The Talons Of Weng-Chiang (1977 UK)

d w 2If there is one genre the BBC used to do so well in the 70s it was the costume drama and perhaps this is why this eccentric gem is the peak of classic Dr Who. It is set in the foggy streets of Victorian London where the deerstalker-wearing Fourth Doctor and Leela are searching for the abductor of young women; okay, so far so cliched. What is lurking in the sewers? Well, a very big cuddly rat that screams like a bitch for starters…

But what connects the dark plot to Li H’Sen Chang, a Fu Manchu-like leader of a Tong group and a sinister illusionist? How can Chang get Mr Sin, his ventriloquist’s dummy, to appear so alive? Is the Doctor the only time traveller walking the 19th century’s most important city? This is a superb story written by Robert Holmes, the series’ greatest writer and script-editor. Plus its the last story directed by the great David Maloney and the last adventure to be produced by Phillip Hinchcliffe.

Maloney cleverly shot a lot of the adventure on location and therefore we get a tangible sense of atmospheric tension. So the wild set of plot influences (Conan Doyle’s Holmes, Rohmer’s Fu Manchu and Laroux’s Phantom) are grounded into as much reality as any story which features a poverty – stricken budget oinking like a pig at its climax can possibly hope or strive for. Tom Baker would never be so consistently brilliant again and arguably the show would be caught in a tailspin for many years in the Williams and Nathan Turner eras.

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But Louise Jamieson is also superb as Leela at her bravest and most heroic. Add in great roles for John Bennett as the honourable but villianous Chang, Christopher Benjamin as the lovable theatrical fraud, Henry Gordon Jago. Then there’s Michael Spice and Deep Roy who both deserve special praise for portraying menace purely through gestures and voices under bulky masks as Magnus Greel and Sin. For many, it represents the peak of the show and it isn’t difficult to see why. The characterization is superb with an intricate plot, bravura performances and an atmosphere that is evoked so perfectly.

Misty streets at night time during the Jack The Ripper era, menacing sewer scenes and stalking killers parading the alleyways of London. As for it not “mirroring real life issues”, many would say that Science Fiction is a means to escape from realities hence the tag “Fantasy” that is often labelled alongside programmes such as Dr Who. Buy this dvd to see what magic Dr Who truly is. On a side note, some fools have claimed this story to be racist. I say tish and pish to those claims. Such people are unworthy to even carry Tom Baker’s jockstrap. If this tale be racist then I am a Chinaman.

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