Doctor Who: The
Talons of Weng-Chiang (Special Edition/BBC DVD)
Picture: B- Sound: B- Extras: A+ Episodes: A
What would you get if Tom Baker’s Doctor Who channeled the
spirit of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, then faced off against Fu
Manchu? Why, you’d get The
Talons of Weng-Chiang, Doctor
Who story No. 91, and you’d also get one of the best overall Who
stories ever made! The Doctor travels
back to Victorian London in the 1890s to show his companion Leela (Louise
Jameson) how her ancestors lived, but the pair get more than they bargained for
when they run afoul of the dastardly minions of Weng-Chiang!
The pair quickly get stuck into events in London when they
run into a murder in progress, perpetrated by a group of Black Scorpion Tong
gangsters. These Chinese gangsters
escape, save one, and he, the Doctor, and Leela get arrested by a London bobby.
At the station they meet Li H'sen Chang,
a stage magician and secret master of the Black Scorpions. Under the guise of an interpreter, he slips
the captured gangster a poison pill, and the man commits suicide! From there the pace quickens, and the Doctor
begins to unravel the mystery surrounding Li H'sen Chang, and his dark master,
Famous for its many Victorian flourishes, twists, turns,
and clever references to classic fiction (not to mention the giant sewer rats),
Talons of Weng-Chiang features Mr. Baker at the zany height of his
powers. This story also introduces
quasi-companion Professor Litefoot (Trevor Baxter), a coroner cursed with the
curiosity needed to make him a useful aid to the Doctor. As many have found in the past, traveling
with a Time Lord can prove hazardous to one’s health!
This three disc, special edition set includes a host of
cool extras. Many of these features also
appeared on the previous release of this story from 2003, but some are new to
this release. Some highlights include: five commentaries, “The Last Hurrah” (a documentary featuring Mr. Baker and producer
Philip Hinchcliffe), "Victoriana and
Chinoiserie" (discussion of the literary influences in the story),
"Limehouse: A Victorian Chinatown"
(a talk about the real historical Chinese areas of London), more Blue
Peter scenes featuring the Doctor, and a lengthy interview with Mr.
This story’s only real failing lies in the producers’
decision to use non-Chinese actors to portray the principal Chinese
characters. It almost seems that by the
late 1970s and early 1980s, BBC should have been over this. Is it borderline racist to do this? Tom Baker and Mr. Hinchcliffe broach the
topic in “The Last Hurrah”, and the
discussion is worth a watch. Still, this
aside, The Talons of Weng-Chiang Special Edition gives this
amazing arc the attention it so richly deserves.
- Scott Pyle