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The Talons of Weng-Chiang was the sixth and final serial of season 14 of Doctor Who. It bears the dichotomy of often being considered one of the most beloved serials of the classic run while also being copiously criticised for its portrayal of Chinese characters. Fan-favourite characters Henry Gordon Jago and George Litefoot made their sole televised appearance, but later they were given their own audio series, Jago & Litefoot.

It was the final Doctor Who story to be produced by Philip Hinchcliffe, who had helmed the show since The Ark in Space in 1975. It was also the final story to be directed by David Maloney. Soon after completing this story, Maloney was offered the producership of the BBC's new science fiction series Blake's 7.


The Fourth Doctor brings Leela to Victorian London to see how her ancestors lived but is rapidly drawn into a fiendish plot involving Chinese Tongs, disappearing women, an Asian stage magician with uncanny powers, a murderous ventriloquist's dummy, and giant rats in the sewers.

A dozen women are missing, believed dead. The murder of a cab driver married to one of the missing women causes the Doctor and Leela to encounter a police pathologist, Professor Litefoot, and a member of the Chinese tong which carried out the murder. The latter leads the Doctor to become suspicious of Li H'sen Chang, a police interpreter, who is also a stage magician appearing twice-nightly at the Palace Theatre.

Chang is secretly the henchman of Magnus Greel, a 51st century war criminal masquerading as the Chinese god Weng Chiang. Greel fled through time to escape his enemies and is searching for his lost time cabinet, which by chance has fallen into the possession of Litefoot. Theatre owner Henry Gordon Jago assists the Doctor in his investigation of Chang's vanishing lady illusion, by which the women are being kidnapped — and ultimately murdered to feed Weng Chiang.

The plot casts Weng Chiang in the role of the phantom of the opera, haunting the cellars of the Palace Theatre, his bodily decay fended off by extracting the life energy of the victims Chang brings him. The Doctor must track him down, and find the Time Cabinet first, because any further use of it will cause a catastrophe. It uses zygma energy, and the zygma experiments lead only to disaster.


Part one[]

Chinese magician Li H'sen Chang entertains a Victorian music-hall audience with his dummy Mr Sin. After the show, as Chang talks with theatre manager Jago, drunk London cab driver Joseph Buller arrives and accuses Chang of being involved in his wife's disappearance. Buller threatens to call the police, and as he leaves, Chang and Mr Sin exchange significant glances — across the room from each other...

The Fourth Doctor and Leela arrive in period costume, in which Leela is feeling very uncomfortable. When she questions why she has to dress so oddly, the Doctor jokes that she'll scare the horses if she wore her animal skins. They head for the theatre, as the Doctor plans to show her how her ancestors enjoyed themselves. Meanwhile, as Buller walks home, he is confronted by Mr Sin, holding a knife. The Doctor and Leela hear a scream and investigate. They find several Chinese men carrying the body of Buller. After a scuffle, most of the men run off at the sound of police whistles, leaving one behind. The police take the Doctor, Leela, and the Chinese man to the station on suspicion of causing an affray.

At the theatre, while Chang performs, Jago notices blood running down the dummy's arm. At the police station, the police sergeant, Kyle, questions the Doctor and Leela. The police find a body, this time in the river, which has been badly mauled. Chang arrives at the police station to help question the Chinese man as an interpreter. When Chang asks Kyle for a pencil and paper, he surreptitiously gives the man a poison pill as the sergeant goes to get the writing materials; the man takes the pill, gives a strangled cry and dies. The Doctor notices the man was marked as a member of the Tong of the Black Scorpion, a Chinese criminal organisation that follows the god Weng-Chiang. The Doctor takes charge of the situation, giving Kyle orders to have the body removed to the mortuary for examination; he suspects scorpion venom as the cause of death.

Chang interrogation

A suspicious suicide.

At the theatre, Jago goes into Chang's dressing room to investigate the dummy. He is joined by his doorman, Casey, and they head for the cellar.

The Doctor and Leela go to the mortuary and meet Professor Litefoot. The Doctor and Litefoot deduce that Buller (whose body had been dumped in the river) was attacked by an apparently giant rodent but was already dead from a knife wound to the heart. The Professor is startled by Leela's knowledge of knife fighting, and the Doctor hastily invents a cover story of her being raised by savages in the Amazon. The Doctor recalls that the Tong's patron Weng-Chiang is the god of abundance and growth — he could make things grow larger. The Doctor leaves and is attacked by a Chinese Tong thug, but the man falls dead when Leela attacks him with a janis thorn (angering the Doctor). The two climb down into the sewers to investigate and find a giant rat coming at them...

Part two[]


Hypnotised - The Talons of Weng-Chiang - BBC

Chang hypnotises Jago.

The Doctor and Leela climb back up the ladder, escaping the giant rat after throwing their oil lantern at it.

In the theatre's cellar, Jago and Casey find a lady's glove, monogrammed with the letters "E.B.", but Chang arrives and hypnotises Jago into forgetting what he has seen. When Jago leaves, Chang descends into a hidden sub-basement and kneels to a figure dressed in black... the sinister Weng-Chiang. The latter needs to find his lost Time Cabinet in order to repair his damaged physiology, but meanwhile requires the life essence of humans to survive — hence Chang is kidnapping women off the streets. Chang now warns him about the Doctor, whose mind he cannot read with the powers Weng-Chiang has given him.

The Doctor and Leela rejoin Litefoot at the mortuary, where PC Quick gives them information about Buller's last known movements; he was last seen heading to the Palace Theatre, making "'orrible threats". Litefoot invites Leela and the Doctor to dinner, but on the way the Doctor departs for the Palace Theatre to investigate, planning to rejoin them later. He meets Jago (who initially thinks him a performer trying to audition as a supporting act in the show), de-hypnotising him to enable him to remember what Chang had made him forget: as a result, Jago realises that the initials "E.B." on the glove he has found stand for "Emma Buller" — the missing wife of the cabbie who had confronted Chang earlier. They head for the cellar, encounter a giant spider (which the Doctor identifies as a money spider that has been enlarged due to "genetic distortion") and go through a trapdoor that leads toward the river Fleet. They see a "ghost", and Jago faints; but the Doctor recognises the apparition as a hologram and realises someone is using it to scare off intruders.

Litefoot and Leela are having dinner — a strange experience for him, given Leela's lack of table manners. Nearby, Chang and Weng-Chiang (quartering the city in a horse-drawn carriage) discover that the Time Cabinet is in Litefoot's house; Chang and Mr Sin prepare to steal it, sending Weng-Chiang back to the Palace Theatre. Litefoot notices that someone is lurking in his garden and, leaving Leela in his dining room, fetches a gun and goes out to investigate.

Jago recovers from his faint, and he and the Doctor chase the returning Weng-Chiang through the theatre. Weng-Chiang hits Jago from behind and nearly kills the Doctor, before getting away.


Leela Under Attack - The Talons of Weng-Chiang - BBC

Leela under attack...

Litefoot has found nothing outside, and he returns to the house.. Leela hears Litefoot open the front door and enter the hall, saying "Nobody out there now! Fellow must have got wind of..." Suddenly, Litefoot's voice breaks off mid-sentence and Leela hears a groan, followed by a rustling sound. She opens the dining room door to find the dwarfish Mr Sin, menacing her with a knife and making a horrible pig-like grunting sound...

Part three[]

Leela hurls her own knife at Mr Sin, which lodges in its neck, but otherwise does not affect it. Finding she is unable to harm Sin, who plainly intends to murder her, Leela uses a chair to bounce onto the table, runs toward and then leaps through a closed plate glass window to escape. The Doctor ducks at the sound of breaking glass, just as Chang shoots at him from his place of concealment in the garden. Chang and Sin flee in a carriage, but Leela races after it and stows away on the back. The Doctor tends to Litefoot's injuries, and they discuss what the thieves might have been after — including Litefoot's valuable antique Chinese cabinet.

At daybreak, the Doctor and Litefoot are mapping out the sewers and the course of the River Fleet, which now runs wholly underground. The Doctor proposes an expedition by boat to locate the confluence of the Thames and the Fleet. He brings along a blunderbus (which he terms an elephant gun), into the muzzle of which he loads all manner of ammunition. A worried Litefoot warns him that, if he fires it, it will probably explode in his face, but the Doctor tells him that's unthinkable — it was made in Birmingham!

In the early dawn, Chang hypnotises a young woman named Teresa in the deserted streets and brings her to his dressing room at the Palace Theatre, watched by Leela, who is still following him. When Chang leaves to find a second victim, Leela switches places with Teresa. Chang then brings the disguised Leela, and a young cleaning woman he has taken from the theatre itself, before Weng-Chiang, who grumbles about how wiry they are.

The Doctor enters the sewers alone, leaving Litefoot waiting in the boat. In the theatre's cellar, Weng-Chiang puts the cleaning woman in a distillation chamber and turns it on. Leela attacks him and turns off the machine, but the woman has already been aged to death. Leela escapes into the sewers, but Weng-Chiang closes the barred gate and summons the giant rats by sounding a dinner-gong; when they don't find their usual food waiting, they will comb the sewers for it...

Two Chinese laundrymen arrive at Litefoot's house and exchange one laundry basket for another. Meanwhile, at the theatre, the hypnotised Teresa whom Leela replaced awakens and is found by Casey. Initially, she remembers nothing, but then sees Chang's face on a poster, recalls him attacking her and flees. Jago tells Casey he is working on the mystery of the missing women with someone high up in Scotland Yard (the Doctor).

In the cellars below, Weng-Chiang accuses Chang of failing to obey the order to kill the Doctor and dismisses him for his failure.

In the sewers, Leela flees from a giant rat. Elsewhere in the sewers, the Doctor hears noises and prepares to fire. He sees Leela race into view, being attacked by the giant rat and screaming in agony...

Part four[]

The Doctor fires the ancient blunderbus, causing a cacophonous explosion, which miraculously kills the rat without also killing Leela. The latter is more bothered by her failure to kill Weng-Chiang. They hear another rat coming and depart hurriedly, as the gun will take at least half an hour to reload. Returning to Litefoot's house, Leela describes the fate of Weng-Chiang's latest victim. Litefoot fetches a change of clothing for Leela, who is still wearing the disguise she adopted at the theatre, sending her off to change with the help of his housekeeper, Mrs Hudson, while the Doctor and Litefoot discuss the key of Litefoot's mysterious Chinese cabinet. A well-dressed Leela returns and is delighted to learn they are to attend that evening's performance at the Palace theatre.

At the theatre, in the meantime, Chang overhears Jago and Casey discussing the imminent return of a Scotland Yard investigator, who he deduces to be the Doctor. He readies a gun, then informs Weng-Chiang that to appease his wrath he will kill the Doctor.

That evening, the Doctor and Leela attend the first show at the Palace Theatre, where they are met by Jago. During his act, Chang performs a card trick with the Doctor's assistance, which involves firing a "magic bullet" through a selected card without hitting the others in the pack. Chang successfully completes this, without succumbing to the evident temptation to shoot the Doctor instead, then invites the Doctor onto the stage to participate in his "Cabinet of Death" trick (the vanishing lady illusion). Meanwhile, Weng-Chiang is lurking beneath the stage, where he encounters Casey preparing the Cabinet illusion and murders him.

Two Chinamen arrive at Litefoot's house, killing the policeman on guard. The diminutive Mr Sin is already inside the house, having arrived earlier concealed in the laundry basket, and lets them in.

The Doctor escapes from the Cabinet of Death by the simple expedient of using the concealed door in its back, as Chang rotates the cabinet to show that it supposedly has no rear door, much to the amusement of the audience. Chang cracks a joke, in an attempt to recover the situation: "The bird has flown. One of us is yellow!" His Chinese assistant, Lee, steps inside the cabinet instead, and Chang continues the trick, which involves running a number of swords through the box.

Climbing down a concealed ladder beneath the stage to escape being run-through by the swords, Lee comes face-to-face with Weng-Chiang and faints with shock. "So... the great magician!", Weng-Chiang muses to himself, looking upwards. On-stage, Chang is handed the final sword by the Doctor and concludes the trick, but when he and the Doctor open the cabinet doors, Casey's lifeless body is revealed inside, which falls out onto the stage. There are screams of horror from the audience and Jago orders the curtain brought down quickly, while Chang, who is as surprised as everyone else, flees — as Jago frantically cancels the night's performance and offers refunds.

The Doctor and Leela locate Chang in Weng-Chiang's cellar hideout, which is now abandoned, with all the equipment removed. Chang explains how his "god" appeared in China many years earlier, ill from his journey through time, and that they have been looking for the Time Cabinet — taken by the Emperor's soldiers — ever since.

Jago arrives, distracting the Doctor and Leela, enabling Chang to flee into the sewers. Leela then finds the clothing of the missing women in the cellar; and, as Jago realises that his star turn was responsible for all the disappearances, a scream is heard. The Doctor explains darkly: "You'll need to find a new top of the bill..." The Doctor blames the Time Cabinet for Weng-Chiang's deformed condition, which he explains is worsening every time he absorbs life-energy. He agrees with how Leela tries to see this explanation — as a waterbag with a hole in it: every time he puts more water in the bag, the hole just gets bigger. As the others leave, Jago starts planning how to make money out of the hideout: "See the lair of the phantom — bob a nob!"

Shortly thereafter, the Doctor and Leela return to Litefoot's house, only to find the body of the murdered policeman outside, and the unconscious Litefoot inside; with Weng-Chiang and Mr Sin driving furiously away, taking the Time Cabinet with them, as Mr Sin laughs uproariously...

Part five[]

Jago & Litefoot

Jago and Litefoot.

Treating a bruised Litefoot, the Doctor deduces that Mr Sin must have been hiding in the laundry basket. He now reveals that Sin is actually the Peking Homunculus, a device which is partly organic (containing the cerebral cortex of a pig), partly electronic, and from the future (about the year 5,000 A.D.). It delights in carnage and was responsible for the murder of the Commissioner of the Icelandic Alliance, an event which almost triggered World War VI. At about that time, a scientist named Findecker discovered the Nexus Particle, upon which he based the Sigma experiments, a crude and dangerous way to travel through time. The Doctor realises that Weng-Chiang's Time Cabinet could incorporate a sigma beam at full stretch, and, if so, its use by someone who doesn't properly understand Sigma technology could destroy London. Taking Leela with him, he sets out to track down Weng-Chiang's new hideout, using their one clue: the address of the Chinese laundry, on the label of the laundry basket Sin came in.

Weng-Chiang still lacks the key of the Time Cabinet, which is in a carpetbag he accidentally left behind at the Palace Theatre. He now forces one of his followers, Lee, to commit suicide as punishment for not bringing it.

Jago has found the carpetbag in question, and, learning that the Doctor and Litefoot have been seen together, he takes it to Litefoot's house. They leave the bag and a note for the Doctor there, and go on to the theatre together, to watch for anyone who might be sent to search for the bag.

The Doctor and Leela arrive at the Chinese laundry and find Chang, dying from injuries — including the loss of a leg — sustained from the attack by the giant rat. He is heavily drugged by opium to dull the pain and wants to revenge himself on Weng-Chiang. He dies after giving the Doctor two strange clues: a touch on his shoe, and a message to "Beware the eyes of the dragon". The Doctor grumbles that he's left them a Chinese puzzle.

Jago and Litefoot follow a group of Chinese to the Tong's new headquarters, where they are spotted from a window by Weng-Chiang. They are captured, and Weng-Chiang threatens to kill Jago if Litefoot does not tell him where the key to the Time Cabinet is. After Litefoot reveals it's at his house, he and Jago are put into a locked room along with two young women who have been hypnotised — Weng-Chiang's next meal.

Magnus Greel

Greel's face revealed!

The Doctor and Leela arrive at Litefoot's house and find the note and the carpetbag containing the key — a crystalline roundel the Doctor describes as a trionic lattice. Leela wants to help Jago and Litefoot, but there is no clue as to where Weng-Chiang now is, so the Doctor thinks it better to wait for Weng-Chiang's men to come to the house, since they will be looking for the key. They search for weapons to set up an ambush.

Jago and Litefoot find a dumb-waiter in the wall of the room in which they have been imprisoned, and use it to escape into the throne room — where they are recaptured.

As Leela stands before a curtained window in Litefoot's dining room, practising with an improvised weapon — one of Litefoot's golf clubs — Weng-Chiang sneaks out from behind the curtain and chloroforms her. As she struggles, she pulls off his mask, revealing a hideously deformed face...

Part six[]

As the Doctor returns with a pile of possible weapons, Weng-Chiang confronts him with the unconscious Leela. Weng-Chiang threatens to let Mr Sin kill Leela if he will not hand over the Cabinet's key, but the Doctor makes a deal with him. They will all go to the House of the Dragon. Weng-Chiang will release Jago and Litefoot, and then the Doctor will give him the key. They all go, leaving Leela behind at the Doctor's insistence, but she recovers and follows them.

At the Tong headquarters, the Doctor realises that Chang's shoe clue referred to the tongue of his shoe — the "Tong". Mr Sin secretly climbs into the head of a large dragon statue, where there are laser controls inside. The Doctor and Weng-Chiang talk, with Weng-Chiang revealing his real name — Magnus Greel. The Doctor knows of him: he is from the 51st century and is a war criminal responsible for over one hundred thousand deaths — the "Butcher of Brisbane". Jago and Litefoot are brought out to the Doctor, who now also wants the two young girls freed. Greel, angered, orders Mr Sin to fire on them; laser beams come from the dragon's eyes to hit the Doctor, who realises the second clue from Chang — "beware the eyes of the dragon" — before passing out. The three men are put back into the locked room. When the Doctor has recovered, he sets a trap. After bringing the girls out of their hypnotic trance, he makes a gas bomb that blasts some of the Tong men. They all escape, with the girls running out of the building to safety.

Ready aim sin

Mr Sin takes aim.

Leela has made it to the House of the Dragon, but is captured and put into Greel's distillation machine. He turns it on, but the Doctor has grabbed a hatchet and flings it at the machine, disabling it. Incensed, Greel orders Mr Sin to kill them, and they take cover behind a bench as Mr Sin fires the laser at everyone, including the Tong. The Doctor tries to convince Greel to not use the Time Cabinet, knowing it will cause a massive implosion that will kill them all. Leela finds a gun near a dead Tong and disables the dragon's laser eyes after a few bad shots ("I've never fired one of these before!" she protests when Litefoot complains). Greel pulls a gun on Leela, but the Doctor throws him into his own distillation machine, which activates; he undergoes a cellular collapse and crumples into dust. Mr Sin exits the dragon and jumps onto Leela, but the Doctor stops him by yanking his computer core out of him. He then smashes the lattice, bringing the Zygma experiment to a end.

Jago and Litefoot accompany Leela and the Doctor to the TARDIS. Litefoot attempts to explain tea to Leela, but it only baffles her more. The Doctor and Leela say farewell to Jago and Litefoot as they enter the TARDIS. Astonished by its dematerialisation, Litefoot thinks its impossible, and Jago says that maybe even the great Li H'sen Chang would have appreciated the stunt...


Uncredited cast[]


Uncredited crew[]




The Doctor[]

  • The Doctor mentions that he shared a salmon caught in the River Fleet with the Venerable Bede, who loved fish.
  • Among the items in the Doctor's pockets are a yo-yo, a toy Batmobile, and a stuffed mouse.


  • The Doctor and Leela play draughts while waiting for Litefoot before visiting the theatre.
  • The Doctor and Greel briefly play chess.


Time technology[]

Songs from the real world[]

Literature from the real world[]


  • Magnus Greel's lair beneath the theatre, his deformed face, the mask he uses to hide it, and the climactic scene in which the mask is torn off to reveal his true face, all derive from Gaston Leroux's novel The Phantom of the Opera and its film adaptations.
  • Throughout the serial, the Doctor wears an Inverness cape and a deerstalker hat, which were the characteristic apparel of film versions of Arthur Conan Doyle's detective Sherlock Holmes. The name of Litefoot's housekeeper, Mrs Hudson, is borrowed from Sherlock Holmes's housekeeper at 221B Baker Street. The giant rat echoes a famous untold Sherlock Holmes tale: in the Conan Doyle story The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire, Holmes mentions "the giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared." Tom Baker says at one point, "Elementary, my dear Litefoot", parodying "Elementary, my dear Watson", a line widely associated with Holmes in the Hollywood adaptations of the Conan Doyle stories (although never actually spoken by him in the Conan Doyle canon). Moreover, Litefoot's role, as a police surgeon, is an almost-exact parallel of Dr Watson in the Conan Doyle stories, who was an Army surgeon, but had retired into a civilian medical practice: Litefoot is playing Dr Watson to Tom Baker's Sherlock Holmes. Also, throughout the serial, Victorian London is generally depicted as shrouded in fog: another characteristic element of the Hollywood adaptations of the Holmes stories. (This production's in-joke is: Robert Holmes meets Sherlock Holmes.) Coincidentally, Tom Baker would play Holmes in the 1982 BBC TV adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles shortly after leaving Doctor Who, while Christopher Benjamin would later play Doctor Huxtable in the Granada Television version's adaptation of "The Adventure of the Priory School".
  • The giant rat is reminiscent of animals grown to enormous size in the H. G. Wells science fiction novel Food of the Gods.
  • Li H'sen Chang is reminiscent of Fu Manchu, the Chinese villain of a series of novels by Sax Rohmer (and the many films based on those novels).
  • Mr Sin was inspired by "The Ventriloquist's Dummy" segment of the 1945 British horror film Dead of Night.
  • The theft of an artefact by British colonials came from the 1868 mystery novel The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins.

Story notes[]

  • This story had working titles of The Foe from the Future and The Talons of Greel.
  • "Weng-Chiang" was originally going to be the Decayed Master, following on from The Deadly Assassin, but producer Philip Hinchcliffe had this changed as he didn't want to have the Master revealed as the secret villain twice in the same season. Alan Barnes has pointed out several clues in the story that still point to the original plan: the time cabinet (read "TARDIS") and Greel referring to Leela as "the first morsel to feed my regeneration". (DWM 475) Michael Spice, who played Weng-Chian/Magnus Greel in the finished product, had (according to info text for The Deadly Assassin) previously been considered for the role of the Decayed Master before it went to Peter Pratt.
  • This is the only story of the Fourth Doctor's era in which he does not wear his famous long scarf at any point (due to the running joke of the Doctor wearing a traditional Sherlock Holmes costume throughout the story).
  • This is one of two stories (the other being Horror of Fang Rock) in which Leela does not wear her "savage" costume. As the character was originally inspired by Eliza Doolittle, as depicted in My Fair Lady, it was decided to try to move her away from her Sevateem trappings, hence in this serial she was put into period dress.
  • The conductor of the Palace Theatre's orchestra is played by incidental music composer Dudley Simpson. Because Simpson was a member of the Musicians' Union and not the British actors' union Equity, he had to be paid a special fee.
  • According to Louise Jameson, the scene where Leela and the Doctor climb down into the sewers took numerous attempts to film. The first attempt went perfectly, but a crowd of spectators were watching and a little boy shouted "Go on, Doctor!". So they tried several other takes, but none of them were as good as the first. Eventually, David Maloney decided to use the first take and simply edit out the boy's interruption.
  • By the time Robert Holmes began writing The Talons of Greel, it had become apparent that Hinchcliffe, and possibly Holmes too, would be leaving the show at the end of the season. Hinchcliffe therefore decided to throw caution to the wind, and spent record amounts on the production: utilising many different locations as well as agreeing to expensive night-shoots.
  • During production of The Talons of Greel, Hinchcliffe's successor, Graham Williams, gradually took over the reins, his first concern being the character of Leela. Williams approached Louise Jameson with an offer for the actress to stay on for Season 15. This was a decision at odds with a promise Hinchcliffe had made to Tom Baker that Leela would be written out of the show at the conclusion of Season Fourteen. Baker was of the opinion that the character was too violent for the show, and would have preferred to carry on without a companion at all. Jameson was initially reluctant to continue, mainly because of her frosty relationship with Baker, but also due to the brown contact lenses she was compelled to wear. When Williams offered to relinquish the need for contact lenses, Jameson agreed to sign a contract for the whole of Season 15.
    • The lenses were removed at the end of Horror of Fang Rock, when Leela's eye pigmentation is changed from brown to blue (Jameson's natural eye colour) when she watches the Rutan mothership explode. (TV: Horror of Fang Rock)
  • This is not the only historically-based story of the Fourth Doctor's era (e.g. The Masque of Mandragora, Horror of Fang Rock, Pyramids of Mars). After the two-pronged approach of "historicals" set in the past and science fiction stories set in the future was abandoned (when Patrick Troughton was the Doctor, after The Highlanders) fewer historical stories were made. This is one of those handful of stories. Jon Pertwee, whose stories were frequently set in the present, had only one story set in real history: The Time Warrior. Peter Davison had The Visitation and a pair of two-parters: Black Orchid and The King's Demons (the former being a pure historical). Colin Baker had one in The Mark of the Rani and Sylvester McCoy had several including Delta and the Bannermen, Battlefield, Remembrance of the Daleks and The Curse of Fenric.
  • The later comic book story The Time Machination revealed that the Doctor and Leela's arrival in London occurred immediately after the departure of the Tenth Doctor, who had just shared an adventure with H. G. Wells against the Torchwood Institute; according to the comic, Wells witnesses their arrival.
  • The audio stories The Butcher of Brisbane, The Talents of Greel and the short story Under Reykjavik serve as both prequels and sequels to this story:
  • In the televised story, George Litefoot reads a copy of Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine issue DCCCCXVI, cover-dated February 1892, which is also the year given for the story in the AUDIO: Destination: Nerva and AUDIO: The Case of the Gluttonous Guru, the novelisation also dating the story to the 1890s. Alternatively, the COMIC: The Time Machination, which serves as both a prequel and sequel, and PROSE: The Ghoul date Talons to 1889.
  • Louise Jameson named this as her second favourite serial; behind The Sun Makers (also written by Robert Holmes).
  • Louise Jameson didn't have a happy time filming the sewer scenes, as she was suffering from glandular fever — which also forced her to cancel a forthcoming appearance on the Saturday morning children's phone-in show Multi-Coloured Swap Shop (1976-1982). Not only did she have to contend with thrashing about in the water, but she discovered that the undergarments which made up her costume became partly transparent when damp.
  • A large pile of straw seen in the road as Weng-Chiang searches for the time cabinet was placed there to cover a modern car, which had not been moved off the street despite requests by the production crew to local residents.
  • This story featured the first Doctor Who work by John Nathan-Turner as series production unit manager. 
  • Christopher Eccleston watched this serial to prepare for his role as the Ninth Doctor.
  • Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter recalled being overcome with a case of the giggles after both of them climbed inside the dumbwaiter. Aware that the door was shortly due to open from where the next scene would begin, they tried very hard to stifle the laughter and were able to bring it under control before the camera continued filming. Baxter claimed he managed it by imagining his mother being run over by eight steamrollers. (BFX: The Mahogany Murderers)
  • Deep Roy would later appear in the Blake's 7 episode "Gambit", which was also written by Robert Holmes, produced by David Maloney and scored by Dudley Simpson.
  • The plot was structured so that location filming — which would be carried out first — featured more prominently towards the start of the story, enabling David Maloney to begin his planning as early as possible.
  • During the location shoot in London, the team was approached by local police officers who asked to borrow Buller's prop corpse to prank one of their junior colleagues.
  • For location filming in Wapping, residents had been asked to avoid parking their cars on the street. Even so, the cast and production crew arrived to find a Porsche in full view. Thinking quickly, designer Roger Murray-Leach covered the luxury automobile in a tarpaulin and draped it in hay from the vehicle which had transported the horses pulling the hansom cab.
  • During editing, part five was found to be overrunning and so its cliffhanger was repositioned. Originally, this was to be the sequence of Greel threatening the Doctor with Leela's death at the hands of Mr Sin, but the instalment would now close on the reveal of the villain's mutilated face.
  • Christopher Benjamin and Chris Gannon had previously appeared in the first season of Gangsters.

Racial overtones and issues[]

  • Philip Hinchcliffe cited Fu Manchu to Robert Holmes as an item to use as inspiration for writing The Talons of Weng-Chiang.[3] This decision, and its subsequent impact upon the story as an influence, has been since the source of significant criticism. Most of this controversy in the years immediately following its creation was in the US and Canada, where the racial stereotyping and usage of "yellowface" (a practice where yellow makeup and prosthetics are applied to make an individual appear Asian) had already fallen into disfavour many years earlier. It has also been pointed out that Fu Manchu was a depiction that Chinese people had been campaigning and protesting against since the 1920s.[4][5]
    • The Canadian syndication run on TVOntario in 1980 dropped the story and did not air it, due to complaints from the local Chinese Canadian community. In their complaint to TVOntario, the Chinese Canadian National Council described The Talons of Weng-Chiang as "dangerous, offensive, racist stereotyping to associate the Chinese with everything fearful and despicable".[6] Specifically, the CCNC's Dr. Joseph Wong also highlighted the Fu Manchu element as one of the issues.[7][8] According to Peter Ware (who is half-Chinese), this protest partly came as a result of TVOntario showing the story to a focus group of Chinese locals, who took strong offence.[9]
    • The story was not shown on Los Angeles television after 1985 for similar reasons, this time involving a local sponsor of Asian extraction. And multiple other stations in the US and Canada also declined to air it. [source needed]
  • Despite the story continuing to be acclaimed by Doctor Who fans, the story has also garnered controversy in later years for its stereotypical portrayals of the Chinese.
    • Aside from character actor John Bennett, (an Englishman) playing the role of Chang in yellowface[10], the story has been criticised for portraying its Chinese characters as either "coolies" (locally sourced labourers, often Chinese) or tong members.
  • Another point of strong criticism is the Jago's use of the slur "celestial" in reference to Li H'sen Chang, which goes unchallenged by the Doctor.[11] - and the Doctor also makes an unpleasant remark about Li H'sen Chang's eyebrows. Attention has also been drawn to Litefoot's use of the slur "ch*nks"[10][12] (which Stacey Smith? levelled criticism at for the lack of rebuttal within the story[13]) and Greel referring to Chang's henchmen as "opium-addicted scum"[11].
    • Additionally, the camera scripts feature further points that have also become representative to fans of the problematic issue; including Sergeant Kyle using the phrase "Chinee" and Leela referring to Li H'Sen Chang as "the yellow one" (in part one), Teresa calling Chang "Mr Chin Chin" (in part three) and the phrase "tong-wallahs" (in part five)[14]
  • Some fans have commented that the moment where the Doctor appears to speak Chinese is actually mangled nonsense, indicative of a lack of research in that regard.
    • This point is supported by the camera script for part one, which notes merely "(Speaks Chinese)".[14]
  • In more recent years, authors like Kate Orman have noted in critical analysis pieces the significance of the Fu Manchu inspiration upon the negative racial overtones of the story.[11] Orman also rebuked the notion that it would have been too hard to find an Asian actor to play the part of Li H'Sen Chang (whilst also noting that even a correct racial casting would not have solved the racial issues inherent in the story's writing).[11]
  • DWM 529 featured a Time Team section on part one of the story. Within it, the members of the Time Team were notably critical of these aspects. Marcus Hearn, who is half-Chinese, was the editor of DWM at the time and wrote his own feelings about the story within his editorial introduction.
    • Hearn's editorial introduction was subject of some fan controversy, with some feeling it was patronising.[15] Co-editor Peter Ware stepped in to point out that both Hearn[16] and himself were half-Chinese[9], and that neither would intend dismissing the feeling of other Chinese people regarding the nature of the story, just presenting his own opinion.[17][18]
      • Ware also pointed out his discomfort with some fans' comments, from those who weren't of Chinese descent/heritage, as he felt it inappropriate for them to tell him or Hearn - who were - whether or not they should personally be offended by those portrayals.[19] Ware had also previously stated a defence of Chang as a character, making the argument that he felt Chang was three-dimensional compared to most other portrayals of Chinese people as villains during that time period and that Chang does at brief moments make comments lightly mocking the prejudices of those around him.[9]
  • Following fan concerns about BritBox's easy access of the story and the decision to continue making it accessible with presence of a racial slur, yellowface and stereotype, BritBox decided to put up a trigger warning saying "Contains stereotypes that some may find offensive" to signpost the nature of the story's content.[20]


  • Part one - 11.3 million viewers
  • Part two - 9.8 million viewers
  • Part three - 10.2 million viewers
  • Part four - 11.4 million viewers
  • Part five - 10.1 million viewers
  • Part six - 9.3 million viewers

Filming locations[]

  • Clink Street, Southwark, London
  • St. Mary's Overy Wharf, Southwark, London
  • Bridewell Place, Wapping, London
  • Wapping Old Stairs, Wapping High Street, London
  • Fish Street Rates Offices, Fish Street, Northampton
  • St Crispin's Hospital, Duston, Northampton
  • Cardinal Cap Alley, Bankside, London
  • Cambridge Park (No 24), Twickenham, Middlesex
  • Wapping Pier Head, Wapping High Street, London
  • St. Katharine's Dock, London
  • Royal Theatre, Guildhall Road, Northampton
  • Ealing Studios, Ealing Green, Ealing
  • BBC Television Centre (TC1 and TC8), Shepherd's Bush, London

Production errors[]

If you'd like to talk about narrative problems with this story — like plot holes and things that seem to contradict other stories — please go to this episode's discontinuity discussion.
  • When the Doctor and Leela emerge from the TARDIS at the beginning of part one, they leave the door partly ajar. They walk away to the poster of Chang, then hear the attack on Buller and run past the TARDIS again. The TARDIS door has closed.
  • When the Doctor and Leela first encounter the members of the Tong dragging the body of Buller away in part one, there are four of them. But after their fight, and when they disappear, there are now five of them.
  • There are modern power points, covered with masking tape, on the walls of Litefoot's lab.
  • A 1970s newspaper (the headline concerns Denis Healey) can be seen in Litefoot's laundry basket in part three.
  • When the Doctor enters the opium den in part five, the lip-synch on his line "Weng-Chiang will show his hand again" is several seconds out.
  • Chang throws a deck of cards up to the Doctor during his show. But the cards are not in a box or bound together in any way so they should really have flown everywhere once Chang threw them.
  • When lighting the fuse in part six, the Doctor drops a lit match before lighting one to use to light the fuse.
  • A boom mike shadow is visible on the curtains near the stage in the final fight in part six.
  • When the Doctor smashes the crystal key on the ground in part six, the deactivated Mr Sin flinches.
  • When the laser beam from the dragon hits a vase in front of Leela, a crew member's hand from behind the curtains can be seen giving it a helping push over.
  • When Leela grabs the revolver from a dead coolie, one of the supposedly "dead" extras can be seen moving his leg a couple of times.
  • The axe in between the eyes of the dragon is missing in the shot in which the Doctor tells Jago and Litefoot he'll buy them muffins.
  • When Leela tells the Doctor "Professor Litefoot has been explaining to me about tea", a boom microphone briefly enters the shot in the top left corner.


Home video and audio releases[]

DVD releases[]

This story was released as Doctor Who: The Talons of Weng-Chiang in a two-disc set.


NTSC - Warner Video

Special Features[]

  • Commentary by Louise Jameson (Leela), Philip Hinchcliffe (producer), David Maloney (director), John Bennett (Li H'sen Chang), and Christopher Benjamin (Henry Gordon Jago)
  • Whose Doctor Who- A special BBC2 documentary from 1977, presented by Melvyn Bragg and featuring behind-the-scenes footage from The Talons of Weng-Chiang
  • Blue Peter Theatre - A compilation of clips from 1970s editions of the popular children's magazine series, including instructions on how to make your own Doctor Who theatre
  • Behind the Scenes - A 25-minute selection of (poor quality) footage on the studio recording of this story
  • Philip Hinchcliffe Interview - The producer discusses Doctor Who on a 1977 edition of Pebble Mill
  • Trailers and Continuity Announcements
  • Photo Gallery
  • Production Subtitles
  • TARDIS-Cam No 6
  • Continuity announcement by Howard Da Silva (Region 1 only)
  • Easter Eggs:
    • Clean 1974 title sequence. To access this hidden feature, press right at Trails and Continuity on Disc Two's Main Menu to reveal a hidden Doctor Who logo.
    • Audio-only continuity announcements. To access this hidden feature, enable Commentary in Disc One's Special Features menu, then return to the Main Menu and select Play All, at which point the feature will play during the end credits of parts one, two and five.
    • Information slide about a trailer for the BBC's 1977 adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby that was shown following the original broadcast of part six, which coincidentally featured a darkened Victorian street with bills posted on the wall. To access this hidden feature, select Play All from Disc One's Main Menu, at which point the feature will play following the end credits of part six.


It was released as issue 41 of Doctor Who DVD Files.

Special Edition release[]

This story was released as Doctor Who: The Talons of Weng-Chiang: Special Edition exclusively as part of the Revisitations box set.


Special Features[]

  • Commentary by Louise Jameson (Leela), John Bennett (Chang), Christopher Benjamin (Jago) producer Philip Hinchcliffe and director David Maloney
  • The Last Hurrah - Tom Baker and Phillip Hinchcliffe discuss the making of the story
  • Moving On - What would the next season have looked like if Hinchcliffe had stayed?
  • The Foe from the Future - A look at the unmade story that turned into The Talons of Weng-Chiang
  • Now & Then - Locations past and present
  • Look East - Contemporary news feature with Tom Baker
  • Victoriana & Chinoiserie - The literature behind the story
  • Music Hall - A documentary about the British theatrical tradition
  • Limehouse - A Victorian Chinatown - The setting of The Talons of Weng-Chiang in context
  • Whose Doctor Who - Melvin Bragg presents this 1977 Lively Arts documentary about Doctor Who
  • Blue Peter Theatre - The Blue Peter team make a Doctor Who theatre
  • Behind the Scenes - Rare studio footage
  • Phillip Hinchcliffe Interview - A contemporary interview from Pebble Mill at One
  • TARDIS-Cam No 6 - A short animation
  • Trails and Continuity
  • Radio Times Billings (PDF DVD-ROM - PC/Mac)
  • Production Information Subtitles
  • Photo Gallery (Disc Two)
  • Photo Gallery (Disc Three)
  • Coming Soon Trailer - The Seeds of Doom
  • Easter Eggs:
    • Clean 1974 title sequence. To access this hidden feature, press right at Trails and Continuity on Disc Three's Main Menu to reveal a hidden Doctor Who logo.
    • Audio-only continuity announcements. To access this hidden feature, enable Commentary in the Audio Options section of Disc One's Special Features menu, then return to the Main Menu and select Play All, at which point the feature will play during the end credits of parts one, two and five.

Blu-ray release[]

  • This story was released on Doctor Who The Collection - Season 14 on 6 May 2020.

Special Features[]

Disc One[]
  • Updated Special Effects - Option to view the story with new special effects.
  • Commentary - With Louise Jameson, Philip Hinchcliffe, David Maloney, John Bennett, and Christopher Benjamin. Recorded in 2003.
  • Commentary 2 - New for Blu-ray, with Tom Baker on Parts One, Four and Six. Recorded in 2019.
  • Info Text
  • The Last Hurrah - the making of The Talons of Weng-Chiang.
  • Behind the Sofa
  • Pebble Mill - Philip Hinchcliffe's appearance on 31/03/77 during the broadcast of The Talons of Weng-Chiang.
  • Location Report - An Interview with Tom Baker, screened on Look East on 14/01/77. Available to view with the finished, mixed sound or with the raw location audio.
  • Now and Then - Revisiting the original Talons locations.
  • BBC1 Trails & Continuities
  • HD Photo Gallery
  • PDF Written Archive
Disc Two[]
  • Whose Doctor Who - The vintage documentary presented by Melvyn Bragg, screened on BBC2 on 03/04/77, the day after transmission of Talons Part Six. Featuring behind-the-scenes footage from rehearsal and recording sessions, and interviews with Tom Baker and Philip Hinchcliffe. New HD transfer.
  • Whose Doctor Who Revisited - Toby Hadoke meets the cast and crew of Whose Doctor Who, including producer Tony Cash, to discuss the making of this landmark documentary.
  • Studio Footage - Rare black-and-white footage from the studio recording.
  • Blue Peter - The Blue Peter team make a Doctor Who puppet theatre, with help from sound effects expert Dick Mills. Assembled from editions screened during April and May 1977.
  • The Foe from the Future - The original storyline that was replaced by The Talons of Weng-Chiang.
  • Moving On - Philip Hinchcliffe's future plans for Doctor Who, had he produced the series for a longer period.
  • Deep Roy Interview - A brand new interview with the Mr Sin actor, who has enjoyed a long and varied career in film and television.
  • Limehouse
  • Victoriana & Chinoiserie
  • Music Hall
  • PDF Written Archive

The back of the Blu-ray and booklet also contain the following warning:

This story contains language that may offend

Video releases[]

This story was released as Doctor Who: The Talons of Weng-Chiang.


  • UK November 1988 (compilation form)
PAL - BBC Video
  • US February 1988 (compilation form)
  • US March 1998 (Repackaged as part of The Gateway Collection and still in compilation form)
  • Australia April 1987 (compilation form)


  • The video had some slight edits to remove the use of nunchaku during the fight scene between the Doctor and the Tong of the Black Scorpion in part one, as these were at the time classed as illegal weapons in the UK and couldn't be shown on-screen. This ruling has since been relaxed, and the sequence appears intact on DVD.
  • Although it has been popularly believed that the scene in part five of the Doctor gaining access to the opium den by poking the key out of the lock and pulling it under the door on a piece of paper was edited out of the video release, this is not the case: the sequence was retained intact. The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) had originally wanted this scene removed to avoid showing a children's hero breaking and entering. However, BBC Video decided to retain the whole sequence — explaining to the BBFC that the aforementioned key-and-paper trick rarely worked in real life.
  • The BBC Video release was at one point only available in Australia.

Digital releases[]

Script book[]

  • In November 1989, Titan Books published the scripts for the serial as part of its Doctor Who: The Scripts line of books.

Novelisation and its audiobook[]

Main article: Doctor Who and the Talons of Weng-Chiang


  1. Date on Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine and the year given in AUDIO: Destination: Nerva and AUDIO: The Case of the Gluttonous Guru. The novelisation also dates the story to the 1890s, but it is dated 1889 in COMIC: The Time Machination.
  2. Doctor Who In Memoriam 2022
  3. http://www.shannonsullivan.com/drwho/serials/4s.html
  4. "Yellow Peril, Dark Hero: Fu Manchu and the 'Gothic Bedevilment' of Racist Intent", Karen Kingsbury, pg. 105 (published in 2004 as part of The Gothic Other: Racial and Social Constructions in the Literary Imaginations, edited by Ruth Bienstock Anolik and Douglas L. Howard, by McFarland & Co.)
  5. The Chinese in Britain, 1800-Present: Economy, Transnationalism, Identity, Gregor Benton and Edmund Terence Gomez, pg. 313 (published 2008 by Palgrave MacMillan)
  6. Chinese object to Dr. Who". Regina Leader-Post. 7 November 1980. p. 12. Archival copy at https://www.newspapers.com/image/495995728/
  7. https://torontoist.com/2013/11/next-on-tvontario-doctor-who/
  8. "TVOntario cancels the rest of Dr. Who", The Canadian Press, 7th November 1980
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 DOC: Race Against Time
  10. 10.0 10.1 https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/britbox-opens-up-racist-doctor-who-can-of-worms-kv9pt68x5
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Doctor Who and Race, Chapter 11, Kate Orman (edited by Lindy Orthia, released June 2013 by Intellect Books)
  12. https://groups.google.com/g/rec.arts.drwho/c/UaMhhbRXcOI/m/TUlXI9htTwIJ
  13. https://groups.google.com/g/rec.arts.drwho/c/UaMhhbRXcOI/m/rT6tp0U13bkJ
  14. 14.0 14.1 Camera scripts for The Talons of Weng-Chiang (as released in the PDF extras of The Collection - Season 14 bluray)
  15. https://twitter.com/morelandwriter/status/1031510739587149824
  16. https://twitter.com/PercyIvorWoo/status/1031567785686720514
  17. https://twitter.com/PercyIvorWoo/status/1031619595235483653
  18. https://twitter.com/PercyIvorWoo/status/1031577718931030018
  19. https://twitter.com/PercyIvorWoo/status/1031563089802604545
  20. https://www.digitalspy.com/tv/a31633239/doctor-who-trigger-warnings-britbox/

External links[]