Written by Robert Holmes
Directed by David Maloney
Doctor Who is a British science fiction television series that has been around off and on since 1963. The main character is just known as “The Doctor” and is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. This means he travels through time to various places. One of his favorite places to visit is Earth. Typically, he has one human female accompanying him on his adventures, and sometimes a human male as well or another alien. He travels in a time machine known as a “Tardis” which is disguised as a British Police booth.
A Time Lord can regenerate if fatally wounded, which has accounted for all the different actors who have played The Doctor throughout the years. In this episode, he is portrayed by Tom Baker. Baker was one of the most popular incarnations of The Doctor, and by many fan’s assessments, he was the most popular.
In The Talons of Weng-Chiang, the Doctor is traveling with Leela (portrayed by Louise Jameson), a warrior from a barbarian race. The two travel to Victorian England where Leela is clearly out of her element in regard to clothes, having previously been clad mostly in leather (think Xena: Warrior Princess). The Doctor dresses himself similar to Sherlock Holmes. The two are attacked on the street by Chinese men. When one of the men dies while undergoing questioning, there are allusions that they have found themselves in the middle of the Jack the Ripper mystery.
As events unfold, the Doctor believes he has stumbled onto a cult known as “Talons of Weng-Chiang” which is what the title refers to. As a series of attacks unfolds around them, the common connections seem to be the Chinaman seen on the scene.
Mr. Chiang (portrayed by John Bennett) learns about the Tardis and attempts to get his hands on it for his leader, Weng-Chiang (portrayed by Michael Spice). When he fails, Leela hitches a ride on his carriage and follows him back to his hideout below the theater. She disguises herself when Chiang brings two women back for his master to feed. After witnessing what happens in his lair, she makes her escape through the sewers under London.
Will the Doctor and Leela, with the help of a couple of amiable Londoners, Professor Lightfoot (portrayed by Trevor Baxter) and Henry Jago (portrayed by Christopher Benjamin), be able to stop the evil man from his murderous deeds and protect the Tardis?
The Talons of Weng-Chiang generated considerable controversy due to the use of a white man in the role of a Chinese character. This caused this not to be shown when Doctor Who was shown on PBS here in the U.S. back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This was why it was one of the few story arcs in the Doctor Who series which I had never seen before.
Although there are the usual cheesy effects such as the encounter with the giant rat n the sewer and Mr. Chiang’s eyes flashing as tools for hypnotizing those around him, what really makes this episode stand out is the setting. They did a terrific job with Victorian England, making it feel very authentic between the scenes in the theater and about town. The costumes were good as well, although I do think Leela got a bit too comfortable in these clothes too fast.
Some of the fight scenes are cheesy as well, especially between Weng-Chiang and Leela. It’s not convincing in the least, but that’s also part of the charm. That’s not to take away from their acting as both deliver their lines as if they truly believe what they are saying. It’s just the physical part when they are tangling with each other that’s somewhat lacking. The same is true of the Doctor’s fights with Sin (portrayed by Deep Roy), Weng-Chaing’s miniature henchman.
The acting is good. Tom Baker is convincing as the Doctor once again. He assimilates with this culture seamlessly as he usually does. The diffidence with which he conducts himself is really suited to this time period as those around him believe he is from Scotland Yard. Louise Jameson brings a certain barbarity to the character of Leela, but here it is a bit curbed. She bristles under the rigors of Victorian society, including what is expected of her here as a woman. It’s a great piece of acting. John Bennett does fine with Mr. Chiang, although I do wonder what an actual Asian actor would have brought to the role.
I watched this with my daughter who’s become a fan through the new series. She did enjoy it, although not with the rapt attention with which she enjoyed Genesis of the Daleks.
The DVD consists of all six episodes which tell the story. There is a second DVD with a lot of extra material on it. I did like the Whose Doctor Who special.
This is a great Doctor Who story and I am glad I got to see it. The story is really good with lots of suspense, while preserving the charm that has been present in the Doctor Who stories throughout its history. Tom Baker is in fine form by this time as the Doctor, and Louise Jameson provides an interesting side-kick, although I do believe her role here is more interesting if you know the history of the character. I heartily recommend this to fans of the series, although I think newbies would get more out of it after becoming a little more familiar with the overall concept.
• Commentary with David Maloney (director), Louise Jameson, John Bennett, Christopher Benjamin
• Information Text
• Whose Doctor Who special
• Philip Hinchcliffe Interview
• Behind the Scenes
• Blue Peter Theatre
• 40th Anniversary Celebration
• Trails and Continuity
• Tardis Cam No. 6
• Howard Da Silva Intros
• Who’s Who (Cast Biographies)
• Photo Gallery