The Talons of Weng-Chiang part 1

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    Craig @craig

    As suggested by @phaseshift, as an experiment we are going to try and take one BG (Before Gap) story, and watch it at the pace it was intended (one episode per week) and see what the reaction is. We’ll usually be posting on Saturday, but I’m away this weekend for my Dad’s 70th so am posting this one day early this week.

    We’re starting with the classic that is “The Talons of Weng-Chiang” by Robert Holmes. I’d be especially interested to know what those who have only seen AG (After Gap) Who think. So without further ado, here is the first episode (you’ll have a much better viewing experience if you pop out and buy it though, you won’t regret it – but no watching the second episode until next week!).

    And remember, we’re watching this as if for the first time. So for those who’ve seen it before: NO SPOILERS!

    HTPBDET @htpbdet

    Oh, this is such a good idea!!

    So looking forward to AG fans’ views.


    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord

    Thanks @craig, and have a good weekend. The reason I suggested “Talons” is that it’s pretty well recognised as a great story, and has featured in many of our personal “Top50s” (certainly mine and @htpbdet s). I think many of our newer viewers may be in the situation that @shazzbot suggested. Interested, but slightly concerned by jokes about production values.

    This then is an experiment, for anyone interested. I’ll be watching at its scheduled time of 5:30pm, but feel free to watch whenever you like. Taking an episode a week (seriously old school) to begin with. It would be really interesting to hear comments from people who may not have watched it since broadcast or who have never seen it before.

    The only backstory that may require explanation is a quick note about Leela. Leela was born on another planet colonised by humans in the future whose society had reverted to a more primitive level. She’s a hunter, living by her wits and instincts. She’s handy with knife, crossbow, unarmed combat and Janis Thorn (a toxic and paralysing plant from her own world).

    chickenelly @chickenelly

    I forgot that the BG series was on so early – just before ‘He who shall not be named‘ll Fix It’ or ‘Basil Brush’.

    Not sure I’ll be able watch it strictly at that time, but as there is bugger on on telly tonight, I shall certainly squeeze it in to my Saturday schedule.

    curvedspace @curvedspace

    Hope it’s ok to be commenting early: the kid is asleep and I have to take time when I can. I’m still a bit tweaked by going out of order (I’m only on Pertwee in my personal rewatch), but as my husband pointed out, BG Who doesn’t really have the same kind of continuity as AG so I’m not getting important spoilers. And I really wanted to play along with y’all. 🙂

    Would you believe I’ve never seen a Tom Baker episode? My parents watched his era of Who but I was tiny during his run, so I wasn’t interested yet. 🙂 My first impression of him is that he’s a bit cranky and serious.

    It’s always so exiting to see the new opener and the face of a new Doctor. Nice tunnel effect with the music, though I miss the geometric designs. Production quality isn’t dreadful; it’s on par with the Pertwee ones I’ve been watching. Chang has great eyebrows. And I’m glad he’s a decent ventriloquist; it’s not too painful watching him with the puppet. I like that Leela got some fighting in, and that she was better at it than the Doctor. (No backlash about being a woman caught in trousers in Victorian England? Well, no-one goes to the bathroom in Doctor Who either; perhpaps some details are best glossed over.) Hooray for 70’s TV; we didn’t have to look at the corpse.

    Cheese factors: the husband delivered his lines in one tone of voice, as did the woman who found the body in the river: bit parts, overplayed! Chang’s accent, super cheesy. The shot of the axe just before the assailant threw it at the Doctor, cheesy only because it’s so classic. I do understand that these things are tropes largely because of this era of television. It’s part of what I love about Doctor Who: seeing the tropes in their natural habitat, as it were, when people took them seriously. (My sister and I laughed and laughed through the dramatic freaking out guy in the beginning of The Sensorites, for example, and I think the wetsuit aliens from the Keys of Marinus are delightfully funny.)

    “If that don’t take the biscuit,” says the cop. Never heard that one. Do people still say it? Or is it like “Jeepers” in its archaism?

    GIANT RAT OMG. Fantastic!

    And this is why Classic Who is good: even though it’s laughable compared to (some) current television, I want to know what happens next.

    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord

    @curvedspace No problems with timing at all. Glad you decided to jump in. I’ve had to watch this early myself as I’ve just discovered I’d miss the old scheduled time spot after all for phone calls!

    I don’t know if it’s just the fact that I grew up with this one, but the title sequence seems just so doom laden after you are used to the modern era interpretations (or the ones in the eighties, which I’m sure you’ll get to in time).

    Older people (and occasionally even younger) still say “That takes the biscuit”. I’m sure I remember reading that it came from a period, where if a party of people were offered a tray with the last biscuit on, you’d have to be surprisingly impolite to actually take it. Hopefully someone will correct me if I’m wrong!

    I’ll agree with you on the husband, but the old woman (or “ghoul” in the credits) I genuinly love. Those lines – “Enough to make a horse sick” and “In all my puff”. Reminds me of a mad aunt (“The Witch”) I used to have.

    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord

    You know, even as a seven year old, I seem to remember understanding the theatre part of it really well. My parents used to watch “The Good Old Days” on TV pretty regularly which tried to recreate the music hall atmosphere of the time in period dress. I’d always enjoyed the really peculiar way the compares would introduce the acts, using the most outrageous language possible, so Jago was a character I seemed immediately to like. Christopher Benjamin appeared in “Unicorn and the Wasp” in the PG series.

    I love the foggy, dirty way Victorian London is portrayed here. I suppose it’s pretty much a cliché in itself, but works. It serves the macabre story “Talons” is as much as the fairytale Victorian London serves “The Snowmen”.

    After the minor controversy of the Eleventh Doctor leaving his TARDIS door open in series 7, here the fourth shows the way. He leaves it open, and when he walks back past it, it’s shut! Obviously some fiendish time-close mechanism. I love the relationship between Leela and the Doctor, and basically Leela being Leela.

    “You can’t go around wearing skins in Victorian London – you’ll frighten the horses!” “When we arrived she was trying to strangle him with his own pig tail”“Girlish enthusiasm?”

    I still find the dummy, Mr. Sin, a really creepy presence. He was played by Deep Roy, who played all the “Oompa Loompa”s in Tim Burtons “Charlie and the Chocolate factory”. It’s really weird hearing a casual opium gag on TV, when the girl is levitated – Mr Sin “She has been smoking pipe of poppy”.

    Big elephant in the room – the portrayal of Chang by John Bennett. I’m noting it in passing because it’s one of the aspects that is forever trotted out to suggest Doctor Who is racist. Putting aside modern sensibilities, I enjoyed his performance then and now, although, yes, the dialect is odd. There are many apocryphal stories about the casting, From the unlikely “art imitating life” (a couple of famous magicians on the Victorian circuit went “Yellow-Face” to channel the wonder and mystery of the Orient) to the mundane explanation that casting couldn’t source an authentic actor of the right age. Nobody knows for sure, which is why it’s a bit of a dead end argument.

    Giant RAT – OMG indeed!

    wolfweed @wolfweed

    Nice to see Dudley Simpson (the composer) conducting the theatre orchestra.

    This episode is clearly the one Gatiss was riffing off with ‘The Crimson Horror’.

    Many people cite the Hinchcliffe (& Letts) era/s as the best. That’s partly due to them always running over schedule & over budget. It shows, doesn’t it? David Maloney’s direction is great, especially the film sequences.

    Good costume design too, with the most unique of Tom B’s oufits – Sherlock Holmes! (See also – the Snowmen!)

    Yes @phaseshift, what Dr Who needs more of nowadays is casual opium jokes! More Limbo-Gas, anyone?
    w c

    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord


    Yep – Opium gags, lit Cigars, and offering hard liquor to Casey. You just know you are back in the 70s! There is a great interview with Hincliffe in which he confesses if he didn’t get an incandescent irate letter from Mary Whitehouse during a series he thought he wasn’t doing his job. There was a sweepstake about what would annoy her in coming episodes.

    I’d completely forgot about Dudley Simpson being on screen until you mentioned it.

    Working on something else I was reminded about one of the “Missing Adventure” books that showed how “The Doctor” was supposed to aquire his costume here. “Evolution” by John Peel. Great fun with The Doctor working in cnojunction with a young Doctor/aspiring writer called Arthur Conan Doyle investigating hybrid humans. May be available in some good second hand bookshops.

    chickenelly @chickenelly

    I found myself getting all excited when the theme tune came on.  Whilst the opening credits are, like @phaseshift says, a bit doom laden, going from my hazy memory and the couple of episodes I’ve seen since they were first on, I wouldn’t have described Tom Baker as cranky and serious @curvedspace.  Actually quite the reverse.

    Anyway to the episode.  I did enjoy it and it zipped along nicely.  What is interesting, looking back with a modern TV viewer’s eye, is how little of the story is being telegraphed.  We only know that eight women are missing, there is a giant rat in the sewer and the little puppet is alive.  Oh yes, and there are only three Chinese TV actors in the 1970s, the rest of the goons being some rather awkward white blokes in mandarin costumes.  Agreeing with @phaseshift‘s comments on the casting, what I thought was interesting is that Tom Baker does seem to be speaking something approaching Mandarin to the Chinese bloke who had been arrested.

    What the episode put me in mind of was the various Fu Manchu films, crossed with one of the volumes of ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  White slavery is usually the answer – it even crops up in Thoroughly Modern Millie if I recall.

    Next week!  How many episodes dare I ask were in Talons?

    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord

    @chickenelly – Can you believe six episodes? How did we cope?



    curvedspace @curvedspace

    I did catch the Sherlock Holmes nod. I love the idea of The Doctor and the Detective hanging out together sometimes.

    @chickenelly I was surprised to see Baker seeming serious; my understanding is that he’s a lighthearted one. Maybe the detective hat puts him in a certain kind of mood. I’m waiting to see what he does next. Of course, it is murder, and he doesn’t like it when people die.

    Anonymous @

    Some thoughts on episode one.

    When you watch Weng-Chiang, you can see why some of the rose-tinted specs brigade hold the original series as being superior to Nu-Who. Episode one has much of the hallmarks of Who at its best. The story unfolds at a leisurely pace and there is therefore time for some nice bits of character development. Already Jago and Litefoot are nicely drawn and there are some interesting levels to Chang — he’s not just a two-dimensional villain. Even one-note minor characters like the cab driver, Casey and the police constable are given some nice, juicy lines too.

    There are also some genuine scares here. I remember the scene of the blood dripping down Mr Sin’s hand creeping me out at the time and it still does today. As does the scene of Mr Sin approaching the camera with knife in hand. You can sort of see why Mary Whitehouse might problems with the show — even though she is completely missing the point.  Mr Sin is for my money one of the scariest characters that Who has ever produced.

    And the central characters are firing on all cylinders here too. Louise Jameson is wonderful in this story from the moment she steps out of the TARDIS. And putting her in a costume that was more in animal skins in this episode shows that there was much more to her performance than just showing a lot of flesh. Leela is nuanced, intelligent and formidable and I’m still not sure that Jameson gets all the credit that she deserves for what she brought to the role, having been overshadowed slightly by the recent departure of Liz Sladen from the show.

    Baker, too, is great here, with him still investing the part with considerable energy at this point in his tenure. But I’m struck by how un-fourth Doctor-ish is he is for much of this story. Aside from that little piece of business in the police station, he comes across as very Third Doctor-ish in this story to me. Although that’s maybe just the costume which strikes me as a little Pertwee-esque, as well as being Sherlock-esque. And then there’s the martial arts tussle in the alley and his patronising attitude to his assistant. The initial exchange with Litefoot also strikes me as rather Pertwee-esque also.

    And then there’s the writing. This is surely without a doubt Robert Holmes’s finest hour. The true extent of the literary pastiche he’s creating here won’t be apparent until future episodes but there’s lots to love even in this first episode. Much of this comes from Jago and Christopher Benjamin tackles the part with great relish. His double act with Casey is great fun. The double-act between Chang and Mr Sin I thought was great too and their childish stage badinage seems to make them all the creepier as villains.

    There’s some great direction and set design in this story as well. I’ve often wondered if its deliberate that there is so much green in Jago’s theatre, what with it being a colour usually banned from the theatre. It seems to give a bit more resonance to Jago’s fear that Casey’s ghostly tales will ruin him. He knows on some level that the Palace Theatre is already an unlucky place.

    The filmed sequences in the fog are also wonderful and the fight in the alley is surprisingly effective, considering how ropey some of the fight scenes in 70s Who could be. This is a story with atmosphere in spades.

    But as always with Old Who, all the good work is often very nearly undone with some terrible misfires. Sometimes they are the fault of the script, sometimes it is because of over-ambition. It is the latter in this case. First of all there’s the dreadful levitation scene in the theatre, saved only by the creepiness of Mr Sin’s bloody hand.

    And then, there’s the Rat. Oh Christ, the Rat. The reference is obviously to the Giant Rat of Sumatra of Sherlock Holmes fame and I suppose that Hinchcliffe and co are to be admired for having the courage to attempt to portray it on their budget. The shots of the real rat in the teeny, tiny little sewer set are bad enough but the final shot of the cuddly fake critter rolling towards the camera has to rank as one of the dodgiest cliff-hangers the show has ever produced.  And there’s worse to come. I still hope that one day we’ll get a new special edition of this programme — it’s due for a digital remaster anyway, I reckon — with a decent CGI rat in place in it.

    I know I go on about this one, but this is nigh-on perfect Who and this is nigh-on a perfect first episode, and I can’t help feel that it’s something of a shame that that impact is diminished somewhat by a prop that reminded me then — and still does now — of the bizarre giant rodents you used to see in the really rather strange Alice in Wonderland ride at the Blackpool Pleasure Beach. (I wonder if that’s still there…)

    chickenelly @chickenelly

    I must admit, I did laugh out loud when the giant rat appeared.  Not quite the effect they were going for then I’m sure.  The little puppet  Mr Sin was deeply creepy however.

    Speaking of Tom dressed as Sherlock Holmes, here he is as Sherlock Holmes in that version of Hound of the Baskervilles he did yonks ago…

    Tom Sherlock

    Miapatrick @miapatrick

    Loved that. especially, I must admit, the Phantom of the Opera/Opera ghost (better translation) reference- the stage hand saying he saw a moving skull underneath. In the novel, it was the rat-catcher, I think. And then we end with rats…

    So Leela is in many ways the Doctor’s body-guard, particularly handed with a bigger, older, slower Doctor. So where did the idea of the companion/assistant being a female constantly rescued by the Doctor come from? Was it ever consistently the case?

    ‘Show us a trick’ (man dies) ‘very good!’ (Doctor giggles.) what interested me here was that this was a very cold- alien- response to a mans death. The Doctor reacts this way, Leela, though clearly not pro-murder, comes from a different mindset- the audience is left to respond to this moment how they will, without a character to prod/project their emotional response.

    The comment ‘we all look the same’ meant by the character that, to people like the Doctor, Chinese people all look the same. In fact, to the Doctor, who is conversant in different Chinese languages, do we all look the same?

    I wasn’t keen on how the minor characters were Chinese or from proximate countries, but the main character was clearly made up to look ‘Chinese’. I don’t know how much this was down to wanting to use established actors, but it wouldn’t float nowadays. Of course, for all I know, the character is something else made up to look Chinese. I felt some potentially racist aspects here, along with fairly clear anti-racist aspects- the ‘we all look the same’, the policeman ‘he’s a Chinese, he’ll jaw jaw eventually’ not presented as good, the initial distaste towards the Doctor and Leela because they came across a little Gypsy-like, also not presented as good, the comment about the corpse being carried by the men as ‘a European body’, likewise.

    I enjoyed the slower pace. It can go either way- some people have mentioned how BG Who often felt padded. Some people complain that AG Who is too rushed. I think that at it’s best, BG who was not terminally padded, and at it’s best AG Who is not fatally rushed. But it’s never going to please everyone all the time, I’m not sure it’s even supposed to.

    Anonymous @

    Hiya @jimthefish – I appear to have been name-checked by @phaseshift as the archetypal ‘After Gap’ [AG] viewer, so I feel duty-bound to give my tuppence on ToWC.

    So far, so fantastic.  I’ve been a bit impatient with everyone who exhorts ‘make the (AG) episodes longer, they need time to *breathe*’ — but I now understand what they’ve been saying.  I watched these three segments with an eye to cutting out ‘the fat’ but I didn’t see any ‘fat’ to cut out.

    The blood on Mr Sin’s hand was lovely (in a magnificently creepy way) and Jago’s investigation of Mr Sin was nail-biting.  The cabbie’s ranting was necessary to setting up the storyline and of course his badge number became a plot point in of itself.  There’s a faint tinge of anti-Chinese racism in the dialogue but that’s utterly appropriate for the [Victorian London] time period.  (And how marvellous that the Doctor can speak so many Chinese dialects!  I’m re-reading the H2G2 tetralogy so I have Babelfish on my mind.)  Having a Western [i.e., ‘white’] actor play the main Chinese character is pretty much par for the course for the production time period, sadly.

    Thank goodness Phasey gave us a potted history of Leela, but the Janis Thorn reference was not a sticky wicket for me anyway.  And after all the convo about BG and AG companions, it was interesting to see a companion ‘stay put’ after being told to do so — only for her to sail in afterward and overpower the only baddie to be caught!

    Jim, I don’t know why you label the levitation scenes in the theatre as ‘dreadful’ because I thought they were equal of anything that could be done contemporarily.  Slashing that sword above and below the horizontally prostrate body?  Fab!

    I’m not unduly worried by ‘giant rat’ because I know that one of the most basic human fears is rodents.  And giant rodents?  (Rodents Of Unusual Size?! [cf. Princess Bride])  Bring ’em on!  (I say this because I have two dogs who are genetically disposed to hunting small game  🙂  ).

    Overall, as the target audience for this experiment, I’m on tenterhooks to view the next installment.  Not a wobbly set in sight; and although I seem to have missed the moments when the other characters agree to call our protagonist ‘the Doctor’, he is doing everything I would have expected – and Leela is more interesting than I could have hoped as a companion.

    HTPBDET @htpbdet

    Doctor:           What’s this?
    Leela:              A Janis thorn.
    Doctor:           Yes! I thought I told you not to carry…
    Leela:              He was trying to kill you!
    Doctor:           Oh…Oh, well, in that case you better come along
    There is something utterly delicious about Talons of Weng-Chiang. At the time, I remember that the first thing that struck me about it was how vastly different it was in tone and approach from its immediate predecessor, Robots of Death.
    As @jimthefish says, it is Robert Holmes in cracking good form, working with the Doctor Who story style that started all the way back with Time Meddler: an alien in action in the identifiable history of Earth. And, I agree with @wolfweed that Gatiss clearly took inspiration for Crimson Horror from here (as well as many other places) but that is a good thing I think.
    I don’t feel this episode is leisurely paced – in fact, I am still, after all these years and countless viewings, still amazed by how quickly it all goes.
    I join in the chorus of approval for Mr Sin – a frightening creation – soulless, amoral, murderous, vengeful and capable of anything. It is as disturbing a creature as any in Doctor Who and one of the most evocative and ghoulish – if not the most.
    Very glad that the AG first-timers are enjoying it. Especially good to hear that @Shazzbot is on tenterhooks!
    The notion that all the female companions in Doctor Who were hysterical screamers was always bunkum dreamt up by the Press and those who want to pigeon-hole the women. Sure, there were some who fit that mould, but not many – and certainly not Leela.
    Louise Jameson is perfect as Leela – everything she does is exact, purposeful and in character. Following Elisabeth Sladen was a tough job, but she did it magnificently. This story is the middle story in what I think of as the “Leela arc”: Robots of Death, Talons and Horror of Fang Rock. After that, K9 comes along and the dynamic is never quite the same again. She is both helped and hindered by Tom Baker’s clear distaste for a companion – helped, because she shines in the glow of his coldness and hindered because, if he had co-operated with the character, as he had done with Sarah-Jane, who knows where this unique relationship might have gone?
    The giant rat never bothered me – well, in the sense that it didn’t destroy the mood. I laughed at it then, as now, but it just doesn’t matter. By the time it comes, the mood and tone has been set – and Louise Jameson manages to convincingly portray Leela’s horror and fear despite the sudden appearance of the Furry Ball of Fake Doom. (McLeela and I used to joke that this story’s alternate title was The Gerbils of Death).
    I don’t see anything about this as racist. It is set in a specific period and rightly conforms to the specifics of that period. Bennett is excellent as Chang – I do remember a spirited debate with McLeela about whether or not he was the Master in disguise…
    Baker is in excellent form – it is an interesting question whether his reaction to the death by suicide is alien coldness or underplaying – did the Doctor notice that Chang slipped him the suicide pill?
    The dialogue is crisp and funny; the setting is perfect; the supporting cast is top notch; and the “what the hell is going on” factor is as high as the overall scariness factor.
    Vintage Doctor Who.


    Brynwe @brynwe

    Hi, New to Dr. Who pretty much this year (well, I had seen the end of Doctor 10 before that-recorded it for a friend and watched it with him but didn’t keep up with it because I never knew when it was on but got really into it when I found it on Netflix).  Anyway, I really liked this-watched it with my boyfriend, he said “I love a good scary ventriloquist plot :)”

    A few thoughts:  I noticed they did them in half-hour episodes back then.  That’s kind of cool info.

    Also, I can’t wait to see the next one.  Erf!  This is exciting.  I think I read upthread there’s six in this plot-line?  That’s going to be killer on my impatience.

    It’s very cool to see the differences between the older versions of Doctor Who and the newer.  Thanks@craig!

    Brynwe @brynwe

    Also in FWIW info the guy who played the dummy was the oompa loompa in the Johnny Depp’s version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  (Just passing this along because my boyfriend pointed it out when we saw the credits because he thought it was cool.)

    Anonymous @

    @shazzbot — I think the levitation scene starts well and Mr Sin and Chang’s double-act make it go well. But it all goes to pot with the wobbly levitation of what is too clearly a bad mannequin. But let’s face it, they were never going to be able to pull this off, so they get points for effort.

    @miapatrick — episode ones seldom have much padding in them as they have all the interesting stuff in them. But I’d argue that most Old Who stories do have at least some in them, especially the six-parters. Weng-Chiang is no exception but it is happily less noticeable than most almost purely because Holmes has created such an engaging set of supporting characters. Yes, they will do a lot of pointless faffing about but you don’t really mind because you’re quite happy to be in their company.

    As @htpbdet says, much of the ‘racism’ in Weng-Chiang is quite deliberate, I think and meant to be ironically pointing out the prejudices of the era in which the story is set. Chang’s ‘I understand that we all look alike’ line drips with irony and a weary acceptance of the ingrained prejudice that he has encountered in England from the likes of the police sergeant and so on, I think. His use of playing up to these prejudices in his act and the way he treats Jago point to an anger and self-disgust in his character I’d argue. I’ll probably return to this in later episodes but leave it there for the moment. Again, I think Chang is one of the great villains that Who has ever produced. In his own way he’s just as interesting as the Master.

    I also don’t buy the argument that there just wasn’t a suitable actor available to play Chang. Nor do I think that  having a European play him was particularly racist as I’ve always assumed that it was a deliberate nod to Sax Rohmer and his Fu Manchu stories. Fu Manchu was always played by a European ‘yellowed up’ (including the likes of Christopher Lee and Peter Sellers in cinema) and I think that Chang is a deliberate call-out to that. This is, after all, a piece of literary pastiche (often a hallmark of the Holmes/Hinchcliffe era) and the whole story is riffing as much on Rohmer as it is on Conan Doyle.

    (On that note, anyone who is enjoying the general tropes of Weng-Chiang might also enjoy the The Glass Books of the Dream-Eaters by G. W. Dalquist, which plays with the same tropes. As well as the original stories by Conan Doyle and Rohmer, of course.)

    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord


    Apologies for singling you out, I just think you may have articulated why you had reservations about dipping in the BG era pretty well on the Faces thread.

    + @miapatrick

    I think there is a lot to fascinate about this era. When I wrote my praise of the Paternoster Gang, I wrote that the Victorian era is a pretty good one to tell stories that can reflect modern concerns.

    I smiled a lot at Jago’s reference to newspaper reporters from “Grub Street”. When we have had the Leveson enquiry into press standards, it really does leap out at you. It was widely believed by the Police at the time (and by researchers since) that one of the letters “The Ripper” allegedly sent the Police originated in Fleet Street to keep the story going.

    The Police at the time were the first kind of Bobby we’d recognise, and preferable to what came before, but Robert Peel’s creation was institutionally racist (and very class conscious), with crimes involving “immigrant” populations barely investigated for the most part.

    As to the Chinese population, even those who led completely blameless lives had probably had contact with their own criminal underworld, as they were involved in people shipping and drugs. It led to particularly closed pockets of society with most gaining menial jobs. The wall of silence (party through language, and partly through fear) meant that places like Limehouse (as referenced) were pretty hard places to investigate.

    In all honesty this is, I think, a pretty good honest presentation of that time and place.

    Arkleseizure @arkleseizure


    Brilliant! I first saw Talons on the old VHS release where the whole thing was edited together into one very long episode*, so I’m taking the opportunity to see if my guesses about where the cliffhangers were were right. Not this time: I think I was so unimpressed by the giant rat that I’d refused to believe it could be a cliffhanger.

    We’re already getting some terrific characters building up here in Jago, Chaing and Mr Sin (Litefoot has a rather small role in this episode). If I remember rightly, Ali Bongo was the magic advisor on this show, so it’s hardly surprising they cast a white actor as Chaing when his advisor was doing much the same thing in real life!

    Yes, to complain about racism is to miss the point: Victorian Britain was racist, and it would be dishonest to pretends otherwise. Accurate depiction is not approval. Quite the opposite: it’s very clear that Robert Holmes does not approve.

    *By the way, why did they keep doing this? Doctor Who, at least then, was supposed to be episodic. Another sign, I suppose, that when they were making the early home videos, the BBC just didn’t understand Doctor Who.

    Anonymous @

    @phaseshift – don’t apologise!  I was chuffed to be name-checked.  🙂

    @htpbdet“did the Doctor notice that Chang slipped him the suicide pill?”  That was in my original post which was lost to the angry gods of ‘don’t hit the backspace key whilst typing’.  I have to re-watch, but I really thought that wasn’t such a sly moment as Chang thought.  Of course, you and everyone else knows what happens, but I trust you utterly in re spoilers.  😉

    curvedspace @curvedspace

    @Shazzbot, sometimes I do a happy dance and tell my husband, “someone liked what I had to say on the board!” (Perhaps I shouldn’t have admitted that out loud…) Y’all have so much knowledge and smarts it’s a bit intimidating sometimes!

    Anonymous @

    @curvedspace – you echoed my happy dance in being name-checked by a Mighty Mod on this forum.  🙂  I’m not one of the ‘y’all’ though, I leave it to @bluesqueakpip , @jimthefish , @phaseshift , and of course, the almighty y’all of them all, @htpbdet .  (I call him ‘Geoff’ in my mind.  Simply because ‘Haitch-tup-bidudit’ is a bloody mouthful even when silently expressed.  🙂  )

    You came here via @ardaraith – but I think from your posts that you are not yourself in Ireland.  Please reply via the Rose & Crown thread where non-Doctor issues are drunkenly raised.  [hic]

    Tennantmarsters2013 @tennantmarsters2013

    I haven’t had the chance to nip out and buy the DVDs but I watched it on YouTube.

    I’m a after gap watcher and I found the talons of weng chiang very entertaining and Tom baker is amazing as the doctor!

    I didn’t get the chance to watch it all because youtube was playing up so I didn’t get the end.

    I love leela and this episode has made me want to look into her history a bit more. It was also good to see a companion who is feisty and fights back.

    This episode reminded me about how bad the effects were back in those days. I know probably good for the times but still.

    I can’t wait to watch next week’s episode

    Miapatrick @miapatrick

    Re: racism- as I was trying to say in my original post, I think the episode was more ‘agen’ than for it, I think I was handling my own reaction to the made up actor- it’s a little like my instinctive, almost unthinking reaction when I first saw a boarder Morris side with boot-polish on their faces. I knew, because my mother is into Morris (some of you might in fact have seen her Morris dance, in costume, in her living room for a BBC documentary, but in fact she is a member of a couple of sides) that the smearing of faces with black is supposed to be about disguising yourself, back when begging was illegal and people went out and danced for money- I also know some sides claim to be dancing ‘Moorish dances’, which complicates things a little, but this is usually a shorter tradition than the usual boarder Morris, but despite this, when I first saw it, I felt a moment of shock. but this feeling did not make what I was seeing necessarily racist. In the case of this episode, I do think there was enough reference to casual racism of the time- when it was pointed out that the corpse was Caucasian, for example- to get over it. And the Doctors command of different Chinese languages was a nice touch- made the point there is no such language as ‘Chinese’ exactly, which can be extended to racial stereotypes generally. Which rather brings me back to what I was thinking with the Doctors reaction to the suicide in the police station- I had the feeling of being left to draw my own conclusions and have my own reactions to what happened. Which I like as a general rule, and definitely here.

    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord


    By the way, why did they keep doing this? Doctor Who, at least then, was supposed to be episodic. Another sign, I suppose, that when they were making the early home videos, the BBC just didn’t understand Doctor Who.

    Ahhh – you remember those early Vid releases as well!?

    I actually met someone once who was involved at the time. Basically it was a tale of market research gone spectacularly wrong. When the BBC looked to release tapes, advice came from the major distributors which were the rental outlets (it’s hard to remember that in 85/86 the rental market was massive in comparison to people buying tapes). So they launched thinking it was based on sound research that presenting them as “movies” would increase uptake. Although I prefer my DVD of Robots of Death (in episodic form), I thought the VHS of the series actually made a cracking 90 minute feature on video. The longer stories really were difficult going though, and didn’t have the same feel (Sea Devils for instance).

    overunder @jamesunderscore

    This is the first time I’ve seen this – I enjoyed it although, (and I suspect that this is intentional) the word that is sitting foremost in my mind right now is hokum – it’s a sort of glorious pastiche of exactly the kind of detective story which spurred Father Knox to write his famous

    I didn’t have a problem with the racism in the dialogue – obviously these are characters in Victorian London, and probably would have said far worse in reality. Funnily enough, I think anti-Chinese, or more generally anti-east-Asian, racism is still seen as less offensive in our society – I hear no end of people saying “chinky” and similar, where they would never dream of using similar terms aimed at black or south asian people. The yellowface, well, that just sort of comes with the territory when you’re watching programmes made in days gone by, and despite what some stories in the papers recently would have you believe, BG Doctor Who was a beacon of racial tolerance compared to the Black and White Minstrel show which was contemporary with it, lest we forget!

    Story wise, the pacing is excellent with just enough revealed to make me want to watch the next episode. I very much enjoyed Tom Baker, as always, and Louise Jameson too was excellent – this is the first time I have seen a serial with Leela, and I already like her character.

    I shan’t mention the rat….

    Whisht @whisht

    brilliant – thanks @craig and everyone for this!

    I can’t remember watching this one at the time (though I may have).
    Nothing much to add (everyone’s nailed everything I can think of) except that I didn’t feel anything racist about the show and don’t even feel the need to believe in any “they did that in the Victorian era” to self-justify it (even though they did ‘yellow up’ as pointed out.
    I grew up in the 70’s and the sit”com” “Mind your Language” and The Comedians, helps put things in perspective (they do contain racism).
    And I cannot remember any characters back then chiding others for their racism (“we must all look alike to you”) so, as slight as this line may seem, this was dynamite to me (re)watching just now.

    to be honest – I don’t even mind the rat (in that I could easily find it scary!)

    stevethewhistle @steve-thorp

    Hello All

    I have finally received the boxed set from BBC Shop that contains “The Talons of Weng-Chiang”. It also includes “The Caves Of Androzani” and “The Movie”, as well as various extras. The BBC Shop emailed me on Monday that they had dispatched it, but the post didn’t deliver it until today (Thursday) and I stayed in for 2 days of sunny weather when I could have been out walking. (grrrrrr!!!!)

    I never saw the original screening as I didn’t have a telly (not even B&W) in 1977 and, although I have seen quite a few BG episodes when they were broadcast at the time, and on UK Gold, I have not seen this before. I have been a Good Boy and only watched episode one tonight.

    As I was born in 1954, I would like to state the context for this story (with some links to Wikipedia etc.).

    As has already been said, the show is parodying various tropes of 19th and 20th century culture, This meshes well with other programmes at the time. It was made shortly after “Monty Python”, and it was broadcast only the year before “The Hitchhikers’ Guide To The Galaxy” hit our ears.

    The Music Hall scenes were a pastiche of “The Good Old Days”, a BBC recreation of music hall nights, which was staged at Leeds City Varieties.

    Leela’s and The Doctor’s (I will have to re-view to find out the name that he used in the Police station) clothing, I think, was designed to be “outlandish”,  although @curvedspace this link to Victorian clothing reform may be informative.

    The magician’s character is an obvious parody of Fu Manchu although, the stories featuring that character were based in the early 20th century.

    Although I was watching on a digitally remastered copy, I wouldn’t have known that the giant rat was a giant rat if it hadn’t been signalled beforehand.

    BTW @
    @miapatrick Sorry to have to correct you (as I am quite capable of making typos myself) but it should be Border Morris.

    Miapatrick @miapatrick

    @stevethewhistle- you’re quite right. It was a typo, honest!

    ScaryB @scaryb

    stevethewhistle Thanks for the contextualising – well summed up.

    And agree with @jimthefish (and others), Chang’s line ‘I understand that we all look alike’ is dynamite and beautifully delivered, understated but laced with suppressed anger. Chang’s giving the pill to the prisoner looked to me like it was hidden from the Dr by his hat, which was on the table, and the Dr was looking the other way. I think he genuinely thought initially that it was a trick.  His reaction to violence though is interesting in comparison with AG Drs, definitely more accepting, if not exactly approving, of eg Leela’s janus thorn.

    The acting’s great, love the lighting, the script sizzles.

    And you have to be impressed with the Dr’s idea of how to show a girl a good time –  in no time he’s got her knee deep splashing through the sewers of London. Can’t help thinking they’d at least want a change of shoes if not the whole costume, and a bath!!

    Good old Mary Whitehouse – a rant from her was guaranteed to get more viewers/bums on seats/newspaper coverage. It was amazing it took her so long to realise it!

    ieatpieism @ieatpie34

    i still think bowties are cooler…

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