent of his radio smash hit The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, which was coming out in book form while this serial was first broadcast. And there are elements of the plot which would also resurface in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, which may partly explain why this story had to wait until 2015 to be novelized.
As the home of both Doctor Who and Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, and in celebration of the Dirk Gently season finale, BBC AMERICA had made one of Douglas Adams’ Doctor Who episodes available to stream HERE. Here are a few things that you should keep an eye out for while you watch:
The title is a pun that only works in French. Paris is known as the city of love, which translates as Cité de l’amour. City of death is, of course, Cité de la mort.
The story is credited to David Agnew, but no such person ever existed. The name was concocted to be used whenever a script had been worked on by members of the production team. David Fisher, who had written early drafts of the script under the title “A Gamble with Time,” was unable to complete the final draft thanks to other work commitments and some personal issues, so producer Graham Williams and script editor Douglas Adams rewrote it. Graham had previously written under the David Agnew name with Douglas’s predecessor Anthony Read, to complete “The Invasion of Time.”
The original brief was to write a literary spoof of Herman Cyril McNeile’s celebrated “Bulldog Drummond” books, with a square-jawed and pugnacious hero. The Doctor and Romana would arrive in 1920s Las Vegas and forge an alliance with private investigator “Pug” Farquharson, who was looking into casino fraud. Having decided to move location to Paris and Monte Carlo (closer in spirit to the European backdrop to the Drummond books), and realizing they could shoot on location in France, the production team decided that the 1920s would be too expensive to recreate, so opted to reset the story in contemporary time.
David’s original plot point concerning casino fraud—in which the Countess uses Scarlioni’s bracelet to cheat at roulette in the casinos of Paris and Monte Carlo in order to raise funds for his time experiments—was later cut by Graham Williams. He was particularly concerned by a sequence in which the Doctor rigs a roulette table, which would, he felt, send the wrong message to Doctor Who’s young audience about gambling.
When Romana discusses other galactic art galleries that rival the Louvre, one of the names mentioned is the Braxatiel Collection. This is a name unlikely to cause much of a ripple to anyone sticking strictly to the TV adventures of Doctor Who, but for fans of the Big Finish audio collections and various written media, Braxatiel is enormously familiar as the name of the Doctor’s brother, who could boast one of the most impressive collections of art, gathered during many years traveling time and space, in the galaxy.
As well as providing a celebrated cameo role for John Cleese of Monty Python’s Flying Circus fame (he appears alongside fellow comedian Eleanor Bron critiquing the artistic merits of the TARDIS exterior), “City of Death” can also boast a cameo from Douglas Adams himself. He appears in one of the Parisian bars, playing a man enjoying a quiet drink.
John Cleese and Eleanor Bron tried to keep their appearance a secret, even suggesting that they appear in the credits as Kim Bread and Helen Swanetsky, so as to surprise the viewing audience. But they were credited under their proper names in the Radio Times. Cleese later reused the name Kim Bread for his appearance in Douglas Adams’s computer game Starship Titanic.
The exterior shots of the modern art gallery in the story were shot at the Denise René Gallery in boulevard Saint-Germain, Paris. As the day of shooting turned out to be a public holiday, the gallery itself was shut, so the crew filmed the Doctor walking up to the doors, intending to cut to an interior shot immediately afterwards. However, Tom Baker pressed so hard on the doors during one take that he set off a burglar alarm. Everyone left in a hurry, leaving unit manager (and future Doctor Who chief) John Nathan-Turner behind to deal with the police.
There was a plan to shoot a close-up of the Doctor and Romana, which would pull back to show that they were standing at the top of the Eiffel Tower, but it had to be abandoned when the crew discovered that the special lens they had hired did not fit their camera.
“City of Death” is the second Doctor Who story that takes place in the Louvre, although the first since it became an art gallery. The First Doctor visited Louvre Palace in 1572, during the events leading up to “The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve” when it was the royal residence of King Charles IX of France.
Now read the rest of the 10 Things You May Not Know About Doctor Who archive.Read More