Inspector Duggan: What’s Scarlioni’s angle?
The Doctor: Scarlioni’s angle? I’ve never heard –. [To Romana] Have you ever heard of Scarlioni’s angle?
Romana: No, I was never any good at geometry.
The Doctor: [to Duggan] Who’s Scarlinoi?
She’s just so darned cute. Lalla Ward is an English actress, writer and artist who played the Companion Romana [sic] in a classic series of Doctor Who episodes with Tom Baker. And she has got to be one of the primary reasons the episode “City of Death” has rocketed to the all-time best list of a show that’s been on the air since 1963. I fell in love with the episode when I first saw that hat pinned to her blond hair. I’m a guy; it happens.
But I have to say, I’m really glad I started watching the 2005 reboot of Doctor Who before I saw this classic. If I’d started with “City of Death” (its 1979 airdate tells you a lot), the teaser would’ve had me saying, “Ewwww” – and not in a good way. The show starts with an alien who looks like a bowl of split-pea soup garnished with a dollop of eyeball. The alien is sitting inside a spaceship that’s about to explode. That’d have been enough right there to send me groping for a football game. The scene is so damn cheesy the writers of Lost in Space would’ve been embarrassed. Well, maybe that’s going a little far for a group of people who invented Carrot People, but you get my drift.
But after the title sequence we shift gears to Paris, where the Doctor and Romana (who’s just so darn cute … have I mentioned that?) are sitting around discussing what they’re going to do on their vacation in the city of lights. And their one-liners are classic. The one above, including the Investigator Duggan, is a good example. Here’s another:
Romana: Where’re we going?
The Doctor: Are you talking philosophically or geographically?
The Doctor: Then we’re going to lunch. I know a little place that does wonderful bouillabaisse.
Romana: Mmm, bouillabaisse.
In fact, I could devote an entire blog to the dialog alone, in large part because it was co-written by the famous Douglas Adams. As usual, Adams’ humor crackles, and it reminded me – as strange as it may sound – of the classic American comedy His Girl Friday, with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. Like the movie, this episode resonates with the audience because of its nonstop one-liners and because of the sizzling chemistry between two charismatic actors.
Being Doctor Who, of course, means time travel, and there’s plenty of that to move the plot along. The alien – the one who looks like split-pea soup – has been “broken apart” due to an accident. He’s been scattered through time … a little bit of him here, a little bit there. That alone is crazy enough to keep me interested. But in order to “reunite himself” he has to use 20th century time travel technology, which inconveniently hasn’t been invented yet. So, he’s funding a mad scientist using cash made from sales on the antiquities black market. Specifically, he’s selling several original versions of the Mona Lisa that the 16th-Century version of himself got Leonardo to paint. With cash in hand – or claw – he’s bankrolling a time travel gizmo that’ll propel him back to a point before the accident occurred. This, by the way, will have a side effect of wiping out humanity; so it goes. The whole concept is preposterous and hilarious. It kept me watching.
And it’s that outrageousness – coupled with “believable” plot points – that makes Doctor Who gripping. Well, that and really cute companions like Romana.
The Doctor: Are you suggesting those men were in my employ?
Inspector Duggan: Yes.
The Doctor: I don’t know if you noticed but he was pointing a gun at me. Anyone in my employ who behaved like that, I’d sack him on the spot.
As you look at science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery and romance, keep an eye open for this kind of chemistry among characters. You’ll see it in the best novels, film and TV. The plot is going to evolve out of characters’ drama and actions. Sure, the fingerprints of Douglas Adams’ humor are all over this script, much like the fingerprints of Cary Grant are all over Rosiland Russell, but Adams had to have characters to write dialog for. That makes all the difference.
In closing here’s one last exchange between the Doctor and Romana, the kind of woman you really want to hold hands and run through Paris with.
Romana: That bouquet.
The Doctor: What Paris has, it has an ethos. A life. It has –.
Romana: A bouquet?
The Doctor: A spirit all its own. Like a wine, it has –.
Romana: A bouquet.
The Doctor: It has a bouquet. Like a good wine, you have to choose one of the vintage years, of course.
Romana: What year’s this?
The Doctor: Ah, well… well, it’s 1979, actually. More of a table wine, shall we say?
Until next time,
Peace, from Keith
The commentary of this blog post are Copyright © 2013 Alan Keith Parker. Quotes from Dcotor Who are Copyright © 1979 British Broadcasting Corporation. Embedded pictures of the Mona Lisa, His Girl Friday, and Lalla Ward, were taken from Wikipedia.org. If the latter violate any copyrights I will remove the images.