The Talons of Weng-Chiang part 3

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    Craig @craig

    While the Doctor discovers advanced technology that originates from Earth, Leela carries out a much more dangerous, separate investigation. Birminghams manufacturing gets a testimonial, and the distillation chamber provides yet another connection with “The Crimson Horror”. Shame about the rat… but I could say that about almost every episode of Weng-Chiang. 😀

    Oh, and there is finally, or regrettably, depending on your point of view, “something for the Dads”. It was the 70s…

    Once again, if you’ve seen it before, NO SPOILERS!

    wolfweed @wolfweed

    The Rats become more cuddly this episode. Peaking at the moment when they’re described as : ‘The beasts of darkness……. larger and more savage than lions!’

    Also notable is the praise for Birmingham,  and the phrase ‘Another case of the screaming oopizootics!’

    The episode stands out mostly for how we view Chang. We start to feel sorry for him, as we realise that his Master does not care for him & ends up firing him. Despite the fact that these ‘Painted drabs’ all look the same to him, and the casual way he despatches them to their doom, we begin to empathise with the initial villain…
    wc z

    stevethewhistle @steve-thorp

    Not a lot happening in this episode, but the plot is thickening slowly. However, it seemed to get to the cliffhanger very fast. (I must be used to 45 min episodes now!)

    The potential goryness of this episode is, thankfully, buffered by the comic relief.

    Leela gets a chance to use her brains a bit this week. I didn’t spot the switch in the dressing room coming.

    I am assuming that the “Chinese Cabinet” is not in the laundry basket as there doesn’t seem to be enough room for it, but what will happen when the Doctor’s map on the tablecloth is discovered?

    Will the Doctor fire the gun with Leela in the way, and if he does, will it explode?

    Has Leela still got a knife on her and can she overcome the giant “rat”? She should have the ability to do it, and it would be of benefit to the story if it were finally to be disposed of.

    Will we eventually see behind the leather mask of Weng-Chiang (bearing in mind that it was screened on a Saturday tea time)? Maybe his head will just be a skull.

    Will there be a clip of George Formby singing “Limehouse Laundry Blues”?

    Anonymous @

    @wolfweed – my thoughts exactly!  Chang has so far been the villain – and continued to be in this stretch, getting the young girls for his ‘lord’ – but there is a bit of audience sympathy in the writing for how he is treated by said lord.

    stevethewhistle – yes, being a new viewer, I’m still confused by the Limehouse Laundry moment.  Did they get what Weng Chiang so desires?  I dare not go to @danmartinuk ‘s blog on the Guardian because I don’t want spoilers.  (Sadly, I looked at Wikipedia – only to discern how many episodes this story entailed – so I learnt what the ‘doll’ Sin actually is.  But I sharply stopped reading at that point.)

    And finally, I saw the rat!  Whoo-hoo!  I’ve been severely disappointed on that front so far.

    I’m really liking Leela as a companion.  She does the whole two-step-change in the wardrobe (‘This one has muscles like a horse!’   🙂   ) which I was so not expecting.

    I’m amazed at the patience of TV viewers in the 70’s – I’m gagging to watch the next segments of this story.  It’s odd to the point of not being able to truly understand, the difference between shows-on-tap on t’internet nowadays (and DVD box-sets), and how we experienced TV programmes back in the day.

    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord


    Just consider – if this had been March 1978, I’d have been heartbroken to have missed this and miserable that I’d probably never see it as circumstances robbed me of the allotted time.

    As I grew up in the West Midlands, for some reason I was deeply pleased by the Doctors faith in a gun produced in Birmingham. 😀

    @wolfweed is right, as I kid I actually started to feel something for Chang here. His master is much more monstrous than he, even if he obeys his orders. His rather pitiful “but they are missed, my Lord” suggests concern for his master but perhaps tinged with a realisation that they are humans who will always be missed.

    Yep – Leela strips down, but it’s pretty difficult to tackle a supervillain while carting a bustle about your rear end. I know. I’ve tried (Looooong story).

    Anonymous @

    @phaseshift – I almost shipped up in Atherstone (above Nuneaton, above Coventry) in my quest to rid my heels of London.  There was a house with a 165-foot back garden backing onto the Coventry canal which is still in my dreams.  {sigh}  I coulda been a West Midlander … but I’m far happier being a Yorkshirewoman.

    And you simply can’t end your comment there!  We must hear the ‘carting a bustle about’ story.  🙂

    Miapatrick @miapatrick

    I will admit, watching these, I’m getting some idea why people get so irritated with Tennant/Smith. It even makes me want an older doctor even more (if we can’t keep Smith) because it does give a different dimension to the stories. Not better, but different. And if the doctor can’t run, the companions can. Smith is my Doctor, and this is probably why I think I’d like someone dryer, more deadpan, less active to replace him.

    ‘I do hope that girl Leela isn’t in danger’ (or something like that. I liked that. Again, not a companion in need of rescue, and I found the doctor refreshingly un-protective- if he is a little paternal towards him, its clearly hands-off parenting.

    the rat! Ahh, I want one. My boyfriend used to have rats. (Not as pets. He had snakes…) but this rat looked quite cute gnawing at its food. A bit like a Yorkie, ironically.

    ‘The Palace Theatre Ghost’ is not such an iconic title as ‘The Phantom of the Opera’. But Erik didn’t have giant rats, so…

    I like combination of an animate puppet, and humans turned into puppets. But, um, if he’s stealing their life essence, why do they have to be female? (As if I didn’t know. 😉 )

    What is it with weapons made in Birmingham?

    ‘If I’m still here at high tide’ ‘yes?’ ‘don’t bother’

    The dialogue between the Doctor and Lightfoot was great, the best part of it for me. I thought the part where Leela was escaping rather lacking in tension- it just seemed very choreographed. And when the rat caught up to her, I thought, wouldn’t she be rather good at fighting off huge animals? Not to mention the fact that Chang doesn’t even notice that the woman he takes out of the dressing room had different coloured hair than the woman he left in the dressing room- and there was even a blond wig in the background! And he had hold of each woman’s arm. But this was sort of dealt with when it was made clear he’s getting more and more desperate to fulfil his masters orders, taking more and more risks. And he was in a hurry, and maybe he didn’t want to look closely at the people he was taking to their death.


    chickenelly @chickenelly

    ‘The beasts of darkness……. larger and more savage than lions!’

    I was wondering about the rats, as up until now they’ve not really had much to do.  It made me wonder if they were simply there to perhaps eat Wen Chiang  in the denouement.  Glad to see them gnawing at Leela’s leg.

    Maybe it was a more innocent time, but there is something rather charming about Wen Chiang getting rid of Chang.  Instead of feeding him to the rats or bumping him off in a over the top evil manner, he just sacks him.

    Roll on next week!



    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    Gosh, that was the stupidest place to hide from a mysterious gunman. Against a flat wall, neatly spotlighted by a ‘street lamp’. And, oh yes, the rat. It doesn’t help that the rat they’ve got doing the acting looks like a rather sweet little pet … and the puppet stunt double bears more than a passing resemblance to Roland the Rat.

    “Shared it with the Venerable Bede” – in a presumably unrecorded visit of the monk to London? The monastery visited in Bells of St John is in Cumbria, not Northumbria and some five hundred years later; but the Doctor appears to be friendly with quite a few monks.

    I agree that Chang suddenly starts to become more sympathetic; from appearing to be the main villain he’s suddenly revealed as the man obeying orders he doesn’t entirely like.

    On the whole, I’d say this is a typical middle episode of the period; twenty four minutes is spent with everyone not doing very much at all. You can imagine the After Gap series cutting straight from the Doctor and Companion fighting off Mr Sin to Leela leaping on the back of the cab to the Doctor in the sewers (with a few explanatory lines about the Fleet leading straight underneath the Palace). The fight between Leela and Weng Chiang would take about ten seconds (and would be a lot better blocked).

    But they’d probably still only have the one cab. 🙂

    Anonymous @

    @bluesqueakpip – ‘the Venerable Bede’ … I also caught that.  I did a bit of DuckDuckGo searching but wasn’t enlightened on how that name-check enriched this episode.

    I’m still amazed at how engrossing the ‘slower’ style of episodes is, and how so much better it is than the frenetic pacing of current episodes.  (Mind, I’m still in awe of The Eleventh Hour and how they managed to pack so much punch into a single 45-minute episode.)  But getting so deep into a ‘slow-stylee’ series , as we have here with ToWG, is eye-opening.  Is this merely the difference between entertainment latterly vs entertainment formerly?  Is it possible to drag Doctor Who back into that leisurely character-building kind of story or is it lost forever to the ADHD audience?

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    @Shazzbot. Yes, it’s the difference between then and now. Back then, the UK audience had three choices. BBC1, BBC2 and ITV. Or you could go out to the pub, or play cricket, or – uh, well you get my point. VHS video recorders were just coming out in Japan, but they were very, very expensive.

    So drama then was a bit more like theatre is now. You can rely on the theatre audience to sit through a slow start; they’ve paid for their ticket and they’re darn well going to watch for the next couple of hours. They’ll be patient. Likewise, the television audience would know that they generally enjoyed a bit of Doctor Who and that they didn’t fancy the other two programmes on the telly at the same time. They’d be patient.

    In Girl in the Fireplace, Steven Moffat talked a bit about the need to keep that member of the audience who’s thinking about turning over to the hundred other options available, or going to the pub – and you’ve got about three minutes to do it, and then you need to keep them there. Because nowadays, turning over is easy. You don’t even have to get up off the sofa; just press the button. So the writer needs to keep giving that undecided viewer a reason to keep watching. Ooh, look – there’s a horse! On a spaceship! Why is there a horse on a spaceship? Well, I’ll just watch a couple more minutes to find out…

    Anonymous @

    And here we are in the realm of story padding. Absolutely nothing of note happens in this episode, but at least it does with some style. With Weng-Chiang’s predatory actions here, can we now add Dracula to the list of Victoriana literary influences in this story?

    Chang’s character continues to develop here. He to my mind is one of the great villains of Who, evoking sympathy while still perpetrating villainous acts. There is definitely something Master-like about him in this episode. (Indeed, Weng-Chiang is not unlike Deadly Assassin-era Master with Chang as an Oriental variation on Delgado.) It would not have been much of a stretch for Holmes to have made this a proper Master story and it’s interesting that he did not.  One question, why didn’t Chang just hypnotise the cab driver right at the beginning of episode one and thus save himself all this grief in the first place? Then the Doctor and Leela would not have gotten tangled up with him in the first place.

    Speaking of which, Louise Jameson continues to be great here. Leela is such a great and capable companion. And that scene with the knife going into Mr Sin’s throat is still genuinely creepy and I imagine must have given Mary Whitehouse palpitations at the time.

    curvedspace @curvedspace

    I love Leela in this episode. Especially kicking ass while wearing bloomers.

    The Doctor has a gun. This happens much more frequently in the AG eps than the BG ones, but it always shocks me when it happens.

    As a side note, my 3-year old daughter wandered in while I was watching. I had the screen turned away but she heard one of Weng-Chiang’s rants. She said, “that Daddy is mad. He’s having a bad day.” I did let her watch the Doctor and Litefoot on the river, which she enjoyed, before I had to turn it off for a bit: she doesn’t get to watch a trawl through rat-infested sewers!

    @shazzbot and @bluesqueakpip I enjoyed your comments about the pacing. I wouldn’t go back to episodes as slow as some of the AG ones, but I definitely miss having multiple segments in which to watch a story unfold. One of my complaints about Moffat’s tenure is that I think his writing  (and the eps under his approval) throws too much at viewers too fast. I’m (barely) under 40; I grew up in the post-Star Wars era of faster, fancier, flashier television;  yet sometimes I can’t keep up with the speed writers use nowadays. I wouldn’t give up the mini-computer in my pocket for anything, but I do wish things in our world weren’t quite so fast.

    Nick @nick

    @jimthefish (apologies in not getting this to link)

    I haven’t watched this for quite a while (let alone 1 episode per week), so I won’t comment on any specifics. However, I wondered whether you thought losing the episode entirely would make for a better overall story in this particular case ?



    Anonymous @


    It’s an interesting question. Narratively speaking, you could probably condense the events of this episode into a couple of scenes (if you needed them at all) and not much would be lost. But at the same time, when it’s done well (as it is here) the more leisurely pace helps to give the story some added texture and give it a great sense of scope and depth. For instance, Jago and Litefoot have become such much-loved characters in Who-lore precisely because we’re given lots of little extraneous scenes with them (e.g. Jago’s little interactions with Casey and so on). It makes us more invested in them for when things do start happening later on.

    But by the same token, there are plenty of four and six parters in Old Who where the padding episodes are frankly interminable because the same care hasn’t been taken into creating the characters and situations and the padding consists of nothing more than pointless chases, escapes and recaptures and the like. The worst example is probably Episode Three of Planet of the Spiders (although that possibly gets a special dispensation as it was indulging Pertwee in his final story).

    overunder @jamesunderscore

    @jimthefish – It may be padding, but my word what marvelous padding it is! Like a silk stuffed duvet!

    I really enjoyed the way this episode meandered between it’s very few plot points – the dialogue was especially sparkly in this one, some of Chang’s lines were pure poetry and his desperation when dismissed by Weng Chiang was palpable.

    Also, I like that the multi-part format allows for little extraneous moments like the nice leisurely scene where the laundry baskets are exchanged. In a modern TV series that would warrant probably about two frames, here it gets about two minutes, and it’s some really nice business by the actors.

    I thought the rat looked less silly this time, but maybe I’m just used to it now?

    Nick @nick


    Jim pretty much my view too. In this case, the story is so well written and the characters fit into the narrative almost perfectly, that the “padding” really doesn’t feel like padding. I know many of my era (BG fans if you like) like to hark back to this sort of story as evidence to support the contention that AG stories are often too short and too frantic. There is certainly some truth to this, but I think it misses the point. A well written and executed story will always work out to produce something special.



    Nick @nick


    Absolutely true for this story and is actually the reason why it is a classic in the proper sense of the word. Old style British TV (that is sometime before NYPD Blue was shown on UK TV) definitely had its plus points, but as  @jimthefish commented only when it was done well.


    HTPBDET @htpbdet

    I think this is one of my favourite episodes of the six.

    It is beautifully written, beautifully played, beautifully directed and rewards attention with simple glory. You know, Games of Thrones works on essentially the same principle.

    I don’t think anything here is padding – but it is all texture, character and heart. What every good drama needs – Shakespeare shows us that.

    These days storytelling is no different – but you may need to pay more attention to be rewarded.

    Leela is exceptional in this story and is the centrepiece of this episode – which is reason enough to like it. Each of Chang, Jago, Litefoot and Weng-Chiang are fleshed out more carefully in this episode and the Doctor is, happily, on the peripheral. He’ll be back. Nothing is surer.

    ScaryB @scaryb

    I like the modern pacing and the older style of Talons-era equally, provided, as @nick and others say, it’s done well. (Something I thought 7.2 achieved consistently)

    One of the interesting things about Broadchurch (forgive the brief digression) was its pacing – for  what was pitched as a murder mystery/whodunnit it had surprisingly long reflective moments of just landscape or people and music.  It was unexpected and it worked.

    Leela in this personifies the companion who doesn’t do as she/he’s told. Stay here? When the suspects are getting away? No chance!  And yes, surprising amount of guns and knives around the Dr. I was surprised when W-C turned up his nose at Leela as food, for being too muscly – I’d have thought Leela’s life essence would be a raging torrent!

    HTPBDET @htpbdet


    Have to disagree with @htpbdet re. episode three. It was very much padding. Quality padding that brought much richness and texture to the secondary characters — which helps greatly in feeling trepidation for Litefoot and pathos for Casey in this episode, but padding nonetheless. But narratively speaking absolutely sod-all of any importance happens whatsoever. The only thing that really advances is that we learn what Weng-Chiang wanted the girls for and in terms of sheer story that could have been dealt with in a single scene. (Which is what Nu-Who would almost certainly have done.)

    Okay, fair enough. I guess it depends on what you describe padding as?

    It seems on your definition, and I may have misunderstood, that if it does not really advance the action, its padding.

    On that basis, then, episode three is entirely padding because this exchange occurs in episode two:

    WENG:   I am dying, Chang. You must bring another linnet to my cage.
    CHANG: But only yesterday…
    WENG:   The disease grows worse. Each distillation lasts less than the time before.
    CHANG: And with every girl reported missing, panic increases. I fear one of them will be traced here.

    Distillation makes it pretty clear what is happening to the girls I think?

    I guess I have a narrower definition of what constitutes padding. There is a lot of corridor running in Seeds of Death, for instance, which is padding; the multi-vehicle chase of Lupton in Planet of the Spiders; quite a lot of Android Invasion and Time Flight…too name just a few. These are the examples I think of as padding, together with, say, the manufactured quark cliff-hangers in Dominators.

    For me, padding is material which does not add anything to the narrative.

    Perhaps the greatest example of padding in Doctor Who is episode one of The Mind Robber – nothing that happens there really needs to happen for the adventure in the Land of Fiction to begin. And yet…I don’t think anyone would characterize that episode as padding in the sense that “we would have a better story without it” or am I wrong about that?

    To me, that initial episode sets up what is to come. It is an integral part of what makes Mind Robber unique and disturbing and exciting.

    In the same way, it seems to me anyway, the detailed character work that is the backbone of episode three of Talons of Weng-Chiang sets up what follows and builds on what has happened, heightening the drama, upping the suspense and adding texture and depth to the proceedings, while allowing Leela, in particular, and the Doctor to take their central roles.

    I don’t think Talons of Weng-Chiang would be nearly as enjoyable or nearly as highly-regarded if it did not have all of the material in episode three.

    I am curious: do you think there is padding in AG Doctor Who?

    For instance, is this padding?

    DARLA:   First, there were the Daleks. And then, there was a man who fought them. And then, in time, he died. There are a few, of course, who believe this man somehow survived, and that one day he will return. For both our sakes, dearest Hannah, we must hope these stories are true.
    DOCTOR:               I got your message. Not many people can do that. Send me messages.
    DARLA:   I have a daughter, Hannah. She’s in a Dalek prison camp. They say you can help.
    DOCTOR:               Do they? I wish they’d stop. I love your choice of meeting place.
    DARLA:   They said I’d have to intrigue you.
    DOCTOR:               Skaro. The original planet of the Daleks. Look at the state of it. Who told you about me?
    DARLA:   Does it matter?
    DOCTOR:               Maybe not, but you’re very well informed. If Hannah’s in a Dalek prison camp, tell me, why aren’t you?
    DARLA:   I escaped.
    DOCTOR:               No. Nobody escapes the Dalek camps. You’re very cold.
    DARLA:   What’s wrong?
    DOCTOR:               It’s a trap.
    DARLA:   What is?
    DOCTOR:               You are, and you don’t even know it.

    Or this?

    AMY:       I’ll just be a minute.
    PA:          Your husband is here.
    AMY:       Hmm. I don’t have a husband.
    PA:          Oh, well, apparently you still do.
    RORY:     You have to sign these.
    AMY:       And then we’re not married?
    RORY:     Just like magic.
    AMY:       Can’t chat. Working.
    RORY:     Really? Thought you were just pouting at a camera.
    AMY:       Rory?
    CASSANDRA:         Sorry, love. Was I interrupting?
    AMY:       No.
    CASSANDRA:         Gosh, look at you. You’ve gone so pale. Come on, take a seat. We’ll soon sort that out.

    I ask only because I would like to understand what the consensus is about what “padding” is.  I think I might not have it right in my mind.


    Nick @nick

    @htpbdet @jimthefish

    my two cents (for what its worth) is that padding should be defined along the lines of anything that is of no intrinsic value to the story or the characters and is really dull to watch.

    I’m sure Robert Holmes could have written this story which is around 2 hours long (cutting out the titles and the repeat of the cliff hanger) to fit 4 four parts (80 minutes) or even the current series format (45 minutes) IF he’d been required too. I guess he would have cut-out some of the music hall scenes, eliminated one of Lightfood or Jago (combining the two roles perhaps) shortened other scenes etc. I’m absolutely sure the end result would still have been one of the best stories ever made in either BG or AG Who.

    I guess which format you prefer to see (6, 4 or 1 part) is a matter of personal choice. I, along with HTPBDET I guess ?, prefer the 6 part format for this story and don’t see much if any padding in the writing or execution here. Other though wouldn’t survive the padding test.

    One problem I have with some of the AG stories is the lack of padding if you like. In the recent Rings of Akhaten for example, the whole sacrifice/singing stuff I found a bit confusing and hence had little empathy for the main character (the little girl). More character and story development here would have improved the overall end result. That I found the end rather contrived and silly  is purely down to my preferences regarding how a story should end.

    In AG we now have a different sort of padding now as well surely ?

    Taking HTBPDET’s Amy/Rory dialogue as an example, did we really need the arc of their relationship embedded into the series ? I loved the duo because of what the actors and writers managed to do with their characters and the inter-play with each other and the Doctor. The ups and downs in their relationship didn’t add anything much for me.


    ScaryB @scaryb

    @jimthefish @htpbdet @nick

    One person’s padding can be another person’s texture!

    JtF, I suspect you’re using “padding” in Talons context slightly mischievously, to provoke some discussion! (You say as much in your post).  The chase round the backstage in Talons2 could be counted as padding I think, in classic Who running-about-corridors tradition.  But the scenes with Jago, Casey, Litefoot add to the plot, drive up the tension and add a bit of well placed comic relief as well as building their own characters and giving a strong sense of setting and period context to the story.  Yes you could amalgamate eg Jago and Litefoot into one character and lose Casey, but the story would be much less rich as a result.

    Many people in this story wear masks/disguise.  Jago is outwardly confident, swaggering and convivial yet he’s also insecure, aware that his persona is a bluff; his closest human contact seems to be his employee Casey – they have an easy tolerance of each others faults which suggests a long term acquaintance. Litefoot is ostensibly a well to do professional man, the epitome of a succesful Victorian. Yet he too comes across as a solitary figure, slightly out of sync with his place and time. Chang too is not what he first appears, he is far more than the caricature of a mysterious oriental of his stage persona.

    Both the real bad guys in Talons wear actual masks, which we have yet to see under, tho the glimpses so far are not promising!

    Nick re Amy/Rory – you say you loved them because of their characters and the interplay between them, but could have done without their relationship ups and downs. Yet you wouldn’t know the characters so well if you hadn’t seen those moments. Eg in The Girl Who Waited, their relationship drives the plot – Amy’s anger at having been “abandoned”, her will to survive driven by her memory of Rory, Rory’s devotion regardless of how old she is –  is made even more poignant by our previous knowledge of their ups and downs and their own insecurities about how the other one feels.

    Anonymous @

    @nick and @htpbdet

    Some thoughts on padding. I think @htpbdet‘s definition is largely correct. Anything that doesn’t progress the narrative and, in effect, leaves it treading water is pretty much story padding. However, Talons is probably a bad example to try and pinpoint it as it is such a well-written story and while the narrative is dragged out, it’s done with such style and excellent characterisation, which adds depth and texture to the story that you just don’t notice it. (Much like the sleight of hand in Chang’s magic act, I suppose.)

    And there are definitely lots of examples in Old Who where the ‘trick’ is done with much less skill. Aside from the examples cited by @htpbdet, you could also look at The War Games (a great story, which I love, but there’s a lot of unnecessary faffing about between time periods that adds nothing to the story and is clearly there to drag out the narrative to the required length).

    Were it still in existence, I suspect that The Daleks’ Masterplan would have suffered the same problem. (See also a great many of Pertwee’s longer stories, which often have really strong stories which would greatly benefit from having an episode chopped out of them. You can usually tell by there being a rubbish cliffhanger in there somewhere. My personal favourite being the Daemons where one episode ends with the Master being in peril from Azal. ‘Is this the end of the Master? Or will evil prevail?’)

    But it’s important to remember that very often ‘story is character’. Pam Douglas in her book on TV scriptwriting argues that the key difference between writing a film and a TV series is that film narrative progresses horizontally along a straight narrative line and a TV narrative vertically as characters incrementally develop across episodes and entire seasons and arcs rather than via a single narrative. If I might nick that analogy for a moment, Talons (and other successful Old Who classics) work by filling the allotted number of episodes by developing the story vertically rather than artificially extending it horizontally (which more often than not will just kill the pace of the story stone dead and runs the risk of irritating the viewer with repeated foiled escapes, endless running down corridors etc.) It’s the mark of a good Who writer as opposed to a bad one if they have grasped this simple rule or not.

    Talons works so well because Holmes understood this and I suspect that his tenure as script editor is so well remembered because he did understand this and prevented his writers from committing this error. And it adds to the power of the stories — which, as I say, is why Casey or Chang’s death, or the death of Lawrence Scarman in Pyramids of Mars, actually have a bit of poignancy to them as compared to the deaths of say Lynda with a Y or Torchwood lady in Nu-Who.

    I agree with @nick that if anything Nu-Who (I will get into the BG/AG habit eventually, I promise, but old habits die hard) suffers from the problem of there not being enough padding. There are lots of examples, Ahkaten, for one, but many others where a bit more breathing room for story and character would not only have been desirable but actually necessary. Of the two, I’d say that writing for Nu-Who is probably the harder gig and a lot more unforgiving — there’s no hiding place for any flaws, unlike in an old six-parter. Nu-Who’s ‘classic’ stories (often done by Moffatt when he’s firing on all cylinders) are incredibly lean. In Blink or The Girl in the Fireplace, for example, every line of dialogue earns its keep and progresses the narrative in some way.

    This probably can’t be said for Talons but the house guests are so entertaining that you don’t mind them sticking around for a while. Perhaps an alternative definition of padding would be writing that sponges off the main narrative but in a way that ultimately harbours resentment in the viewer.

    I’d probably argue that there are, in fact, very few Old Who stories that don’t have some element of padding to them. If you don’t have someone of the talent of Robert Holmes working somewhere on it, then it potentially might become a problem. (Not always though, both Logopolis and Castrovalva actually have minimal plot to them but it doesn’t really impact on the story because there are extenuating circumstances — in the former, we’re making the most of every last moment we have with the fourth Doctor, in the latter we’re enjoying getting to know the fifth.)

    In Nu-Who, as we’ve said above, is that there is not enough padding. Some really quite good stories (Hide springs to mind immediately) would have benefited from an extra episode to a) develop the relationship between Emma and the Professor that bit more and b) develop the plight of the separated creatures. The complaints by some that Nu-Who is too rushed or not as thoughtful as Old Who stem from the feeling that you can get here that there is something important missing from stories — almost as if they’ve been ineptly edited and something vital to the plot has been missed out.

    But by the same token, the truly bad Nu-Who episodes are also the ones that are guilty of too much padding too. These are the ones that should probably never have been commissioned in the first place and have only been done so presumably out of necessity. The likes of Fear Her and Boom Town do not even have enough story for a single 45 minutes (and would probably have been better served as stories in an annual or something). You could argue that they not only contain excessive padding, they are in themselves padding — just there to fill out the number of episodes required.

    On a final note (apologies for the length of this btw) I’d argue that neither of @htpbdet‘s examples above do actually consist of padding. Every line is there is working hard for its keep. In the first one it’s either setting up the narrative by placing both the Doctor and Darla in Skaro, explaining why they’re there and setting up the events for the episode, or they’re emphasising the Doctor’s state of mind and gently reminding us of what he’s been through in the previous series without having to resort to a ‘previously on Dr Who’ montage.

    I’d argue that the same is probably true of the second example. Every line is working hard to set up the (sudden) situation of Amy and Rory’s estrangement or give us subtle pointers to how each of them feels about it.

    Compare that to Casey and Jago gassing on about Mrs Samuelson, for example. It adds nothing to the story and could very easily have been cut out. But at the same time it’s a ‘nice to have’ as it adds texture to both Jago and Casey and develops them both ‘vertically’*.  But you could easily have lived without it– and if the story had overran it probably would have been the first thing to go. I’d imagine that for these studio-bound stories that they were probably written with this kind of lee-way in mind. It is always better to over-write and then cut some stuff out if necessary rather than under-write and leave the episode short. It’s a common occurrence, on soaps mostly, of script editors actually on set phoning up writers and asking them to knock up a quick couple of minutes for their episode because it’s coming up short. In the days before email and the internet, this just wouldn’t have been possible (unless presumably you actually dictated the lines down the phone or let the script editor write it for you) and rebooking a studio for later pick-ups just wouldn’t be an option.

    (*Although there is a flip side to this. Having taken great pains to build their relationship, Jago’s seeming lack of grief or concern at Casey’s death makes him seem rather heartless, unless you put it down to Victorian emotional restraint, apart from the fact that to show that would definitely have detracted from the main thrust of the story.)

    @scaryb — ‘mischievous’? Moi? Whatever can you mean? 😉



    Nick @nick


    I don’t necessarily disagree with your view although I would argue that this was really a choice made by the writing team. Would that story need to be done slightly differently if they didn’t show some background to their relationship woes ? (which by the way I don’t recall being explained in the story at all although I could easily have missed that).

    I could argue that even if the writers had chosen to completely omit the Amy/Rory relationship background completely, that particularly story could still have worked really well. Amy’s anger and resentment at being abandoned would still be a valid character motivation and you don’t absolutely need the memory of Rory being the primary motivation for her survival surely ? It would have become a different story for sure (probably darker and more emotionally complex), but would it have been worse ? Reflecting on this perhaps the difference between family and adult orientated drama ?

    I’m not sure this is the right forum to discuss this particular topic though ?



    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

     Anything that doesn’t progress the narrative and, in effect, leaves it treading water is pretty much story padding.

    @jimthefish – no, that’s unnecessarily strict. The normal rule is that any line that doesn’t EITHER

    • Progress the narrative OR
    • Progress the characterisation OR
    • make the audience laugh

    should be cut. The ideal line, of course, is one that does all three.

    From the rest of your post, I’d say that you know perfectly well that ‘progressing the characterisation’ isn’t padding 😉

    Would stories work as well without character progression? Nope – unless you’re writing an action-adventure. @nick – yes, you certainly could have had ‘The Girl Who Waited’ with a different set of characters. But it would’ve been a different story. And Amy would be a different person if you omitted the memory of Rory as her primary motivation. With Rory and Amy, Rory is the more obviously loving in relationship terms (which fits their respective personalities: Amy is assertive, easily angered and adventurous; Rory calm, caring, and domestic).

    So it’s important to have stories where the audience is reminded that while Amy isn’t as demonstrative, her love for/need for Rory is as deep as his love for/need for her. Otherwise we won’t believe it when the time comes for them to leave: and they leave because Rory’s stuck and Amy – given the option – refuses to live without him.

    In Pre-Gap Who, we wouldn’t have needed all this story arc for Amy and Rory, giving them a believable reason to leave the TARDIS. That’s not necessarily good – at the end of Leela’s story, for example, she leaves because she’s fallen in love with an entirely characterless Gallifreyan. In one scene, it appears, because both actors concerned were rather desperately searching through the scripts of that story to find anything, anything at all that would suggest that they had the slightest attraction to one another.

    In After-Gap Who it’s admitted that travelling in the TARDIS is something so spectacular that Companions need a really good reason to leave. It’s either part of their arc (Amy won’t live without Rory, Martha’s family may be irritating, but she loves them more than she does the Doctor) or forced upon them by a catastrophic event (Rose, Donna).

    Anyway, going back to Weng-Chiang – they definitely don’t need this episode to progress the narrative. At all. Because Holmes is a superb writer, he’s gone for ‘progressing characterisation’ – we find out a lot about Chang, Jago, Litefoot and Casey. It’s really the difference between a short story and a novella; he’s got more room to progress the characters, and he’s taken it.


    HTPBDET @htpbdet


    I did not mean to suggest that those AG excerpts were padding – I was just trying to see what you thought about them viv-a-vis the Talons stuff.

    To me the terms “padding” and “filler” are inherently derogatory, at least in a way. And while I do not mean you, I think a lot of people use them without really knowing what they are discussing.

    I totally agree with you about horizontal and vertical writing – and vertical writing always is the most satisfying in Television terms. Holmes was a master of it, but there were others too: David Whittaker, Brian Hayles, Chris Boucher – even Uncle Terrence clearly gets it.

    For me, the Mrs Samuelson discussions have a clear purpose – they show that Jago is on the ropes and that he is not paying money where it is needed – which means that there is no security at the theatre and much more chance for Weng-Chiang to come and go. And the speech sets up the kind of relationship Jago has with Casey and reveals one of the many masks (spot on @scaryb) that he wears. That simple exchange tells us volumes about Jago and his assumed air of bombastic indifference and control – and that lets what happens later to Jago and Litefoot make a definite kind of sense.

    So, while, strictly speaking they are not necessary for the tale being told, they have a real purpose – one that works and helps make the story the classic it is.

    Perhaps an alternative definition of padding would be writing that sponges off the main narrative but in a way that ultimately harbours resentment in the viewer.

    I like that definition and I think I agree with it entirely.

    A vertical story takes as long as it takes. Sometimes, especially in Pertwee’s time, the stories were really three episode stories or two episode stories, but budgets made them into four; or they were four or five episode stories made into six.

    And another time, it would be good to chew over War Games, a story with ten episodes about which I harbour no resentment of any scene (although I resent the ending entirely!!) I also found Dalek Masterplan quite remarkable – much much better than The Chase, for instance, which was half its length.

    And I think it is largely for that reason that I think the second excerpt from Asylum constitutes padding in my mind – or perhaps something worse: contrary narrative.

    After The Girl Who Waited why would there be a divorce? Why would Amy act so appallingly towards Rory? I never thought it was explained satisfactorily, or in a way that was coherent with what had gone before, and I thought it got entirely in the way of the drama of the actual story being told.

    I think this is what @nick is saying – but also wonder if this is the right place to have this discussion. I don’t want to incur @bluesqueakpip‘s rage…


    On a slightly different topic, I sometimes wish in AG Doctor Who that they would tell the story for as long as it takes – this might mean 1 and 1/2 episodes, so a story starts, has its 45 minutes and then finishes twenty minutes into the next episode, when the following story could begin. That simple formula could have made a big difference in, say, Bells of St John and Rings of Akhaten. Bells could have been told in shorter time than it was and the extra time would have assisted Rings.

    Nick @nick


    If I had a couple days and multiple drafts, I couldn’t have made your point better from any point of view.  Again, my opinion differs slightly, but only around the edges. I really must give up this forum lark.

    I had pretty much concluded that you, @HTBPDET and I were largely dancing around nuances in our mutual point of view. I’m sure we all know padding when we see it. The “padding” in Talons reflects the two hour length of the Story which demands some character development, which adds to the overall positive effect, but could just as easily be shortened and removed without any real detriment to the story.

    I don’t think I have ever seen any past (or current) production team comment on how they picked what would be a 6 part from a 4 part story (2 verses 1 now). In some cases, it must have been the strength of the concept when pitched, but in others it is quite hard to see the reason (if there was one).

    I have a lot of sympathy for the production team in old Who (especially after reading Terrance Dicks on the problems of making the War Games for example) as they had a lot of screen hours to fill across many months on quite a limited budget. I wonder how the current team would cope if the BBC asked for 20 episodes on the same budget they have for 13 now ?

    I also wonder if our expectations aren’t driven by our preconceptions of the genre ? If you look at something like “The Killing 1” with its 22 (I think) parts all one hour each, its quite slow TV to watch with multiple dead ends in its story tree going from the crime in the opening shots to its denouement in the final scene. It would be easy to cut that down to 12 or even 8 episodes without distorting the underlying story and yet I don’t think many of us would actually want that to happen.


    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    @craig, @phaseshift, @jimthefish

    This is a great discussion, but it’s definitely straying way beyond the boundaries of this thread. Could one of you move or copy the relevant posts over to the Companions Past and Present thread?

    @nick – will be away from my computer for a bit now, so will reply to #13427 later.

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    @craig, @phaseshift and @jimthefish – sorry, should have said which posts.

    Copied or linked to (because they are discussing Talons as well as Amy/Rory): ~13403, 13407, 13410, 13424

    Moved to Companions Past and Present: #13418, 13423, 13426, 13427.

    Thank you.

    HTPBDET @htpbdet



    Will wait til they have been moved.


    Anonymous @

    @bluesqueakpip, @htpbdet and @nick

    The questions of the Amy/Rory/Melody arc are very interesting and I think it would be great to pursue them in the Companions thread.

    But on Weng-Chiang–

    @htpbdet — yes, the term padding is often used in a derogatory way but that’s definitely not the case here. Story padding is bad when it’s ‘oops, we’re captured, let’s escape through this air conditioning vent, run down this corridor, oh no, we’ve been captured again’, or ‘let’s chase Lupton around in an increasingly bizarre set of feckin’ transport options’. That’s annoying and lazy and it happened far too often in Old Who by writers who probably just couldn’t be arsed and wanted the thing done so they could get the paycheque.

    ‘Padding’ a story out with character interchange is not quite the same thing as it deepens and enrichens a story rather being detrimental to the core narrative and it makes us care about even the most incidental of characters. Which, as you rightly say, is probably why Talons is considered a classic and, say, Resurrection of the Daleks isn’t. (If Holmes had got hold of that story then I’m sure he would have been able to make characters like Stein, Lytton etc much more vivid and the bloodbath of the final episode much more gut-wrenching because of it.) It’s the work that Holmes put in in Talons, for example, that’s the reason that people are still listening to the adventures of Jago and Litefoot today.

    I’d say that you know perfectly well that ‘progressing the characterisation’ isn’t padding

    No, story is definitely character. (Especially in the case of Amy and Rory.) Bad Who I suspect can almost always be traced back to not enough care taken over characterisation — ciphers and cliches being used instead of ‘real’ good character writing. But it’s really up to the writer how far he wants to go with it, I guess. And it’s something Holmes had to learn as much as anyone. Look at his first story, The Krotons. Another one I love and my first introduction to Troughton really but in many ways it’s a very identikit Who story that doesn’t really have Holmes’s later trademarks for thought and characterisation in it at all. (To this day, I can only guess that the Krotons targeted the Gonds because as a race they were so boring that they assumed they would never be missed.)

    In many ways, not paying enough attention to character is less forgivable in Old Who than Nu Who because new writers have the tyranny of the 45-min episode to deal with. In some of the especially high-concept episodes, you might find that something is going to have to go and that could well be some of the interesting character stuff.

    Which is why, I guess, Moffatt is considered the ‘best’ of the Who writers — certainly with Blink and Girl in the Fireplace — because these are very high-concept stories but they have not forgotten that it is how characters react to these concepts that is the important thing. Blink is also a good example of him fulfilling all three of @bluesqueakpip‘s criteria at once — developing the narrative, developing character, saying something funny. Actually, this is where I think Gattiss might fall down a bit and where my slight reservations of him becoming showrunner come in — he can certainly do high concept and he can do good character work but he seems to struggle to combine the two. The same with Chibnall actually.

    But with Old Who you could be forgiven for asking why every story wasn’t as good as Talons or The Invasion when the writers had the same amount of time to develop their characters and so on. But, of course, that’s just being churlish. It’s down to the capability/dedication of the individual writer but they don’t have the excuse of saying ‘I would have done it better if I’d had a longer running time’.

    Anonymous @

    btw, I could move the Amy posts as per @bluesqueakpip‘s requests but I think they would then be posted under my name which is hardly ideal. (I don’t know if @craig would be able to do anything different. But if the original posters could repost their posts in the Companions thread I can then happily delete them from the Weng-Chiang one to avoid any duplication…

    HTPBDET @htpbdet


    Shall we wait for Craig? I could repost mine, but they would not be in order?

    Or could you re-order them when done?

    I’ll come back to you in defence of Krotons


    Nick @nick


    Finally something I don’t fully agree with (again off topic though)

    But with Old Who you could be forgiven for asking why every story wasn’t as good as Talons or The Invasion when the writers had the same amount of time to develop their characters and so on.

    When you look at the number of episodes and stories in a typical season of old who (7 stories with the show being on  TV for average of around 25 to 30 weeks a year) the production team was busy on the shooting side of things (last minute rewrites by the script editor, tweeking characters for casting changes etc etc) I suspect that there was actually less time to focus on the scripts than today. There also wasn’t the same sort of post production time before the episodes were shown (many special effects were added live on the shooting day for example), limiting re-editing and reshoots (not sure if they do this today). The other thing we probably forget that there was much more weekly drama programmes being shown which were made in the same shooting style which used many of the same writers as Who (Z Cars springs to mind, but I know there were others).

    In fact I think one of the script weaknesses of modern Who is that there are so many stories per season which SM and RTD have scripted that sometimes I fear too little time is available for them to focus on the other scripts. Many of the best non-RTD/SM stories have come from reworking prior art (eg Dalek, Human Nature, Blink). RTD also had SM, but I don’t think SM has a writer of quite the same caliber in his team). The specials and half season presentations we had in 2008 and 2012/13 should also contribute to a much higher story standard ?


    Anonymous @

    @nick — I was definitely being a bit unfair on old Who writers and, yes, they did have a lot of pressures on them so it is rather unfair to expect them to produce genius every time out. As well as from the production team’s POV, a lot of those guys were juggling multiple commissions and didn’t really have the time to make everything sing. There was definitely a lot more drama being produced back in those days so these guys were often really hammering it out.

    Good point also with regards to the pressures of modern Who. I’d personally be happy with a series of 8 episodes that more time and care could be taken over and which wouldn’t necessitate things like Doctor or Companion Lite episodes.

    @htpbdet — yeah, I didn’t think you’d let me get away with that Krotons one. I’ll look forward to hearing your thoughts 😉

    @everyone — I’ve moved the obviously Amy/Rory-centric posts to the companion thread but decided to leave the ones with that also contributed to the Talons debate here. I thought that to do otherwise would be too fracturing and confusing but any further Amy/Rory thoughts should go in the Companions thread purlease….

    Craig @craig

    @jimthefish and everyone else – I’ve copied the posts that featured both topics – you probably got more emails about them as it is basically posting again so I apologise for that. I think I’ve put them all in the right order too!

    Jim, thanks for moving the others. I think copying is something not built in so I had to bodge it by re-posting as myself then changing the poster in the database. But if I find a way you can do it I’ll let you know.

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