City Of Death
Working Titles: The Gamble With Time, Curse Of The Sephiroth.
Starring: Tom Baker (The Fourth Doctor), Lalla Ward (The Second Romana).
In modern-day Paris, the Doctor and Romana realise someone is playing with time. They trace the disturbances to Count Scarlioni, who is actually one of several fragments of an alien Jagaroth named Scaroth. Scaroth's ship exploded on primordial Earth, scattering shards of his being across time. Now Scaroth has accumulated the funds and technology to send himself back in time to avert the accident -- but to do so would prevent the evolution of life on Earth, which was instigated by the explosion.
David Fisher had had some success with Season Sixteen's The Androids Of Tara, a parody of the novel The Prisoner Of Zenda. Consequently, Fisher was asked to provide another parody the following year; this was commissioned at the same time as another story, The Creature From The Pit. This time around, Fisher was to parody the Bulldog Drummond character created in 1920 by Herman Cyril McNeile, a tough-as-nails private detective who was popular both in books and on film.
Fisher began work on The Gamble With Time shortly after completing The Creature From The Pit. His story was set in Las Vegas -- and quickly relocated to Monte Carlo -- in the 1920s. It saw the Doctor and Romana team up with hardboiled private eye Pug Farquharson (an obvious take-off of Bulldog Drummond) against Count Scarlioni, really a time-fragmented Sephiroth who is rigging gambling tables in order to secure the funds needed to reunite his various splinters, which are scattered throughout history. Unfortunately, producer Graham Williams was displeased with Fisher's scripts, which he thought emphasised the Bulldog Drummond aspects at the expense of being a good Doctor Who story. Williams was also uneasy about including material about gambling (and especially scenes in which the Doctor cheats at gambling).
Meanwhile, production unit manager John Nathan-Turner had calculated that it would be no more expensive for a small film crew to travel to Paris for taping than it would be to construct mock-ups on a sound stage. Williams had been keen on taking Doctor Who abroad for some time, aware of the publicity it would generate, and seized on the opportunity. Unfortunately, this struck another blow to Fisher's scripts: its 1920s setting would have to be shifted forward to the present-day, undermining the Bulldog Drummond spoof aspects.
By this time, Fisher was deep in throes of a divorce and was unable to complete further work on the serial. Consequently, Williams and script editor Douglas Adams shut themselves away for three days and completely rewrote the story. Curse Of The Sephiroth, as it was now known, was a fundamentally similar adventure which differed in the details on many levels. Of particular note, the Paris locations were now emphasised, and K-9 had been written out, to avoid the need of bringing a visual effects team on location. Later, the name of the story's alien race was changed from "Sephiroth" to "Jagaroth". To appease the Writer's Guild, it was decided that the pseudonym "David Agnew" would be used for the serial; this was the same alias utilised for The Invasion Of Time a year and a half earlier.
Filming in the French capital took place between April 30th and May 3rd, 1979. The only principal castmembers needed were stars Tom Baker and Lalla Ward, along with Tom Chadbon who played Duggan (Williams and Adams' version of Pug Farquharson). Unfortunately, the crew had not taken into account the fact that this was the time of the May Day holiday, which meant that most of their intended locations were closed for the first two days of shooting. This caused particular problems at two sites.
First, the Denise Rene art gallery was found to be shut and its owners unreachable. Director Michael Hayes (whose most recent work had been on The Armageddon Factor at the end of the previous season; this would be his third and final Doctor Who serial) only needed outdoor shots anyhow -- of the Doctor and Romana running up to the doors -- and so decided to continue taping regardless. Unfortunately, on the fourth take, Baker rattled the gallery doors too violently, setting off a burglar alarm. With enough shots already in the can, cast and crew hurried away to the next location, leaving Nathan-Turner to mollify the gendarmes. Later that day, Hayes learned that his request to carry out some filming on the grounds of the Louvre had been turned down. With only a few brief sequences needed, Hayes elected to do the filming anyway.
Then, on the next day, cast and crew arrived at a cafe called the Cafe Coquille, only to find that it, too, was closed for the holiday. When the owner refused to open his doors, filming was forced to relocate; the proprietors of the nearby Notre Dame Cafe, fortunately, agreed to allow Hayes' team access to their premises. Unfortunately, because the cafe set was already being put together back in London based on the Coquille, Hayes was forced to keep his camera angles very tight, to avoid showing too much of the Notre Dame's interior.
City Of Death -- as the serial was now known, in a further bid to play up its Paris location -- enjoyed five studio days, first on May 21st and 22nd, and then between June 3rd and 5th. One notable addition was made to the script on May 22nd, when Adams discovered that two old friends of his -- actor/comedians John Cleese and Eleanor Bron -- were available were to make cameo appearances. Meanwhile, City Of Death lost a member of its crew when disputes between Ward and costume designer Doreen James about Romana's outfit came to a head, resulting in James' permanent departure from Doctor Who. Jan Wright replaced James for the second recording block.
City Of Death was broadcast between September 29th and October 19th, during the final weeks of an industrial dispute which had kept ITV -- the BBC's major competitor -- from broadcasting since August. Consequently, City Of Death enjoyed phenomenally high ratings, averaging 14.5 million viewers, and reaching a high of 16.1 million for episode four: the largest audience ever for a Doctor Who episode. (In fact, figures compiled by the Joint Industry Committee for Television Audience Research -- JICTAR -- suggest even higher ratings, up to 19.6 million viewers for both episodes three and four.)
City Of Death is one of the very few Doctor Who serials not yet novelised, due to the high page rates commanded by Adams and his refusal to let anyone else tackle the story. However, Adams did include many elements from City Of Death in his 1987 novel Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency.