I have to apologize for this post, because these comments about “The Talons of Weng-Chiang won’t be in as much depth as I’d like it to be. What with being busy for the past week and then other things happening, it’s been a week since we watched this episode and I’ve forgotten a lot. We’ve also watched “Horror at Fang Rock” since then, and my head is filled with that episode, so sadly this one is going to suffer.
Spoilers, of course (basic plot summary ahead).
TTWC (sorry, some episode titles are too hard to type) was the last episode in the Fourth Doctor’s third season, and the third episode with the Sevateem barbarian Leela. It’s set in Victorian England, where the Doctor has brought Leela to experience some culture. They find that women have been disappearing mysteriously, and that it seems to be connected to the Chinese stage magician Li H’sen, who is currently performing at a theater owned and run by Henry Gordon Jago. Li H’sen is secretly trying to help his god, Weng-Chiang, to return to power, and has been kidnapping the girls to feed to him, while trying to locate an artifact called the Cabinet of Weng-Chiang. The Doctor deduces that “Weng-Chiang” is actually a despot from the future, Magnus Greel, who landed here using the Time Cabinet, the results of a dangerous and failed time travel experiment. Greel is mutating and dying from the effects of the experiment and incorrectly thinks that using the cabinet again will repair his body and take him to a better time period. With the help of Jago and Professor Litefoot (who helps the Doctor figure out what’s going on and happens to have the Time Cabinet in his house), the Doctor manages to defeat Greel.
I definitely enjoyed this episode a lot, though at this point I can’t put a finger on any specific reasons why. The story was fun, the characters were all great, and the pacing was good, even though it was six-part episode. Jago was a particularly great character – the blustering manager who thinks he’s cleverer and more entertaining than he is – and he was paired well with Litefoot, the more serious and intelligent investigative type. The two characters go on to have more adventures investigating alien phenomena in twenty-four Big Finish audios, and I think the producers chose those characters to expand very well.
Another thing I particularly liked was Leela. I saw her in “The Robots of Death,” and I’m going to talk about her again when I write about “Horror at Fang Rock,” because, well, they handled her character very well in all three episodes. She’s a barbarian, and she’s allowed to be one. When she’s attacked by Li H’sen’s homonculus, she throws a knife at at (it’s an inanimate object, so it doesn’t stop it, but still). When she has nowhere else to run, she dives through a glass window to escape. If something threatens her, she’s got her knife ready and she’s ready to draw up battle plans. Meanwhile, the Doctor is trying to educate her, and she’s trying her best to understand civilization. She doesn’t always succeed, but she does try, and she’s eager to learn. She’s a great character, and enjoyable to watch.
So, in short, this is another great Fourth Doctor episode, definitely worth watching (and free to stream if you’ve got Netflix or Amazon Prime). Next up, “Horror at Fang Rock.”