Doctor Who #452: The Talons of Weng-Chiang Part 3

"Sleep is for tortoises!"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Mar.12 1977.

IN THIS ONE... Leela stalks Li H'Sen Chang and ends up running from a giant rat.

REVIEW: There's some very efficient script-writing/staging in this episode and it's all about Litefoot's tablecloth. Just look at how it's used. First, as the punchline to a joke. Leela almost goes to wipe her mouth on it in Part 2, and here we have the Doctor scribbling plans of the London sewers on it. While we're smiling at that, we're not noticing that Litefoot's hurried cramming of the soiled tablecloth in the hamper is a set-up for the Chinese laundry that later comes to exchange hampers, and smuggling in/out Mr. Sin. It's all rather innocuously done. The Doctor and Litefoot make a good pair thanks to their natural Holmes/Watson personalities and get some of the best dialog. Jago gets correspondingly less, a single scene, but it's a memorable one in which he's mistakenly concluded that he's working with Scotland Yard on the girl snatching case because surely, the Doctor has to be a special investigator working with the Yard.

But this is Leela's episode. She gets a big stunt, crashing through a window, and hunts down Li H'sen Chang and gets involved in the action far more than the Doctor does. It's interesting that the Doctor refers to her as "that girl Leela", as if he hadn't yet adopted her as a companion. Is he still trying to get to Sarah Jane, or is this a remnant of the original script that introduced a new, Eliza Doolittle-type companion? Leela had to become her when the story order was changed early on, and perhaps the Doctor's remoteness in that moment ignores the fact this is their third story together. In any case, Leela gets into all sorts of trouble, taking a street walker's place in Weng-Chiang's larder - the masked villain is angry she has muscles "like a horse" - and ends up getting attacked by a giant rat, resulting in what I think is Leela's only scream in the series. Unfortunately, this is the best look we've had at the rat, and it's just too cuddly to work as a monster. It's too clean, which clashes with the wet, greasy REAL rats shot on the sewer set.

Huggable mascot monster aside, the serial continues to provide some rather adult content for family audiences. It's clear to adults that the "lady" Chang picks up coming home from her walk of shame is a prostitute (Weng-Chiang uses the Shakespearean word "drab" which means just that, but they avoid using more familiar terminology so the kids can take it at face value). Though he uses technology to achieve the effect, Weng-Chiang is a vampire, sucking the life out of them, the energy showing up as red, like blood (but please, don't show Weng-Chiang hump his machine like that ever again). Despite the fact that we see an innocent cleaner killed on screen, the one I feel sorry for is Chang. He's so suave and confident in his scenes above ground, even when facing off against the Doctor, but underground, he can't seem to please his master. He scrambles, he finds excuses, he can't understand what he's done wrong and why his "god" can't forgive him. He's basically excommunicated at the end of this. Can he survive this crisis of faith?

- Every scene yields something important to the plot, some delicious piece of dialog, or (rat excepted) effective horror and tension.



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