Recap: Doctor Who S17 E2 "City of Death"
"You're a beautiful woman... probably."
— The Doctor, failing to respond to the Countess as planned
The Doctor and Romana II go on a holiday in Paris, and soon find themselves accidentally investigating a fracture in time. They meet up with a very confused detective named Duggan, whose job up until now had mostly involved divorce cases, and who plans on solving the mystery of the day by punching things. While the Doctor and Romana merrily confuse him even more, they all get captured by a local rich guy named Count Scarlioni.
Scarlioni turns out to be an alien who's having a bit of trouble with his space ship. He also owns six copies of the Mona Lisa. All of which appear to be authentic. Oh, and the original is still hanging in the Louvre. Fed up with having to cater to Scarlioni's zany schemes, the Doctor just walks back to his TARDIS, vworps over to Italy and plans to ask Leonardo da Vinci himself what's going on. But his old friend isn't at home, and instead, another version of Count Scarlioni greets the Doctor in Leonardo's house.
The six Mona Lisas (Monas Lisa? Monae Lisae?) are all Count Scarlioni's legit property, who (as if all the Monas weren't enough) has a scanner for alien life, cleverly disguised as a bracelet on his wife's wrist. The wife, however, isn't aware that her husband is an alien, and gets the shock of her life when he takes off his mask and reveals a face full of writhing green tentacles. He's actually Scaroth, last of the warlike Jagaroth. As it turns out, when his spaceship exploded at the dawn of Earth time, his consciousness was scattered throughout history. His plan revolves around reuniting all of his selves.
All six paintings are
original Mona Lisas, all painted by Leonardo da Vinci in the sixteenth century. Scarlioni intends to steal the one in the Louvre and then carefully sell each of the Monae to a different private collection. The proceeds will fund Scarlioni's time travel to prevent the crash from ever occuring. Romana, carrying the Idiot Ball
of the day, helps him out a bit.
The Doctor doesn't especially mind all that... until he discovers that the crash of Scarlioni's spaceship was the "spark" that kicked off the development of life on Earth. Now they must work out how to defeat a being who's had four hundred million years to plan his escape. Eventually, Duggan solves the whole thing by just punching Scarlioni really hard
in the face. Humanity saved!
As if all that weren't enough, John Cleese
and Eleanor Bron have cameos.
For extra credit, spot the plot elements that Douglas Adams
recycled into Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency
- Affably Evil: The Countess Scarlioni. Count Scarlioni projects this, but it's just a facade.
- Ancient Astronauts: Scaroth.
- Artistic License - History: 400 million years ago was the Devonian period, also known as the "age of fish". For the beginning of life, 4 billion years ago would be a better fit.
- Battle Butler: Hermann. "What a wonderful butler, he's so violent!"
- Book Safe: The Scarlionis' secret collection of priceless historical books and manuscripts includes a book that's hollowed out as a hiding place for some Egyptian papyri.
- Captain Obvious: Duggan: "THAT is a spaceship!"
- Catholic Schoolgirls Rule: Romana wearing a very St. Trinian's style uniform. Lalla Ward, judging by interviews and the production notes, came up with the idea and had no concept it was a fetish.
- Chekhov's Skill: Mainly mocked and taken the piss out of, but also played straight. Duggan's tendency to randomly punch people comes round useful as he knocks Scarlioni out one last time, landing "the most important punch in history".
- Cliff Hanger: The first episode seems like it's going to be a basic, run-of-the-mill art heist. Then Count Scarlioni removes his face to reveal something else underneath.
- Cold-Blooded Torture: More like Cold Handed Torture. Tancredi orders the Doctor tortured using thumbscrews. However, the Doctor relents before the torturer can even begin, because the guy has cold hands.
- Computer Equals Tapedrive: Among the equipment in Kerensky's laboratory.
- Cool Guns: Everyone from Duggan to Hermann and the Count's Mooks use Walther P38 handguns. The Countess also has a nifty little pearl-handled revolver.
- Cryptic Background Reference: A throwaway line by Romana about the "Braxiatel Collection" became massive Canon Fodder in the Doctor Who Expanded Universe, and Braxiatel himself stars in a handful of spinoff series nowadays. According to the Expanded Universe (including Big Finish), he's the Doctor's brother.
- Deadpan Snarker: Romana's running commentary on Duggan's tendency to punch people and smash stuff.
Duggan: You can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs.
Romana: If you wanted an omelette, I'd expect to find a pile of broken crockery, a cooker in flames, and an unconscious chef.
- Defictionalization: Prints of the Mona Lisa were made available at a Tom Baker signing a few years ago, signed "This is a fake — TOM BAKER".
- Emerging from the Shadows: Captain Tancredi's entrance.
- Exposition of Immortality: The Doctor comes across several copies of the Mona Lisa which all genuine. He travels back in time to Leonardo da Vinci's workshop and encounters the Count Tancredi, whom he's already met in contemporary Paris as Count Scarloni, and who looks exactly the same. Scarloni is revealed to be a 400 million-year-old alien.
- Faux Affably Evil: Count Scarlioni, with his exquisite manners, his refined taste, his debonair wit, his plan to undo 400 million years of history and wipe out the human race...
- For Science!: What Kerensky thinks is the reason for his research.
- Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: The Countess and her cigarette holder.
- Heel Face Door Slam: Just after the Countess figures out the truth behind her husband he kills her.
- Improvised Weapon: Several times while captive at the chateau, Duggan uses whatever object is handy as a weapon, resulting in the Doctor complaining about his reckless treatment of valuable antiques.
- Insult Backfire: Scarlioni takes being called "inhuman" as a compliment.
- Just Between You and Me: Averted early on ("Can I ask you where you got these?" "No." "Or how you knew they were here?" "No." "I like concise answers." "Good."), but played straight later, when Captain Tancredi does a full-on "Since I'm about to kill you, I may as well tell you my entire plan first".
- Large Ham: Kerensky.
- Latex Perfection: Scarlioni.
- Mad Scientist: Averted somewhat with Kerensky, as he doesn't realize what he's doing is destructive. Otherwise, he fits this trope beautifully.
- Man of Wealth and Taste / Badass in a Nice Suit: For '70s clothes, Scarlioni's suit is seriously badass.
- Nerves of Steel: Romana's reaction at seeing Scaroth horrifically murder his scientist to illustrate his threats to force her to cooperate? Smile and agree, while working out how to subtly sabotage his scheme as best she can. While having just faced up against the Daleks shows she's a quick learner in such dangerous situations, the trope just below has more of The Doctor's reaction...
- Nice Hat: Romana's.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Nice job fixing up Scaroth's time machine, Romana.
- Not So Badass Longcoat: Duggan the detective.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: The Doctor, but the Scarlionis see right through it.
Countess Scarlioni: I don't think he's as stupid as he seems.
Count Scarlioni: My dear, no one could be as stupid as he seems.
- She even tells the Doctor the more stupid he tries to seem, the less she believes he is.
- Omnicidal Maniac: Scaroth knows full well the consequences of his plan of trying to avert his ship from exploding, as in it would avert all indigenous life on Earth from ever existing, and he couldn't care less.
- Punch Clock Villain: Captain Tancredi's soldier. "I'm paid to fight," he insists casually. He isn't particularly menacing and bears the Doctor no ill will despite being prepared to torture him on Tancredi's orders.
- Reality Is Unrealistic: The real Mona Lisa is a good deal smaller than people assume, certainly smaller than it's portrayed here. Ah well, at least they didn't roll it up...
- Real Life Writes the Plot: Probably inspired by an unconfirmed theory that the theft of the Mona Lisa in 1911 resulted in the conspirators selling six copies to American collectors, each convinced they had the real one.
- Reverse the Polarity: What the Doctor does to Kerensky's equipment to demonstrate that it can move backwards through time as well as forwards.
- Scenery Porn: Ahhh, Paris...
- Shut Up, Kirk!:
Doctor: Count, do you realise what would happen if you try to go back to a time before history began?
Scarlioni: Yes, yes I do. And I don't care one jot.
- Stable Time Loop: Life on earth would never have begun had the Doctor, Romana, and Duggan not been present back then to stop Scaroth.
- Stealth Pun: In French, "City of Death" is "Cité de la Mort", which sounds almost exactly like "Cité de l'Amour" (City of Love, a nickname for Paris). Oooh la la!
- Not to mention that the title is a translation of the Greek-based word necropolis. And what is the famous necropolis found in Paris? The Catacombs of Paris, located under the city itself.
- Super Senses: The Doctor can identify Leonardo's brush-work ("It's as characteristic as a signature") and pigments with little more than a glance.
- Super Speed Reading: "Not bad. Bit boring in the middle."
- Surprisingly Happy Ending: In the end, almost all the copies of the Mona Lisa were destroyed, except for one that the Doctor wrote on the canvas in felt tip marker, "THIS IS A FAKE." Unlike Duggan, that doesn't bother the Doctor in the least since a copy of a painting by the original artist is not a fake, and anyone who would want to bother x-raying the painting to find his writing to determine its monetary value doesn't appreciate the real value of art anyway.
- Throw It In: John Cleese and Eleanor Bron just happened to be at the BBC Television Centre on the same day that the art gallery scene was being shot, and Douglas Adams thought it would be fun to cast them in a little cameo.
- True Art Is Incomprehensible: Invoked when some art enthusiasts mistake the TARDIS for a piece of modern art, and aren't even slightly thrown when it vanishes right before their eyes.
Female Art Critic: ... Exquisite. [Male Art Critic nods sagely]
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Those people in the café seem extremely unconcerned with the multiple armed holdups that occur during the serial.
- What Could Have Been: The original script was a Bond-esque adventure in a Monaco casino. Nathan-Turner figured they could save money by shooting it in Paris instead, obliging Douglas Adams to rewrite the entire thing in a weekend. Only a few lines from the original survived (notably, the Doctor's line about getting only "one throw of the dice" during his final confrontation with Scaroth).
- Wicked Cultured: Scarlioni.
- Would Hit a Girl: Duggan knocks out Countess Scarlioni with a vase. Justified, as she was pointing a gun at him. The Doctor is more concerned about the vase.
- The X of Y
- You Have Failed Me: Sort of. Two Mooks actually succeed on a mission but apparently they didn't do good enough so Scarlioni casually orders them to get killed offscreen and replaces them.
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Bye-bye, Kerensky...
- You Look Familiar: Scarlioni is also Richard the Lionheart. This has led to a bit of fanon that Richard the Lionheart was one of Scaroth's personas.