Which One : Victorian intrigue with racist 70’s Chinese undertones.
Cast : The Doctor : Tom Baker
Leela : Louise Jamieson
Henry Jago : Christopher Benjamin
Professor Litefoot : Trevor Baxter
Li H’sen Chang : John Bennett
Mr Sin : Deep Roy
Weng-Chiang : Michael Spice
Casey : Chris Gannon
Buller : Alan Butler
Lee : Tony Then
Ho : Vincent Wong
Coolie : John Wu
Sergeant : David McKail
PC Quick : Conrad Asquith
Teresa : Judith Lloyd
Cleaning Woman : Vaune Craig-Raymond
Singer : Penny Lister
Conducter : Dudley Simpson
Ghoul : Patsy Smart
Written By : Robert Holmes.
Produced By : Philip Hinchcliffe
First UK Broadcast : 26 February – 2 April 1977.
Length : 6 x 25 minute parts.
Plot : The Doctor visits the Theatre, in Victorian London – in an attempt to “culture” Leela. After meeting the mysterious Chinese magician; Li H’sen Chang – the Doctor learns that young girls have gone missing and investigates.
Whats good : Dark period piece, with a surprising lot of location work. Phantom Of The Opera & Sherlock Holmes influenced.
Whats bad : Racist Fu Man-Chu white-man Chinese stereotypes.
Review With Spoilers : Talons Of Weng-Chiang is the 6th episode and season finale of season 14. It is a Victorian period murder-mystery piece and due to alot of location work, it has a uniquely authentic Victorian feel -about it.
The Doctor’s new assistant, Dr Litefoot – plays something of a Dr Watson to the Doctor’s deer stalkered Sherlock Holmes. We even have nod to Pygmalion with the Doctor’s attempts to culture Leela.
The scenes of the Doctor chasing Weng-Chiang through the theatre, up and down ladders and swinging around on ropes, borrows a page straight from The Phantom Of The Opera.
Talons Of Weng-Chiang has, in retrospect – received some largely unfair criticism about being racist. Mainly this charge is levelled at the lack of ethnic actors in prominent parts; it has also been levelled at John Bennet’s turn – as Li H’sen Chang.
This is due to a white actor being made to look like an asian, which has received its fair share of criticism. To be fair though, it is not a reflection of Who directly but more of a sign-of the-times; in which it was made.
“I’m trying to teach you, Leela. Surely you’d like to see how your ancestors enjoyed themselves? Splendid. That’s why I’m taking you to the theatre. Li H’sen Chang. Hmm, pity. I’d rather hoped we’d catch Little Tich. Never mind. If we hurry we’ll just catch the second house!” The Doctor
You only have to look at Breakfast At Tiffanys or any of the Christopher Lee’s Hammer Horror turns in Fu-Man Chu. Looking past the makeup, John Bennet is actually rather good as Li H’sen Chang. He manages to give this character an enigmatic quasi-evil/tragic backstory.
The standout horror in Talons Of Weng-Chiang is the introduction of the wooden midget doll; Mr Sin, which Li H’sen Chang uses to do his dirty chinese laundry (literally by sneaking him around in a laundry basket).
Mr Sin is really creepy and wooden-looking, in a “Chucky” sort of way, especially that oh-so purposefully slow jerky walk – whilst persuing his victims, which is common in Horror movies.
The other moment of notable horror, is; the brief unveiling of Weng Chiang’s real face, as Leela pulls his mask off. After he attacks her with chloroform. It’s a fleeting glimpse of a mutated individual and is almost a “blink-and-you might-miss-it” moment; but it is effective – nonetheless.
It is no surprise then, that Talons Of Weng-Chiang is so highly regarded amongst the fanbase, as one of the best ever episodes. It was also a season finale, so it had alot to live upto. Especially, as it didn’t include any previously featured classic monsters.
Weng Chiang, Li H’sen Chang and Mr Sin more than fill in and create memorable villains, in their own right. Coupled with all of the classic influences and good location work. Talons Of Weng-Chiangis a classic.