Book Review – “Doctor Who: City Of Death” (Author: James Goss based on a screenplay by David Fisher and Douglas Adams)

Critically, the sixteenth season of the classic version of Doctor Who isn’t one that could be seen as a vintage due to various production issues.  However, there was one diamond in the rough in the form of the second story of this season, “City Of Death” – the first story in the programme’s history to be filmed outside of Britain’s shores.

Now, more than thirty-five years on, the publishing arm of the BBC have finally released a novelisation of this classic story thanks to author James Goss using the framework of the initial screenplay developed by David Fisher and the revised storyline penned by Douglas Adams (under the BBC stock pseudonym “David Agnew”).

As a fan of the original televised version of this story, I was curious as to how Goss’ take on “City Of Death” would stack up against the orignal… and I am happy to say that the book is faithful to the 1979 televised version whilst managing to build on it.

The plot of the book is virtually the same as the original.  The fourth incarnation of the Doctor and his companion Romana decide to visit Paris for a holiday.  Unfortunately for them, their chance to relax is cut short courtesy of a disturbance in the flow of time along with the plot by notorious art thief Count Scarlioni to steal the Mona Lisa.

The plot itself isn’t the only way that the book echoes the screenplay.  The story structure of the book is split into four parts, as in the original TV version, and has the cliffhanger structure to end Parts 1 to 3.  The pacing of the story is also reminiscent of the original version, especially in the fourth part as the story rushes to its conclusion.

The book also manages to balance the threat against the Doctor and Romana along with their “companion”, the art detective Duggan, whilst ensuring the wit of the story is maintained.

Due to the wider scope afforded to James Goss, he manages to use the opportunity to add in plot points from the original version of the screenplay such as the Doctor playing croquet with William Shakespeare at the start of the story and build upon off-screen moments such as Romana and Duggan going for a night out around Paris which ends with Romana getting her first experience of a hangover.  For those who know the story from the interview on the DVD release for “City Of Death”, there is also a sly cameo by Douglas Adams and “Destiny Of The Daleks” director Ken Grieve.

But the big development for the book is a plot strand which is built upon the cameos by John Cleese and Eleanor Bron in Part Four which could be seen as “Exquisite… Absolutely exquisite.” (Sorry, I couldn’t resist).

In terms of character, Goss perfectly encapsulates the characters throughout whilst building upon them – most significantly the character of Romana.  The book takes the character and develops upon Lalla Ward’s portrayal by making Romana an academic intellectual whilst making her naïve in the ways in the universe to worry about the after-effects of a “night on the town” or to be bluffed into helping the villain of the piece.

If you’ve seen the original televised version of “City Of Death”, you will want to read this book to recapture that romantic heady 1979 “bouquet”.  If you haven’t seen the original, this book will serve as a perfect introduction to a story that is well deserving of the “classic” tag and is worthy of the writing of Messrs. Fisher and Adams.

Based on the evidence of this novelisation, I’m already looking to what James Goss will do with his take on Adams’ Season 15 story “The Pirate Planet”… “Watch for the omens”.

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