Doctor Who #455: The Talons of Weng-Chiang Part 6

"Never trust a man with dirty fingernails."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Apr.2 1977.

IN THIS ONE... Mr. Sin uses the House of the Dragon as a shooting gallery, and this being the finale, the bad guys are defeated.

REVIEW: Wow, I'm really missing Li H'sen Chang. Weng-Chiang (or as we find out his real name, Magnus Greel) is an infinitely inferior creation. Michael Spice is SO over-the-top in his growling, shouting, air-sawing performance that he just becomes irritating. The script isn't helping either. He's always about to kill someone, but stops himself or his underlings at the last second. Anything interesting about the character is actually said by the Doctor, describing his reputation as the Butcher of Brisbane and the notorious Minister of Justice. Impetuous gestures like knocking over chess pieces doesn't do anything to match that reputation. (And hey, did we just forget about Chang's "foot" clue? He really has disappeared from the script.)

Playing on Greel's desperation, the Doctor does get some excellent moments in, grounding the situation, as he must, now that his foil is a shouting madman. He's casual, he's mocking, he plays keep-away with Greel's time key, he frees the kidnapped girls, throws Greel into a distillation chamber, and pulls out Mr. Sin's fuse. He's an action hero, a comedian and the one who explains the gravity of the situation, all at once. His three friends do their best to do the same, but with variable results. Leela spends her time at two extremes, either a damsel in distress with a knife at her throat, or stabbing a knife in some poor Tong member before trying to do the same to Greel. Her efforts with the gun are even worse, appointing herself the shooter with no firearms training. By far, her best scene in this episode is the final conversation with Litefoot trying to teach her about tea, which is positively Wildean in its wit. Speaking of Litefoor, I love his brand of leadership, self-effacing, reassuring and full of common sense. His relationship to Jago, here admitting his cowardice, is rather sweet.

Unfortunately, the serial is finally running out of plot and these characters are left to deal with an awkwardly choreographed final battle, in which Mr. Sin uses the lasers in the eyes of the dragon statue to shoot friendlies and foes alike. The problem is that the effects required to achieve this sequence aren't really available. We're left wondering where the lasers are hitting, a lot of the time. An effect comes out of the eyes, but isn't present in scenes where people fall over, and there's a lot of distraction acting where the character SHOULD be shot, but isn't. It's a mess. No clue how Leela's gun actually disables the pig-brained dummy's dragon cannon, but it gives Mr. Sin a chance to jump her and the Doctor so we can point and laugh at Tom Baker shaking a rag doll off his back. Whatever.

THEORIES: Wait wait wait... If Magnus Greel is the first man (human) to travel through time, how can he fear Time Agents, an organization that could only possibly come after him? And are these the same Time Agents Captain Jack was a member of? One way to explain it is that while the zygma experiments that sent Greel back were a failure, some other means of time travel, possibly developed in parallel by an opposing power, actually panned out. Greel, posing as Weng-Chiang, was in the 19th century for decades according to Li H'sen Chang's story, so it's entirely probable he would have had run-ins with the Agency. There's a whole untold story there. One thing is fairly certain though - Greel and Jack are from the same general time period. No direct links are made, but in both their stories, there's an interesting re-distribution of political power. China, the Philippines, Iceland, Brisbane... In The Doctor Dances, he mentions the weapons factory at Villengard, which could sound Icelandic. Captain Jack comes from the fictional Boeshane Peninsula, which looks tropical, as people migrate to the equator during the 51st century Ice Age. The dates get a little fuzzy, but Talons is the basis for at least the feeling of Jack's back story.

VERSIONS: There are no major differences in the Target novelization nor the script book which I also own.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium, almost Medium-High
- Some lovely and funny character moments for the Doctor, Jago and Litefoot (and eventually, for Leela too), but the action is a real mess and Magnus Greel chews up the scenery and my frayed nerve endings.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: High - One of the greatest Doctor Who stories ever, even if the actual details of the finale let it down a bit. It's got tons of atmosphere, a deft use of genre tropes, a lot of brilliant dialog, and memorable characters. Awesome stuff to close out what is one of Who's very best seasons.



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