The Talons of Weng-Chiang was the sixth and final story of Season 14, and is often considered one of the most popular classic series serials. Fan-favourite characters Henry Gordon Jago and George Litefoot make their first and only televised appearance.
The 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 Oriental stage magician, a murderous ventriloquist's dummy and giant rats in the sewers.
PlotThe Doctor and Leela arrive in London so that Leela can learn about the customs of her ancestors, specifically the musical theatre of Victorian England. Performing at the Palace Theatre on an extended run is the stage magician Li H'sen Chang, although the Doctor mentions he did hope to catch Little Tich. On their way to the Palace Theatre, the Doctor and Leela encounter a group of Chinese men who have apparently killed a cab driver. They attempt to silence the Doctor and Leela but are frightened away by the distant whistle of an approaching peeler. All but one escape. He is taken to the local police station, along with the Doctor and Leela.
At the station, Li H'sen Chang is called in to act as an interpreter. Unbeknownst to the others, he is the leader of the group to which the captured Chinese man belongs. Chang secretly gives the captive henchman a pill of concentrated scorpion venom, which the man obediently takes and dies. The Doctor, upon a brief examination of the body, finds a scorpion tattoo – the symbol of the Tong of the Black Scorpion, devout followers of an ancient god Weng-Chiang.
The body is taken to the local mortuary. Also there is the body of the cabbie, which had just been found floating in the river. There the Doctor and Leela meet Professor Litefoot, who is performing the autopsies. The cabbie is Joseph Buller, who had been looking for his wife Emma, the latest in a string of missing women in the area. Buller had gone down to the Palace Theatre where he had confronted Chang about his wife's disappearance. Chang,who knows the truth, had sent his men, including the diminutive Mr Sin, to kill Buller. Chang is in the service of Magnus Greel, a despot from the 51st century who had fled from the authorities in a time cabinet. The technology of the cabinet is based on "zygma energy," which is unstable and has disrupted Greel's own DNA. This forces him to drain the life essences from young women to keep himself alive.
At the same time, Greel is in search of his cabinet, taken from him by Chinese Imperial soldiers, and which in turn had been given by the Imperial Court to Professor Litefoot's parents as a gift. Mr Sin is also from the future but is a robotic toy constructed with the cerebral cortex of a pig. It is better known as the Peking Homunculus, a vile thing that almost caused World War Six when its organic pig part took over the toy's functions.
Greel tracks down the time cabinet and steals it, whilst concurrently the Doctor tracks Greel to the sewers underneath the Palace Theatre, aided (rather clumsily) by the theatre's owner, Henry Gordon Jago. However, Greel has already fled his lair, abandoning Chang to the police. Chang escapes but only to be mauled by one of the giant rats – products of Greel's experiments which were then used to guard his sewer hideout.
While the Doctor and Leela try to find Greel's new hideout, Jago comes across a bag of future technological artefacts, among which is the key to the time cabinet. He takes it to Professor Litefoot's house, and there, after leaving the artefacts and a note for the Doctor, the Professor and Jago set out to follow anyone coming around the Palace Theatre in search of the bag. However, they are captured for their efforts. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Leela happen upon Chang in an opium den; there, he tells them that Greel can be found in the House of the Dragon but dies before telling them its exact location.
The Doctor and Leela return to Professor Litefoot's house, where they find the note and the key to the time cabinet. They decide to wait for Greel and his henchmen. When they arrive, the Doctor uses the key, a fragile crystal known as a Trionic Lattice, as a bargaining chip. He asks to be taken to the House of the Dragon, offering the key in exchange for Lightfoot's and Jago's release. Instead, Greel overpowers the Doctor and locks him in with the two amateur sleuths.
Leela, who had been left at Litefoot's house at the Doctor's behest, has followed them and confronts Greel. She is captured and set in his life-essence extraction machine, a catalytic extraction chamber, but before her life essence is drained in order to feed Greel, the Doctor, Jago and Litefoot escape and rescue her. In a final confrontation, Mr Sin turns on Greel as the Doctor convinces it that Greel escaping in his time cabinet will create a catastrophic implosion. The Doctor defeats Greel by forcibly pushing him into his own catalytic extraction chamber, damaging it and causing it to overload.
Having fallen victim to his own machine, Greel suffers Cellular Collapse and disintegrates. The Doctor defeats the Peking Homunculus by ripping its cerebral cortex from its toy-body before bringing the Zygma Experiment to a permanent end by destroying the lattice, just in time for the coming dawn and the muffin man.
As the Doctor prepares the TARDIS, Litefoot attempts to explain tea to Leela, only to baffle her further. The Doctor and Leela bid farewell to Jago and Litefoot as they enter the TARDIS. Confused by the police box, Litefoot is astonished by its dematerialisation, a stunt which Jago remarks that even Li H'sen Chang could have appreciated.
- The Doctor - Tom Baker
- Leela - Louise Jameson
- Magnus Greel - Michael Spice
- Li H'sen Chang - John Bennett
- Mr. Sin - Deep Roy
- Henry Gordon Jago - Christopher Benjamin
- Professor Litefoot - Trevor Baxter
- Sergeant Kyle - David McKail
- Buller - Alan Butler
- Casey - Chris Gannon
- PC Quick - Conrad Asquith
- Ghoul - Patsy Smart
- Lee - Tony Then
- Coolie - John Wu
- Teresa - Judith Lloyd
- Cleaning Woman - Vaune Craig-Raymond
- Singer - Penny Lister
- Ho - Vincent Wong
- Assistant Floor Manager - Linda Graeme
- Costumes - John Bloomfield
- Designer - Roger Murray-Leach
- Fight Arranger - Stuart Fell
- Film Cameraman - Fred Hamilton
- Film Editor - David Lee
- Incidental Music - Dudley Simpson
- Make-Up - Heather Stewart
- Producer - Philip Hinchcliffe
- Production Assistant - Ros Anderson
- Production Unit Manager - Chris D'Oyly-John, John Nathan-Turner
- Script Editor - Robert Holmes
- Special Sounds - Dick Mills
- Studio Lighting - Mike Jefferies
- Studio Sound - Clive Gifford
- Theme Arrangement - Delia Derbyshire
- Title Music - Ron Grainer
- Visual Effects - Michealjohn Harris
- Leela uses janis thorns against the Tong agents.
- The Doctor says he was last in China 400 years ago.
- The Doctor was "with the Filipino Army at the final advance on Reykjavik" in the 51st century.
- The Doctor mentions that he shared a fish caught in the Fleet with the Venerable Bede.
- Among the items in the Doctor's pockets are a yo-yo, a toy Batmobile, and a stuffed mouse.
- Time agents are mentioned.
- The Peking Homunculus was made for the Commissioner of the Icelandic Alliance's children in "the Ice Age around the year 5000"
- The parallax synchrone and a trionic lattice are aspects of the Time cabinet.
- Greel's time experiments were powered by zygma energy.
- This story had working titles of The Foe From The Future and The Talons Of Greel.
- Some associations and influences have been noted for The Talons of Weng-Chiang; among these are:
- Magnus Greel's 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, are all strongly reminiscent of Gaston Leroux's novel The Phantom of the Opera.
- The Doctor wears a deerstalker hat, the characteristic headgear of Arthur Conan Doyle's detective Sherlock Holmes.
- The giant rat is reminiscent of animals grown to enormous size in the H. G. Wells novel Food of the Gods. It also may be another Holmes reference, since there is a famous reference to a never-told mystery involving "the giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared."
- Li H'sen Chang is reminiscent of Fu Manchu, the villain of a series of novels by Sax Rohmer.
- This is the only story of the Fourth Doctor's era in which the Doctor does not wear his famous long scarf at any point.
- This is one of two stories in which Leela does not wear her "savage" costume. As the character was inspired by Eliza Doolittle, it was decided to try and move her away from her Sevateem trappings, such as this episode in which she wears period garb.
- The conductor of the Palace Theatre orchestra is played by incidental-music composer Dudley Simpson.
- By the time Holmes had begun work on The Talons of Greel, it had become apparent that Hinchcliffe, and possibly Holmes would be leaving the show at the end of the current season. Hinchcliffe therefore decided to throw caution to the wind and spend record amounts on the production, utilising many different locations as well as agreeing to expensive night time shoots.
- During production of The Talons of Greel, Hinchcliffe’s successor Graham Williams gradually took over the reigns, his first concern being the character of Leela. Williams approached Louise Jameson with an offer of the actress staying on for Season Fifteen. 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 and 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 Fifteen.
- The later comic book story IDW: The Time Machination would reveal 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
- This story has garnered controversy for some of its Asian roles being played by white actors in "yellowface". Most of this controversy is in the US and Canada, where yellowface fell out of practice earlier than it did in the UK. Indeed, TVOntario refused to rerun it and multiple stations in the US and Canada declined to even air it.
- Part 1 - 11.3 million viewers
- Part 2 - 9.8 million viewers
- Part 3 - 10.2 million viewers
- Part 4 - 11.4 million viewers
- Part 5 - 10.1 million viewers
- Part 6 - 9.3 million viewers
to be added
- 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
- BBC Television Centre (TC1 and TC8), Shepherd's Bush, London
- 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-sync on his line "Weng-Chiang will show his hand again" is several seconds out.
- A boom mike shadow is visible on the curtains near the stage in the final fight.
- When the Doctor smashes the crystal key on the ground, the deactivated Mr. Sin flinches.
- When the Doctor and Leela leave the TARDIS, they leave the door partly open. They walk away to the poster of Chiang, then hear the attack on Bullard and run past the TARDIS again. The TARDIS door has closed. The TARDIS does have an automatic system for the door, it could have been that.
- The Doctor confronts the after affects of this story's events in MA: The Shadow of Weng-Chiang.
- The Doctor revisits Litefoot in EDA: The Bodysnatchers.
- The events surrounding Magnus Greel and his time experiments are shown in some detail in EDA: Emotional Chemistry.
- The Doctor says he was in China 400 years ago which could be a reference to DW: Marco Polo.
- The adventures of Henry Gordon Jago and George Litefoot continue in BFA: The Mahogany Murderers and the subsequent Jago and Litefoot series.
Home video and audio releases
Released as Doctor Who: The Talons of Weng-Chiang in a two-disc set.
- PAL - BBC DVD BBCDVD1152
- NTSC - Warner Video E1814
- Whose Doctor Who Documentary - BBC Two documentary from 1977, presented by Melvyn Bragg.
- Blue Peter Theatre - Clips from various 1970s editions of the magazine show.
- Behind the scenes - Footage from the studio recording of the story.
- Philip Hinchcliffe Interview - From a 1977 edition of Pebble Mill.
- Photo Gallery
- Production Subtitles
- Easter Eggs (?/Voice over announcement)
- Commentary: Louise Jameson, Philip Hinchcliffe, David Maloney, John Bennett, and Christopher Benjamin.
- Editing for DVD release completed by Doctor Who Restoration Team.
2 Entertain has announced that a new edition of the DVD, with additional special features and restoration, will be included in a box set entitled Revisitations scheduled for release in October 2010.
According to Doctor Who Magazine 424 (22nd July 2010), the 3 disc Revisitations version includes the following extras:
- The Last Hurrah - the making of The Talons of Weng-Chiang
- Moving On - Philip Hinchcliffe's future plans for Doctor Who, had he produced the series for a longer period
- The Foe from the Future - the original storyline that was replaced by The Talons of Weng-Chiang
- Now and Then
- Look East (with Tom Baker)
- Victoriana & Chinoiserie
- Music Hall
- Radio Times Listing
- New Photo Gallery
Disc 3: Contains the same extras as disc 2 of the original DVD release.
Released as Doctor Who: The Talons of Weng-Chiang.
- PAL - BBC Video BBCV4187
- US February 1988 (Movie Format)
- US March 1998 (Repackaged as part of The Gateway Collection and still in Movie Format)
- Australia April 1987 (Movie Format)
- The video had some slight edits to remove the use of nunchukas 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 the DVD release.
- Although it has been popularly believed that the scene 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.
- This BBC Video release was previously only available in Australia.
Novelisation and its audiobook
- Main article: Doctor Who and the Talons of Weng-Chiang
- In November 1989, Titan Books published the scripts for the serial as part of its Doctor Who: The Scripts line of books.
- The Talons of Weng-Chiang at the BBC's official site
- The Talons of Weng-Chiang at Shannon Sullivan's A Brief History of Time (Travel)
- The Talons of Weng-Chiang at The Locations Guide
- The Tardis Library - Video release information for The Talons of Weng-Chiang