Doctor Who #451: The Talons of Weng-Chiang Part 2

"Ah, now, let's see what we have here. Mrs Hudson always leaves me a cold collation."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Mar.5 1977.

IN THIS ONE... There's a masked man living under the theater. Leela and Litefoot bond over a roast and no utensils.

REVIEW: So if you have your Victoriana bingo card out, you can stamp Oscar Wilde (Leela being found in a hatbox, floating down the Amazon) and the Phantom of the Opera (though that character really missed Queen Vic's death by 8 years). "Weng-Chiang", as Li H'Sen Chang calls him, has a striking leather mask and skulks around a theater, which ok, if not actually Victorian, is at least a Gothic element. Holmes also references 1920's silent horror film The [time] Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and so hits a multi-decade crescendo of pulp horror. As Gothic Doctor Who invariably does, however, there is a layer of science fiction laid on top of this, in this case as the mysterious references to time agents who might come for "Weng-Chiang". What does Captain Jack's old outfit have to do with this? We'll come back to it in later reviews, but this is their first mention in Who, Jack fans!

The promise of characters Jago & Litefoot is realized in this episode, with some very funny scenes featuring either interacting with the Doctor and Leela. Litefoot allowing himself to be charmed by the savage woman's complete lack of self-conscious affect in turn charms us, and it is quite satisfying to see this proper gentleman avoid embarrassing her by forgoing silverware himself. Lots of wonderful moments between the two, from her surprised smile at being called a lady, to her amazement that he puts "fire in his mouth", to the Doolittlish napkin bit, to her commending him for having a "good knife". Here is a man who was raised in China, but never lost his Englishness. Can Leela be the one to finally have him "go native" in some way? I do have to ask, however, if his housekeeper (Mrs. Hudson, natch) puts out such an amazing spread every night. That "collation" is a huge buffet for a single man.

As for Jago, the Doctor teams up with him after counter-hypnotizing him and unlocking memories he was made to forget by Chang. Once again, some amazingly verbose dialog from him, most memorably calling himself the Rock of Gibraltar a few minutes before fainting from having seen a (holographic) ghost. He knows his business though, and it's lovely to see his jadedness at the Doctor's magic tricks. The Doctor makes a fine Sherlock Holmes substitute - how he immediately notices P.C. Quick had been drinking, for example - but what I most like about the mystery element is that all four heroes are allowed to find and decipher clues, not just him. Litefoot's deduced the height of Buller's killer, Leela knows the professor's address the same way the Doctor does, and Jago finds Emma Buller's glove. And none of them wait for the Doctor to hand them the answers.

I do find fault with how self-contained this world is though. Part 1 was fuzzy about distances between the various locations, making it seem like everything was a short walk from the theater, and they might have been. Here, adding Litefoot's house to the map makes it even harder to understand the geography. Weng-Chiang is in front of the house with Chang and Mr. Sin one minute, and back at the theater running from the Doctor the other. And plot-wise, it's a bit of a stretch that his time cabinet is in Litefoot's house. But perhaps the coincidence is part of the genre tropes Holmes is applying. It's almost Dickensian.

- Great characters, thoroughly amusing dialog, a link to the new series to explore... I'm having a great time despite my nitpicking.



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