City of Death: Part Four

First Broadcast October 20th, 1979 @ 6.15pm (16.1m viewers)

This single episode is the most watched instalment of Doctor Who broadcast in history. However, that is not exactly the whole story. Whilst it does indeed boast the most viewers watching an episode of Doctor Who ever, this is largely due to there being nothing to watch on the other side. In the days before multi-channel satellite, a strike at ITV meant there the only competition was a blank screen. As a result over 16 million people tuned in to catch the conclusion of ‘City of Death’. They couldn’t have picked a better one.

Tom Baker and Lalla Ward - Doctor Who - City of Death (c) BBC
Tom Baker and Lalla Ward – Doctor Who – City of Death (c) BBC

‘City of Death’ is a solid gold classic. Originally from an idea from writer David Fisher, the story was reworked by Script Editor Douglas Adams and Producer Graham Williams. Fuelled by whisky and black coffee over a weekend. What they produced was a masterful blend of intelligent story and witty humour. This was then boosted by some sumptuous location filming in Paris, an impressive monster and perfect casting.

Memorable Moment (Spoiler Warning)

But since it has no call to be here, the art lies in the fact that it is here.

The cameo of Eleanor Bron and John Cleese as a pair of art critics discussing the TARDIS. Doesn’t need to be there. The Doctor, Romana and Duggan could just get into the TARDIS and dematerialise. But it’s just really funny. Douglas Adams’ signature is written all over it.

Eleanor Bron and John Cleese - Doctor Who - City of Death (c) BBC
Eleanor Bron and John Cleese – Doctor Who – City of Death (c) BBC

The superlatives used to describe ‘City of Death’ have been exhausted over the years. Not content with a simple theft of a priceless artwork, the Mona Lisa, the story contains time travel and a being splintered throughout time. Julian Glover’s villainous performance is merely an appetiser for his role in ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ a decade later. Scaroth the Jagaroth is also an impressive creation, the traditional green colour with a seemingly slimy skin but in a stylish suit. Tom Baker and Lalla Ward are a delightful pair throughout. Early in their onscreen relationship before their short-lived offscreen marriage hampered things. The glamorous romanticism of art theft in Paris. The hilarity of copies of the Mona Lisa with ‘This is a fake’ written under the paint. Duggan’s blustering and bludgeoning style amidst the ornate splendour of the chateau. Each element is simply sublime.


Doctor Who – Tom Baker
Romana – Lalla Ward
Count – Julian Glover
Countess – Catherine Schell
Hermann – Kevin Flood
Duggan – Tom Chadbon
Kerensky – David Graham


Director – Michael Hayes
Producer – Graham Williams
Writer – David Agnew

Also First Aired On This Day…

  • The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Day of the Clown: Episode Two


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