CRRRaSh! 380 Doctor Who: The Talons of Weng-Chiang

By Roy Mathur, on 2021-05-02, at 22:53:45--23:47:13, for Captain Roy's Rocket Radio Show, Listen

The State of the Rewatch

CRRRaSh! flagged for a while, but has it recovered??? That's down to you audience. Let me know if this is any good, or watch it fade. Faaaaaade.

Cue uncomfortable silence.

Tangent: did I ever say how much I like the 13th Doctor Jodie Whittaker's theme music? It's deep and underwatery and very much the horror sci-fi style appropriate to DW.

This is coming out today, rather than Friday, otherwise there would have been no podcast at all this week, but I hope to return to a regular schedule soon.

I'm sorry for how long it has taken me to do this one. It's been so long, I can barely remember all the details---thank the gods for show notes---though I blame the whole concept of a 6 parter. I wished they'd stop doing those.

As usual, please bear in mind, while I use multiple sources of information for my show notes, I assiduously avoid reading reviews or opinions about geeky content, to give you my own personal and unique view about what I consume. This methodology is a double edged sword as it means there is a good chance I will miss something. If you find such omissions offensive, please contact me in the usual way or contact my complaints department at NUL (MS OSs) or /dev/null (UNIX).


Fourth Doctor: Tom Baker
Companion(s): Leela: Louise Jameson
Director: David Maloney
Writer: Robert Holmes
Producer: Philip Hinchcliffe
Location: Various locations around England and besides the Thames in London, and BBC Television Centre Studios TC3 between late 1976 and early 1977.
Broadcast: This is serial six of season 14 and the final story of the season. Following The Robots of Death covered in 375, 6 x 25 minute episodes, first broadcast from 26 February to 2 April 1977.

On this Day

First issue of 2000 A.D. Need I say more? This comic blew my mind, and drained my pocket money for the next 20 years. Such was the insane demand for this comic that I missed out on the first issue, but soon caught up.

What Happens

The Doctor takes Leela to Victorian London so that Leela can learn about her ancestors.

On their way to the Palace Theatre, where magician Li H'sen Chang is performing, they come across a Chinese gang attacking a cabbie. Leela captures one, but all three are arrested by a policeman.

At the police station, Li H'sen Chang, leader of the Tong of the Black Scorpion, who worship evil god Weng-Chiang is called in as the interpreter. This highly convenient opportunity allows him to mesmerise the arrested tong member into swallowing a suicide pill called the "scorpion's sting".

The dead bodies are taken to the mortuary. There the Doctor meets pathologist Professor Litefoot. Distressed by local women going missing, the dead cabbie was looking for his wife at the theatre. To silence him and protect his master Weng-Chiang, Li H'sen Chang had him killed.

Weng-Chiang is a fugitive Icelandic war criminal named Magnus Greel from the 51st century, who escaped using a time cabinet that he invented; a dangerous and crude form of time travel that has left him scarred and dying. He arrived in the current time period with his pet/personal assassin; the small, but deadly Mr Sin; a psychopathic cyborg posing as Li H'sen Chang's ventriloquist's dummy. He lost the time cabinet when he arrived and, while searching for it, has been sustaining himself by draining the life force from young women procured by Li H'sen Chang through his disappearing stage act.

After a series of fights with Weng-Chiang, Mr Sin, and the Black Scorpion Tong, during the course of which Li H'sen Chang is fatally mauled by a giant rat after being banished by his master, there is final confrontation in Weng-Chiang's subterranean temple. The Doctor throws Weng-Chiang into his life force extraction device, whereupon he turns to dust. The Doctor also pulls Mr Sin's CPU and destroys the crystal key, without which the time cabinet is useless.

The theatre manager and pathologist see the Doctor and Leela off and are astonished to see the TARDIS disappear.

What I Thought

The Doctor does Sherlock Holmes, Leela does Tarzan in terms of playing the savage in the city; fighting, killing, and displaying appalling table manners; she is great.

It's very gloomy, Londony, sewery, ratty, and giant ratty too (Weng-Chiang's pet), so, of course, there're echoes of London born James Herbert's horror magnum opus, The Rats.

The manner of the vampiric leeching of the life force reminded slightly me of Colin Wilson's The Space Vampires (1976), filmed as Lifeforce (1985).

The music hall confrontation between Weng-Chiang/Greel and the Doctor is reminiscent of The Phantom of the Opera. In fact there are so many references, I may as well stop right here, though I will say Weng-Chiang's subterranean temple lair reminds me of Lo-Pan's domain from the later Big Trouble in Little China (1986); my favourite film of all time.

Add mesmerism into the equation and I half expected Weng Chiang to be that master in disguise---the Master---but didn't he at least partially regenerate in The Deadly Assassin? (See 371).

The theme of yellow peril really is at the core of this story. The fear of the, so called, inscrutable other is played out to full effect.

The villain strongly reminds me of Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu and even the title refers to the long manicured fingernails of the old Chinese nobility (partly denoting their lack of need to perform of manual labour) and, of course, the actual snaggly fingernails and metaphorical sinister reach of the evil superbeing.

And man, the unbelievable whitewashing; there are Chinese actors present, but they still choose a white dude in yellowface to play the titular character's henchman Li H'sen Chang. There's also quite a lot of casual racism; the Irish stagehand is called a leprechaun by the manager, and sexism too, for example when said manager slaps the bottom of a passing showgirl.

The isms are so blatant it has to be tongue-in-cheek, which is what we called it before we called it irony, and before we realised that comedic irony wasn't really irony at all.

I wonder if all the ludicrous stereotyping and schlocky horror, with a backdrop of the Victorian music hall is Hinchcliffe's attempt at a penny dreadful; Victorian lit's version of giallo, Le Theatre du Grand-Guignol, or an exploitation flick. Or am I being too kind and is this just a well executed, but nevertheless irksome racist and sexist pantomime? You tell me.

I remember liking it when it came out, but now, while there are things that I appreciate, like the schlocky horror and Victoriana, the nonsensical racism etc. makes me feel uncomfortable.

On the other hand, the actor playing Li H'sen Chang, John Bennett, plays the magician with some dignity. Also, as well as race, just about every stereotype is hyped. And yes, as a brown person, mentioning even those things, within an ocean of racial and cultural stereotyping, makes me feel like an apologist.

While we're talking about acting, Li H'sen Chang's evil Master Weng-Chiang, far from being an ancient far eastern god is in fact a disguised 51st century Icelandic war criminal called Magnus Greel. So... a white English bloke, playing an alien, playing an Asian, playing a Scandinavian. Layers! (Michael Spice: also the voice of the Morbius).

The star creature this week isn't the big ridiculous pet rat of Weng-Chiang, but the assassin/stage sidekick and comic relief of the magician Li H'sen Chang, Mr Sin; a hideous dwarf dummy/robot played by genre actor extraordinaire Mohinder "Gurdeep Roy" Purba, also known professionally as Deep Roy. Believe me, this guy has been in everything from the Star Wars and Star Trek franchise to Blake's 7, and, of course, Doctor Who etc. (The "etc." bit goes on forever, so there's no point continuing). Blimey. The horrible mask and the steady zombie-like advancing gait of Mr Sin is enough to give anyone the willies.

Is it any good? Yes, but it's an uncomfortable watch in today�s socio-political climate. Perhaps viewing it through an Alan Moore-style The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen subversive lens casts it in a more favourable light?


Christopher Benjamin, Henry Gordon Jago, the music hall manager, also played Sir Keith Gold in Doctor Who: Inferno (Jon Pertwee). He would return to play Colonel Hugh in New Who's The Unicorn and the Wasp.