Nicol: Who the hell is David Agnew?
Sue: Oh, no. That name rings a bell. And not in a good way.
Me: David Agnew doesn’t exist. It’s a pseudonym. Practically every line is written by Douglas Adams, although some of the ideas originate from David Fisher. He wrote The Stones of Blood and The Androids of Tara.
Sue: I liked them.
Me: Don’t worry, Nic, this is very Douglas Adams.
Nicol: It had better be.
The story begins 400 million years ago…
Sue: This is very alien. You can tell straight away that this isn’t going to be set anywhere near Earth.
She’s wrong, of course. But she means well.
Sue: Nice matte painting at the back, there. The spaceship is very War of the Worlds, too. I like the model a lot.
We enter the ship’s cockpit.
Sue: Waiter, there’s an eyeball floating in my linguini!
Nicol: Is his spacesuit made from Lego?
Sue: I don’t understand how this part of the ship fits with the exterior we saw a minute ago. They don’t match up.
Scaroth the Jagaroth is worried that his spaceship’s warp drive engines will explode if he revs them up.
Sue: I can’t understand a single word he’s saying.
Nicol: Even Bane made more sense than this guy.
Things aren’t looking too good, folks. But at least a nice explosion takes their mind off things for a bit. And then we cut to the world’s most iconic tower.
Sue: It’s Blackpool.
Nicol: Mother! It’s the Eiffel Tower!
Sue: Oh. Nice stock footage, then.
At the top of the tower, the Doctor and Romana are flirting outrageously with each other.
Sue: Are they really in Paris?
Me: Yes, Sue, they’re really in Paris.
Sue: Wow. I love this already.
Nicol: Paris and Douglas Adams. What more could you want?
Nicol is half-French, so she actually turned her phone off at this point.
Sue: I bet you like Romana’s outfit, don’t you, Neil?
Nicol: Why is she dressed as an extra from Grange Hill?
Sue: Ann Summers, surely?
The Doctor and Romana skip through the streets of Paris.
Nicol: I like the music.
Sue: You actually like Dudley Simpson?
Nicol: I like show tunes. I keep expecting them to break into song.
Sue: They should do a Doctor Who musical. Buffy did it and it was brilliant. A planet where you have to sing or die. That could work.
Professor Kerenksy is beavering away in the cellar of a nearby château.
Nicol: Is he supposed to be Italian or Russian?
Sue: He sounds like Manuel from Fawlty Towers. And he looks like my old science teacher, Mr Windermere.
We also meet Kerensky’s employer, the suave Count Scarlioni.
Sue: He’s famous. And good, too.
Me: Right on both counts.
Nicol: I won’t know who he is.
Me: Yes, you will. He’s in one of your favourite TV shows.
Me: Game of Thrones.
Nicol: Really? Who the hell is he?
Me: He plays Grand Maester Pycelle.
Nicol: I haven’t got my Game of Thrones flow chart with me. Which one is he again?
Me: The randy priest with the tremendously long beard.
Sue: You get to see him naked in one episode.
The Doctor and Romana are enjoying some refreshments in a café when they experience an unexpected time jump.
Sue: It’s Le Groundhog Day. Either that or there’s a fault with the DVD. It wouldn’t be the first time.
The Doctor thinks it could be a crack in time.
Sue: Like the crack in the new series. Spooky, eh? Oh, I used to have a Renault 5… I loved that car.
Yes, Romana and the Doctor are running through the streets of Paris again.
Sue: This is basically them screaming at the viewers: LOOK AT US! WE WENT TO PARIS! LOOK!
Nicol: I’m not complaining.
Sue: Yeah, it makes a lovely change from what we usually have to put with. Why can’t they all be like this?
The Doctor takes Romana to the Louvre.
Sue: They couldn’t get permission to film there. The camera is miles away.
The Doctor and Romana are admiring the Mona Lisa when they experience another time jump. The Doctor faints spectacularly.
Nicol: Is he always like this?
Sue: Oh, this is his normal, Nicol. He’s been much worse than this.
As the Doctor and Romana head back to the café, we all sing Dudley’s City of Death theme. And when they reach the café, the Doctor and Romana decide to talk about art.
Nicol: They’re sitting in front of a French police box. That’s funny.
A British private detective named Duggan forces the Time Lords into the café at gunpoint, which means we leave the delights of Paris for the confines of BBC Television Centre, where some “French” extras leave a lot to be desired; one of them even attempted a Gallic shrug that ‘Allo ‘Allo would have baulked at.
Nicol: Why don’t they give them some onions to wear around their necks while they’re at it?
Back at the château, the Countess Scarlioni is disappointed when she learns her husband is in the cellar with the professor. Again.
Sue: Does she suspect he’s having an affair with the kooky scientist?
Me: Hold that thought. It will come in handy later.
The episode ends with Count Scarlioni ripping off his mask to reveal the Jagaroth beneath.
Nicol: You can see his nose.
Nicol: You can see the actor’s nose under that spaghetti.
My God, she’s right. I’d never noticed that before. Well, that’s the last time I invite Nicol back to ruin things.
Nicol: It’s either a chin or a nose.
Sue: Well, I liked the cliffhanger. That was a great start. Oh, look! Rosie Crowson is the PA for this story. That’s brilliant! She taught me everything I know about production management. I loved Rosie. Rosie, if you’re reading this, please get in touch.
Me: This is our 500th episode of Doctor Who!
Sue: That definitely deserves a hug. I’d offer to dance with you but Nicol would die of embarrassment.
Nicol: If you’d warned me this was the 500th episode, I would have baked a cake. I could have made the Arc de Triomphe out of marzipan.
Me: This episode originally aired on my 10th birthday.
Sue: And you weren’t even in the country. What a shame.
Me: I know. I didn’t see this story for another 12 years, when it was released on video. How sad is that? I did spend my 10th birthday in a jet boat, though, so it wasn’t all bad news.
The Louis Quinze chair routine gets a massive thumbs up.
Me: It doesn’t get any better than that. It still makes me laugh every time I see it. And I must have seen this dozens of times. Hundreds, possibly. I used to play that scene in some of my lectures. Even the ones that weren’t about science fiction.
Sue: I love it. I feel like I’m watching a play. A really good play where everyone’s really comfortable because they’ve learnt all their lines and they know what they’re doing. They’re enjoying themselves and it’s infectious.
Nicol: Shhh, I’m trying to listen to this.
The Doctor, Romana and Duggan are locked in the château’s cellar.
Nicol: Why lock them up next to the top-secret lab? That’s a bit daft, isn’t it?
Sue: Don’t think about it too much, Nicol. It’s Doctor Who.
We can all agree on one thing, though. Everybody loves Duggan.
Sue: He should be a companion. He’d be perfect for the Doctor and Romana. They could take it in turns to play with him.
The Doctor escapes from his cell and spies on Kerensky as he experiments with time. It appears the professor has harnessed enough power to age chickens to death.
Sue: Just switch off the machine before the chicken dies. I don’t see what the problem is.
The Doctor tries to explain the problem: the two time continuums are incompatible. But Kerensky doesn’t understand.
Sue: I’m not a scientist, and even I understood what he meant!
The Doctor reverses the polarity (“Of course he does”) and the chicken turns into an egg. What’s less easy to explain is the face of a Jagaroth which suddenly appears in the time bubble.
Sue: Did the chicken just turn into an alien? Is that an important clue? What does that mean, Neil?
I ignore her, hoping she’ll forget all about it, because, just like the artist who paints a portrait of Romana with a fractured timepiece for a face, it makes no sense at all. Anyway, back at the château, a dress rehearsal for the crime of the century is already in progress.
Sue: They should have attached the suction pads to the glass before they cut it. Amateurs.
Scarlioni neutralises the laser beams which protect the Mona Lisa by altering the refractive index of the air.
Nicol: That’s plausible.
Sue: Apart from the fact that they touched the beams when they were carrying the painting out. Amateurs!
Meanwhile, in the château’s cellar, Romana discovers a room which has been bricked up for hundreds of years. So Duggan breaks the wall with his shoulder.
Sue: Wait! That could be a supporting wall!
They find six copies of the Mona Lisa, all painted by Leonardo da Vinci.
Nicol: Very clever.
The Doctor wants to get to the bottom of this mystery, so he jumps into his TARDIS and travels to Italy in 1505.
Sue: I thought he couldn’t steer his TARDIS properly?
Me: He must have turned the randomiser off.
Sue: But that means the Black Guardian might find him.
The Doctor is exploring Da Vinci’s study when he’s interrupted by a soldier working for Captain Tancredi. And then an imposing figure strides through the doorway.
Sue: Is it the Black Guardian?
Sue: Is it the Master?
No, it’s Captain Tancredi aka Count Scarlioni!
Sue: Fabulous cliffhanger.
Me: You didn’t say very much, Nicol. Are you bored?
Nicol: Not at all. Let’s keep going.
500 episodes down. Well done us.
Sue: I love the set design. It’s gorgeous.
The soldier is instructed to torture the Doctor.
Sue: Is it Packer? So it is. Even the small parts are big in this.
Duggan and Romana arrive at the Louvre but the Mona Lisa has already been stolen. When Duggan sets off the alarms, he escapes by throwing himself through a window.
Nicol: I’m pretty sure the Mona Lisa is kept on display in a room with no windows. Just saying.
Me: There are forums for people like you, Nicol.
And then we enter a period of protracted silence that I haven’t experienced since The Seeds of Doom Part Five. Well, I say silence. Silence punctuated by loud, raucous laughter would be a more apt description.
Sue: I’m sorry, I didn’t say very much, did I?
Me: Don’t worry about it. I’m just happy you’re enjoying it.
Sue: Did you ever think you’d see the day when all three of us sat down to watch old Doctor Who together? It’s lovely, isn’t it?
Me: Stop it, you’ll make me cry.
Sue: I always find it difficult to say anything when a story is really good. What more can I say? It’s brilliant.
Me: What about you, Nicol? You’ve been very quiet.
Nicol: I’m enjoying it. It reminds me of the new series, especially the humour and the timey-wimey twists. It feels very modern.
Me: If I had to choose a classic story to show to someone who’d never ever seen Doctor Who before, I’d probably pick this one.
Sue: I wouldn’t. It’s not your typical Doctor Who story at all.
Nicol: That’s why you should choose it, mother. Doesn’t that tell you something?
Me: This episode was watched by 16.1 million people. It was a record for Doctor Who which still stands today.
Sue: Wow. Although I’m not surprised. I can see how word of mouth must have spread, and more and more people would have wanted to watch it.
Me: That’s a lovely theory, Sue, but ITV were on strike so there wasn’t much choice. It was either this or Championship Lawn Green Bowls on BBC2. Probably.
Sue: Even so, it’s the perfect story to hold the record. Imagine if it was something really shit, like the last one?
After another extended silence, Sue asks me to pause the DVD.
Sue: So is the Countess an alien?
Sue: But she knows her husband is an alien, right?
Sue: Right… No, wait, that doesn’t make any sense.
Me: In the first episode, you said she probably thought her husband was shagging the professor.
Nicol: I can’t believe you two are having this conversation.
The Doctor, Romana and Duggan are reunited in the château’s cellar.
Sue: I’ll be really upset if Duggan isn’t a companion for at least one more story.?
Me: I loved Duggan so much, he featured in my one and only attempt at fan fiction.
Sue: When did you write that? When you were 12?
Me: No, when I was 24 and I was living with you. I toyed with the idea of sending a proposal to Virgin’s New Adventures range. Their guidelines specifically stated that you couldn’t use any established characters or monsters, so my story featured Duggan and the Zygons. Because I’m an idiot.
Scarlioni and the Doctor discuss the merits of meddling with time.
Sue: Best villain ever. How can you not love him?
Later, the Countess confronts Scarlioni. She tells him it wasn’t difficult keeping secrets from him. A few fur coats, a few trinkets, a little nefarious excitement…
Sue: Nefarious? What the hell does that mean?
Me: Maybe he wore a gimp mask and an all-in-one…
Nicol: Can we please stop talking about this now?
Scarlioni tears off his mask and becomes Scaroth, last of the Jagaroth.
Me: I bet she’s pleased they had separate bedrooms now.
Sue: They should have left his voice alone. It would have been funnier, not to mention easier for me to understand.
Scaroth throws himself back 400 million years as the Doctor, Romana and Duggan race through the streets of Paris.
Sue: Hang on a minute. Where’s K9?
Me: I can’t believe it’s taken you three and a half episodes to notice he’s missing.
Nicol: I didn’t notice, either. I definitely miss him now, though.
The Doctor and Romana hurl themselves in front of the Paris traffic.
Sue: Aww, they’re holding hands. That’s sweet.
Me: You can actually see Tom Baker and Lalla Ward falling in love during this story.
Me: They fell in love. They marry each other eventually.
Sue: I’m sure you’ve told me this before. I wasn’t that bothered the first time, but now I want to know everything.
Nicol: How long were they married for?
Me: They divorced a year later.
Sue: Still longer than my first marriage.
Me: She’s married to Richard Dawkins now.
Nicol: Oh well, you can’t have everything.
The Doctor, Romana and Duggan enter the art gallery where the Doctor has parked his TARDIS.
Sue and Nicol: Ahhhhhh!!!!
They’ve just spotted John Cleese.
Sue: Brilliant, just brilliant.
The TARDIS travels back 400 million years and we discover that life on Earth only exists thanks to the Jagaroth’s misfortune.
Sue: Creationists wouldn’t like that very much.
Nicol: It’s very clever. The twists keep coming.
Scaroth arrives at the site of the Jagaroth’s ship in order to stop himself from starting the engines that cause the explosion.
Sue: Just hit him!
Duggan obliges and Scaroth is thrown back to the château in 1979, where his manservant, Herman, kills him by accident.
Sue: That’s very funny. I think Herman loved him as well.
The story is wrapped up at the top of the Eiffel Tower, but Duggan isn’t invited to join the crew.
Sue: Take him with you!
When the Doctor reaches the ground, he turns back to wave farewell.
Me: Bye, bye, Duggan!
Sue: He can’t hear you. He’s too far away. Although it is a lovely touch. Bye, bye, Duggan!
Sue: That was faultless. It’s as simple as that.
Nicol: Yeah, I’ll give it 10 out of 10 as well.
Me: Me too.
Sue: Nobody cares what you think, Neil.
Me: You could stick that on BBC2 right now and no one would bat an eyelid.
Sue: Stick it on BBC1 during the 50th anniversary celebrations. That’s what I would do.
Sue was very keen on watching some extra features (Nicol, not so much), so we started with the documentary, Paris in the Springtime.
Sue: That was excellent. You could tell that a lot of love went into that. But please tell Rob Shearman that you can’t get red chardonnay. Duggan broke a bottle of red wine and he said it was the correct way for him to serve chardonnay. And I don’t even drink that much wine. And finally, the Moff said the John Cleese cameo is the only bit of comedy that doesn’t have anything to do with the plot. But it does. It shows us another way that people look at art – in this case, in a pretentious way – and that ties into the themes of the story. Apart from that, it was great. I can’t believe Douglas knocked that out in a weekend. Imagine what it could have been like if he’d spent a whole week on it.
The next extra, Paris, W2, simply blew her away.
Sue: Oh. My. God. I can hear Rosie!
Me: No you can’t. Rosie’s the PA. That’s the floor manager talking.
Sue: I’m telling you, Neil, that’s Rosie. I’d know her voice anywhere.
I turned the production notes on and by God she was right.
Sue: I can’t believe it. I feel quite emotional.
I decide to quit while we’re ahead and we skip Eye on Blatchford and the chicken wrangling video. You can have too much of a good thing, you know.