A provocative title maybe but I do have to say that when watching The Talons of Weng Chiang recently the thing that I most would change (along with the few dodgy effects) would be the many references to ‘The Chinese” in a way that really comes across as not-desirable though probably true to the time being portrayed.
Before I start, why was I suddenly digging out this Fourth Doctor story? Well many moons ago I bought Revisitations 1 to allow me to re-watch the Eighth Doctor (as reviewed here); this left me with a copy of both Talons and Caves of Androzani (which will get reviewed at some stage!). I left this on the shelf as I had no good memories of it but finally have gotten round to watching it as:
- It is the introduction of Jago & Litefoot who are big hits in Big Finish land
- It is the point of introduction for the new Big Finish Fourth Doctor Adventures (e.g. Destination Nerva reviewed here).
Anyhow, without further delay, here’s the review…
Why didn’t I like this in 1977?
Well despite my views on the sources of the Doctor as a literary figure (here) I don’t need him to dress as Sherlock Holmes! The Doctor wears his outfit like a uniform and in the 70s companions tended to be somewhat fixed in attire (even today the Doctor keeps to a look). Leela also has been identified as a savage and suddenly is a lady – indeed by the later episodes (and some sewer based under-garment scenes) even looks a bit like Lisa Dolittle. I think the link to Henry Higgins is tenuous at best and I do agree that the outfit Leela normally wore would give some difficulties with the script.
I also found it riddled with clichés and didn’t think Tom took it seriously. The effects where used were also rather poor as well!
What do I think now?
I still think the costumes are a mistake and the effects would have almost been better left out in the main. That to one side we have a period tale very well presented with some fabulous locations, no quarries, a great set for the theatre but some lazy writing regarding the Chinese minions. Beneath this we have a Time Lord but not quite as a villain and a pair of characters who manage to gel…
Jago & Litefoot
Jago is great – larger than life but (inevitably) timid to boot. Professor Litefoot is the quiet professional man with resources and once put together near the end they do feed off each other and I can see that they are interesting and give an excuse for a spin-off to stay in a psuedo-London of the Holmes / Dickens variety. Do I care about them more than an other well written characters of any plot I’m not sure.
I did enjoy this on a run through, and despite being six episodes there was little padding and some elements of tension in the Ripper-esque, giant rat, magic, police and villains interaction. Maybe at the time (1977) we wanted rings with obvious containers for scorpion venom and simple stereotypes; perhaps but then for me that left my attention to be disappointed over the effects, some of the realisation of the Homonculus and the outfits.
I do feel better prepared for the rest of the Fourth Doctor Adventures though!