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Recap: Doctor Who S14 E6 "The Talons of Weng-Chiang"
WhoLock: The Early Yearsnote 
"Doctor, you make me wear strange clothes, you tell me nothing: you are trying to annoy me."
Leela

Doctor Who goes all Sherlock Holmes-Meets-Hammer Horror in this tale set in Victorian London. Police pathologist Professor George Litefoot is investigating a body found floating in the Thames, and, with help from the Doctor, determines that hairs found on the body come from a giant rat. Also, Leela has to wear period clothing and learn table manners.

Moving into the sewers to investigate, the Doctor, Leela and Litefoot discover giant rats on the loose and follow the trail to the Palace Theatre. Stage magician Li H'sen Chang has been kidnapping young "wretched girls" for his master, the ancient Chinese god Weng-Chiang. In reality, "Weng-Chiang" is the 51st century war criminal Magnus Greel, who feeds on the girls' lifeforce to stabilise his molecular structure, which was ravaged by the trip through time. The theatre's owner, Mr. Jago, teams up with the Doctor to try and stop his former employee.

Greel's "Time Cabinet" was lost in London and has been found by Litefoot, so Greel sends Chang's ventriloquist's doll, "Mr. Sin" (a computerised homonculus with a pig's brain... well, the 51st century is a bit weird like that) to infiltrate Litefoot's house and retrieve it. Mr. Sin succeeds, but the Doctor and friends manage to intervene before Greel can escape. He falls into his own lifeforce-extracting machine and is disintegrated, before the Doctor manages to deactivate Mr. Sin. The Doctor buys everyone muffins to celebrate.


Another episode by Robert Holmes, this episode is markedly Darker and Edgier, Hotter and Sexier, as well as Bloodier and Gorier than most of classic Doctor Who. It is generally regarded as one the best, if not the best, serials of the entire series, despite piles of Unfortunate Implications.

The characters of Jago and Litefoot, along with PC Quick, have their own Big Finish Doctor Who spinoff range. It also occasionally features the Fourth and Sixth Doctors, as well as Leela.

Christopher Eccleston watched this serial to prepare for his role as the Ninth Doctor.

Watch it here

Tropes

  • Added Alliterative Appeal: As many of Jago's lines as he can possibly manage.
  • Absurdly Spacious Sewer
  • Affably Evil: Li H'sen Chang. He makes a Heel-Face Turn eventually.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Mister Sin.
  • Almost Dead Guy: Li H'sen Chang.
  • Asian Speekee Engrish: Used by Chang in his act, seeing as how if he spoke normally, his Victorian audience would doubt that he is actually from China.
  • Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work: Sin kills off the Tong of the Black Scorpion when he goes out of control.
  • Batman Grabs a Gun: He even actively asks for it. Not that he would use it on a human, but the Doctor does shoot a giant rat with it.
  • BFG: Lightfoot's elephant gun is the period equivalent.
  • Black Comedy: On being introduced to Li H'sen Chang the Doctor asks to see a trick. The Tong member promptly drops dead from the suicide pill. The Doctor applauds.
  • Body Horror: We get a very brief look at Greel's face. We see that half of his face is melting!!!
  • Bound and Gagged: Leela in Episode 6 as she is put in Greel's machine.
  • Breakout Character: Jago and Litefoot, who got their own extremely successful audio spinoff.
  • The Butcher (of Brisbane): Magnus Greel.
  • Call Forward: While it's likely only a coincidence, Jago's distraction in order to distract Mr. Sin is remarkably similar to a "strategy" the Eleventh Doctor attempts, over 900 years later. Perhaps Mr. Jago was The Doctor's inspiration.
  • Call Back: A rather sneaky one: The Doctor mentions he hasn't been to China for about 400 years.
    • Though that would actually be about 600 years ago. Of course, the Doctor could be referring to another adventure.
  • Changed My Jumper: When the TARDIS first materializes, Leela steps out complaining about having to wear appropriate clothes. The Doctor's voice from inside the TARDIS tells her, "You can't go around Victorian London in skins, you'd frighten the horses." Then he himself emerges in the stereotypical Sherlock Holmes outfit -- only more colorful -- and says, "We don't want to be conspicuous, do we?"
  • Chinese Launderer
  • Concealment Equals Cover: A flimsy wooden table is enough to shield the protagonists from Fricking Laser Beams. The laser beams at least start punching holes through the table, though
  • Cyanide Pill: Li H'sen Chang slips a scorpion venom pill to a member of the Black Scorpion Tong who has been captured by the police, who then commits suicide to avoid revealing anything under interrogation. Later on, a bumbling minion is forced to take a pill too.
  • Darker and Edgier: Heavily implied underage prostitutes. Leela in completely soaked clothes. A guy getting his leg ripped off and dragged through the water, and subsequently smoking opium on screen to dull the pain before he dies in the Doctor's arms. Producer Philip Hinchcliffe had been axed for excessive horrific content and in this, his final serial, had nothing to lose.
  • Demonic Dummy: Mister Sin is presumed to be one at the beginning of the serial.
  • Disappearing Box: Li H'sen Chang uses this in his act.
  • Disposable Sex Worker/Disposable Vagrant: Greel identifies his victims as "a few contemptible slatterns who will never be missed"; Chang protests that they are being missed and it's getting people's attention.
  • Evil Laugh: Greel gets an amazing one in the episode 4 cliffhanger.
  • Expy: Greel, of the Master as depicted in "The Deadly Assassin": both are black-cloaked, physically decayed villains with time machines who are trying to stave off their own death.
    • The original draft of the serial actually had The Master as the villain. Greel was made after the Master was vetoed.
    • As "Minister of Justice" for the Supreme Alliance and a mad scientist who experiments on humans Greel also combines traits of Heinrich Himmler and Josef Mengele.
  • "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner: Leela's response to an imminent and agonizing death at the hands of Magnus Greel shows a marked difference in attitude to that of previous female companions.
    "When we are both in the Great Hereafter, I will hunt you down, Bent-Face! And put you through my agonies a thousand times!"
  • Filipinos with Firearms: Apparently the Philippines is a world power in the 51st century as the Doctor mentions marching with the Filipino Army as they advanced on a Supreme Alliance stronghold of Reykjavik. This is endlessly amusing to the few Filipinos who've heard about this episode (or this show, for that matter).
    • The episode doesn't actually say that the Philippines are a world power, just that a Filipino army took part in the final battle.
  • Fish Out of Temporal Water: Leela doesn't adapt well to Victorian values.
  • For the Evulz: Sin seems to end up like this, killing for the sake of it. He even shoots the Mooks.
  • For Science!: When the Doctor says a 100,000 deaths can be laid at Greel's door, Greel says they were used for science.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar:
    • The "wretched girls" who are taken from the streets wear layers of makeup and red clothing, and it's remarked that they can't be older than 16.
    • Leela has a Sexy Soaked Shirt moment just after the giant rat sequence that apparently has not been edited out in over 30 years.
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom: Li H'sen Chang's eyes glow whenever he hypnotises someone.
  • God Guise: Magnus Greel posing as Weng-Chiang, though he doesn't try to hide his identify from Chang to whom it makes no difference anyway, as Greel has raised him up from his humble life as a peasant to a man who performs before royalty.
    Doctor: "You know he's not a God, don't you?"
    Chang: "He came to me like a God, in his cabinet of fire!"
  • His Name Is...: Chang survives the giant rat enough to tell the Doctor that Weng-Chiang is in the "House of the Dragon", but not long enough to actually tell where it is.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Greel thinks this has happened to him in the future when the Doctor refers to his crimes, saying the winning side writes the history.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Greel ends up killed by his own life-extraction chamber.
  • Hostage For Macguffin: The Doctor refuses to give the Time Key before Jago and Litefoot are freed. Later, he adds that he wants the girls that are to be Magnus's next meal freed, too. Too bad it doesn't work.
  • Human Sacrifice: Jago thinks the Chinese will do this. Litefoot says he's thinking of the Druids.
  • Hypnotic Eyes: Li H'sen Chang can hypnotise girls with just a look.
  • Identical-Looking Asians: Chang sarcastically says, "I understand we all look alike," when the Doctor asks if they've met before.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Well, more of You Need A Freaking Drink, as Jago offers Casey a drink to help him calm down. Then Casey proceeds to drain the flask.
  • Instant Sedation: Possible subversion — the title villain uses an unspecified knockout drug on a cloth to capture Leela, and she goes down fast... but she has enough time to tear the villain's mask off.
    • Given the time period, it was probably either chloroform or ether.
  • In the Past, Everyone Will Be Famous: Not in the events of the story, but the Doctor mentions having shared a meal with the Venerable Bede.
  • Jack the Ripoff: The disappearances and murder of several women in Whitechapel? You guessed it. The original draft had the Doctor chasing Jack the Ripper.
    • Casey, the theater stagehand, hangs a lampshade on this. Jago is immediately dismissive.
  • Large Ham: MAGNUS GREEL!!!!!
    • Henry Gordon Jago comes a fairly close second.
  • Life Drinker: Magnus Greel attempts to stay alive by draining the life essence out of young women. Leela only just avoids suffering this fate.
  • Magicians Are Wizards: Li H'sen Chang is a Stage Magician... and a bit more, with the technology given to him by his master.
  • Mind Control
  • Nice Hat: The Doctor, Leela, Chang's thugs, and Greel each have one; Chang has two.
  • Opium Den: Though Li H'sen actually only uses opium to numb the pain from his rat-chewed leg.
  • Pig Man: The Peking Homunculus is a murderous midget robot made from the cerebral cortex of a pig.
  • Raised by Natives: The Doctor's cover story for Leela.
  • Rodents of Unusual Size: The rat.
  • See You in Hell: Leela gets a Crowning Moment Of Awesome when she tells the villain she'll hunt him down in the next life.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Shur Fine Guns: Litefoot worries that the Doctor's elephant gun (which hasn't been used in years) might go off in the Doctor's face. "Nonsense," the Doctor assures him, "it was made in Birmingham."
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: When Greel talks about how he is remembered as a villain due to the other side writing the history and how the people he killed helped his time travel experiments the Doctor tells him the people were slaughtered and that the experiments came to nothing.
  • Skewed Priorities: Mr. Jago's first concern when he discovers his employee has been helping to murder many innocent young women is how he can make a profit with a guided tour of the villains lair.
  • Slurpasaur: That giant rat is played, at least in part, by a perfectly normal rat in a model sewer.
  • Smart People Play Chess: The Doctor puts Greel into Checkmate. Greel knocks the pieces over.
  • Spinoff: Jago & Litefoot were so popular that a spinoff was briefly discussed; 30 years later, Big Finish gave them their own story and, in 2010, their own series.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Magnus Greel seems to be one for the Master. What with both being hammy mass murderers on the run, dying and desperately looking for a way to cheat death. Magnus even talks about regeneration a few times.
  • Title Drop: When Magnus is about to kill Leela, he drops the serial name.
  • Those Two Guys: Jago & Litefoot.
  • Translation Convention: The Doctor and Litefoot both get to show off their fluency in Chinese, but all conversation between Weng-Chiang and his Chinese henchmen is in (bad) English.
  • The Triads and the Tongs: Greel's mooks are members of the Tong of the Black Scorpion.
  • Victorian London
  • World War Whatever: Greel is described as having almost caused World War Six.
  • The X of Y
  • Yellowface: A particularly noteworthy example, especially within the annals of Who.
  • Yellow Peril: Which along with the Yellowface led to the story being Banned In Canada.
  • You Have Failed Me: Averted. The Dragon is simply fired, and sets out to save face on his own.
    • Later on, a Tong member who failed one time to many is forced to commit suicide.
  • You Look Familiar: John "General Finch" Bennett returns as Li H'sen Chang.
  • You Rebel Scum!: Magnus Greel repeatedly refers to his Tong hatchetmen mooks as "opium-addicted scum".

Doctor Who S14 E5 'The Robots of Death"Recap/Doctor WhoDoctor Who S15 E1 'Horror of Fang Rock"

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