THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

City of Death
TSV Books
Doctor Who and the City of Death

Author David Lawrence Cover image
Published 1992
Cover Alistair Hughes

Back cover blurb: When the Doctor and Romana take a break from their travels in Paris 1979, a holiday is far from what they get. Strange things are happening: lost art treasures are turning up, secret experiments are causing distortions in time, and the greatest art fraud in history is about to reach its fruition. When the time travellers team up with Duggan, a British detective, they learn that everything points to Count Carlos Scarlioni, a wealthy and famous art collector who is somehow much, much more than he seems... If Scarlioni is allowed to succeed, his plans will result in all life on Earth ceasing to have ever existed...


Reviews

The Art of the Matter by Andrew Feryok 25/2/13

There was disbelief in Duggan's voice. "But its a fake! You can't hang a fake Mona Lisa in the Louvre!" ... "How can it be a fake if Leonardo painted it?" asked the Doctor.
Duggan scowled "With the words 'this is a fake' written on the canvas in felt-tip pen?"
The Doctor nodded "Yes, but it doesn't affect what it looks like!"
Duggan sighed, infuriated "It doesn't matter what it looks like!"
The Doctor raised an eyebrow "Doesn't it? Some people would say that was the whole point of a painting."
"But they'll find out!" protested Duggan. "They'll x-ray it!"
"Serves them right!" snapped the Doctor. "If they have to x-ray a painting to find out whether its good or not, they might as well have it painted by a computer."
- The Doctor and Duggan, Doctor Who and the City of Death, Epilogue, Page 81.

I want to say straight off that I stole my review title from one of the chapter headings of David Lawrence's novelization of City of Death. But I thought it was so hilarious that I just had to reuse it!

City of Death is one of those stories that is considered by just about everyone on the planet as one of the very best Doctor Who stories of all time. Back in September 2009, it was one of four runners up for the official Doctor Who Magazine ranking list for Doctor Who episodes. It ultimately ended up not in the top four but in the top ten out of 200 stories! City of Death is quite possibly the most perfect expression of what Graham Williams was trying to do with Doctor Who: make it funny, but also intelligent and dramatic. So many of the stories of the time lost this balance and usually became too silly to be taken seriously in any way. But City of Death was one of the few that stood proud and said you can have action-adventure, mind-bending temporal plots, and hilarious characters and dialogue all at the same time and make it look classy. Sadly though, despite its enormous reputation, City of Death was one of five stories that was never adapted into a novelization by Target or Virgin. Douglas Adams hoped to adapt it, but ultimately never got around to it before his untimely death. As a result, it has been left up to fans to fill the gaps in the novelizations and that is where TSV publishers stepped in.

David Lawrence was the author of TSV's novelizations, but interestingly it was not originally a TSV project. David Lawrence originally started novelizing the story on his own and only hooked up with TSV when he heard about their other efforts to novelize stories. I have to admit that, after reading Doctor Who and The Pirate Planet, I thought this book was going to be really complex and a little bit daunting as the author would undertake altering the story heavily from the original. My fears were originally confirmed when the prologue and chapter 1 seemed to have very little to do with the original story. Only one scene involving Count Scarlioni and Kerensky arguing about funding the time travel experiments was familiar from Part 1 of that story. Otherwise, it was all new material setting up the characters of the story and telling the story of how the Doctor first heard of the Jagaroth in childhood while listening to his mentor K'Ampo. Chapters 2 and 3 get better as we finally encounter the Doctor and Romana, but there is still a lot of new material, mainly because so much of Part 1 of City of Death is taken up from the Doctor and Romana running around scenic Paris with no dialogue. Since this would make boring text to read, Lawrence instead invents new scenes and gags to fill in these spaces. It's in Chapter 4, though, when the Part 2 material kicks in, that the adaptation pretty much becomes exactly what we saw on TV screens and remains so until the very end.

David Lawrence's additions to the story are pretty good though. The prologue is fantastic as he marries continuity from the Jon Pertwee years involving the hermit K'Ampo and the New Adventures book Lungbarrow to create an interesting window into the Doctor's past. Although we can probably dismiss the Doctor's admission of being an orphan down to "fan fiction", it does all fit what most fans probably envisioned the Doctor's childhood to be: an angry orphan who escapes from his classes to go listen to fantastic stories of the outside universe from a kindly hermit in the hills. I also liked the ongoing argument David Lawrence created between the Doctor and Romana. It seems that the Doctor was trying to educate Romana in appreciating the artistic accomplishments of mankind. He starts by taking her to two performances of Hamlet, one in the present time and one during its original run in the 15th Century. Romana just sneers at it like a spoiled teenager complaining about the lack of special effects. The Doctor's attempts to educate her on the art of the spoken word falls on deaf ears, as if she just sitting in the audience bopping to herself on her MP3 player while ignoring the stage. When this fails, the Doctor decides to take her to Paris to show her artwork instead of plays. While Romana is impressed by the beauty of the city, she still snears at the artwork until finally the Doctor has a complete meltdown accusing her of being a philistine and completely art illiterate while she extols the virtues of artwork created by computers. These sections from the early part of the book are hilarious and they could have done the whole book like this and it would have been entertaining! It makes me wish that BBC Books had roped in David Lawrence to write a few Fourth Doctor books instead of continually handing it over to Chris Boucher.

But where City of Death really excels is in the characters and Lawrence captures them extremely well. Duggan's IQ seems to have sunk even lower in the novelization, but I think this is because we are denied the charisma of Tom Chadbon who gave a slight bit of intelligence to the character underneath all the brute smashing. While I really enjoyed the ending to City of Death in which the Doctor and Romana are seen running off aimlessly into the expanse of Paris, I like how the book ends on Duggan's character. For the first time in the book, he breaks into hearty laughter and the guy who couldn't understand art and hated people suddenly finds himself walking aimlessly through the city and seeing it anew as a place of wonder and beauty.

Count Scarlioni/Scaroth is still charming, evil and wonderful as usual. His henchman, Hermann, seems to have lost some intelligence as well. He is now a brute thug who delights in any opportunity to kill or torture people. On TV, the Countess tended to come across as a bit on edge and nervous at all times. But in the novelization, she is much more confident and more of the Count's equal. The Count also seems to have more feelings for his wife. On TV, he seemed to treat her as a slave and a tool for his ambitions. But in the book, he treats her much more as a partner and seems to really regret having to kill her at the end of the story as he really did have feelings for her. And the moment when she discovers the truth about him, you sense not only fear, but her heart breaking, since this was the man she loved and respected and he now turns out to be a green monstrosity.

If there is anything I disliked being added to the story, it was the scenes where the Doctor throws a birthday party in Leonardo DaVinci's studio and invites artists and historical figures from across history to celebrate. First of all, this breaks all kinds of rules of time, and it also seems incredibly unbelievable. Shakespeare, DaVinci, and Napoleon sharing a pint and discussing what they would do with a time machine? These scenes just seemed too silly and could not suspend my disbelief at all. But I will admit that I liked how DaVinci nearly punches out Duggan for not calling Florence "Florenz" which was a labored running gag that came to a hilarious conclusion with this gag.

On the whole, this is a marvelous novelization. David Lawrence really didn't need to add anything to the story since it holds up so well on its own, but what he does add for the most part does work very well. The novelization is very short though. Even though it has twelve chapters, a prologue and epilogue, each chapter is only about four pages long or so. A quick but highly entertaining read that does the TSV novelizations proud. 10/10