The Talons of Weng-Chiang

If any evidence were needed that Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes are basically the same character, this is it. (On a topical note: how about Benedict Cumberbatch to replace Matt Smith?) The Victorian London setting is dark and dangerous, and the Doctor absolutely falls neatly into the role of the sleuthy detective, with Leela providing the muscle.

At no point does the Doctor say "it's elementary, my dear Leela" - unfortunately.

At no point does the Doctor say “it’s elementary, my dear Leela” – unfortunately.

But this isn’t a case of a logically minded thinker unravelling a complex hoax, it is an otherworldly time-traveller thwarting another otherworldly time-traveller from unleashing the power of a magic box. The locals have got no chance. Nevertheless, it is amusing to see how easily the Doctor is accepted into the role of police helper – he has such a strong presence he can simply assume authority in any situation – and it’s done with wit and charm (psychic paper not required).

The disfigured face of the villain is only seen for a few brief moments, but it leaves quite an impression.

The disfigured face of the villain is only seen for a few brief moments, but it leaves quite an impression.

Again, this story mixes humour with horror, with bizarre and monstrous foes ranging from oversized rats to undersized men, and amusing exchanges of dialogue such as Leela asking what the name of the local tribe is, and the Doctor replying “cockneys”.

The pig-brained robotic homunculus. Creepy.

The pig-brained robotic homunculus. Creepy.

However, there is an unsophisticated air of mild racism present here, not the least of which with the obviously English man made-up with false eyelids to look Chinese and put on a “me so solly” type accent, while characters refer to him as “yellow”, etc. I found it quite uncomfortable in parts, and that’s a shame, as I think Robert Holmes’ scripts normally rise above such things.

Mr. Jago discusses business with his star act, Li H'sen Chang.

Mr. Jago discusses business with his star act, Li H’sen Chang.

Elsewhere, two of the supporting characters, Professor Litefoot and the theatre owner Mr. Jago, are well-written and performed and I could probably watch a whole episode of them blustering about and getting into scraps. I also enjoyed Leela reacting to things completely alien to her and failing to be a ‘proper lady’.

Jago and Litefoot hatch a plot to catch the killer.

Jago and Litefoot hatch a plot to catch the killer.

It’s a good setting, with a moody visual style (although at times I found it too dark to see what was happening). Another six-parter, the plot is nothing special, but thanks to some sharp dialogue and another stellar performance from Tom Baker, it is never less than watchable.


4 responses to “The Talons of Weng-Chiang

  1. Oh lord – will we ever get a review of TALONS which doesn’t pander to lazy assumptions about racism? Firstly, there is nothing intrinsically racist about having one’s eyes made up to look Chinese so long as it’s not being done as a parody. Secondly, Li H’sen doesn’t speak with anything approaching a “me so solly” accent except possibly in his stage act where even then it’s made clear that he’s doing it deliberately to pander to the audience’s prejudices. Lastly, the only time “yellow” is mentioned is as an intentionally ironic joke against stereotypes as it is again with “I understand we all look alike”. L

  2. There’s nothing intrinsically racist even about all the villains being Chinese as the baddies here are a Chinese tong which is almost by definition racially defined. One might as well call The Godfather racist for giving all the mafia Italian accents. The only potential racism lies in the decision to cast a Caucasian actor rather than a Chinese one in the role of Li H’sen.

    • Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and post a comment! I suppose the least I can do is take the time to reply.

      To clarify: I don’t think there’s anything *intrinsically* racist about any of those individual things, just this particular instance was a combination that resulted in what I called “an air of mild racism”. There’s no absolute definitions for racism, everything is a matter of degrees, interpretation, context, intent, and so on.

      I’m sorry you feel I’ve made lazy assumptions (I’m not sure what), but I can assure you that these are simply my own impressions as I watched the story for the first time. As I said, I found it a little uncomfortable. I make a point to not know anything about these episodes beforehand, so I was unaware of any prior criticism that may have been laid at it. That being the case, the fact that I found it mildly uncomfortable to watch, without knowing anybody else might have before me, suggests there is something to those criticisms, and it’s certainly worth bringing up.

      We’ll have to disagree on the specifics and the justifications in this case, not least because it’s been three months since I watched it and they’re slipping through my sieve-like memory. However, in short, I thought the eyelids looked awful, the accent was stereotypical rubbish, and making a joke about a racist joke doesn’t necessarily excuse it. Also, Italians aren’t a “race” – certainly not one with a history of bigotry aimed at them in the same way. Context is everything.

      Once again, thanks for taking the time to comment. It’s interesting to hear others’ interpretations, whatever they may be. I hope you find the rest of my blog similarly stimulating. 😉

  3. Big Finish have released a good few series of adventures for Jago and Litefoot

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