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The Talons of Weng Chiang

Production Code: 4S

First Transmitted

1 - 26/02/1977 18:30

2 - 05/03/1977 18:35

3 - 12/03/1977 18:30

4 - 19/03/1977 18:30

5 - 26/03/1977 18:30

6 - 02/04/1977 18:30

Plot

Arriving in London at the end of the 19th Century, the Doctor and Leela make friends with a police pathologist, Professor Litefoot, and learn that hairs taken from the clothing of a dead body found floating in the Thames seem to have originated from a very large rat.

The Doctor's investigations take him first to the sewers, where there are indeed giant rats on the loose, and then to the Palace Theatre, where a stage magician, Li H'sen Chang, is procuring young girls for his master, the ancient Chinese god Weng-Chiang. Weng-Chiang is in fact Magnus Greel, a war criminal from the 51st Century. The journey back through time has disrupted his molecular structure and he now needs to feed on the life force of others - hence his use for the young girls. He has come to London to retrieve his lost time cabinet, which is in the possession of Litefoot. Infiltrating Litefoot's home with Chang's ventriloquist doll Mr Sin - a computerised homonculus with the brain of a pig - he retrieves the cabinet and prepares to travel back to his own time.

The Doctor, aided by Leela, Litefoot and Henry Gordon Jago, the proprietor of the Theatre, tracks him down to his lair and traps him before he can escape. Greel falls into his life force extraction machine and disintegrates. The Doctor is then attacked by Mr Sin but manages to disconnect its circuitry, rendering it inanimate.

Episode Endings

The Doctor and Leela descend into the sewers, where they are confronted by a giant rat. The Doctor ushers Leela in the opposite direction as the rat scurries towards them.

Leela has been dining with Litefoot at his house. The Professor goes outside to investigate after spotting a prowler in the grounds, and on his return is struck down by an unseen assailant. Leela is suddenly confronted by the squat figure of Mr Sin advancing on her with a knife.

Leela flees from Weng-Chiang's lair through the sewers, chased by a giant rat. The Doctor, who is also in the sewers with a gun borrowed from Litefoot, hears her coming and prepares to fire. She turns the corner and falls, and the rat bears down on her.

Professor Litefoot is left unconscious in his house as Weng-Chiang, laughing maniacally, speeds away in a horse-drawn carriage with the time cabinet strapped to the back.

Weng-Chiang returns to Litefoot's house to fetch a missing bag containing the key to the time cabinet. He ambushes Leela and presses a chemical-soaked pad over her mouth. She struggles with him and pulls the mask from his face, revealing a bent and twisted visage beneath.

Leela and the Doctor enter the TARDIS and it dematerialises. Litefoot is amazed, but Jago takes it all in his stride: it is a good trick, and one that Li H'sen Chang himself would have appreciated.

Roots

Pygmalion ('I'm trying to teach you').

Dracula ('Some slavering gangrenous vampire comes out of the sewers and stalks the city at night').

The Phantom of the Opera (especially the Hammer version).

The Face of Fu Manchu.

Jack the Ripper.

The Phantom Raspberry Blower of Old London Town.

The Good Old Days.

Das Kabinett des Dr Caligari.

The Projected Man.

The Lost World.

Dead of Night.

The Man with the Golden Gun (conclusion involving midget and giant laser gun).

It Ain't Half Hot Mum (the first mention of the Tong of the Black Scorpion!).

The Importance of Being Ernest (a hat box?).

Amongst the many aspects of Conan Doyle lore present we have the Doctor's deerstalker, a housekeeper called Mrs. Hudson, 'Elementary my dear Litefoot', opium and so on. Even Greel's 'sewer guards' may be a subtle reference to the (untold) Holmes story The Giant Rat of Sumatra.

Other Holmes links include A Study in Scarlet, The Man with the Twisted Lip and The Abbey Grange.

Litefoot quotes from Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress ('He that is down, need fear no fall'), whilst the Doctor quotes J. Milton Hayes ('There's a one eyed yellow idol to the north of Khatmandu'), attributing it to music hall comedian Harry Champion.

There's a possible oblique reference to Engels' The Condition of the Working Class in England.

Dialogue Triumphs

Leela : "Doctor, you make me wear strange clothes, you tell me nothing: you are trying to annoy me."

The Doctor : ""Eureka" is Greek for "this bath is too hot"."

Jago : "That's my trouble, Litefoot."

Professor Litefoot : "'What"

Jago : "Well I'm not awfully... Well, I'm not so bally brave when it comes to it. I try to be but I'm not."

Professor Litefoot : "Well when it comes to it, I don't suppose anybody is."

The Doctor : "Sleep is for tortoises!"

Double Entendre

Jago : "I'm a tiger when my dander's up!"

Continuity

Leela kills one of the Tong agents with a janis thorn and blowpipe, much to the Doctor's discomfort. The Doctor tells Jago he performs 'dramatic recitations, singing, tap dancing... I can play the 'Trumpet Voluntary' in a bowl of live goldfish.'

QV

Dating the Segments of Time

Language

Location

London, between 1889 (after Jack the Ripper) and 1901 (the death of Queen Victoria).

Future History

There are several references to the events of the 51st century where Magnus Greel was 'the infamous Minister of Justice. The butcher of Brisbane.' The Peking Homunculus was made for the Commissioner of the Icelandic Alliance's children in 'the Ice Age around the year 5000'.

It is not stated who created the homunculus, which contained 'a series of magnetic fields operating on a printed circuit... It had one organic component, the cerebral cortex of a pig.' The Doctor further states that 'the pig part took over' and that this almost caused World War Six.

Links

Untelevised

The Doctor was 'with the Filipino army at the final advance on Reykjavik' in the 51st Century. The Doctor says he once fished the river Fleet and caught a salmon which he shared with the Venerable Bede, who adored fish [unlikely since the Fleet was septic by 1260 and Bede never came that far south].

Trivia

There is a cameo appearance by the series' incidental music composer Dudley Simpson as the conductor of the orchestra at the Palace Theatre.

A pile of straw seen in the road as Weng-Chiang searches for the time cabinet was placed there to hide a modern car which had, despite requests to the contrary, been parked in the road prior to filming.

Technobabble

Greel's time experiments were based on zygma energy, 'the twisted lunacy of a scientific dark age' according to the Doctor. The parallax synchrone and a trionic lattice are aspects of the Time Cabinet itself (cf. the trimonic TARDIS barrier mentioned in The Deadly Assassin [which hints at some sort of Time Lord involvement]).

Goofs

There are modern power points, covered with masking tape, on the walls of Litefoot's lab

A 1970s newspaper (the headline concerns Denis Healey) can be seen in Litefoot's laundry basket in episode three.

A boom mike shadow is visible on the curtains near the stage in the final fight.

There is more than one giant rat in the sewers, so what happens to the rest of them?

Why does Greel need girls rather than young people in general?

Cast & Crew

Cast

The Doctor - Tom Baker

Leela - Louise Jameson

Buller - Alan Butler

Casey - Chris Gannon

Chinese Workman - John Wu

Cleaner - Vaune Craig-Raymond

Ghoul - Patsy Smart

Ho - Vincent Wong

Jago - Christopher Benjamin

Lee - Tony Then

Li H'sen Chang - John Bennett

Mr. Sin - Deep Roy

P.C. Quick - Conrad Asquith

Professor Litefoot - Trevor Baxter

Sergeant Kyle - David McKail

Singer - Penny Lister

Teresa - Judith Lloyd

Weng-Chiang - Michael Spice

Crew

Director - David Maloney

Assistant Floor Manager - Linda Graeme

Costumes - John Bloomfield

Designer - Roger Murray-Leach

Fight Arranger - Stuart Fell

Film Cameraman - Fred Hamilton

Film Editor - David Lee

Incidental Music - Dudley Simpson

Make-Up - Heather Stewart

OB Cameraman - unknown

Producer - Philip Hinchcliffe

Production Assistant - Ros Anderson

Production Unit Manager - Chris D'Oyly-John

Production Unit Manager - John Nathan-Turner uncredited

Script Editor - Robert Holmes

Special Sounds - Dick Mills

Studio Lighting - Mike Jefferies

Studio Sound - Clive Gifford

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire

Visual Effects - Michealjohn Harris

Writer - Robert Holmes Robert Holmes wrote this story from an idea entitled The Foe from the Future by Robert Banks Stewart, who received no on-screen credit.

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

'I may have had a bash on the head, but this is a dashed queer story.' One of the great moments of Doctor Who history - an effortless conquering of the pseudo-historical genre with a peerless script. The story features another classic Robert Holmes double act, the theatrical Henry Jago and Professor Litefoot, although they don't actually meet until episode five, spending the previous episodes taking turns at playing Watson or Lestrade to the Doctor's Sherlock.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

Every so often, Doctor Who would produce a story that almost defies the reviewer to find something wrong with it. The Talons of Weng-Chiang is such a story. As Jan Vincent-Rudzki wrote in TARDIS Volume 2 Number 4 in 1977: 'Dark, fog-laden streets, oriental mystery, alien technology, a walking sinister doll and amateur sleuths all added up to a very atmospheric and enjoyable story.' The BBC is justly renowned for its excellence in producing period costume drama. This is combined here with a cracking set of scripts from Robert Holmes, showcasing all the best aspects of his writing, and superb direction by series veteran David Maloney, whose casting and use of locations is as usual immaculate, to create what is arguably one of the best Doctor Who adventures ever.

'For the first time Leela appears fully dressed,' observed Keith Miller in Doctor Who Digest Number 6, dated August 1977, 'looking suspiciously like Tinker to complement the Doctor's mixture of Sexton Blake and Sherlock Holmes... It was a joy to watch the Doctor and Leela strolling through the cobbled streets before being attacked by a horde of Chinamen and then arrested for creating a disturbance.'

Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes canon has often been cited as one of the story's major influences, but this was disputed by Andy Lane in In-Vision Issue Twenty-One, dated December 1989: '[It] picks up not on the truth of Sherlock Holmes, but on what people think the truth is. In fact, the vast majority of Holmes' cases do not take place in London, do not involve fog and hansom cabs, and revolve around villains smaller, rather than larger, than life... The Doctor's costume of deerstalker and cloak is suitably Holmesian, except that Holmes never wore a deerstalker - that was the invention of one of the original artists... Sherlock Holmes' reputation rests upon his powers of observation, memory and deduction... In comparison, the Doctor puts up a bad showing. Fair enough, his memory is as good - he immediately recognises scorpion venom, the Tong of the Black Scorpion, the rat hairs on the murdered cab driver and the effects of opium. But his ratiocinations are few and far between... In fact... one [is put] more in mind of Sir Denis Nayland-Smith, arch-enemy of... Doctor Fu-Manchu. The connections here are more obvious: the fog, the alleys, the crowds of orientals skulking through the streets spoiling for a fight, the base on the river, the villain who expands his lifespan through strange scientific means, the hero and his sidekick who blunder into trouble but escape more by luck than judgment, the melodrama, the plot device that could affect the world. It's almost too good to be true.'

It is the characters that really make The Talons of Weng-Chiang shine. John Bennett is faultless as the inscrutable Li H'sen Chang, and his performance and make-up are so convincing that it is difficult to believe that he is not actually Chinese. Christopher Benjamin gives his all as the ebullient theatre manager Henry Gordon Jago, and Chris Gannon also comes across well as his weasly side-kick Casey; the two characters make a marvellous duo, their relationship contrasting nicely with that of Chang and Weng-Chiang, alias Magnus Greel. Following in the footsteps of other notable villains like Azal, Omega, Davros and Sutekh, Greel as ably portrayed by Michael Spice is a chilling depiction of evil and insanity. Although he is to some extent a tragic figure, it is hard to feel any sympathy for him as he casually murders young girls in order to extract their life essence for himself.

Last but not least, Trevor Baxter is brilliant as the gentlemanly Professor Litefoot. The teaming of Jago and Litefoot during the course of the action works extremely well, and it is easy to see why there was at one point some consideration given to according them their own spin-off series. This knack of writing memorable 'double acts' is Robert Holmes's great forté, and here we have several fine examples: the Doctor and Leela, Jago and Casey, Litefoot and Leela, Jago and Litefoot and Chang and Weng-Chiang.

The story does have one fault, however, and that is the poor realisation of the giant rats used by Greel to keep people away from his lair beneath the Palace Theatre. The shots in which they are shown by way of real rats in a miniature sewer work relatively well, but sadly the same cannot be said of those involving stuntman Stuart Fell in a furry costume. 'If only it was as Robert Holmes said in [his recent interview in the Daily Express],' reflected Vincent-Rudzki, 'that it would be seen only in the shadows, or just its tail. Instead we saw that terrible cuddly-looking thing that I just couldn't help laughing at, even when Leela joined the so-called trait of typical companions... screaming as it caught her leg.'

Miller agreed: 'It's not very long before the Doctor and Leela are splashing about in the sewers... [encountering] the giant rat which, even in long shot as seen at the end of [Part One], looked, to quote Margaret Forwood in the Sun: "... as chilling as a pantomime horse and as lifelike. It looked, not to mince words, as if it had been stuffed."'

The giant rats aside, this story still contains its fair share of gruesome and disturbing material - not to mention, when Chang retreats to an opium den, the first scene in the series' history of someone taking illicit drugs. The horrific nature of Doctor Who at this time, and of The Talons of Weng-Chiang in particular, was discussed by Richard Landen in the Doctor Who Appreciation Society Yearbook 1977/78: '[A] rather surprising aspect of this [story] was the amount of violence shown, especially after the outcry against The Deadly Assassin. It seems, though, that an axe in the back, multiple stabbings, being eaten by rats and even self-poisoning are all less gruesome than someone holding their breath underwater! Personally I feel that the [series'] violent scenes should be more prominent, but then News at Nine might feel a slight challenge to its undisputed reign in this category.'

< The Robots of DeathFourth DoctorHorror of Fang Rock >

This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.



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