Doctor Who – The Talons of Weng-Chiang. Episode Five

talons 05

Amongst Tom Baker’s many skills as the Doctor was his ability to deal with strangest of dialogue.  The Doctor’s description of Mr Sin is a case in point – in a lesser Doctor’s hands it might have come across as a comic moment,  but there’s no such sense with Baker.  “The Peking Homunculus was a toy, a plaything for the Commissioner’s children. It contained a series of magnetic fields operating on a printed circuit and a small computer. It had one organic component. The cerebral cortex of a pig. Anyway, something went wrong. It almost caused World War Six”.

Now that Greel’s finally obtained the time cabinet he’s rather chuffed (“oh, how I have dreamt of this moment. To be free of this putrefying carcass”) but wouldn’t you believe it, he’s lost the key. All these years when he had the key but not the cabinet and now the position is reversed. You have to feel a little sorry for him, master criminal he is not.

But you have to feel sorrier for the unfortunate Ho, who left the bag containing the key behind at the theatre.  He takes the sting of the scorpion and dies horribly as the chuckling Mr Sin looks on. This is another of those nightmarish moments which many argued crossed the boundaries between children’s and adult’s television (although Holmes’ original draft – Greel takes out a revolver and shoots Ho multiple times – was even more uncompromising).

And finally … Jago and Litefoot meet. It’s easy to see why Robert Holmes briefly considered spinning these characters off into their own series and even easier to understand why the Big Finish series of audio plays has entertained so many. Benjamin and Baxter make for a wonderful team.

Litefoot, like he was with the Doctor, has to play the straight-man somewhat, but he’s more than simply a foil for Jago’s comic bumbling. Their first scene is a treat – Jago mistaking Litefoot for his own butler and then attempting to back out of a nocturnal adventure due to his weak chest!

Chang’s brief reappearance is something of a surprise, but the sight of him – doped up on opium and missing a leg – provides us with clear evidence that he’s not long for this world. Thanks to Bennett as well as Holmes’ script, Chang is much more than a single-minded villain. His wistful regret that he was shortly due to perform before Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace (hopefully he would have kept Mr Sin under control) is a nice touch.

Bennett’s casting will always be a bar to some people, but I don’t find the oft-repeated accusation that Talons painted a strong negative portrait of the Chinese to be correct.

Jago and Litefoot may be many things, but they’re no match for Greel and quickly find themselves locked up. Their abortive escape attempt – via the dumb waiter – doesn’t really go anywhere though. Possibly this was a spot of padding from a now desperate and weary Holmes. Benjamin and Baxter still manage to entertain though.

But things pick up with the cliffhanger, as Leela (and the audience) views the unmasked Greel for the first time ….

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