Doctor Who #454: The Talons of Weng-Chiang Part 5

"I'm a tiger when my dander's up."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Mar.26 1977.

IN THIS ONE... Li H'sen Chang in an opium den. Weng-Chiang gets the time cabinet. Jago meets Litefoot.

REVIEW: Double act #1 - The Doctor and Leela. We're in the middle of an adventure and it's gotten very serious, but the script still finds time for the teacher/pupil relationship to show through. Leela learns the value of a glass vs. a bottle, but seems much more interested in how the Doctor opens a locked door, smiling at his cleverness. And she's starting to think for herself, written not as an asker of questions, but as someone who comes up with the answers herself and merely asks whether that answer is correct. She can now intuit, for example, when the Doctor is asking a rhetorical question ("You ask so that you can tell me"), and sweetly apologizes for thinking the Doctor might be motivated by fear in the one instance where she gets it wrong. And despite these advances, her knife-sharpening, golf club-spearing savage side remains.

Double act #2 - Jago and Litefoot. Finally the meet, and they were made for each other. It's lovely how Jago thinks he's the butler at first, seeing a dustpan in his hand, and it's indicative of the kind of people each of them are. Jago, the dandy who talks a good game and jumps to the wrong conclusions (although full credit for tracking down Litefoot's connection to the Doctor), and Litefoot, the gentleman who's more than ready to take action though he'd have been smarter to stay warm at home. From here on in, the latter will drag the former out of his native cowardice and into the talons of danger. Together, they're just resourceful enough to find Weng-Chiang's new lair - a brighter set than the serial's gotten us used to, but dramatic and memorable nonetheless - but not to escape the villain's clutches, and Litefoot's soft heart won't allow him to stand up to Jago's torture for long. Their escape via dumb waiter is amusing (especially Jago's confusion about why Litefoot would think of food at a time like this), but followed by immediate re-capture. Looks like Talons could have worked better as a 5-parter, but so long as I'm entertained, I can't hold the sequence against it.

Double act #3 - Weng-Chiang and Li H'sen Chang Mr. Sin. The Peking homunculus is creepier for his origin story as a misanthropic robot doll with a pig's brain, as Weng-Chiang's century keeps expanding through exposition, but as a villainous sidekick, he's a bit one-note. Weng-Chiang cackles, his animated doll cackles too. As a horror element, Mr. Sin is fine, but truthfully, I was glad for the dejected Li H'sen Chang to survive for one more chapter. If you thought his fate as rat food was extreme, it gets worse. A leg eaten off ("a singular sight", he says, his wit far from amputated), he's found his way to an opium den where the kiddies can watch him toke a big pipe and deliriously talk about his ancestors coming to get him. It all seems too adult for the era, but it's that adultness that has allowed this story to remain so current even as television evolved. He leaves the Doctor with a peculiar puzzle, point at his shoes as if that should lead him to his former master's hideout. No idea what it means, but it's a necessary trope in this kind of story.

REWATCHABILITY: High - The series' most memorable comic double act finally comes together (it's a testament to them they were actually a pair on screen for less than 2 episodes), Li H'sen Chang gets a potent send-off, and even so, the Doctor and Leela get lots of fun moments as well.

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