Doctor Who (1963–1989)
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The Talons of Weng-Chiang: Part One 

The Doctor and Leela land in Victorian London, and find themselves in the middle of missing girls, mutilated bodies, and vicious Chinese gangs. The Palace theater, presenting hypnotist Li H'sen Chang seems to be at the center of it all.




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Episode complete credited cast:
Professor Litefoot
Mr. Sin
David McKail ...
Conrad Asquith ...
P.C. Quick
Alan Butler ...
Tony Then ...
John Wu ...


In Victorian London, the Doctor and Leela are on their way to a performance by Chinese magician Li H'Sen Chiang when they come across a gang carrying away a body. At the police station, they learn that young girls have been going missing. They also meet the magician who has come to free one of his men. The man bears a tattoo of the a black scorpion, one of the greatest criminal organizations of all time. When the Doctor finds a tuft of rat hair on the dead man, he and Leela explore the sewers. At the theater, the doorman Casey and the manager Jago see what is going on in the cellar. Written by garykmcd

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Release Date:

26 February 1977 (UK)  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


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 to move her away from her Sevateem trappings, such as this episode in which she wears period garb. The other story was "The Horror of Fang Rock". See more »


Though they tried to cover them up with white tape, the mortuary where the Doctor meets the Professor has a couple of power-points on the white tiled wall. See more »


Leela: This is a big village.
The Doctor: Yes.
Leela: What's the name of the tribe here?
The Doctor: Cockneys.
See more »


Referenced in Moving On (2010) See more »

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User Reviews

Not Rats But Racism
23 April 2015 | by See all my reviews

Did anyone ever use to wonder why Leela, a warrior-maiden from an alien planet, speaks perfect English with a Home Counties accent? The real reason is no doubt the convention, adopted in "Doctor Who" and other science fiction films and television series, that all aliens, regardless of which planet they originally come from, are fluent speakers of the tongue of Shakespeare. (This convention is an improbable but necessary one; the series would not be very interesting if the Doctor could only communicate with his adversaries using an English/Dalek phrasebook containing phrases such as "Take me to your leader!" or "Where is the nearest TARDIS repair shop?") In the series itself, however, the explanation is that Leela is in fact an Englishwoman by blood and descent, some mishap having marooned her forebears on a distant planet. So in this serial the Doctor has taken his lovely companion back to England to learn about the customs of her ancestors, starting with the music halls of Victorian London.

And the Doctor never arrives anywhere without running into trouble. Trouble in this particular instance takes the form of some giant rats in the sewers, a mysterious cabinet, a sinister Chinese stage magician and his even more sinister boss, who is posing as the ancient Chinese god Weng-Chiang. (The name "Chiang" is here pronounced as two separate syllables, as though it were written "Chai-Ang").

"The Talons of Weng-Chiang" is frequently voted among the greatest "Doctor Who" serials ever, and were it not for one problem I would agree with that judgement. Scriptwriters for the series frequently tried to draw upon classic literature for inspiration; the earlier Tom Baker adventure "Planet of Evil", for example, draws upon "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde" and, indirectly, upon Shakespeare's "The Tempest". Here the main inspiration is Conan Doyle's "Sherlock Holmes" stories, with a nod in the direction of "The Phantom of the Opera". Baker abandons his trademark scarf in favour of a deerstalker and cape as worn by Holmes, he tries to puzzle out problems by rational deduction rather than relying upon complex scientific apparatus and at one point even says "...elementary, my dear Litefoot". (Yes, I know Holmes never actually said "...elementary, my dear Watson", but a lot of people think he did, and the phrase has passed into legend in the same way as "Play it again, Sam", which Humphrey Bogart never actually utters in "Casablanca").

The serial is wonderfully evocative in the way it conjures up the atmosphere of Victorian London, the story generates plenty of tension, Baker is on top form and there are two splendid characters in the shape of the theatre manager Henry Jago and the gentlemanly scientist Professor Litefoot (thus spelt in the credits), who plays Watson to the Doctor's Holmes. Jago at first seems like a blustering coward, but when danger threatens he finds real reserves of courage within himself. He is played by Christopher Benjamin who had earlier played Sir Keith Gold in the Third Doctor adventure "Inferno". Those giant rats, admittedly, are far from convincing, but they were not the "problem" I mentioned earlier.

The real problem is another R-word, not rats but racism. Looking back, it is amazing just how insensitive British television could be in the seventies. This was the decade of not just the "Black and White Minstrel Show", which still starred white performers in blackface, but also of comedy shows like "Love Thy Neighbour", "It Ain't Half Hot, Mum" and "Mind Your Language" which featured a wide gallery of racial stereotypes. "The Talons of Weng-Chiang", unfortunately, falls firmly within this unlovely tradition. The Chinese characters are all portrayed as criminals, or opium addicts, or both, and the figure of the evil magician Li H'sen Chang, played by a white actor made up (unconvincingly) to look Chinese could come straight from the pages of Fu Manchu. Leela even describes the Chinese as "yellow", which struck me as a goof; the inhabitants of North-East Asia differ little from Europeans in skin-tone and the idea that the Chinese have yellow skin is a European received idea of which a visitor from another world would presumably be ignorant. A pity. Had the scriptwriter been more culturally sensitive this could have been a first-rate serial rather than a tacky piece of seventies racism.

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