Serial 5H:
City Of Death


In modern-day Paris, the Doctor and Romana realise that someone is playing with time. They trace the disturbances to Count Scarlioni, who is actually one of several fragments of an alien Jagaroth named Scaroth. Scaroth's ship exploded on primordial Earth, scattering shards of his being throughout history. Now Scaroth has accumulated the funds and technology to send himself back in time to avert the accident. But the Doctor realises that this would prevent the evolution of life on Earth, which was instigated by the explosion.


David Fisher's Season Sixteen story The Androids Of Tara, a spoof of the Anthony Hope classic The Prisoner Of Zenda, had been popular with Doctor Who producer Graham Williams. After finishing work on The Creature From The Pit for the programme's seventeenth season, Fisher was immediately asked to contribute another literary parody. This time, the target would be “Bulldog” Drummond, a tough-as-nails detective character created by Herman Cyril McNeile under the pseudonym “Sapper”. Drummond was introduced in the 1920 novel Bulldog Drummond, and went on to appear in almost fifty books and movies.

On January 12th, 1979, Fisher was commissioned to write “The Gamble With Time”. In keeping with the “Bulldog” Drummond novels, this was set in the 1920s, and saw the Doctor and Romana team up with private eye “Pug” Farquharson (whose name was an obvious pastiche of Drummond's). With gambling a crucial aspect of Fisher's plot, he originally set his scripts in Las Vegas. By the end of February, however, the action had been moved to Paris and Monte Carlo, which were felt to be a better fit for a Drummond send-up. It was decided that “A Gamble With Time” would be the second story in both the production and transmission line-ups for Season Seventeen, and hence it was designated Serial 5H. It would be made between The Creature From The Pit and Destiny Of The Daleks, although the order of these two stories would be interchanged in the broadcast schedule.

Doctor Who had never before been recorded outside the UK, but the budget would accommodate filming in Paris

Given that “A Gamble With Time” was now set in France, it was suggested that portions of the adventure could actually be filmed in Paris. Doctor Who had never before been recorded outside of the United Kingdom, but Williams thought that this could be a tremendous publicity coup for the show. In early March, production unit manager John Nathan-Turner confirmed that filming in Paris for Serial 5H could be accomplished on a budget similar to what recording the material on sets would cost. However, this would mean that “A Gamble With Time” would have to take place in the modern day: it would be impossible to redress the French locations in the manner of the Twenties. Furthermore, many of the sequences currently set in Monte Carlo would need to be relocated to Paris in order to justify the excursion.

Williams was agreeable to these changes, especially since he was unhappy with the scripts that Fisher was delivering. Williams felt that Fisher had indulged in the “Bulldog” Drummond parody at the expense of writing good Doctor Who, and was also uncomfortable with the emphasis placed on gambling in the story, particularly a sequence which saw the Doctor cheat at a casino. By now, however, Fisher had moved on to other commitments, and was also dealing with acute marital difficulties; he would be unable to carry out the needed rewrites. This left Williams and script editor Douglas Adams no choice but to tackle the assignment themselves. Sequestered in Williams' house, the pair worked virtually non-stop for more than three days to produce a set of replacement scripts. Also contributing to the process was the serial's director, Michael Hayes, who had helmed both The Androids Of Tara and The Armageddon Factor the year before.

Fisher's version of the storyline involved an alien Sephiroth named Scarlioni, who has been scattered throughout Earth's history after the explosion of his time bubble. One of his fragments, Captain Tancredi, is forcing Leonardo da Vinci to paint duplicate copies of the Mona Lisa in 1508. In 1928 Paris another fragment, Count Scarlioni (inspired by “Bulldog” Drummond's original archnemesis, Carl Peterson), is financing Professor Kerensky's time experiments by equipping his lover, Baroness Heidi von Kleist, with a device which enables her to cheat at roulette in Monte Carlo. The Doctor and Romana ultimately discover that Scarlioni is trying to journey back to prehistoric Earth and prevent the time bubble explosion in order to save his fellow Sephiroth, who are dying from an illness he believes is caused by radiation from the accident. However, the Doctor discovers that the culprit is actually the common cold virus, to which the Sephiroth have no immunity. Scarlioni agrees to let the time bubble accident happen, in order to spark the genesis of life on Earth.

Graeme McDonald wrote to Graham Williams to question why the adventure needed to be set in Paris

Apart from the changes of setting and the elimination of the gambling subplot, Williams and Adams also made several other changes. “Pug” Farquharson and Heidi von Kleist became Duggan and Countess Scarlioni. Another supporting character, a gambling addict named Anne Greenleefe whom Farquharson saves from suicide, was eliminated entirely, as were Torath and Zorath of the Sephiroth. The artist who sketches Romana in the café was originally a much more prominent figure called Bourget, who is in league with Scarlioni. In addition, K·9 featured heavily in Fisher's scripts, but was excised due to the logistical difficulties of operating the prop while filming in Paris. The shift in the adventure's focus meant that “A Gamble With Time” was no longer a suitable title for Serial 5H, but no replacement was devised at this stage.

As with the Season Fifteen finale The Invasion Of Time, which Williams had cowritten with former script editor Anthony Read, it was decided that Serial 5H would be credited to “David Agnew”, an in-house BBC alias. This concealed the fact that both Doctor Who's producer and script editor had played a major role in writing the scripts, a practise frowned upon within the BBC at the time. On March 22nd, Head of Drama Graeme McDonald wrote to Williams to question why the adventure needed to be set in Paris in the first place, suggesting that the production would be much less complex if the action simply took place in Great Britain. Williams responded by pointing out that Scaroth's plan hinges on the proximity of a priceless masterpiece -- the Mona Lisa -- and that no appropriate substitute could be found in the United Kingdom.

With this resolved, a minimal crew and just three actors -- Tom Baker, Lalla Ward and Tom Chadbon (playing Duggan) -- travelled to Paris on April 30th. Things got off to an unfortunate start when Ward had a falling out with costume designer Doreen James, whom she blamed for the loss of the red shoes she was to wear as Romana. The relationship between the two was already frosty, stemming from a disagreement over how Romana should be dressed for Serial 5H. Ward had previously taken issue with the costume designed for her by June Hudson for The Creature From The Pit, and had gone over James' head to Williams to resolve the dispute in her favour.

Cast and crew scarpered when Tom Baker set off the burglar alarm at the Denise René Gallery

Work on Serial 5H was scheduled to began immediately on the 30th, with the Denise René Gallery serving as the exterior of the modern art gallery. However, with May 1st a holiday in France, many establishments had decided to close on the 30th (a Monday) as well. As a result, the Doctor Who team arrived to find the Denise René Gallery shut tight. Hayes elected to proceed regardless: rather than have Tom Baker enter the gallery as originally planned, Hayes would simply show the Doctor walking up to the front doors and then cut to the interior, which would be taped in the studio. Unfortunately, during one take Baker actually pushed on the doors forcefully enough to set off the burglar alarm. Cast and crew scarpered, leaving Nathan-Turner to explain what had happened to the police.

The material set in and around the café was supposed to be filmed the next day at the Café Coquille St Jacques. However, it transpired that this establishment, too, was closed for the holiday, and the proprietor refused to open it for the Doctor Who crew. Ultimately, the scenes were mounted instead at the Notre Dame Brasserie. Recording on May 2nd began at a building on the rue de Vielle du Temple, which posed as Scarlioni's abode. The production then moved to the Eiffel Tower. Sadly, a spectacular shot Hayes had planned -- beginning with a close-up of the Doctor and Romana which would pull back to reveal them standing high atop the Tower -- had to be abandoned when the special lens rented for the sequence from a Spanish firm could not be made to fit the BBC camera. More problems were encountered at the day's final location: Hayes' team arrived at the Louvre to discover that they had been denied permission to film on the museum's grounds. Frustrated, Hayes elected to hastily capture the required material anyway.

The final day in France was May 3rd. This was chiefly spent on various Parisian roadways and on the Metro, although additional recording also took place at the Notre Dame Brasserie. By now, the crew was fully aware that the burgeoning relationship between Baker and Ward had developed into a genuine romance over the course of the French excursion. Meanwhile, around this time, Serial 5H briefly gained the working title “The Time Of The Sephiroth” (although “Curse Of The Sephiroth” may also have been considered). By the 8th, however, it had been rechristened City Of Death, while the Sephiroth themselves became known as the Jagaroth. The same day, model filming began at Bray Studios, and continued until May 10th.

John Cleese was at TV Centre filming Fawlty Towers, and accepted Douglas Adams' invitation to appear as one of the art critics

The initial studio session for City Of Death was held in BBC Television Centre Studio 3 on May 21st and 22nd. The first day was devoted to scenes in the café and in the modern art museum. Since late April, Adams had been in touch with famed comedian John Cleese about appearing as one of the art critics. Cleese and Adams had worked together on Monty Python's Flying Circus, and also knew each other through Cleese's fellow Python, Graham Chapman. As it happened, Cleese was available for Serial 5H's first recording block, since he would be at BBC Television Centre working on the final episode of Fawlty Towers. Adams suggested that the other critic could be played by Alan Coren, a regular panellist on The News Quiz and an editor for the humorous Punch magazine. Cleese was agreeable to this, and suggested Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett (who had both shot to stardom in the stage revue Beyond The Fringe) as alternatives. In the event, the second critic was played by Eleanor Bron, a popular satirist who had been the first female castmember of the long-running Cambridge Footlights revue.

May 22nd dealt with material in Leonardo's studio, in the Jagaroth ship and on prehistoric Earth. It also brought an abrupt end to Doreen James' involvement with City Of Death, and with Doctor Who in general. The rapport between Ward and Doreen James had continued to deteriorate since their contretemps in Paris, and at the conclusion of the first studio block, James informed Williams that she was quitting the serial and would not be returning to Doctor Who. In fact, James was scheduled to design costumes for both Nightmare Of Eden and Shada later in Season Seventeen, but she was now replaced by Rupert Jarvis. Jan Wright took over James' duties, uncredited, for the final recording session on City Of Death.

This took place in TC6 between the 3rd and 5th of June. The chief set for this block was Kerensky's lab, which was utilised all three days. June 3rd also dealt with material in the basement storeroom and the hidden chamber adjacent to it. More scenes in the storeroom were taped on the 4th, along with sequences in the TARDIS, and in Scarlioni's library and its adjoining corridor. The montage depicting Scaroth's various fragments was completed as well. The final recording day took in the remaining material in the library, plus scenes set in both the actual Louvre and Scaroth's mock-up.

Bolstered by a strike at ITV, episode four had 16.1 million viewers, the most ever for Doctor Who

Cleese was not interested in garnering a lot of publicity for his Doctor Who appearance, for fear of detracting from the regular cast. To this end, he suggested that he be credited on City Of Death as “Kim Bread” -- a name he was fond of and would use on later projects. It was planned that Bron, similarly, would be accorded the pseudonym “Helen Swanetsky”. McDonald turned down these requests, however, and both Cleese and Bron were credited under their real names when City Of Death was transmitted.

As it happened, the story's broadcast in September and October occurred during the final weeks of an industrial dispute which had kept ITV -- the BBC's major competitor -- completely off the air since August. As a result, City Of Death enjoyed phenomenally high ratings, averaging 14.5 million viewers and reaching a peak audience of 16.1 million for episode four. These were the largest viewing figures ever attained by Doctor Who; indeed, alternative audience measurements put the viewership for City Of Death closer to an incredible twenty million people.

City Of Death was the final Doctor Who serial directed by Michael Hayes. He subsequently worked on programmes such as All Creatures Great And Small and Skorpion before retiring during the Eighties. He passed away in 2014. Meanwhile, City Of Death went on to become one of the very few serials from Doctor Who's original run not to be novelised for Target Books. Having attained worldwide success with The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, Adams commanded page rates well in excess of what Target was able to offer, and refused to let anyone else tackle the story. Later, however, Adams recycled many elements from City Of Death in his 1987 novel Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency.

  • Doctor Who: The Handbook: The Fourth Doctor by David J Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker (1992), Virgin Publishing, ISBN 0 426 20369 8.
  • Doctor Who: The Seventies by David J Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker (1994), Virgin Publishing, ISBN 1 85227 444 1.
  • Doctor Who Magazine #205, 27th October 1993, “Archive: City Of Death” by Andrew Pixley, Marvel Comics UK Ltd.
  • Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition #9, 22nd December 2004, “One Step Beyond” by Andrew Pixley, Panini Publishing Ltd.
  • In-Vision #40, November 1992, “Production” edited by Justin Richards and Peter Anghelides, Cybermark Services.

Original Transmission
Episode 1
Date 29th Sep 1979
Time 6.07pm
Duration 24'25"
Viewers (more) 12.4m (50th)
· BBC1 12.4m
Episode 2
Date 6th Oct 1979
Time 6.17pm
Duration 24'33"
Viewers (more) 14.1m (44th)
· BBC1 14.1m
Appreciation 64%
Episode 3
Date 13th Oct 1979
Time 6.04pm
Duration 25'25"
Viewers (more) 15.4m (34th)
· BBC1 15.4m
Episode 4
Date 20th Oct 1979
Time 6.16pm
Duration 25'08"
Viewers (more) 16.1m (16th)
· BBC1 16.1m
Appreciation 64%

Doctor Who
Tom Baker
Lalla Ward
Julian Glover
Catherine Schell
Tom Chadbon
David Graham
Kevin Flood
Louvre Guide
Pamela Stirling
Peter Halliday
Art Gallery Visitors
Eleanor Bron
John Cleese

Written by
Douglas Adams
David Fisher
Graham Williams
as David Agnew
Directed by
Michael Hayes
Produced by
Graham Williams

Incidental Music by
Dudley Simpson
Special Sound
Dick Mills
Production Assistant
Rosemary Crowson
Production Unit Manager
John Nathan-Turner
Director's Assistant
Jane Wellesley
Assistant Floor Manager
Carol Scott
Film Cameraman
John Walker
Film Recordist
Graham Bedwell
Film Editor
John Gregory
Studio Lighting
Mike Jefferies
Studio Sound
Anthony Philpott
Technical Manager
John Dean
Senior Cameraman
Alec Wheal
Visual Effects Designer
Ian Scoones
Electronic Effects
Dave Jervis
Vision Mixer
Nigel Finnis
Videotape Editor
Rod Waldron
Costume Designer
Doreen James
Make-up Artist
Jean Steward
Script Editor
Douglas Adams
Richard McManan-Smith

Working Titles
The Gamble With Time
The Time Of The Sephiroth
Curse Of The Sephiroth

Updated 15th October 2014