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Recap / Doctor Who S14 E6 "The Talons of Weng-Chiang"

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WhoLock: The Early Yearsnote 
"Doctor, you make me wear strange clothes, you tell me nothing: you are trying to annoy me."

The racist one.

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 Mangus Greel (Upon hearing about the Doctor's presence in Victorian England, Greel worries about the presence of "Time Agents" - he clearly comes from the same 51st century as a certain conman we meet many years later in the Revival Series). Greel feeds on the kidnapped 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.

The characters of Jago and Litefoot became quite popular with fans, and for years rumours abounded about a planned spin-off centred around the duo solving crimes in Victorian London, and it was even seriously considered by the BBC a couple of times. While the spin-off never made it to TV, Jago and Litefoot, along with PC Quick, eventually ended up getting their own Big Finish Doctor Who spinoff range, Jago & Litefoot. 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.


  • Actor Allusion: This is not the first time that Tom Baker faced a homunculus. In The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, his character, Kouras, is the villain that creates the homunculus to further his evil schemes and become all powerful.
  • Added Alliterative Appeal: As many of Jago's lines as he can possibly manage.
    Jago: You mean to say the celestial Chang was involved in all these Machiavellian machinations?
    Doctor: Yes, up to his epicanthic eyebrows.
  • Absurdly Spacious Sewer: Magnus Greel's lair is in the sewer, the entrance to which is guarded by a giant rat.
  • Adorkable: Jago isn't nearly as brave as he pretends and Litefoot acts very awkwardly around Leela.
  • 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.
  • Attack of the Killer Whatever: There's a killer ventriloquist's dummy.
  • Badass Boast / "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!"
  • 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.
  • Big Bad: Weng-Chiang aka Magnus Greel.
  • 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. The Doctor mentions upon meeting Leela that he was 750, meaning he must have been 350 at the time.
  • 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: Justified by being set in Victorian London.
  • Clarke's Third Law: Chang's magic is accomplished using 51st century technology.
  • Comic Trio: Chang, whose intelligence rivals even the Doctor's, but derives his means to survive in Victorian society from Greel's approval; Greel, a domineering, vain moron with a nonsensical plan that will lead to his demise; and Mr. Sin, an Omnicidal Maniac with the brain of a pig who cares about nothing except getting to kill as many people as possible.
  • 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.
  • The Consigliere: Li H'sen Chang in is this to Magnus Greel, reminding him some things are not workable.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The Time-cabinet that Greel is after could be anywhere in London, but as a matter of fact it's in the home of the same pathologist the Doctor has already befriended.
  • Creator Cameo: Composer Dudley Simpson has a cameo as the conductor of Jago's theatre orchestra.
  • 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, Weng-Chiang forces another Tong member to commit suicide after he makes a mistake, laughing maniacally as the man dies in agony.
  • 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.
  • Earth That Used to Be Better: We learn that in the 51st century, World War VI triggers another wave of colonisation.
  • End of an Era: This story marked the Grand Finale of Phillip Hinchcliffe's tenure as producer. Knowing this, he decided to end his era with a bang.
  • Eureka Moment: The story makes fun of the word itself: the Doctor claims that it translates from Greek as "This bath is too hot."
  • Evil Laugh: Greel gets an amazing one in the episode 4 cliffhanger.
  • Expy: The original draft of the serial actually had the Master as the villain, but he was vetoed. Magnus Greel is also a black-cloaked, physically-decayed villain with a time machine trying to stave off his own death, as the Master was in "The Deadly Assassin". 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.
    • Li H'sen Chang was clearly based on Fu Manchu.
  • Facial Horror: When we briefly glimpse Greel's face, we can see that the right half is melting due to a mutation that occurred during time travel.
  • 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.
  • Genre Refugee: The story is about putting the Doctor and Leela into the roles of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson and pitting them against characters lifted from Fu Manchu stories.
  • 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!
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Greel's face is terribly disfigured due to his faulty time machine. He wears a mask to cover this, until Leela rips it off in part 5 and exposes his horrible face.
  • Grand Finale: For producer Phillip Hinchcliffe. This was his last serial because he was fired due to complaints that the program was too scary for children, so he pulled out all the stops for this story with a higher budget than normal.
  • Heel Realisation / Death Equals Redemption: Chang.
  • Hero-Worshipper: Jago, towards the Doctor. He constantly praises the Doctor's cleverness and resourcefulness.
  • 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. Considering he is a sadistic murderer who admits to killing 100,000 people for his experiments this seems unlikely.
  • 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!!!!! Dear Lord, he was always ranting and raving about something.
    Magnus Greel: Let the talons of Weng-Chiang tear your flesh-ah!
    • Henry Gordon Jago comes a fairly close second.
  • Life Drain: Greel has Chang kidnap young women so Greel can drain their life essence to improve his own failing health after the time machine malfunction.
  • Life Drinker: Magnus Greel attempts to stay alive by draining the life essence out of young women. Leela only just avoids suffering this fate.
  • Lovable Coward: Jago. He even admits to it.
  • 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
  • Mood Whiplash: Moments after all the villains have been killed, the Doctor cheerfully offers to buy everyone muffins.
  • Mooks: The Tong of the Black Scorpion.
  • Nice Hat: The Doctor, Leela, Chang's thugs, and Greel each have one; Chang has two.
  • Nightmare Face: Magnus Greel has a melted, spaghetti-like face due to a mutation.
  • Opium Den: Though Li H'sen actually only uses opium to numb the pain from his rat-chewed leg.
  • Paper Key-Retrieval Trick: Used by the Doctor to break into the laundry house. Use of this trope caused controversy, as the British Board of Film Classification argued that it would teach children criminal skills; the show's producers successfully argued back that Enid Blyton used the same trick in her children's books, and it didn't work on modern locks anyway.
  • Pig Man: The Peking Homunculus is a murderous midget robot made from the cerebral cortex of a pig.
  • Quintessential British Gentleman: Litefoot. Jago merely thinks he is.
  • Raised by Natives: The Doctor's cover story for Leela.
  • Reliably Unreliable 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."
  • Rodents of Unusual Size: The rat.
  • See You in Hell: Leela, when she tells the villain she'll hunt him down in the next life.
  • Shout-Out:
    • To The Importance Of Being Earnest ("A hatbox?").
    • Jago's alliterative speeches are a shout out to Leonard Sachs's turn as the compere in the BBC's music-hall revival show The Good Old Days.
    • And, of course, the idea of a disfigured maniac hiding under a theatre.
    • Li H'Sen Chang is a villainous fictional version of the real-world (fake) Chinese conjurer Chung Ling Soo.
    • Litefoot's landlady is named Mrs. Hudson.
    • The Doctor enjoys messing around in boats.
    • The giant rat is also reminiscent of animals grown to enormous size in Food Of The Gods.
    • Jack the Ripper is mentioned.
    • Litefoot quotes from The Pilgrim's Progress and attributes it to John Bunyan.
    • The Doctor quotes from the monologue The Green Eye Of The Yellow God, incorrectly attributing it to Henry Champion.
  • 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.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Jago acts like a brave, clever detective hero but he can't walk the talk.
  • 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.
  • Spot of Tea: Litefoot attempts to example the etiquette of tea to Leela, who gets very confused.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: The Doctor tells Leela to wait in safety multiple times. Played with in that he's telling her to wait more because he knows how deadly a warrior she is, and is trying to limit the amount of deaths she causes.
  • Straight Man: Litefoot acts as this when confronted by Jago's ego, Leela's lack of social etiquette and the Doctor's general weirdness.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: "Your opium-addicted scum are all bunglers, Chang!"
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Magnus Greel is one for the Master, as the story originally followed up on his escape in "The Deadly Assassin". Remnants of that idea include both being hammy, vampiric serial killers on the run with a time machine, dying and desperately looking for a way to cheat death. Magnus even talks about regeneration a few times.
  • Theatre Phantom: Magnus Greel is a disfigured genius dwelling the cellars of a theatre; his mangled face concealed by a mask. He also uses holographic ghosts to keep the stagehands away from the hidden opening leading to his hideout, which leads to rumors that the theater is haunted.
  • Title Drop: When Magnus is about to kill Leela, he drops the serial name. (Actually, the serial was renamed using this line shortly before production began.)
  • Those Two Guys: Jago & Litefoot, the most iconic example of the Robert Holmes double act. Jago owns the theatre where Weng-Chiang is hidden and his agent plies his trade, and Litefoot is a police pathologist and the Doctor's de facto landlord for the story. Both important to the plot to the point that they are more important than the Doctor until the finale. In fact; Jago and Litefoot were so popular they eventually got their own series.
  • 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.
  • Two-Faced: The right half of Greel's face is melted and looks like soggy noodles.
  • Victorian London
  • The Watson: Interestingly enough, NOT Leela. As the AV Club noted, Jago and Litefoot fulfill the role of Watson - Jago behaves as the traditional film depiction of Watson being a pompous, boisterous, easily puzzled sleaze while Litefoot behaves as literature's Watson being a quiet, calm, observant gentleman.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Dying and unable to speak, Chang tries to give the Doctor a clue to Greel's headquarters by pointing to his shoe. The Doctor makes a few guesses about the clue but then finds the location another way. The meaning of the shoe-clue is never explained.
    • Greel's headquarters is in Boot Court.
  • Whole Plot Reference: To the Hammer Horror film The Terror Of The Tongs, but incorporating elements of Sherlock Holmes.
  • World War Whatever: Greel is described as having almost caused World War Six.
  • The X of Y: One of the over 100 Doctor Who episode titles to be this.
  • 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 too many is forced to commit suicide.
  • You Rebel Scum!: Magnus Greel repeatedly refers to his Tong hatchetmen mooks as "opium-addicted scum".

Everybody have fun tonight! Everybody Weng-Chiang tonight!

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