‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ was the final serial of Doctor Who‘s fourteenth season.
The six-part story originally aired from 26 February to 2 April 1977.
The Doctor and Leela arrive in Victorian London, whereupon they stumble upon an investigation into a series of strange disappearances, leading them into a battle against an ancient Chinese god known as Weng-Chiang.
The Doctor is stalked by a Chinese assassin, only to turn round to find the assassin has already been killed… by Leela and her Janus thorns. A great moment of friendship between the two time travellers follows, as the Doctor scolds her for killing, only to forgive and forget when she informs him that the man was trying to kill him.
Leela encounters Mister Sin, a terrifying and murderous ventriloquists dummy with the brain of a pig. Leela escapes by smashing through a window. As you do.
In the excellent cliffhanger to Part Three, Leela lets out her only onscreen scream – as a giant mutated rat chows down on her leg!
Leela, captured by the mysterious Weng-Chiang, rips off his mask, to reveal a terrifying, deformed face beneath! The stuff nightmares are made of for sure.
Writer Robert Holmes wrote this adventure as a send-off to outgoing producer Phillip Hinchcliffe, whose controversial but popular tenure had seen a rise in both gothic horror and ratings throughout his three-year run.
Regular Who composer Dudley Simpson cameos in the beginning of Part One as an orchestra conductor.
This is the Fourth Doctor’s only story wherein he doesn’t wear his trademark scarf.
The Doctor: “Dramatic recitations, singing, tap-dancing. I can play the Trumpet Voluntary in a bowl of live goldfish.”
The Doctor: “’Eureka’ is Greek for ‘this bath is too hot’.”
The Doctor: “Sleep is for tortoises.”
Tom Baker’s era of Doctor Who contains so many perfect stories – yet not one is as perfect as ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’, a melting pot of brilliant ideas that each serve to evoke all that is great about Victorian fiction and mythology.
One of writer Robert Holmes best stories for the series, ‘Talons’ is a perfect example of how to write Doctor Who; the horror is macabre and gruesome, the comedy a hoot, the dialogue sublime. The plot never feels stretched over its six episodes, whilst the individual characters all get a chance to shine, particularly the brilliant comedy double act of Henry Gordon Jago and Professor Litefoot, who each steal the show throughout.
But the real highlight of the story is the Doctor and Leela, played here as ever by Tom Baker and Louise Jameson. The two actors had a frosty relationship at the time, but watching them work together on screen, you wouldn’t guess such a thing was possible. Their scenes together are so full of wit and genuine affection for one another; the two characters are easily one of the best teams to ever grace the TARDIS.
Upping the gothic horror that the early Baker/Hinchcliffe/Holmes era was famous for to the max, ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ caps off one of the most imaginative eras of Doctor Who in style.
What’s your favourite moment in ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’? Let us know below…