I guess I’m one of those three people. And it’s not that I hate City of Death per se. It’s just that I don’t necessarily love it as much as many of my fellow Doctor Who fans do.
Famously re-written by Douglas Adams over the course of a weekend, few scripts from the classic run are as eminently quotable nor do they deal with the implications of time travel in quite the same way that this one does. But does that make it a top ten classic? Not to this fan.
Arriving in Paris, the Doctor and Romana decide to take a holiday. But a series of cracks in time quickly put them into the orbit of the Count Scarlioni, who has set his sights on stealing the Mona Lisa. His motivation for stealing the painting is so he can sell it on the black market, making millions and financing his dangerous experiments in time and time travel.
Goss takes a page from Adams in not telling the same story precisely the same way for each adaptation. Combining the televised version with the shooting scripts and a few flourishes of his own (in the style of Adams, of course), Goss gives readers an opportunity to find new nuggets in City of Death. Goss even creates an interesting spin on the reveal the monster cliffhanger ending of episode one with the Count not realizing he’s a splintered part of the Jaggeroth and being just as shocked as viewers are intended to be at the reveal that he’s a green faced, bug-eyed monster. (Though this does create some questions when it comes to the motivation of stealing the Mona Lisa and other aspects of the story)
And while Goss certainly isn’t quite in the same sphere as Adams, he does a serviceable job of channeling Adams for this adaptation. Short of Douglas writing the novel himself, this is probably as close as we’re going to get. Goss takes time to add some depth to Karinksi, Duggan and even the art critic couple from the story over the course of the story. But he also take a page from the Terrance Dicks school of Doctor Who novel writing and rarely abridges or joins scenes together from the televised version to the printed page.
His adaptation of City of Death is more along the later entries in the Target novel line as opposed to most of the fourth Doctor ones that feel like a straight adaptation of the shooting script with minimal descriptions thrown in for good measure. It makes this one of the better fourth Doctor novelizations in the long line of books. But as I said before, it’s simply not one of my favorite stories and the adaptation doesn’t enhance the reputation of the story any more (at least in my book). It also doesn’t detract from it either.