Getting to know Who: City of Death

By Christopher Allen

By the late 1970s, the tone of Doctor Who had changed once more. Under the stewardship of producer Graham Williams and script editor Douglas “Hitchhiker’s Guide” Adams, the show was wittier, less concerned with horror and more with fairytales, fun and fables. Out went the scares and in came the laughs – and for many the best example of this is the Paris-based City of Death (1979).


Fourth, confident in his sixth season as the Doctor.


The second incarnation of Time Lady Romana (K-9’s there too, but he spends the adventure in the TARDIS)


Holidaying in Paris, the Doctor and Romana uncover a plot that could unwind all life on Earth, involving an alien splintered in time, a hack detective, six fake Mona Lisas and some chickens.

The story so far…

  • The Doctor, Romana and K-9 have reassembled the Key to Time, with Romana then regenerating to her current form.
  • As a mechanism to escape a vengeful Black Guardian, the Doctor has installed a ‘Randomizer’ to the TARDIS controls, so their travels cannot be tracked. This is why the Doctor and Romana have ended up in Paris, 1979.
  • John Cleese (better known as Basil Fawlty and one-sixth of Monty Python) makes a cameo in episode 4, alongside famous film actress Eleanor Bron.

Key quote:

Romana: Where are we going?
The Doctor: Are you talking philosophically or geographically?
Romana: Philosophically.
The Doctor: Then we're going to lunch.

Why it’s worth a watch

Aside from being a very funny romp in the mould of much of Adams’ work, City of Death is also a very clever idea. An alien splintered in time, influencing human development to the point where he can travel back in time to before the explosion that destroyed him, and stop it happening. And financing that development with cash from legitimate duplicates of famous artworks? That level of imagination and tinkering with time had been rarely seen in Doctor Who before. The Paris location filming is lovely – complimenting the romantic, film noir feel. And even the celebrity cameo scene and Tom Baker at his most jokey don’t feel too forced.


Read more about City of Death at the BBC Doctor Who website, or get to know more key Doctor Who adventures.

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