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 of the script 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 story 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 cut to 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 see how this part of the ship fits in 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: 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 some blossoming trees, and as the camera pans across them, it reveals a very iconic tower standing in the background.
Sue: It’s Blackpool.
Nicol: Mother! It’s the Eiffel Tower!
Sue: Great stock footage.
At the top of the tower, the Doctor and Romana are flirting outrageously with each other. It takes a good 30 seconds for Sue and Nicol to process the scene.
Sue: Are they really in Paris?
Me: Yes, they are really in Paris.
Sue: Wow. I love this already.
Nicol: Paris and Douglas Adams. What more could I want?
Nicol is half-French. She actually turned her phone off at this point.
Sue: I bet you like Romana’s outfit, eh?
Nicol: Yes, 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 like Dudley Simpson?
Nicol: I like show tunes. I keep expecting somebody to break into song.
Sue: They should do a Doctor Who musical. Buffy did it and it was brilliant. A planet where everybody has to sing or die. That could work.
Me: Could you play this tune on your piano, Nic?
Nicol: Possibly. Why?
Me: If I filmed you playing it and I put it on YouTube, we’d get loads of hits.
Sue: After what happened with the photo? Forget it!
Nicol: It wasn’t even a good photo.
In the cellar of a nearby château, we meet the eccentric Professor Kerenksy.
Nicol: Is he supposed to be Italian or Russian?
Sue: He sounds like Manuel from Fawlty Towers if you ask me. And he looks like my old science teacher, Mr. Windermere.
We also meet Kerensky’s employer, the incredibly suave Count Scarlioni.
Sue: He is definitely famous. And good. Good and famous.
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 a drink at a cafe when they experience an unexpected time jump.
Sue: It’s Le Groundhog Day.
Nicol: It’s a time loop.
Sue: 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 from 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: It makes a lovely change from what I usually have to put with. Why can’t they all be like this?
The Doctor takes Romana to the Louvre.
Sue: You can tell that they couldn’t get permission to film there. The camera is miles away.
Nicol: Where’s the pyramid? That’s shocking.
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 just his normal behaviour, Nicol. He’s been much worse than this.
The Doctor and Romana head back to the cafe and we all end up singing Dudley’s City of Death theme together as they stroll down the boulevards of Paris. When they reach the cafe, the Doctor and Romana talk about art.
Nicol: They are sitting in front of a French police box. That’s very funny.
A British private eye named Duggan forces the Time Lords into the cafe at gunpoint. We leave the delights of Paris for the confines of BBC Television Centre where some “French” extras, hired to provide some local colour, leave a lot to be desired.
Nicol: Why don’t they just give them some onions to wear round their necks and be done with it?
At one point, one of the extras attempts a gallic shrug that ‘Allo ‘Allo would have baulked at, and Nicol threatened to switch her phone back on.
Back at the château, the Countess Scarlioni is disappointed when she learns that husband is tinkering in the cellar with the professor. Again.
Sue: Does she suspect that her husband is having an affair with the kooky scientist?
Me: Hold that thought. It might come in handy later.
The episode concludes with a classic cliffhanger, as Count Scarlioni rips off his mask to reveal the Jagaroth beneath.
Nicol: You can see his nose.
Nicol: You can see the actor’s nose behind all that spaghetti.
My God, she’s right. I’d never noticed that before. Well, that’s the last time I’ll ever invite her to a screening.
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 are reading this, email the site.
Me: This is our 500th episode of Doctor Who!
Sue: That definitely deserves a big hug. I’d offer to dance for you but Nicol would die of embarrassment.
Nicol: If you’d warned me it was the 500th episode, I would have baked a cake. I could have made the Arc de Triomphe out of marzipan.
Me: Funnily enough, this episode originally aired on my 10th birthday.
Sue: And you weren’t in the country. What a shame.
Me: I know. I didn’t see this story for another twelve years, when it was released on video. How sad is that? I did spend my 10th birthday in a a jet boat, though, so it wasn’t all bad news.
It’s around this point that the comments from Sue and Nicol begin to dry up.
The Louis Quinze chair routine gets a massive thumbs up, though.
Me: It doesn’t get any better than that. It makes me laugh every time I see it. And I must have seen it 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 feels 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: Shhhh, I’m trying to listen to this.
The Doctor, Romana and Duggan are locked up the cellar.
Nicol: Why are they locking 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 he spies on Kerensky as he experiments with time. It seems that the professor has the 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 explains the problem: the two time continuums are incompatible.
Kerensky: Ah. I don’t know what you mean.
Sue: Even I understand what he meant, and I’m not a scientist!
The Doctor reverses the polarity (“Of course he does”) and the chicken turns back into an egg. And then the face of a Jagaroth appears in the time bubble.
Sue: Did the chicken turn into the alien? Is that an important clue? What does that mean?
I ignore her, hoping she’ll forget all about it. Just like the cafe artist who paints a portrait of Romana with a fractured timepiece for a face, it makes no sense at all.
Back at the château, Scarlioni is overseeing a dress rehearsal for the crime of the century.
Sue: They should have attached the suction pads on the glass it before they cut it. Amateurs.
Scarlioni neutralises the laser beams that 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 finds a hidden room that has been bricked up for hundreds of years. Duggan breaks the wall down with his shoulder.
Sue: Wait! It could be a supporting wall! Look, the whole set is going to fall down.
Inside the room, they discover 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 uses his TARDIS to visit 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, but he is interrupted by a soldier working for Captain Tancredi. And than an imposing frame fills the doorway.
The Doctor: You! What are you doing here?
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.
Scarlioni/Tancredi orders his solider 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. Duggan manages to set off the alarms and he escapes by throwing himself through a window.
Nicol: I’m pretty sure that the Mona Lisa is kept on display in a room with no windows. Just saying.
Me: There are forums for people like you.
And then we hit a type of 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.
I put down my notebook and I let them enjoy it.
Sue: I’m really sorry, I didn’t say very much, did I?
Me: Don’t worry about it. I’m just happy to see you enjoying it so much.
Sue: Did you ever think you’d see the day when all three of us would sit down together and watch old Doctor Who like this? 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 as well.
Nicol: I’m really enjoying it. It reminds me of the new series a lot. The humour and the timey-wimey twists. It feels modern. That surprised me.
Me: If I had to choose a classic Doctor Who story to show to someone who’d never ever seen the programme before, I would probably choose this one.
Sue: I wouldn’t. It’s not your typical Doctor Who story at all.
Nicol: That’s why he chose it, mother. Doesn’t that tell you something?
Me: This episode was watched by 16.1 million people. Live.
Me: It still holds the record for Doctor Who‘s highest ever viewing figures.
Sue: I’m not surprised. I can see how word of mouth would have spread, and more and more people would have wanted to watch this.
Me: That’s a lovely theory but ITV were on strike so there wasn’t that much choice, really. It was either City of Death or Championship Lawn Green Bowls on BBC2. Probably.
Sue: Even so, it’s the perfect story to hold that record. Imagine if it was something really shit, like the last one?
After another extended silence, Sue asks me to stop the DVD.
Sue: Is the Countess an alien?
Sue: But she knows that her husband is an alien, right?
Sue: Right. No, wait, that doesn’t make any sense.
Me: In the first episode you said you thought that she thought her husband was shagging the professor.
Nicol: I can’t believe you are having this conversation.
The Doctor, Romana and Duggan are reunited in the chateau’s cellar.
Sue: I’ll be really upset if Duggan isn’t a companion for at least one more adventure.
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 told you not to use any established characters or monsters, so my story featured Duggan and the Zygons. It was terrible. I never sent it.
Scarlioni and the Doctor discuss the merits of meddling with time.
Sue: Best villain ever. How can you not love him?
And then the Countess confronts Scarlioni. With a gun. Scarlioni has a lot explaining to do.
Scarlioni: It has not been difficult keeping secrets from you, my dear. 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 he becomes Scaroth last of the Jagaroth.
Me: I bet she’s happy that they had separate rooms now, eh?
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. 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.
Nicol: That’s how good this is. I didn’t notice, either. I miss him now, though.
The Doctor and Romana hurl themselves in front of the Paris traffic.
Sue: Aww, they are holding hands. That’s sweet.
Me: You can actually see Tom Baker and Lalla Ward falling in love with each other over the course of this story.
Me: They fell in love. They marry eventually.
Sue: I’m sure you’ve told me this before. I wasn’t that bothered the first time. 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 parked his TARDIS.
Sue and Nicol: Ahhhhhh!!!!
They’ve just spotted John Cleese.
Sue: Brilliant, just brilliant.
The TARDIS arrives on earth 400 million years ago and we are told that life on Earth is the direct consequence of the Jagaroth’s misfortune.
Sue: Creationists wouldn’t like that.
Nicol: It’s very clever. The twists keep coming.
Scaroth arrives at the site of the Jagaroth’s ship. He wants to stop himself from starting the engines that cause the explosion.
Sue: Just hit him!
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 Eifel Tower, but Duggan isn’t asked to join the crew.
Sue: Take him with you!
When the Doctor reaches the ground, he turns back to wave farewell.
The Doctor and Me: Bye, bye, Duggan!
Sue: He can’t hear you. He’s too far away. But it is a lovely touch. Bye, bye, Duggan.
Sue didn’t hesitate when it came to her score.
Sue: That was faultless. It’s as simple as that.
Nicol: Yeah, I’ll give it 10/10 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’d do.
Sue was very keen to watch some extra features (Nicol, not so much). We started with Paris in the Springtime, which is written by Jonathan Morris and directed by Ed Stradling.
Sue: That was an excellent documentary. You could tell that a lot of love went into that. A couple of things, though: first, what kind of weird lens were they using to film Rob Shearman? Secondly, you can’t get red chardonnay, Rob. Duggan breaks a bottle of red wine and you said it was the correct way for him to serve chardonnay. And I don’t even drink that much wine! And finally, I’m really sorry, Mr Moffat, but you 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 yet another way that people look at art – in this case, in a very pretentious way – and that ties into the themes of the story. Apart from that, it was great. I can’t believe Douglas knocked out the script in a weekend. Imagine what it could have been like if he’d had a whole week!
But the next extra, Paris, W2, blew her away.
Sue: Oh. My. God. I can hear Rosie.
Me: No you can’t. Rosie’s the PA, that must be the floor manager doing all the talking.
Sue: I am telling you – that’s Rosie. I’d know that voice anywhere.
I turned the production notes on and by God, she was right. It is Rosie Crowson acting as the conduit between director Michael Hayes and the actors.
Sue: I can’t believe this. I actually feel quite emotional.
I decided to quit while we were ahead and I skipped Eye on Blatchford and the chicken wrangling. You can have too much of a good thing, you know.