‘THE TALONS OF WENG-CHIANG’
Please feel free to comment on my review.
Magnus Greel with the Fourth Doctor and Leela
‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ is a very macabre ‘Doctor Who’ story if ever I saw one! But it’s also well-crafted and well-made in production terms. Even my Dad, who’s not exactly a fan of the Tom Baker era, said he found this story compelling and well-made when we re-watched it on the Blu-ray.
In many fans’ eyes, this is considered to be a very popular ‘Doctor Who’ story and one of the best from the Phillip Hinchcliffe era. It was also the last show he did as the producer of ‘Doctor Who’. It’s actually rather good that Philip Hinchcliffe went out on a high in this quite rich and compelling story.
This is of course a six-part adventure by Robert Holmes, the script editor of the series who previously wrote ‘The Deadly Assassin’ in Season 14. It also concluded Tom Baker’s third season as the Fourth Doctor. I suppose this was end of Tom’s favourite time of being ‘Doctor Who’ with Philip Hinchcliffe.
Tom Baker would continue to play the Fourth Doctor once the new producer Graham Williams took over. It wouldn’t be the same atmosphere under Philip Hinchcliffe’s era of ‘Doctor Who’. Tom’s attitude to the series would change under Graham Williams as producer, but that’s for another time.
Originally, there was going to be a different story to end Season 14 of ‘Doctor Who’ which was ‘The Foe From The Future’ by Robert Banks Stewart, who previously wrote ‘Terror of the Zygons’ and ‘The Seeds of Doom’. Sadly this didn’t happen as Robert Banks Stewart was unable to finish the scripts. 😦
So Robert Holmes had to step into the breach in order to fill in the missing slot for the season finale of Season 14 and he eventually came up with ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’. Thankfully, Big Finish have adapted ‘The Foe From The Future’ as an audio adventure and it can be heard by all to hear. 😀
But talking about ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’, this is a story set in Victorian London. It’s full of influences that range from Arthur Conan Doyle, involving Tom Baker’s Doctor dressed up as Sherlock Holmes, to Jack the Ripper, involving the enemy known as Weng-Chiang that manslaughters women.
It’s clearly one of Phillip Hinchcliffe’s favourite stories in ‘Doctor Who’ and it’s also one of Tom Baker and Louise Jameson’s favourite stories. Myself, I certainly enjoyed ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ as a gripping adventure. It does stand up very well today despite a few racially insensitive moments in it.
The story was originally released on a 2-disc DVD in 2003. It was re-released as a 3-disc Special Edition DVD in the ‘Revisitations’ DVD box set (along with ‘The Caves of Androzani’ with Peter Davison and ‘The TV Movie’ with Paul McGann). The 3-disc Special Edition DVD was very impressive.
It had the story on Disc 1 and it had special features on Discs 2 and 3. With ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ in the Season 14 Blu-ray box set, you can argue it has a 3-disc set to it too. The story is on Disc 6 with some special features whilst more extras are on Disc 7 and there’s the bonus disc, Disc 8.
I’ve had the Special Edition DVD cover of ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ signed by the lovely Louise Jameson at the ‘Timey-Wimey 1’ convention in Brighton, November 2014, which she co-organised with Matt Evenden. I enjoyed how she shared this as one of her favourite stories in ‘Doctor Who’. 🙂
It’s easy to see why that is since Leela is very well-written by Robert Holmes and she has a pretty active part to play in the story. I wish Leela’s strengths as a character were carried forward into the Graham Williams era of ‘Doctor Who’. Thankfully we have the Big Finish audios to compensate that.
Anyway, in the story, the Doctor takes Leela to Victorian London where he hopes to continue her education. This is continuing the Professor Higgins/Eliza Doolittle relationship that was going on between the Fourth Doctor and Leela. It fits in so well when they go and visit Victorian London here.
But as soon as they arrive in London, the Doctor and Leela get swept into a mystery where young girls go missing and mutilated bodies are found in the Thames. The Doctor soon discovers that these occurrences in Victorian London are connected to a theatre as well as some murderous Chinamen. 😐
With the assistance of theatre owner Henry Gordon Jago and Professor George Litefoot, the Doctor and Leela seek out the culprits of these atrocities in the heart of London. They deal with the stage magician Li H’sen Chang; his ventriloquist dummy Mr. Sin and the talons of the vicious Weng-Chiang.
The story’s director David Maloney does an astounding job with tackling this ambitious six-part adventure. He balances the drama and the action very well. He also chooses his actors in playing the story’s supporting characters well and he acquires the design elements by Roger Murray Leach well.
David Maloney provides the foggy Victorian atmosphere and the setting so superbly, which is a trademark of producer Philip Hinchcliffe’s era of ‘Doctor Who’ in supplying the gothic edge to this tale. I find it so fascinating how Hinchcliffe looks for what he wants in his ‘Doctor Who’ adventures. 🙂
He doesn’t go for slick drama in ‘Doctor Who’, compared to what other eras before and after have done. Philip Hinchcliffe also makes the Victorian period feel real as it deserves to be real! The choice of camerawork ranging from film on location; video on location and video in studio is so fascinating.
I’m surprised by how much location work was done for this story. The Palace Theatre in London was filmed in an actual theatre during the making of this story, but it was filmed on video instead of film which is quite unusual. The exterior sequences in London’s streets were made on film surprisingly. 🙂
Some of the story is pretty horrific. Even for its time, the subject matter of girls being dragged off London and being burnt and carved up in a monstrously cannibalistic and murderous manner was disturbing. It makes you yearn for the Doctor and Leela to stop this and defeat the villain at the end!
There are scenes in the London sewers that are pretty terrifying. The Doctor and Leela find giant rats which are down there. It’s gruesome when the so-called god Weng-Chiang feeds some human flesh to the rats and it’s really horrifying when you go down into the sewers and the giant rats chase you!
Incidentally, in making this story, the giant rat created was a combination of puppet work and actor, which nowadays might be considered as dated, but for its time was state-of-the-art. For the Blu-ray release, there are now updated effects provided for CGI giant rats to be featured in the tale itself. 😮
I enjoyed the Victorian atmosphere of this story. It has the feel of a BBC drama adaptation of a classic work by Charles Dickens when you watch it, especially with the costume designs; the set designs and make-up. The Chinese element of the tale adds something extra to the Victorian period.
It does authenticate the Victorian period we see with the combination of Englishmen and Chinamen interacting with each other. I admit, nowadays when you look at the story, some of the casual racially insensitive moments are noticeable. It can’t be got away with today, but it was of the time. 😐
Like I said, there are elements of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes when the Doctor and Leela investigate the mystery of the missing girls in London. There’s also an element of ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ at the Palace Theatre, when the Doctor is chasing Weng-Chiang backstage of the theatre.
Tom Baker delivers a superb performance as the Doctor in this adventure. Here, Tom’s Doctor is being Sherlock Holmes in his costume with the cap; cape and all that. After Tom finished ‘Doctor Who’, it’s hardly surprising he went on to play Sherlock Holmes in ‘The Hounds of the Baskervilles’. 🙂
Tom’s Doctor takes on a different presence compared to other stories, as he becomes a full-on investigator like Holmes and is easily impatient when he looks for answers. He’s still got that toothy grin and I liked that moment when he does his magic tricks to Mr. Jago at the theatre at some point.
Louise Jameson is lovely as Leela. Leela gets out of her regular savage costume and she wears some Victorian clothes. This is quite a surprise as we usually see Leela in her Tarzan-leotard outfit and it’s interesting to see her wearing clothes. Leela finds them uncomfortable as she initially wears them. 😐
Leela gets to learn things when the Doctor continues to teach her. I did like how sharp Leela is when she and the Doctor are investigating the mystery of the missing girls. She picks things up about what’s going on. I like it when Leela knows ‘the sounds of death’ as she is a warrior of the Sevateem.
There’s an impressive moment when Leela faces Mr. Sin and escapes by jumping and crashing through a window in Litefoot’s house. Leela gets into trouble when trying to find the villain’s hideout alone. It was terrifying when she goes down into the sewers. She nearly gets eaten up by a giant rat.
This story features the first appearance of Christopher Benjamin as Mr. Jago and Trevor Baxter as Professor Litefoot. Both become allies to the Doctor and Leela and form a team, although they don’t up meet up until ‘Part Five’ of the story. They both have their own audio spin-off series by Big Finish!
Christopher Benjamin is fantastic as Henry Gordon Jago, the owner of the Palace Theatre. Jago seems to be a bumbling buffoon and thinks highly of himself. But he turns out to be very resourceful and helpful. I did enjoy that balance of comedy and drama in Christopher Benjamin’s performance. 🙂
Trevor Baxter is equally amazing as Professor George Litefoot, who performs autopsies on the mutilated bodies drawn from the Thames. Litefoot comes across as a reasonably polite and knowledgeable gentleman and I liked it when he teaches Leela good manners in Victorian standards.
There’s a scene between Leela and Professor Litefoot which I found funny when they’re at his house. Litefoot offers a ‘cold collation’ of food and it was funny when Leela ate a chicken leg badly. Litefoot joins in eating chicken the same way Leela does, although he does teach her how to use a napkin. 😀
I liked that first scene where Jago and Litefoot meet each other for the first time in ‘Part Five’. Although they know each other for two episodes of the story, they easily work well together as a team. It was very touching when Jago admitted that he’s not really brave and Litefoot reassures him.
John Bennett guest stars as Li H’sen Chang, a stage magician who performs at the Palace Theatre. He’s also a sorcerer and a hypnotist since he works for his master Weng-Chiang and abducts young girls for him. It was disturbing when Chang hypnotised people to forget and to follow his commands.
The Chinese aspects of this story are influenced by some of the supporting cast played by Chinese actors. John Bennett is actually an English actor in Chinese make-up as Li H’sen Chang. I doubt people would get away with that today, but it’s not played for laughs and adds to the sinister edge. 🙂
I did enjoy watching some of the theatre scenes where Chang performed his acts to a theatre audience. It was very tense once the Doctor and Leela attended a theatre performance and are onto Chang. There’s one moment when Chang is about to shoot at a pack of cards in the Doctor’s hand. 😮
Chang has a ventriloquist’s dummy called Mr. Sin, played by Deep Roy. Deep Roy would later go on to play the Oompa-Loompas in Tim Burton’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ film. It’s amazing Deep Roy has had a very varied career over the years as well as playing Mr. Sin and Oompa-Loompas. 🙂
In the story, Mr. Sin is no ordinary puppet. He can move and walk by himself and is pretty dangerous with a knife. Mr. Sin is actually a 51st century cyborg called the Peking Homunculus with a cerebral cortex of a pig, which is so horrible to imagine. He also has a desire to kill people with ‘dragon eyes’.
Michael Spice guest stars as the monstrous Weng-Chiang, which is the name of an ancient Chinese god called the god of abundance. Weng-Chiang does ghastly things in the tale, such as putting girls in distillation beams before burning up. He’s an unstable and ill-tempered man, on the verge of death.
Weng-Chiang’s real name is Magnus Greel. Magnus Greel is a 51st century time-traveller who was the former Minister of Justice and is known as ‘The Butcher of Brisbane’. Magnus has encountered a future version of the Doctor before, years ago, when he was a young man (but that’s another story).
Greel has a time cabinet that he travelled in and brought with him from the 51st century. The time cabinet is beautifully designed. It was built in 19th century China. But the cabinet is also dangerous. as it slowly kills Greel with zygma radiation. He’s now deformed and wears a mask to cover his face.
The last scene for this adventure is pretty exciting. The Doctor, Leela, Jago and Litefoot join together to defeat Magnus Greel and Mr. Sin (who goes out of control inside a dragon’s head). I wondered how the Doctor would stop Greel getting to his time cabinet and prevent his atrocious experiments.
The original DVD special features were as follows. There was a stereo sound audio mix option for the story and a DVD audio commentary with Louise Jameson, John Bennett, Christopher Benjamin, producer Philip Hinchclife and director David Maloney. There was also an info-text commentary option to enjoy and a ‘coming soon’ trailer for ‘The Seeds of Doom’ with Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen.
There was a making-of documentary called ‘The Last Hurrah’ with behind-the-scenes cast and crew interviews, including Tom Baker meeting up with producer Phillip Hinchcliffe at his home. There was also the ‘Moving On’ featurette with Phillip Hinchcliffe and ‘The Foe From The Future’ featurette focusing the lost story by Robert Banks Stewart as the original Season 14 finale. There was a ‘Now & Then’ featurette that looks into the story’s filming locations and a ‘Look East’ location report which includes a Tom Baker interview. There were three historical featurettes including ‘Victoriana and Chinoiserie’; ‘Music Hall’ and ‘Limehouse – A Victorian Chinatown’. There was also a photo gallery of the story and a ‘Radio Times Listings’ PDF of the story.
There was ‘Whose Doctor Who’, a 1977 making-of documentary about ‘Doctor Who’ which features behind-the-scenes cast and crew interviews as well as some behind-the-scenes footage. There was a ‘Blue Peter Theatre’ item of ‘Doctor Who’ and some behind-the-scenes studio footage of ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’. There was also a ‘Pebble Mill at One’ interview with Phillip Hinchcliffe; BBC trailers and continuity announcements for the story; a second photo gallery from the story’s 2003 DVD release and a TARDIS-Cam No. 6 animation sequence. There was also an Easter Egg to look out for on the DVD, which happened to be the ‘Doctor Who’ 1974 opening titles sequence for the Tom Baker era.
On Disc 6 of the ‘Doctor Who – The Collection – Season 14’ Blu-ray, the stereo sound audio mix option for the story; the DVD audio commentary; ‘The Last Hurrah’ making-of documentary; the ‘Now & Then’ featurette and the ‘Pebble Mill at One’ interview with Phillip Hinchcliffe can be found on there. The ‘Look East’ location report can now be seen in two options, either in a finished, mixed sound option or a raw location audio option. The info-text commentary option and the BBC trailers and continuity announcements for ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ have been updated for 2020 on the Blu-ray. The two photo galleries from the 2003 and the 2010 DVD releases have been combined and updated for 2020 on the Blu-ray.
The new special features on Blu-ray include the ‘Behind the Sofa’ feature on ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ with Tom Baker (the Fourth Doctor), Louise Jameson (Leela) and producer Philip Hinchcliffe as well as Peter Purves (Steven) and Sophie Aldred (Ace). There’s also a new updated CGI effects option for the story. There’s also a brand-new Blu-ray audio commentary for ‘Parts One, Four and Six’ of ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ with Tom Baker, moderated by Matthew Sweet.
On the PDF front, as well as the ‘Radio Times Listings’ of the story, there’s also ‘The Foe From The Future’ storyline; John Bloomfield’s costume designs; production documents and scripts.
On Disc 7 of the ‘Doctor Who – The Collection – Season 14’ Blu-ray, the ‘Moving On’ featurette; ‘The Foe From The Future’ featurette; the three historical featurettes including ‘Victoriana and Chinoiserie’; ‘Music Hall’, ‘Limehouse – A Victorian Chinatown’; the ‘Blue Peter Theatre’ item and the behind-the-scenes studio footage can be found on there. The ‘Whose Doctor Who’ 1977 making-of documentary has been updated with a new HD transfer for the Season 14 Blu-ray box set.
The new special features on Blu-ray include the ‘Whose Doctor Who Revisited’ documentary with Toby Hadoke. There’s also ‘An Audience with Mr. Sin’, a brand-new interview with Deep Roy.
On the PDF front, there’s the ‘Whose Doctor Who’ production archive and the ‘Whose Doctor Who’ BBC Enterprises sales sheet.
On Disc 8 of the ‘Doctor Who – The Collection – Season 14’ Blu-ray, there’s the ‘Philip Hinchcliffe: In Conversation’ interview conducted by Matthew Sweet; ‘Life After Who: Philip Hinchcliffe’ (taken from ‘The Android Invasion’ DVD); a Tom Baker and Philip Hinchcliffe interview, which is a re-edit of their interview from ‘The Last Hurrah’ making-of documentary; a ‘Call My Bluff’ item featuring Tom Baker; the ‘Denys Fisher Toy Advert’ (which was originally on ‘The Face of Evil’ DVD) and the ‘Home Assistant’ Season 14 Blu-ray trailer.
On the PDF front, there’s the Season 14 BBC Enterprises sales sheet; the ‘1976 Typhoo Tea Doctor Who Promotion’ PDF (which was originally on ‘The Face of Evil’ DVD); the Season 14 BBC Television play synopses and the 1978 ‘Doctor Who Annual’. Sadly, the TARDIS-Cam No. 6 animation sequence isn’t included on the Blu-ray release of ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ in the Season 14 Blu-ray box set. The ‘Doctor Who’ 1974 opening titles sequence for the Tom Baker era can now be seen in the clean opening and closing titles item on the ‘Robot’ Blu-ray disc for the Season 12 box set.
‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ is a fantastically amazing ‘Doctor Who’ adventure from the Tom Baker/Phillip Hinchcliffe era. It’s regarded as a classic adventure and it’s easy to see why that is. It’s rated highly in the ‘Doctor Who’ poll by the fans and it’s great with the Fourth Doctor, Leela, Jago and Litefoot.
I’m glad to have seen it again via the Season 14 Blu-ray box set release and to see it with the updated CGI effects. This is where the Philip Hinchcliffe era of ‘Doctor Who’ came to end. Thankfully it was a triumphant exit for Philip Hinchcliffe as he’s regarded as one of the best producers of the TV show. 🙂
Season 14 might be considered as the best of the first three seasons of Tom Baker’s era of ‘Doctor Who‘. It’s easy to see that, especially with the range of stories that were told, including Renaissance Italy; Sarah Jane’s exit; a return to Gallifrey; Leela’s debut; some murderous robots and Victorian London.
I’m glad to have seen the stories featured in Season 14 of ‘Doctor Who’ both on DVD and Blu-ray. I consider ‘The Robots of Death’ to be the best out of the six stories of the season. It’s also fascinating how the season began with the Doctor and Sarah Jane and how it finished with the Doctor and Leela.
It’s a shame Philip Hinchcliffe didn’t get to continue what might’ve been with the Fourth Doctor and Leela once he left and when Graham Williams took over. Thankfully, that’s made up for with plenty of Big Finish stories starring the Fourth Doctor and Leela, which are set between Seasons 14 and 15.
I’ve been able to enjoy more of the Fourth Doctor and Leela in the Big Finish audios compared to how they were in the TV series. I’ve also had a chance to write the Fourth Doctor and Leela in the ‘Zorbius’ story called ‘The Hunters of Doom’. It’s clear that this TARDIS duo are well-loved by fans. 🙂
With the Philip Hinchcliffe era finished, Tom Baker’s Doctor would go into new territory. On TV, it would be unusual territory under Graham Williams’ reign. In the Big Finish audios however, Tom Baker’s Doctor would continue to educate Louise Jameson’s Leela in being more than a noble savage.
‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’– 9/10
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