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John Cleese Meets Doctor Who

In and of itself, a clip of John Cleese stumbling off the set of Fawlty Towers to do a brief cameo on Tom Baker’s run of Doctor Who makes it a classic moment in the history of television. But this 40 second moment from the episode “City of Death” may be my favorite gag ever.

John Cleese as the pompous and mincing British art snob, framing the TARDIS with his thumbs and forefingers as he squints at it and drones on. To his right, a French aesthete in a lilac turban nods appreciatively. It could not be more perfect if they were wearing monacles.

“For me, one of the most curious things about this piece is its wonderful a-functionalism.”

“Yes, I see what you mean. Divorced from its function and seen solely as a piece of art, its structure, line and color are curiously counterpointed by the redundant vestiges of its function.”

“And since it has no call to be here, the art lies in the fact that it is here!”

(The Doctor, Romana 2 and a third companion scurry into the TARDIS. It disappears in a whirl of flashing lights, blinking out of time.)

“Exquisite! Absolutely exquisite.”

Oh, but it is. It’s a perfectly executed joke by one of the masters of British comedy. Plus, it reminds me of my Dad, who — when I was a tot — used to take me to the museum of modern art and attract crowds of similarly-minded art enthusiasts as he would stand in front of fire extinquishers, stroking his chin and every once and a while muttering “Genius!” to himself while I giggled into my fist.

But… is it art? [YouTube]

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