The Talons of Weng-Chiang part 4

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  • #13241
    Craig @craig
    Emperor

    To add to all the other Victoriana references there’s a bit of Pygmalion thrown in this week as the Doctor and Leela attend the theatre. There’s a battle of nerves and cunning between the Doctor and Chang and, after a death or two, Weng-Chiang closes in on the cabinet. The mystery of the laundry basket scene last week is revealed to be a blinder of misdirection by Robert Holmes worthy of any stage magician.

    Once again, if you’ve seen it NO SPOILERS. And apologies for the quality this week, one of the parts was missing on YouTube. I find if you squint a bit, or sit further away from the screen, it helps. I did say you should buy it and still recommend you do. You can get it from the BBC shop as part of a box set for under £14 that also includes Caves of Androzani (which I’m guessing we may also watch at some point) and the TV movie, featuring the only televised appearance of the eighth Doctor.

    #13270
    stevethewhistle @steve-thorp

    At last, a need for the giant rat! (let’s hope that that is the end of it)

    I was wondering whose dead body would appear in the knife cabinet (and when).

    The revolver and card trick provided entertaining misdirections from the main plot.

    Interesting to see how Chang has changed from being the main hated baddie to a pitiable, badly-treated victim in four episodes.

    The big question, whose answers are slowly being revealed is “Who and what are Mr Sin and the so-called Weng-Chiang”.

    You don’t see many cliff-hangers where no-one is about to be killed (although it is not certain if the professor is dead or alive) and it is difficult to work out what will happen next, and where and when it will happen.

    Any bonkers theories out there?

    #13271
    stevethewhistle @steve-thorp

    Sorry for a second post so soon, but I have just realised that the ending is about the only part of the episode where the possibility of someone’s immanent death doesn’t occur.

    #13272
    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord

    My DVD player was acting up earlier. I think it was sulking because watching an episode a week is against the natural order in chez Phaseshift. Now working and I’ve caught up.

    Loved Litefoot getting all embarrassed about buying clothes for a young lady “especially given all the rum stuff they wear”. Jago is great again, bragging to Casey about “his fellow sleuth”, counterbalanced by the look of fear when the Doctor assures him they will meet their fate alone, without backup. Lovely little glint in Baker’s eye at that.

    Alas, poor Casey. Still – if you are going to go, having your corpse used by a Machiavellian fiend to embarrass his erstwhile servant to a packed house is a corker. They would have been talking about that for weeks!

    Jago’s obviously grief stricken as he contemplates charging “a bob a nob” to visit The Lair. I quite like the scene where Chang relates how Weng Chiang entered his world. It has a nice undercurrent of pathos and the description is enough to make you understand why he may have automatically assumed he was dealing with a god. Then off to join his ancestors, presuming they also ended up in the belly of a giant rat. I think that back shot of it attacking him was probably one of the most effective shots of the thing.

    As stevethewhistle(@steve-thorp) said, not so much a cliffhanger this week, although that was top class maniacal laughter from Weng Chiang as he rides of with his Cabinet. At least a seven on the “nutter” scale.

    #13274
    chickenelly @chickenelly

    Started this week, how I ended last time – laughing at the giant rat (well classic Doctor Who was notorious for some of its rubbery, unconvincing monsters which is part of the charm).

    I’m finding Tom Baker quite sinister in this episode – ie the bit where Chang is going to shoot the ace of diamonds out of the pack and the Doctor moves the pack in front of his face.

    My main observation this week is that it’s looking like half of the main characters in the story have been bumped off and we’ve still got two episodes to go.

    @craig, your list of the contents of the dvd put in mind a possible suggestion for a future joint watch.  Dare I say it – the Spielberg movie?  Is it as bad as we all remembered?

     

    #13275
    wolfweed @wolfweed

    This episode sees Jago reach his Alliterative Apotheosis.
    He starts off with the great line: ‘I’m about to repair for half a foot of port.’
    Then it’s on to talk about Mrs Samuelson and later, Litefoot mentions Mrs Hudson, both of whom we never see.
    towc
    Interesting to see the Dr trounce Leela at draughts (checkers over the water), because in ‘The Mind of Evil’, Jo decimates the Dr at the game, whereupon he complains that it’s too simple. 3-D chess on the other hand…
    (A series or two later of course, we’ll see K9 & the Dr battle at chess…
    A game with an important role in the McCoy ‘arc’ and with no. 11 in NIS…)

    No wonder we feel sorry for Chang – His ex Boss reaffirms that he’s now free to live his own life, then destroys his reputation & career just because he’s not a ‘real’ magician!

    #13278
    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    @wolfweed – Yes, it’s a bit difficult to recover from a corpse dropping out of your ‘death of a thousand cuts’ illusion.

    The rat is looking more and more like Roland to me. But on the whole this is another good episode; while you can spot the padding, things are moving along. The cabinet is stolen by Weng Chiang, the laundry basket is explained (in the main hallway? In a Victorian house? Surely the laundry would have been taken into the servants’ quarters), Casey is murdered and Chang gets eaten. Oh, and we get to see a clip from The Good Old Days; but I’ll forgive them that – even Nu-Who has occasionally taken time out for a full scale musical number.

    #13284
    Anonymous @

    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.)

    Episode four is a bit better in terms of progressing story. We have the death of Chang and the stealing of the Time Cabinet but we also have to sit through Chang’s magic act, Litefoot’s shopping expedition and more of the Jago/Casey double-act. Not that any of this is particularly onerous. It’s all great character stuff — and as I said helps make Casey’s death much more pitiable than if he had just been some two-line wonder who had met his end. Jago was great also (although on this viewing he’s been reminding a bit too much of the late Michael Winner for me to warm to him quite as much as I used to.) John Bennett is great in this episode too. This is one of the best Chang episodes I think and the one where he transforms from devilish villain to pitiful dupe in one fell swoop.

    A big shout-out to Louise Jameson as Leela again. She’s had some heavy competition in this episode but she really shines. She really was a greatly underrated companion. Her ‘so he’s like a bag with a hole in it’ once again illustrates that Leela is far from an idiot and for all her ‘savagery’ she instinctively grasps the hi-falutin’ concepts that are the Doctor’s domain. It’s interesting that rather than being a meek receptacle for the Doctor’s knowledge, she often undercuts it slightly. Pertwee’s Doctor would have hated her.

    Another fun episode. It doesn’t drag or feel like a chore as many Old-Who filler episodes do, but it is still filler. Chang’s death aside, you could have gone straight from Leela and the Doctor escaping the sewers to Weng-Chiang taking the Time Cabinet and nothing would have been lost in terms of narrative. And why did they go to the theatre anyway? To draw out their enemies? They had the Time Cabinet. Why didn’t the Doctor just wait at Litefoot’s for Weng-Chiang to show up as he was bound to? Well, they’ve still got a couple of episodes to fill out, that’s why…

    And Mr Sin — he’s still a creepy-assed thing even to this day. One of the best Who creatures ever. I hope he shows up in an episode of the Paternoster Gang. I remember seeing him at the Blackpool exhibition that year and he gave me the wiggins there too. The whole Weng-Chiang display that year is indelibly etched on my memory. It was really creepy. Mr Sin, Weng-Chiang and the Distillation Cabinet I seem to remember…

    oh, and with regards to future DVD ‘reviews’, @chickenelly‘s idea for the Movie is a good one (although I’m pretty sure that Speilberg had nothing to do with it whatsoever. Wasn’t it a Fox TV production?) but I’d still like to put a shoutout for a late McCoy — Fenric, or preferably, Ghostlight — bearing in mind our recent discussion of just how much they contain the seeds of Nu-Who in them…

    #13288
    ScaryB @scaryb

    I’m really enjoying watching these on the slow road. Am also enjoying the pacing, particularly spending time getting to know Jago, Litefoot and Casey.  Jago’s mostly bluff and showmanship, but there’s a sense of a decency underneath it all, particularly in his relationship with Casey. Casey? Noooooo 🙁

    And I love Litefoot, he’s so sweet. He has some of the attitudes of his time, particularly as a child of the colonies. He obviously has a love of China and its culture (tho less of an understanding of its people – not surprising having been brought up in an ex-pat community). He’s establishment, is obviously well off, and yet seems to be a bit of an outsider. There doesn’t appear to be a Mrs Litefoot, or family or friends; He works unsocial hours as a pathologist, dealing with the unpleasant business of bodies. I hope he’s OK. (He’d a narrow squeak the other week when Sin broke in, not sure why he wasn’t killed then, so is this his time?) I won’t be happy if we lose him on top of Casey!

    Chan is a great villain, and Bennett plays him well. I’m really starting to feel sympathy for him. He’s devoted himself to a being who has enough powers to effectively be a god to a man from Chan’s time and place. He’s been given powers as a reward (more likely for W-C’s benefit (upgrade the servant)) but I don’t get the sense he is helping for rewards, but because he believes in his “master”.  Who, as @jimthefish points out, totally humiliates him.

    Chan expressed some regret for the missing girls last week “But they are missed lord” – more in the delivery of it than he actual words. And this week we see him broken, and admitting to the Dr that his faith was misplaced. “He came like a god. He appeared in a blazing cabinet of fire…. I was but a humble peasant…”  Which is a nice callback to his line on stage about killing 15 peasants to perfect the card trick, and highlights how much of an act Li H’Sen Chan puts on.

    Was Chan’s plan to kill the Dr with the card trick? Why didn’t he? Or was he really trying to get him into the cabinet of death so that W-C could finish him off? (He promised W-C he would do it himself, as he was loading the gun). There were some nice touches in the theatre scenes, although I agree there was a fair bit of padding. I particularly liked Baker racking up the tension as he moves the pack of cards next to his face, saying nothing in words, all with the look.

    @chickenelly and others – I highy recommend the DVD  compilation – Revisitations 1 (Talons, Caves of Androzani (so a yes please from me to discuss that one!!)  and… <shudders!> the TV Movie (is that the Spielberg one you’re talking about? I didn’t know he was connected with it). The visual quality for Talons is excellent, and a massive improvement on the youtube clips (appreciated as they are!).  One warning tho – the rat is not improved in any way by better definition and less dark

    #13289
    ScaryB @scaryb

    @bluesqueakpip The laundry basket – the plot would still have worked if the basket had been taken to the servants area, but would have needed a scene there to show Sin getting out of it. And there would have been fewer opportunities for the viewer to see it.  Watching it first time round, I think it took me till the third pass to go… “ooooh” (I’m not quick on these things, LOL)

    And Litefoot’s is a slightly unconventional household (see post above about Litefoot) – Victorian gentleman bachelor and all that. Maybe Mrs Hudson had a day off!

    #13290
    ScaryB @scaryb

    And the DVD is of course titled Revisitations 1 (not Rervisitations).  If any mods @craig @phaseshift want to edit the last paragraph of the post above I’d much appreciate it!!)

    I have a choice of 2 keyboards at the moment – 1 that goes through a set of batteries every 2-3 days (and no, I don’t type so much for that to be reasonable) then sticks, and 1 which works but where all the letters have been wiped off.  New one on order 🙂

    #13292
    Anonymous @

    @scaryb – that’s really funny about your letters being wiped off.  I have a vintage 2002 (maybe 2003? can’t remember) laptop where most of the letters no longer show.

    I had such a laugh with the Virgin cable guy in my last house in London, who needed to type something to get my service going, and got totally flustered – ‘where is the N key?!?’ – and I said, ‘it’s where it always is.’

    I’m so glad I learnt to type on a typewriter (yes, I’m aging myself!) with totally blank keys.  Because now all that show on my laptop keyboard are Q, W, P, and T – Y – U.  🙂

    #13298
    ScaryB @scaryb

    @Shazzbot You obviously cope with it much better than me 🙂

    #13301
    chickenelly @chickenelly

    Why did I get Spielberg in my head about the tv movie?  Wasn’t he involved in it at a very early stage?  Then probably thought better of it.

    Anyway a re-evaluation or perhaps (more likely) a confirmation of our first opinions is a possibility for a future joint rewatch.

    #13306
    wolfweed @wolfweed

    @chickenelly

    I think that Geoffrey Sax, the director of the tv movie was directly part of Amblin when they were first trying to negotiate the rights. But by the time these rights were secured, said director was independent of Spielberg.

    I’m sure someone can out-nerd me on the details, though…
    sax object

    #13321
    stevethewhistle @steve-thorp

    @chickenelly and others.

    As I have bought Revisitations 1, I would be interested in a joint rewatch of “The Caves Of Androzani” (which I don’t think that I have watched) and “The Movie”, which I switched off at the time because I thought that it didn’t seem like Doctor Who (not British enough).

    My views may have changed having seen the AG style, and I am not afraid to admit that I can be wrong.

    #13323
    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord

    @jimthefish

    I agree, the little analogies by Leela were a great way of explaining the concepts of the show without having the Doctor talk down to her. It showed that though she didn’t necessarily have much “tesh”/tech knowledge she was intelligent and tried to work things out in her own way. I think that combined with her curiosity were great character traits.

    I still love the scene in Robots of Death and her equivalent of an “it’s bigger on the inside” moment. Basically she demands an explanation. And she gets one. Of a kind.

    Great moment well worth revisiting if anyone wants the explanation (no spoilers about 1.5 min long):

    #13324
    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord

    @chickenelly @wolfweed and others

    (Jumps up and down in excitement at the request for a nerd)

    Philip Segal was Exec Producer and he was at Amblin trying to negotiate rights, but more on behalf of Universal, who owned Amblin. He’d worked with the Director before. Universal produced it for Fox as a trial commission.

    Spielberg actually was involved in an earlier attempt by Disney to buy Doctor Who. He left that attempt early after he had a disagreement with Disney. They wanted to launch a TV show with their Touchstone Television brand and he suggested only the Disney brand would work for a character like that. It didn’t happen. I don’t think he had any involvement with the Segal work at all.

    It’s an interesting idea on the movie. We should finish Talons on the 20th, and we were going to launch a conversation about McGann on the Faces thread for August, so it could work. It’s not episodic though, so won’t have the same feel.

    If people have the Revisitations 1 box set, Caves of Andrazani at 4 weeks is a good one. I do like @jimthefish s suggestions of something from McCoy. Ghostlight seems to divide people, so it might be a good one to enter a story which isn’t always taken to be an automatic “classic”.

    #13331
    overunder @jamesunderscore

    Sad to see the back of Chang – it was a brilliant turn by the actor, and I fear without his rather more restrained presence, the villainy of the piece may be about to descend into cackling silliness. Mr Sin is effectively creepey, but I am finding Weng Chiang a somewhat less convincing adversary, and for someone who is supposed to be so close to death that he needs to use young women like a Capri Sun, he does seem rather spry.

    But that’s the only bum note for me right now – the story is engaging, and I found myself genuinely concerned about Lightfoot when Mr Sin went for the Time Cabinet. I wonder if he and Jago will meet at some point? I fear there will be some sort of blustery victorian explosion if they do!

    Oh, and that moment where the Doctor very deliberately moves the cards in front of his face – chills!

    I even liked the rat this time, but what on earth was Leela on about with that “punctured bag of water” analogy?

    Re. next episode, for selfish reasons I would definitely like a McCoy, and preferably one of Ghostlight, Curse of Fenric, or Survival as I’ve never seen them. I wouldn’t mind taking a week off in between this and that for the movie, though.

    #13401
    HTPBDET @htpbdet

    DOCTOR:               Leela? Leela, are you all right?
    LEELA:                    Oh, thank you, Doctor. Yes, I’m all right, just bruised.
    DOCTOR:               You were lucky.
    LEELA:                    I deserve death. I had the chance to kill our enemy, Doctor, and I failed.
    DOCTOR:               Which enemy?
    LEELA:                    The yellow one calls him lord. He lives in a cave beneath the theatre. Come, I will   show you.

    Episode four is, I think, my favourite of the six episodes.  And it really belongs to Jago and Chang, two of the crispest and fully formed supporting characters Robert Holmes ever provided. Litefoot makes three, of course, but he is on the back-burner here while Robert Holmes distracts us with shenanigans at the theatre.

    It does not seem to me a second is wasted here and no matter how many times I see this episode, it never fails to beguile and entertain. Once you have seen Chang’s magic show, it necessarily loses a lot of impact, but, even so, it does not drag for me.

    Tom Baker is at his imperious aloof best; Louise Jameson is just wonderful as Leela; Jago sets up the effect the murder of Casey will have on us and his conversations about money explain why things are so lax at the theatre to permit the kind of toing and froing that Weng-Chiang needs to run amok; the humiliation of Chang is as good (or bad!) as cold-blooded murder – Weng-Chiang knows his servant well enough and although Chang might be too wily for him face-to-face, he counts on the deceit with Casey’s dead body being enough to ensure  Chang will take his life by his own hand – thereby hopefully denying the Doctor a way into understanding Weng-Chiang’s world.

    It seems clear too that the Doctor did see Chang dispense scorpion venom in episode one:

    DOCTOR:   No poison tonight. There are questions to answer.

    And the ending…the surprise reveal that Mr Sin had secured the Time Cabinet for Weng-Chiang and the two of them celebrating their victory in the cab, while Mr Sin howls at the moon…well, I think it is one of the most evocative and clever cliff-hangers in BG Doctor Who.

    I love this episode.

    @jimthefish
    Another fun episode. It doesn’t drag or feel like a chore as many Old-Who filler episodes do, but it is still filler. Chang’s death aside, you could have gone straight from Leela and the Doctor escaping the sewers to Weng-Chiang taking the Time Cabinet and nothing would have been lost in terms of narrative. And why did they go to the theatre anyway? To draw out their enemies? They had the Time Cabinet. Why didn’t the Doctor just wait at Litefoot’s for Weng-Chiang to show up as he was bound to? Well, they’ve still got a couple of episodes to fill out, that’s why…
    Perhaps.

    I always thought they went to the theatre to bring pressure to bear on Chang. The Doctor knew why women were disappearing and he knew Chang was the key to stopping that. He went to the theatre expecting Chang to try to kill him and hoping to turn that to his advantage. He needed to know who Weng-Chiang was, because he knew he wasn’t a God.

    If the Doctor had simply waited for Weng-Chiang to come back for the Cabinet, innocent lives might have been lost as Weng-Chiang got strong enough to make the assault. The Doctor could not have predicted the Trojan Horse laundry basket with Mr Sin. So he went to the theatre to try and force Chang’s hand, thinking Litefoot was safe because of the police protection. No?

    But, more than that, wouldn’t the story have been so much less without these scenes?

    #13602
    Whisht @whisht

    If nothing else, the stage show of Chang’s gives us some drama (“why are you moving the cards??!?”) as well as the rather nice mirroring of Chang’s “magic” cabinet and Chiang’s ‘magic’ cabinet.

    I don’t think I saw this as a kid, but I wonder how lost I’d have been wondering whether the Doctor said “Chang” or “Chiang” at times.

    I am loving this and everyone’s appreciation and discussion around the writer’s craft – it’s a real education for me!

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