The Talons of Weng-Chiang

Special Edition:
Region 1
Special Edition

Region 2
"Revisitations 1"
Box Set
VHS Video
(Doctor Who Story No. 91, starring Tom Baker)
  • written by Robert Holmes
  • directed by David Maloney
  • produced by Philip Hinchcliffe
  • music by Dudley Simpson
  • 6 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: While jungle-born companion Leela humorously struggles to master Victorian wardrobe and etiquette, the Doctor dons his best Sherlock Holmes outfit to investigate the disappearances of young women in a London district. Do the rumours of Jack the Ripper hold any water? What is the mysterious phantom that has been haunting Henry Jago's opera house? Is his star oriental master of mesmerism one of the leading members of the Tong of the Black Scorpion? As the Doctor digs deeper, the answers may have more to do with the 51st century than the 19th....

"Special Edition" DVD extras (on 3 discs, no less) include:

  • Audio Commentary by actors Louise Jameson (Leela), John Bennett (Mr. Chang), Christopher Benjamin (Henry Gordon Jago),
    director David Maloney, & producer Philip Hinchcliffe.
  • New retrospective making-of featurette (32 min.) with Jameson, Benjamin, Maloney, Hinchcliffe, Tom Baker (The Doctor),
    Trevor Baxter (Professor Litefoot), designer Roger Murray-Leach, and costume designer John Bloomfield.
  • "Whose Doctor Who" (59 min.) - a 1977 documentary focusing on the British audience's appeal for and reaction to the horror elements of the show. Features many clips from earlier years of the show and some behind the scenes footage from "The Talons of Weng-Chiang".
  • "The Foe from the Future" concept idea featurette (7 min.) with writer Robert Banks Stewart.
  • "Now and Then" location featurette (11 min.)
  • Raw video tape studio footage in BW (24 min.)
  • 1977 Philip Hinchcliffe interview (11 min.)
  • "Moving On" Philip Hinchcliffe's unused ideas interview (4 min.)
  • Blue Peter: Make Your Own Doctor Who Theatre (26 min.) featuring Peter Purves and a segment on sound effects with Dick Mills
  • "Victoriana and Chinoiserie" literary reference featurette (8 min.)
  • "Music Hall" featurette (22 min.)
  • "Limehouse" story setting featurette (19 min.)
  • "Look East" 1977 Tom Baker interview during filming (4 min.)
  • New Photo Gallery montage
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
  • TARDIS-Cam No. 6 (2 min.)

Buyers' Guide Review

by Martin Izsak

(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed here.)

Sherlock Holmes meets My Fair Lady meets Jack the Ripper meets The Phantom of the Opera meets a reinvention of the Master. That might sum up this story's varied elements fairly well, but yet the whole manages to be somewhat greater than the sum of its parts, thanks in large part to Holmes' wittiest character writing to date, which leads to some outstanding performances.

A re-invention of the Master? Well, just look at Li Hsen Chang, with his sinister beard and mustache, elegant clothes and gait, confident and secretive mannerisms, and unbelievably overpowering skills at hypnosis - in essence, the aspects of the Master that we haven't seen since Roger Delgado last shone in the role during the Jon Pertwee era. And then Magnus Greel takes care of some of his other aspects (detailed further in the In-depth analysis version of this review). Between the two of them, they are the Master all over again in deed, even if we are denied the name this time around.

The Doctor's TARDIS makes a poor showing in this adventure. The materialization effect is skimped on, although its introductory shot retains a wonderful atmosphere, and the dematerialization close up at the end has virtually no background to clearly show an empty bit of street after the police box leaves. They may just as well have faded the picture to black. The interior is also ignored, perhaps just as well as this spares us the dark secondary control room.

Even though so many bits of traditional classics are borrowed and successfully woven into this single story, the actual on screen plot is not altogether very creative entertainment - a bit of a mish-mash of running around between what seems to be on the surface completely unrelated things. The silliest of these elements are the giant rats - particularly since the Doctor and Leela have specially dressed up to go to the theatre, it becomes both ridiculous and disgusting to see them end up strolling through sewage instead, never mind the cheesy realisation of the rats themselves down there. Filming of real rats in the false-scale model of the tunnels should at least have had an adjusted film speed to allow the rat's movements to aid the illusion of size. The on-screen plot develops at not too quick a pace, several times covering the same ground again, but we can be very thankful that the prisoner dynamic does not rear its ugly head, and that the Doctor and Leela jump right in and interact with the guest characters the whole time.

In the end though, it doesn't matter how much fluff the plot contains, because the characters are so entertaining in their own right, you stop caring what they're doing and just enjoy the fact that you get to see them. Henry Gordon Jago is a real treat, well written by Holmes and beautifully portrayed by Christopher Benjamin, last seen as Sir Keith Gold in "Inferno" (story no. 54). Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, and the rest of the cast are all in fine form, bringing a delightful ensemble to life. Leela is probably at her most entertaining here on the "My Fair Lady" character arc, straining to grow beyond her tribalism to embrace old English etiquette and grace as well. Unfortunately, the deadly poisonous Janis thorns are back, and considering his previous opinion of them, the Doctor seems sadly and uncharacteristically lax in his disapproval of them here.

As with "The Brain of Morbius" (story no. 84), many of the most interesting events do not happen on screen, but rather get narrated by characters unveiling their backstory. Li Hsen Chang gives us a good first dose of this with his tale of meeting Weng-Chiang, a moment most beautifully underscored by Dudley Simpson. But Magnus Greel's origins easily steal the show in the final episode and upstage the main action. The script builds in some disappointments with the conclusion of the story, which I will only detail in the In-depth Analysis version of this review. Set design is good all through the story, but the final grandiose set appearing in the last two episodes is exceptionally impressive. Whether it and the prop furniture really work well considering what drama takes place there is another matter.

We do get proper visual beam effects for weapons fire in this story, but this is played far too safely and minimally to receive much praise, particularly later on in the story. Disappointing. Say all you want about the production limitations of the time, director Pennant Roberts raised the bar on "The Face of Evil" (story no. 89), and David Maloney neither approaches it, nor matches his own superior work on "The Deadly Assassin" (story no. 88). At least it's better than the blob effects of previous years.

In the end, this turns out to be one of the better and more watchable stories of the Hinchcliffe era, and a good epic-length one for Hinchcliffe himself to bow out on. Although he and Holmes seem to be repeating the same horror/apocalypse elements over and over, they did at least get good at presenting it in better packaging in this late season fourteen run. In large part thanks to Jago's character, this story is good to the very last scene.

The David Maloney Stories Ranked (from best to worst):
  -Genesis of the Daleks (story no. 78)
  -The War Games (story no. 50)
  -The Deadly Assassin (story no. 88)
  -The Talons of Weng-Chiang (story no. 91)
  -Planet of Evil (story no. 81)
  -The Mind Robber (story no. 45)
  -The Krotons (story no. 47)
  -Planet of the Daleks (story no. 68)

Season Fourteen Rankings:

Best Story:

  1. The Deadly Assassin
  2. The Face of Evil
  3. The Talons of Weng-Chiang
  4. The Robots of Death
  5. The Hand of Fear
  6. The Masque of Mandragora

Best Writer:

  • Robert Holmes
  • Chris Boucher
  • Bob Baker & Dave Martin
  • Louis Marks

Best Director:

  • David Maloney (The Deadly Assassin)
  • Michael E. Briant
  • Pennant Roberts
  • David Maloney (The Talons of Weng-Chiang)
  • Lennie Mayne
  • Rodney Bennett

Best Music (during a Dudley Simpson monopoly):

  • The Deadly Assassin
  • The Robots of Death
  • The Talons of Weng-Chiang
  • The Masque of Mandragora
  • The Hand of Fear
  • The Face of Evil

Best Laser Effects:

  • The Deadly Assassin
  • The Face of Evil
  • The Talons of Weng-Chiang
  • The Masque of Mandragora
  • The Hand of Fear

This story has become available on DVD and VHS video.
Original release:
DVD NTSC Region 1
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K.

Original DVD Extras (on 2 discs) include:

  • Audio Commentary
  • "Whose Doctor Who" documentary (59 min.)
  • 1977 Philip Hinchcliffe interview (11 min.)
  • Raw video tape studio footage in BW (24 min.)
  • Blue Peter: Make Your Own Doctor Who Theatre (26 min.) with Dick Mills
  • TARDIS-Cam No. 6 (2 min.)
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
  • Photo Gallery (3 min.)
  • "Who's Who" text biographies (may feature on Region 1 discs only)

New Special Edition "Revisitations Volume 1" re-release:
DVD NTSC Region 1
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K.
VHS Video
NTSC A for North America
NTSC B for North America
PAL for the U.K.

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Read the Buyers' Guide Review for the next story: "Horror of Fang Rock"

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