The Talons of Weng-Chiang

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The Talons of Weng-Chiang
It’s Mystery Science Theatre 1889…
 

Part One

The Talons of Weng-ChiangSue: Six parts. Oh joy. This had better be ****ing good.

The title sequence kicks in and Sue wants to know when Talons was originally broadcast.

Sue: I would have been fifteen; I would have been playing badminton when this was on. When Part Six came along, I was probably playing golf.

Backstage at a Victorian Music Hall, a Chinese magician and his dummy discuss their latest performance with Gordon Henry Jago, the theatre’s owner and MC.

Sue: He’s not a real ventriloquist. They dubbed the dummy in later.

Jago adores Chang’s act.

Sue: “I am Chang and I can’t be killed”.

But a few seconds later…

The Talons of Weng-ChiangSue: He’s not really Chinese, is he? Oh dear. Why didn’t they give his part to the bloke standing next to him? He is definitely Chinese. This is lery lacist.

But before she can climb onto her high horse, Sue is distracted by something magical.

Sue: That was a beautiful shot of the TARDIS arriving in the fog. Very subtle. I think I’m going to like this one. It looks great.

Chang’s ventriloquist dummy, Mr Sin, is lurking in the shadows…

Sue: That’s scary. This is a lot scarier than anything we saw in Prometheus, that’s for sure.

Leela and the Doctor are attacked by a gang of Chinese men.

The Talons of Weng-ChiangSue: Enter the Dragon was massive in the 1970s.

Me: Enter the Dragon was an X-certificate film. The Talons of Weng-Chiang went out at 6:30pm. With nunchakus and everything!

Sue: It’s violent but we’ve seen worse.

The police turn up and the Doctor explains how he was set upon by “four little men”.

Sue: That is technically accurate, I suppose, but it sounds racist. I have a bad feeling about this…

On stage, Li H’sen Chang is preparing to levitate a woman…

Sue: She’s planking.

Sue is impressed with Chang’s trick but there’s a caveat:

The Talons of Weng-ChiangSue: We’ve wandered into The Good Old Days. I hated that show. It bored me to tears.

The Doctor and Leela are taken to a police station. The Doctor tells the desk sergeant his abode isn’t fixed.

Sue: Yes, his abode is nearly always broken.

Meanwhile, an old woman watches the police fish a corpse out of the Thames.

Old Woman: It’s a floater, all right.

Sue: That is the scariest thing I have ever seen in Doctor Who. I don’t even want to go there.

The Talons of Weng-ChiangOld Woman: Make an ‘orse sick, that would.

Sue: Yeah, the dead body in the river is upsetting as well.

Chang arrives at the police station to act as an interpreter for the Chinese suspect they arrested at the scene. The Doctor is certain he recognises him.

Chang: I understand we all look the same.

Sue: OK, this is more complicated than I first thought. Now we have anti-racist jibes delivered by actor who is “yellowed-up”. This is going to be tricky…

And then Sue has a brainwave…

Sue: The Moff should do a Sherlock/Doctor Who crossover for the 50th anniversary.

Me: As a Children in Need sketch?

The Talons of Weng-ChiangSue: No. As a proper story. It would be great. The Doctor could take the modern Sherlock to Victorian London so he can solve the case of Jack the Ripper. Only he couldn’t tell anyone about it or time would go wibbly-wobbly and explode or something. How cool would that be?

She’ll be writing fan fiction next.

We learn that Chang and Mr Sin have been harvesting victims for quite some time.

Sue: They are a sick and twisted version of The Krankies.

Me: Otherwise known as The Krankies.

Sue: I’ve never liked ventriloquist dummies. I had a friend at school called Louise who kept one in her attic. It wasn’t Chinese but it scared the crap out of me.

The Doctor and Leela arrive at the local mortuary. They assist Professor Litefoot as he carries out an autopsy on the body that was recovered from the river.

The Talons of Weng-ChiangSue: This is not for kids. Even when you can’t see anything, your mind fills in all the blanks. This pisses all over Prometheus.

Sue really hated that film.

Me: This was no boating accident!

The Doctor and Leela descend into the sewers in search of answers.

Sue: It’s very dark. Is it supposed to be this dark?

She’s right. It’s probably our television set at fault. We lost the remote control several months ago and there aren’t any manual controls on the set itself. I can’t remember Talons being this dark before…

When the giant rat makes its first appearance, Sue strains to make it out.

Sue: I can’t see a damn thing. It sounds good, though.

Actually, perhaps our settings are just fine…

Sue: That was a good start. I don’t care if it’s a six-parter, just as long as it stays like this.

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Part Two

The Talons of Weng-ChiangJago is exploring the theatre’s cellar with Casey, an Irish stagehand who has been complaining about ghosts. Jago calls him a “pixillated leprechaun”.

Sue: Pixellated? Pixellated? That’s a funny word to use in Victorian times, isn’t it? Is he a time traveller? A time travelling graphic designer from the future?

Me: Pixillated not pixellated. It means eccentric, or to be led by pixies. I thought this would come up so I did a little research. For a change.

Despite the racist overtones, Sue loves Jago’s turn of phrase.

Sue: He’d be excellent on Countdown.

And then Sue drops a bombshell:

Sue: They used to call me Susie Wong.

Me: What?

Sue: At school. They called me Susie Wong.

Me: What?

Sue: I looked Chinese. Well, that’s what they said. I didn’t understand it either. You’ll have to ask Gary about it.

Me: You do realise they’ll call you Susie Wrong whenever they don’t agree with one of your scores now, don’t you?

Sue: Only if you include it on the blog.

The Talons of Weng-ChiangChang hypnotises Jago into forgetting anything suspicious that might lead the police to his doorstep.

Sue: They could remake this story with Derren Brown. And Sherlock. And Matt Smith. Somebody get the Moff on the phone.

Chang opens a secret passageway hidden in the floor.

Sue: That looked and sounded great. That’s the first time in this show that something like that didn’t look and sound like it was made from polystyrene. The sets are wonderful.

Chang confers with his master…

Sue: It isn’t, is it?

Me: No.

Sue: Just checking.

And then…

The Talons of Weng-ChiangSue: He looks like Rorschach.

She’s only saying this because we saw Watchmen again last night.

Me: He looks nothing like Rorschach.

Sue: He has the same hat.

Me: You might as well say that Tom Baker looks like Rorschach, then.

Sue: But it’s definitely not “you-know-who”?

Me: I’m still counting them, even when you don’t say his name out loud. But no, it isn’t him. I promise.

When Time Agents are mentioned, Sue’s ears prick up.

Sue: That rings a bell.

Me: Captain Jack was a Time Agent.

Sue: So there’s a connection to Torchwood? That’s interesting. OK, so the anniversary special has Derren Brown, Matt Smith, Benedict Cumberbatch and John Barrowman in it. I’d watch it.

The Talons of Weng-ChiangLitefoot, Leela and the Doctor share a cab. Leela is mesmerised by Litefoot’s pipe.

Sue: Leela is great in this. This story really suits her. Her innocence could be annoying but it’s funny because she’s anything but innocent. The actress who plays Leela is excellent.

The Doctor jumps out of the cab and disappears into the fog.

Sue: This era really lends itself to Doctor Who. The BBC are experts when it comes to this sort of thing. They should have exiled the Doctor to Earth in the 1880s. That would have been great.

And then she settles on an even better idea:

Sue: Tom Baker would have been an excellent Sherlock Holmes.

I won’t shatter her illusions. Speaking of which…

The Talons of Weng-ChiangSue: Tom is really enjoying himself. Look at him – he’s beaming from ear to ear. The script is excellent. Did Robert Holmes swallow a thesaurus when he wrote this one?

Back at Litefoot’s house, the professor refers to his housekeeper as Mrs Hudson and Sue’s ears prick up again.

Sue: Mrs Hudson? It is Sherlock. Does she leave this much food out for him every night? There’s enough food on that table to feed the five thousand!

Sue chuckles to herself when Leela devours a whole side of meat, and she’s chuffed to bits when Litefoot decides to join her sans cutlery.

Meanwhile, the Doctor is pursuing Weng-Chiang through the labyrinthine theatre complex…

Sue: OK, so you’ve got Derren Brown, Matt Smith, Benedict Cumberbatch, John Barrowman and Michael Ball as the Phantom of the Opera. The anniversary special practically writes itself.

Weng-Chiang swings across the length of the stage on a rope to escape the Doctor.

Sue: The direction is very good. Who is it?

The Talons of Weng-ChiangMe: It’s David Maloney.

Sue: Oh yes, we like Mr Maloney. He’s almost as good as Douglas Camfield.

The episode concludes with Mr Sin advancing on Leela with a knife…

Sue: Is the dummy honking like a pig? Have I missed something?

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Part Three

We decide to break our two-episode-a-day rule (it’s a double bank holiday, the weather is horrendous, and there’s nothing on television except boats), and we decide to plough on with Talons, although five hours do elapse between parts two and three. This interlude gives me an opportunity to acquire some technical assistance from one of the Restoration Team, and I after fiddling with the RGB settings on my PS3, our picture quality has improved no end. Thanks Steve!

The Talons of Weng-ChiangLeela deals with Mr Sin with a swift knife to the throat.

Sue: I love Leela. She doesn’t mess about. Any other companion would have screamed the place down. I know I would.

Leela takes drastic action by throwing herself out of a window…

Sue: I couldn’t imagine another companion even considering that as an option. You go, girl.

Chang calls for his dummy…

Sue: Did he just call him Sid?

Me: Sin.

Sue: Oh.

The Talons of Weng-ChiangThe Doctor suggests that the ruffians who attacked Litefoot were especially bad because they were Chinese.

Sue: Is that racist or is the Doctor taking the piss? It’s not very clear. Oh, it’s very complicated, isn’t it? Why don’t we just assume that I’ve already taken a mark off this story for questionable racism, and let’s just leave it at that.

The Doctor examines a cabinet that belongs to Litefoot.

Sue: Is that a TARDIS? Are you double-bluffing me? The Master doesn’t have a face so he would probably wear a mask. It all makes sense.

Me: That’s three “Is it the Master?”s in one story, makes you sound a rather repetitive old lady.

Sue: **** off.

The Talons of Weng-ChiangWeng-Chiang feeds his pets…

Sue: Are you sure it’s supposed to be a giant rat? It looks like a seal.

Weng-Chiang sends Chang out for some fresh meat. He finds some coming off the night shift.

Sue: Is she supposed to be, er…

Me: Yes.

Sue: Bloody hell. And he wants two of them. He must be a middle-aged bad guy.

Leela substitutes herself for one of Chang’s victims.

Sue: Leela is so brave. This is much worse than the window.

The Talons of Weng-ChiangThe Doctor decides to track the monster back to its lair and he sets out in a small boat with Litefoot.

Sue: They are really making an effort. They could have cut to the sewers without any of this. I’m glad they didn’t – it looks great. They are creating a very strong atmosphere, and that’s half the battle.

When we cut back to Weng-Chiang’s lair, Leela looks a little different.

Sue: Has he taken her clothes off?

Me: Yes.

Sue: Bloody hell.

Leela escapes into the sewers, only to find herself hunted by a giant rat.

The Talons of Weng-ChiangSue: Can we change the Playstation settings back again?

While this is going on, Weng-Chiang sacks his faithful manservant in a fit of pique.

Sue: How will he find another henchman? Will he put an ad in the paper?

The episode concludes with Leela being nibbled to death by Fingerbobs.

Sue: It’s a shame about the giant mouse, innit? Oh well. You can’t win them all.

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Part Four

The Talons of Weng-ChiangMe: Rats were massive in the 1970s. In this case, quite literally.

Sue: I know. I went to one of your lectures where you went on about it for ages. Didn’t you show this clip to your students?

Me: I did. Along with clips from Doomwatch, The New Avengers, Survivors and During Barty’s Party. You couldn’t move for rats in the seventies.

Sue: I remember the students laughing their heads off.

Me: Incredibly, that wasn’t the reaction I was going for.

The Doctor shoots the rat dead. Leela is alive but she looks like a drowned rat herself. Not that I’m complaining.

When they return to Litefoot’s house, she is given a fresh set of clothes to wear. Leela begins to undress in front of her host but Litefoot sends her upstairs to change.

Sue: And a million dads all sigh at once.

The Talons of Weng-ChiangWhen Leela returns, the Doctor is almost lost for words.

Sue: That’s the first time I’ve seen the Doctor look at a companion in a sexual way. And you can’t even see her knees.

Chang returns to Chiang (Oh, how that used to confuse me when I was a child) to beg for his forgiveness.

Sue: It’s a lover’s tiff, this. If they had Facebook back then, their relationship would be “complicated”.

I tell her that Dudley Simpson is conducting the orchestra on-screen this week, but she’s far more interested in the audience’s enthusiastic reaction to a rather weak rendition of ‘Daisy Daisy’.

Sue: People were easily pleased back then.

The Talons of Weng-ChiangThe Doctor becomes part of Chang’s act and Sue falls into one of her silences. I sneak a quick look and I’m happy to report that she’s smiling.

Sue: It’s a good one, this.

Back at Litefoot’s house, a policeman gets an axe between the shoulder blades.

Sue: Not. For. Kids.

In Litefoot’s laundry basket, Mr Sin is stirring…

Sue: Ooh, I thought he was dead. Is he a robot?

Meanwhile, Chang is wrapping up his latest trick, but when he opens his magical box, Casey falls out. Dead.

The Talons of Weng-ChiangSue: They killed the Irish Billy Mitchell!

The Doctor and Leela find Chang moping about in Weng-Chiang’s laboratory, his master having already done a runner. Chang decides to head for the sewers so he can meet his ancestors.

Sue: I didn’t know that Chang was related to a mouse.

Jago enters the scene as Chang’s screams echoing down the tunnels.

Sue: I’ll miss Chang. The person who played him was a great actor, even if casting him in the part was a bit dodgy. Jago will have to get himself a new act.

Doctor: You’ll have to book yourself a new act tomorrow.

Sue: I could write this.

Jago spots a business opportunity: he’ll charge punters to take guided tours of the phantom’s lair.

The Talons of Weng-ChiangSue: A bob a nob. Like I said – not for kids.

The episode concludes with Weng-Chiang and Mr Sin successfully stealing the time cabinet from Professor Litefoot’s home.

Sue: That was an interesting cliffhanger. The bad guys won. Is the dummy howling like a wolf, now? Have I missed something else?

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Part Five

The Talons of Weng-ChiangThe Doctor and Leela help Litefoot to recover from his mugging. The Doctor asks Leela to get him a stuff drink. In a glass.

Sue: I love the My Fair Lady references in this story. It’s funny and sweet.

The Doctor remembers that the Peking Homunculus was a plaything made for the Commissioner of the Icelandic Alliance in the 51st century.

Sue: So Iceland becomes a major player in world affairs in the future?

Me: Yes.

Sue: They sorted out the banks, then.

When the Doctor finishes explaining the origins of Mr Sin to his comrades, Professor Litefoot asks Leela if she followed any of it. When Leela claims not to have understood a word, Sue admits that she feels the same way. She makes me pause the DVD so I can explain it to her slowly. She eventually comes to the conclusion that it’s -

Sue: Completely ****-ed up.

The Talons of Weng-ChiangWeng-Chiang installs the time cabinet in his new (already prepared) secret base.

Sue: Do we ever see what’s behind his mask? I looked at the toy version you have on your shelf but his mask doesn’t come off.

She doesn’t realise that my collectible figurine of Weng-Chiang comes with a detachable head that would have shown her his real face. But I think one of the cats ate it.

It turns out that Weng-Chiang left the key to the time cabinet behind when they were moving between secret bases. This plot point is so preposterous, Sue makes me rewind the scene to make sure it really happened.

Sue: That’s just silly. Robert deserves a smack for that.

Weng-Chiang is apoplectic with rage. We think. It’s hard to tell given that he’s always like this. Anyway, he must be angry because he orders one of his minions to kill himself.

The Talons of Weng-ChiangSue: Ooh, he’s cracked a filling and he’s been poisoned at the same time. Poor thing.

When Litefoot and Jago meet for the first time, sparks fly.

Sue: This could be interesting.

Me: Would it surprise you to learn that the BBC almost made a Jago and Litefoot spin-off series?

Sue: No, I could definitely see that working. Sunday nights in The Onedin Line slot. Yeah, I can see it.

Me: It didn’t happen, sadly. But Big Finish have released quite a few audio adventures that feature the pair of them.

Jago and LitefootSue: Are the actors still alive, then? In that case, give them cameos in the anniversary special. Is Tom Baker in any of them?

Me: No. But he does appear in his own range of adventures with Louise Jameson as Leela. There’s a sequel to The Ark in Space and The Android Invasion and -

Sue: So Tom Baker is doing Big Finish now?

Me: Yes.

Sue: I knew he’d listen to me eventually. I told him to do a Big Finish ten years ago!

The Doctor and Leela track Chang to an opium den.

Sue: They might bump into the real Sherlock Holmes. That would be funny.

They find Chang off his head on drugs.

The Talons of Weng-ChiangSue: Is there anything they haven’t covered in this story yet? What about child abuse?

The injured Chang slides into a drug induced death.

Sue: That was a great death scene but they had to spoil it with the clichéd “I can’t get my dying words out even though I just recited twelve pages of script with no problems at all” bit. It’s very annoying.

In the House of the Dragon, Weng-Chiang desperately wants to complete his Zigma experiment.

Sue: The set is fantastic. They must have thrown plenty of money at this one.

The Doctor and Leela return to Litefoot’s house and they find the key to Weng-Chiang’s time cabinet in Jago’s bag.

The Doctor: Eureka is Greek for ‘my bath is too hot’.

Me: That’s my favourite line in Doctor Who ever. It doesn’t get any better than that.

The Talons of Weng-ChiangJago and Litefoot are captured by Chiang’s thugs and they are locked up with a pair of drugged-up sixteen year-old girls.

Sue: OK, now they’ve covered everything.

Jago and Litefoot discuss tactics…

Sue: So these two fella could have been the first Torchwood?

Me: It very nearly happened.

They squeeze into a dumbwaiter together.

Sue: OK, now it’s a 1970s Torchwood.

But they are immediately recaptured.

The Talons of Weng-ChiangSue: They are a bit useless. They’d have to toughen up a bit if they went to a series.

The Doctor and Leela prepare to face off against Weng-Chiang but the villain surprises Leela with a face full of chloroform.

Leela fights back and in the process she uncovers Chiang’s face.

Sue: I’ve seen worse. The gimp mask was scarier.

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Part Six

The Talons of Weng-ChiangThe Doctor describes the Chinese intruders as being “little surprises”.

Sue: There he goes again.

But the frown on her face doesn’t hang around for long.

Sue: Tom loves this story. You can always tell if Tom likes the story or not. This is definitely one of his favourites.

And then, believe it or not, Sue starts singing along to Dudley Simpson. She doesn’t even know she’s doing it.

The only aspect of Talons that Sue has a problem with is Weng-Chiang himself, aka the Icelandic war criminal Magnus Greel.

Sue: He’s a bit over the top. There’s no range to him. But at least I can hear every word he says behind that mask.

Leela attacks Greel from behind but she fails to deliver a fatal blow.

The Talons of Weng-ChiangSue: I don’t buy that for a second. Leela would have thrown a knife into the back of his head from 100 yards away. She could have taken him down easily.

The Doctor, Jago and Litefoot are thrown in the basement together but the Doctor quickly rustles up a way out.

Sue: I’ve seen this before.

Me: In MacGyver?

Sue: No, in Doctor Who. Golf might have been rained off that week. I definitely remember this scene because it inspired me and my brother to gas my nana.

Me: WHAT?

The Talons of Weng-ChiangSue: It’s true. We had two nanas: skinny nana and fat nana. Fat nana was all right but skinny nana was horrible. She lived with us for a while and she’d make me and Gary go to bed early. We hated her. Anyway, we must have seen this and we decided that we’d get rid of her by filling her pillow with gas.

Me: I don’t believe this.

Sue: It’s true! This must have been where we got the idea from. There was only one problem – our house was electric. We didn’t have any gas.

Me: Thank heavens for small mercies.

Sue: It would have been around this time so I guess Doctor Who must have been responsible. I haven’t thought about that for years.

Me: If you’d been successful, you would have been the poster child for Mary Whitehouse. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

The gas explodes and Sue jumps out of her skin. Captain Jack was sitting on her knee at the time and the sudden movement made him dig his claws deep into her thigh. She actually screamed.

Yes, talons shredded her flesh.

The Talons of Weng-ChiangSue: Are we supposed to feel sorry for the bad guy?

Me: Are you mad? He’s a mass murdering war criminal!

Sue: I know, but everything seems to go against him. You have to feel a little pity for him.

Unfortunately, the final showdown fails to impress Sue. For every disintegrating chair (“That was clever”), there’s a scene of Leela firing a gun into the floor (“Leela would never do that”). The frown is definitely back.

Sue: That was frustrating. The ending was rushed. It wasn’t the script’s fault, though. It was the execution.

Me: That was Philip Hinchcliffe’s last story.

Sue: That’s a pity. He was a good producer. He made Doctor Who a lot more adult and frightening. And there was a lot less CSO, too, which was good. Yeah, he’ll be missed. Probably.

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The Final Score

Sue: I’ll have to knock some marks off for the casual racism, the mouse and the shambolic fight scene at the end. But I really enjoyed it. The pacing was about right and the sets, direction and the acting were as good as it gets. The villain was a bit hammy but you can’t have everything.

8/10

Later that night, we watched the Lively Arts: Whose Doctor Who documentary together. It would have been rude not to.

Sue: It’s a really slow version of Doctor Who Confidential. Some of these clips are almost as long as the episodes themselves.

She perks up a bit when they cover the topic of set design but she nods off in the middle of an interview with an educationalist.

She woke up two minutes from the end and she did that classic thing where she pretended that she saw the whole thing, even though I was waving my hand in front of her face throughout most of it.

Sue: It reminded me of one of those Up documentaries. Ed Stradling should have tracked down the original interviewees to see whether they all turned out like you, or whether their own kids still watch the programme today. That would have been interesting. He missed a trick.

Thanks to Simon Harries, here’s the (much shorter) director’s cut:

The experiment continues…
 

They should have called the magazine IanWe are going to take a short break between seasons so I can mark my very last ever batch of student assignments. I also have to finish writing the speech for my leaving party (I’m currently on page 27) and I need to wrap up some academic loose ends while I’m at it.

We will return the week beginning June 18th.

Come July I’ll be unemployed, so I’ll probably end up publishing three updates a week, between all the Jeremy Kyle marathons and bouts of self-loathing. So don’t worry, it will even itself out in the end.

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If you don’t own this story, why not buy it on DVD? If you use the link below, we get a small cut, which will help pay for the site’s running costs. Many thanks for your support (UK residents only).

 

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Discussion

  1. Dave Sanders  June 5, 2012

    Damn, Sue liked it. It would have been fun to shout out, “THERE’LL BE A HUGE FAN IMPLOSION, NEIL! AND YOU’LL BE AT THE CENTRE OF IT – THE DOCTOR EXPERIMENT WAS A DISASTER!”

  2. Ribs  June 5, 2012

    Great to see Sue still enjoying it despite it’s setbacks.

    PPS, there will be an audio with Tom and Jago and Litefoot next April in “The Justice of Jalxar”, though. One tiny error. :)

  3. Lewis Christian  June 5, 2012

    Leela takes drastic action by throwing herself out of a window…

    Sue: I couldn’t imagine another companion even considering that as an option. You go, girl.

    — Oh, you just wait, Sue. Just wait ;)

    • CJJC  June 10, 2012

      I can’t wait for Sue to “meet” Ace.

  4. Robert Dick  June 5, 2012

    Sue will be pleased to know Tom, Trevor and Chris *have* done a Big Finish audio together.

    • Robert Dick  June 6, 2012

      Actually I’m sure she couldn’t care less :)

  5. Dave Sanders  June 5, 2012

    “Tom Baker would have been an excellent Sherlock Holmes.”

    Wait, did she not see my badge design? I’m sulking now. :P

    • Neil Perryman  June 5, 2012

      Knowing her, she probably thought it was from this story.

      • Dave Sanders  June 5, 2012

        Oh yeah, what were the results of the caption competition? We haven’t had those yet. :)

  6. Lewis Christian  June 5, 2012

    Neil, I adore your little paraphrases (That’s three “Is it the Master?”s in one story, makes you sound a rather repetitive old lady.) +10 Who points to you!

    Glad Sue liked this one :)

  7. Glen Allen  June 5, 2012

    Me: That’s three “Is it the Master?”s in one story, makes you sound a rather repetitive old lady.

    Sue: **** off.

    Lovely :)

    • Dave Sanders  June 5, 2012

      Ah, but the question feels different this time.

    • John S. Hall  June 6, 2012

      Why is “naff” all asterisked out?? ;-)

      • Jamie  June 6, 2012

        Puts me in mind of Porridge repeats on UKGold.
        Heck, they even cut out the ‘Don’t give me that black look’ line from one of them.
        Dearie me.

  8. Jazza1971  June 5, 2012

    “Sue: They could remake this story with Derren Brown. And Sherlock. And Matt Smith. Somebody get the Moff on the phone.”

    I can’t think of a better 1 line review!

  9. Ian Marchant  June 5, 2012

    This is probably my favourite Tom Baker story and one of the few stories you could happily show to a Non Fan without cringing.

    Tom’s at his best, Louise Jameson positively sparkles and and almost every guest artist is putting in top efforts. And add to that I once went to a convention in Abingdon where the guest of honour was supposedly a local plumber who played a Policeman in this story but he didn’t turn up as he had a plumbing job to do. Ahhh the good old days indeed.

  10. Paul Kirkley  June 5, 2012

    My favourite story – and on my birthday, too. You’re too good to us.

  11. Wholahoop  June 5, 2012

    Loved the Tom Baker – Sherlock line. Mind you I quite liked that version of Hound

    Given the time it was made I suppose some racism is not unexpected so it’s really a 9/10, hooray!!! I can live with that.

    I reckon Sue’s scoring is definitely not predictable, and I was a bit worried after Robots of Death, but maybe that one means that Sue still retains a vestige of “Not-We”

  12. encyclops  June 5, 2012

    I was pulling for a 9 at least, but I have to admit that even though I find it easy to forgive the adorable giant rat (it still beats the Shrivenzale, at least in my memory), the portrayal of the Chinese characters is tougher to overlook. For me those elements pull this story down from maybe a 15/10 to a 12 or so.

    Love the love for Leela, of course. She and Romana are probably my favorite companions, partly because they break the mold and are actually competent in their own right in a way that I don’t think companions were after 1980. Some people might put Ace in with that small group, but I wouldn’t be one of those people.

    Looking ahead, each of the next three seasons has a top 20 story for me. The good news is that I can relax for all the rest of those stories.

    Best of luck wrapping things up!

  13. PolarityReversed  June 6, 2012

    Well, for me probably the best ever – Roland notwithstanding.
    I don’t reckon the 51st Century renegade escaping back through time in a flawed device bit was that abstruse – the modern era throws far more “eh-what?” at us than that. Nor was the “whaddaya mean you left the bag with the batteries at Argos?!” moment such a deal breaker. Happens to me all the time.

    Badminton and golf, eh? Next, we’ll be hearing that Sue used to hack out with the Duke of Northumberland’s set…

    • Frankymole  June 10, 2012

      I recall that back in ’77 that my bezzie mate at school (a “We”, especially as he loved poking fun at the FX all the time – season 15 was a godsend to him) pointed out that the Trionic Lattice key, which I assume was meant to resemble jade, actually seemed to be carved from a bar of soap (instead of shattering when stepped on, it should’ve made the steppee skid across the floor in a humorous slapstick style).

  14. Simon Harries  June 6, 2012

    So pleased to see that Talons got an 8. Yes, to modern eyes there are race issues, and yes the rat is dire, but the whole thing is so superbly written and constructed, and designed and directed AND acted – it would have been a crime to knock any further marks off it. It’s dripping with Doctor Who goodness! :-)

    • Frankymole  June 10, 2012

      I’m quite fond of the Gordon the Gopher-like rat. Strangely it looks far better in the “Whose Doctor Who” behind-the-scenes clips!

  15. John G  June 6, 2012

    Well, Sue initially had me worried there but it’s great to see that a dodgy rat and dubious racial stereotyping didn’t stop her appreciating the sheer quality of this story. It’s certainly the finest hour in Who for everyone involved, and I think Tom gives the best performance of any Doctor ever here, it really is mesmerising. There was certainly never a more atmospheric set design than this in the classic series either. Even the rat doesn’t look bad compared to some of the monsters we’ll be seeing over the next three seasons…

    To reach for a slightly contrived but story and topically appropriate allusion, Talons could be seen as the old show’s 1897 Diamond Jubilee moment, a zenith of success and self-confidence which would be followed by a gradual but uneven decline. Still, Sue may well conclude after the next story that the show is in very safe hands with that nice Mr Williams…

    • PolarityReversed  June 6, 2012

      Praps. Then we get that bloody space corgi…

      Neil, meant to ask: was Sue aware that you were channelling Colin? If not, it was a bit of a cheap shot. Funny though.

  16. John S. Hall  June 6, 2012

    I do like the fact that Chang only adopts the “ah, so solly” stereotypical accent while he’s onstage at the Palace Theatre — pandering to the punters. I know the fact that John Bennett’s in “yellowface” all the while is problematic, but he does put in a damned fine performance, ya gotta admit! :-)

    • Frankymole  June 10, 2012

      Presumably only black actors are ever allowed to play Othello? The New York Opera must be in big trouble…

      • John Heaton  June 10, 2012

        Apparently this will come as a surprise to you, but there are operatic tenors out there who also are black.

        • Frankymole  June 13, 2012

          So why did the NYO black someone up?

  17. Mark  June 6, 2012

    I’m impressed that Sue detected the pig noises from Mr Sin in episode two; I’m not sure whether I’m impressed with Sue or Talons itself – my own experience was that Mr Sin only seemed to develop pig-like attributes AFTER we were told about his piggy components, which always seemed remarkably convenient to me; but it seems the pigginess was foreshadowed after all. I must watch it again.

  18. PolarityReversed  June 6, 2012

    Oookay. Racism.
    I’ll say my piece, if I may.
    Talons is set in Victorian London. There was a large Chinese immigrant population, ghettoised in the slum areas, running laundry businesses, often connected to the opium trade and largely regarded as funny little inscrutable chaps, at best, by the lor-luv-a-duck lot.
    Strikes me that the Doctor (or maybe just Tom) is indulging himself by playing in period, partially as a lesson in “blending in” to instruct his Eliza. He does offer his services as a translator and is familiar with and sensitive to Chinese history and beliefs. And Litefoot is, if anything, a Sinophile. In fact, such is his sensitivity to other cultures that when Leela grabs half a side of Jazza1971 and starts chowing down without cutlery, he follows suit.
    As for the “yellowing up” issue, how is that ultimately any different from any number of cartoon Russian bad guys portrayed by Swedes, Belgians or Austrians? Or some of Mel Gibson’s turns, or Hugh Lawrie’s or even Meryl Streep’s?
    My plea is – a grip, people.

    • Thomas  June 6, 2012

      Where this falls apart, though, is that the Doctor really should be above that sort of thing instead of giving in to cultural stereotypes. Plus, the story never really seems to address the matter of the stereotyping here, and instead just passes it over, almost giving the impression they’re okay with this sort of thing.

      I mean, this is at the point where Americans and the English are starting to make progressive steps in how they treat the Asian cultures (Pacific Overtures premiered on Broadway just a year or so before this), so for Doctor Who to be so behind the times like this is almost unforgivable.

      But the rest of the story is top-notch quality, can’t deny that. Just unfortunate it had to be paired with casual racism like that.

      • PolarityReversed  June 6, 2012

        I’ll grant you the Doctor should be above that sort of thing. Haven’t seen this one in a while, so memory not red-hot. But as I recall, his tongue is firmly in his cheek at such moments – he’s mocking the Victorians (who are mostly stereotypes themselves and no-one seems to cry foul about that). He’s also having a lot of fun role-playing – correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this the only time we see Tom’s Doctor deliberately in costume for the occasion?

        Anyway these stereotypes – did C19 Chinese immigrants venerate their ancestors, belong to secret organisations, wear pigtails, speak pidgin English with certain characteristic tics? Yes. Portraying them as a sinister murderous bunch – well, they are being duped by a psychopath with a 3,200-year advantage masquerading as one of their Gods, aren’t they? They’re really just Who goons – could as easily be a load of Daleks.

        Chang is the only one with a speaking part. When he goes all “honolable gentleman” he does so for his act or to play up to and mock the prejudices around him.

        The new era stumbles over itself to avoid such stuff, often just pretending that such stereotypes and prejudices didn’t exist. So we get everyone from Romans to Queen Victoria herself roisterdoistering about like hip postmodern geezers and indulging in 21st century ironic banter like they were guests on some sort of intergalactic Graham Norton show. I don’t think that’s better.

        Perhaps Talons could have been more pointed in critiquing the stereotypes it deals in, but the critique is definitely there.

        • Chris Too-old-to-watch  June 6, 2012

          Quite agree PolarityReversed.
          Throughout the entire series, DW reflects the culture of it’s time and has changed as the cultural mores of British culture have changed. Don’t even try to compare the ethics and/or morals of a story from 1970′s to the present day, or even UK with USA. Yes, all the racially different characters in the series could have been played by the correct “race” (God how I hate that word), but IT DIDN’T HAPPEN!!!!!
          Also, if we follow the positive-casting examples of the UK, by now we would have had a mix of all racial and religious types in the TARDIS.
          Just got a recording of “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” where in a cast of 6, Linus is played by a Japanese-American and Schroeder is coloured…….

          • encyclops  June 6, 2012

            I don’t have a lot of trouble forgiving the story for what I’ll call its dated aspects myself, whether I should or not. What bugs me more is the fact that they force me to think twice before sitting just anyone down in front of it to introduce them to just how amazing the show could be back in the day. We can rationalize it as fans who are charitable enough to think through it, but for a more casual viewer it’s easier to be taken aback.

          • PolarityReversed  June 6, 2012

            I don’t think it requires rationalisation or charity, really. It’s just that, however casual the viewing, I object to the knee-jerk “oh look, a historical drama with a Caucasian actor playing an Asian who’s a baddie – RACIST!”
            I’ll be interested to see whether we’ll be discussing blatant prawnism in Invisible Enemy…

          • Dave Sanders  June 7, 2012

            Yes, it’s actually far easier for the casuals to have a go at new series episodes like The Idiot’s Latern and The Shakespeare Code, whose hearts are in the right places and earnestly want to redress the balance, but get it wrong by not having any point to make in doing so. It just shatters the illusion, like The Fires Of Pompeii pretending to be Hanna-Barbera’s The Roman Holidays seems all wrong.

          • encyclops  June 7, 2012

            Polarity, my point is that you can object to knee-jerk reactions all you want but you can’t stop your friends or mine from having them. I think I’ve made it very clear that it doesn’t get in the way of my personal enjoyment of the episode, or my objective opinion of its quality. I’m just talking about the ubiquitous “should you introduce a non-fan to the classic series with this episode?” and as much as I’d like the answer to be “yes,” I think the reality of 2012 is that it’s a qualified “yes.”

            If I were going to defend the episode to my friends, I’d probably point out the difference between Li H’sen Chang — in my opinion a complex and even somewhat sympathetic character, respectfully portrayed — and something like Mickey Rooney’s character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which is none of those things.

          • Thomas  June 7, 2012

            The problem for me, though, isn’t that they put an actor in yellowface- the actor in question is absolutely remarkable and brings a certain dignity to the character that almost makes you forget he’s in yellowface in the first place. That’s like the people who criticize the film version of Jesus Christ Superstar because they cast a black man in the role of Judas, when anyone who’s seen the film should realize that Carl Anderson is the absolute best choice for the role you could ask for.

            No, the problem is that the script adamantly doesn’t care how it reflects upon the Chinese, and it ends up basically being Robert Holmes doing a Fu Manchu story with no regards for how a Fu Manchu story would come across in 1976. The Chinese are basically presented as, as you said, mindless goons, with other characters referring to them as “little people” (or in probably the worst case, Leela calling I think Chang “the yellow one”). This isn’t Doctor Who reflecting the culture of the 1970s- as I pointed out before, the world was starting to move forward in terms of how it viewed the Asian culture, and here Doctor Who is actively settling in the views of old Victorian England, with no thought or care for what that actually means. If the Doctor had said anything at all rebuking the stereotyping going on in the story it’d be fine, but he doesn’t, and all we’re left with is whatever Tom Baker tries to do to give the impression it’s tongue-in-cheek.

            Like I said, this is a superb story, absolute top-notch quality, and the racism can’t fully take away from that. But it also can’t be ignored or swept under the rug, because it is a problematic fault of the story. Myself, Talons is still an absolutely fantastic story and one I quite enjoy watching, but that’s still something that has to be dealt with (and I would likely bring it up to anyone I introduced the story to before we sat down to watch it).

            I think I’d like to just link to Sandifer’s post on Talons, if you haven’t read it already, as he sums this up far better than I could:
            http://tardiseruditorum.blogspot.com/2011/11/lion-catches-up-talons-of-weng-chiang.html

          • Andrew Bowman  June 7, 2012

            Coloured? Really? I believe ‘black’ is the more acceptable term, but that’s just me nit-picking ;) On the subject of racism and suchlike, I’m sure if the producers could have found a Chinese actor who was able to play the part of Chang convincingly, then they would have cast him. As it was, we got who we got, and bloody good he is too. Equally, and perhaps more worryingly, would the audience at the time have accepted an obviously foreign countenance in a leading guest role? Probably not. The perceived racism in Doctor Who at the time was the norm for television in general, so I don’t think that DW should be pilloried for indulging, if that’s the right word. Also, I don’t think that it was ever DW’s position to educate about racial tolerance and what have you. OK, to today’s viewers, it seems incredible that these things were done, but they were. I mentioned in the Pyramids of Mars and Robots of Death comments that I, a white British 36-year old man, would rather see a great performance from a white British actor than a mediocre one from a black or Chinese one. The same is equally true vice versa of course. The idea that, I don’t know, David Yip could have played Chang is interesting, but I’m not sure he would have been a good choice. I may have ruffled a few feathers here, and I certain;y don’t mean to, but I felt with the other comments on the subject, another voice might hopefully be heard. :)

          • Josiah Rowe  June 8, 2012

            Re: “I don’t think that it was ever DW’s position to educate about racial tolerance and what have you.”

            I’m not sure whether this means “I don’t think DW ever tried to educate about racial tolerance and what have you” or “I don’t think DW is an appropriate forum for efforts to educate about racial tolerance and what have you.” The latter is arguable — I’d say that promoting tolerance and teaching about racism could well fall into the Reithian goal of educating the young which was part of Doctor Who‘s original purview. But the former is patently untrue. The evils of racial intolerance are emphasized in Doctor Who as early as the second story, and the specific issue of human racism (historical and present-day) was a recurrent theme in the Cartmel era. Of course, some of the expressions of that theme were better than others — we were as likely to get the sledgehammer of “white kids firebombed it” as the lovely nuance of the Doctor’s conversation with John about the implications of sugar in your coffee. But I’ll defend the Cartmel era’s efforts: their hearts were in the right places. The Doctor should be aware of racism, and should oppose it, like all the other evils in the universe which “act against everything we believe in [and] must be fought.”

            So, as great as this story is, I do think Sue was right to knock it down a point for the casual racism. Because the Doctor should be better than that.

          • Chris Too-old-to-watch  June 8, 2012

            Oh-my-God, I’ve committed the major sin of calling someone coloured when I should have used the term black: Please forgive me, it’s very difficult for someone of advanced years to be able to follow the current trends of naming “so-called” minorities/differently-raced/non-WASP individuals.
            If anyone is interested Schroeder (a bond-haired blue-eyed fan of Beethoven) was played by Stanley Wayne Mathis, who I’m sure did an excellent job. Linus was played by B D Wong (late of Law and Order SVU). Most disgustingly, Snoopy was played by Roger Bart. Why, oh why they couldn’t find a beagle who could talk, sing and dance is beyond me. It must have been truly sickening to have to watch a human being take over the role………(Brain self-combusts with irony feedback)

          • Andrew Bowman  June 9, 2012

            In reference to Josiah’s point, it’s certainly true that while the Doctor abhorred injustice of any kind, racial intolerance being only one example, the prejudices of the producers/writers/ actors would have been all too prevelant in any artistic decision made. Television in general was guilty of blacking actors up, which is also true of British films, certain examples of the Carry On oeurve spring to mind. As has been mentioned already, Tom B is playing the racism card ironically, but the trouble with irony is not everybody recognises or understands it. The only racism inherent in Talons is that of the actor playing Chang, and that was unavoidable due to the points I made earlier (of course, all this could be easily disproved, but the trouble with strong opinions is that they’re bloody difficult to shift). Equally, I trust Mr. Too-old-to-watch’s sense of irony is as intentional as I perceive it to be. Your very best health :)

          • Thomas  June 9, 2012

            Well, I find it hard to believe a story with references to Chinese as “little people” and “the yellow one” would have the casting of a white actor be it’s only bit of racism.

          • Andrew Bowman  June 10, 2012

            Well, if the Chinese actors were short, “little” seems a fairly accurate description to me (to be fair, it’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but I doubt that the actors are any taller than 5 foot 7), and seeing has how Chinese people do have a yellowish tone to their skin, then calling them “yellow ones” is no worse, in my eyes at least, than calling Jamaicans “black”. As I’ve said before, John Bennett was probably the best actor for the role. Certainly, and the risk of repeating myself, if the ethnic casting in Robots is anything to go by, Hinchcliffe and co. probably decided that an experienced white British actor was a safer bet. BTW, I’m not in anyway advocating racism in any form, but I do think that producers/writers from TV’s pre-enlightened years should be cut a bit of slack, that’s all. :)

          • Dave Sanders  June 10, 2012

            Lest we forget: in 1977 the BBC were still running The Black And White Minstrel Show.

          • Andrew Bowman  June 11, 2012

            Indeed :)

          • Thomas  June 12, 2012

            “Yellow” and “little” were both derogative terms at the time the serial broadcast, so it’s hardly forgiving the producers in the ‘pre-enlightened’ years of television. And even ignoring those specific instances, the main problem with the story is the attitude towards the Chinese more than anything else.

            And also, I never said I had a problem with the casting of Bennett as Chang, if you read my previous comment I say it’s not as much a problem because he is so good in the role you can forgive the choice. Again, that’s hardly the problem of the story.

          • Andrew Bowman  June 12, 2012

            At the risk of turning this thread into a debate about racism (although the risk may well have been run anyway), the use of “little people” and ‘Yellow ones” were, as has already been mentioned by people far more intelligent than me, in common use during the Victoria era. Certainly, it may be seen as unnecessary for the Doctor to indulge in this trend, but it wouldn’t have done him any good to draw attention to himself by showing disapproval for this sort of thing. After all, racism is a minor injustice when you consider the usual things that he fights and, and I realise that I’m probably shooting myself in the arm with this, who doesn’t , occasionally, use racist terms, either in an ironic sense, or even when telling a joke? Or hearing one, even? If something’s funny, it’s funny regardless, but I’m digressing here. Yes, the producers/writers/whoever would have been very aware of the racism inherent in those aforementioned terms, but to not use them in a story where their use was as common as “text me” is today would be nothing short of sloppy. I understand that people are more sensitive on this issue these days, and that’s as it should be, but I do feel that by focussing on the racism element of the story, the picture is missed. What next, a remake of The Dam Busters where the dog’s name is changed, despite the historical importance of the name? Yes, I’m being facetious, but I think this discussion has gone as far as it can in this particular instance, although I am enjoying it. Bring on Fang Rock! :)

          • Thomas  June 13, 2012

            The Doctor should transcend cultural stereotypes and traditions, though, so for him to give in to casual racism is fundamentally against his character.

            And I agree that flat-out ignoring the racism of the time would be sloppy, but the program should in some way acknowledge that the behavior shown isn’t good- and it never does that, even though it has two perfect characters to do it through (The Doctor and Leela).

          • Andrew Bowman  June 13, 2012

            When you say that the Doctor should transcend casual racism, you are, of course right. However, he does pick on the human race quite a bit; we are the butt of a few of his jokes, and the number of times he mutters “humans” as if to say “ignorant savages” are too numerous to mention. This would suggest that while he *should*, he very rarely *does*. ;)

          • Thomas  June 13, 2012

            Well, the human race is a bit different than a minority culture being unfairly treated in a particular era.

          • Dave Sanders  June 14, 2012

            Plus of course, in the 21st century series, *he’s* the real minority now.

          • Andrew Bowman  June 14, 2012

            Thomas, sorry, but I fail to see *why* it’s different. Either racial prejudice is racial prejudice, or it isn’t (I think I went to school with a Rachel Prejudice, but I may be getting confused). Are you suggesting that it’s all right to pick on a nation of people if you are a guest in that nation, but not all right if someone from a different nation is a guest in your own country? Not trying to cause an argument or anything, I’m just genuinely interested in the thought processes of others. That’s all :)

          • PolarityReversed  June 14, 2012

            I probably won’t be around to see it, but I’d put a bit of money on some sort of neuralnet gestalt group 45 years hence, possibly entitled Adventures with the Podmate in Space, being rather disparaging about the reboot era’s smug decisions to populate the whole of time and space with arch permarandy Cool Britannia types. Heigh-ho.

          • Thomas  June 14, 2012

            Sandifer brought up a good point in the blog post I linked to that pointed out that no matter how much Talons pokes fun at Victorian stereotypes as well as Chinese ones, there’s still no getting past the fact that the Victorian culture parodied is a forerunner of the main audience’s culture (and the writer’s as well), so it’s always going to be a ‘loving parody’ or something similar. Whereas the Chinese don’t have that, and no matter how you look at it its a minority culture being slanted in the story.

            I guess what I’m saying is it’s really difficult to be prejudice if you’re a part of the culture you’re supposedly being prejudiced against. We’re typically biased to prefer our own culture or lifestyle, so no matter how much the writers might poke fun at the human race, they’re still a part of it, and that tempers the criticism. When they then write a story that’s basically indifferent to its treatment of the Chinese, it’s a much larger problem (I guess it’s good to point out that while you can still imagine the modern series poking fun at humanity as a whole, it’s much harder to imagine Smith calling a group of Chinese “little men”).

        • Roderick T. Long  June 7, 2012

          Actually, the case of Fu Manchu is itself complicated. In the Fu Manchu novels there’s a lot of talk about the villainy and perfidy and inscrutability and fiendish Asiatic cruelty of the yellow-peril blah blah, but it nearly all comes from Nayland Smith (the Sherlock Holmes character, though less clever), not from Dr. Petrie (the John Watson character and narrator/viewpoint character), who neither joins in nor dissents. When Petrie falls in love with an “Oriental” woman (her ethnicity is vague, possibly Arabian), Nayland Smith strongly disapproves and warns that she is not to be trusted, but she proves perfectly trustworthy. And if Fu Manchu’s diabolical plots are examined closely, they turn out to be mostly attempts to protect Asia from western imperialism. So it’s hard to say how far Rohmer endorses the racism of his protagonist.

    • Longtime Listener  June 7, 2012

      Hmmm. Not wanting to be picky, but “Look, it’s no more racist than Mel Gibson” is perhaps not the most compelling way of making your case…

      • PolarityReversed  June 7, 2012

        I was talking about his casting in Braveheart (blueing up), not his idiotic views.

        Thanks to all above for their thoughts. I’m not really into proselytising Who, so I’ve never had to sit a non-we down and have the “facts of the 70s” talk. Fair enough. You can’t read or write historical drama in a vacuum, and Talons is as trapped in amber as any. But I think the urge to deliberately distort history to conform to contemporary mores is troublesome. And it is part of Dr Who’s DNA to educate little heads.

        If only Tom had at some point come out with something like: “You do realise that those little yellow chaps had invented plumbing when your ancestors were still using mud for mascara. don’t you?”

        Incidentally, one of my favourite elements of this story is its implicit theatricality. Just about every major character is playing a part within a part – even Jago and Litefoot relish being in the sort of “game afoot” they’ve read about. Fascinating for that. Next up, Chekhov and Priestley meet George Romero…

        • PolarityReversed  June 8, 2012

          I would like to add, since I initiated this, that I’ve enjoyed the debate and the spirit in which it’s been conducted. As Said and Fanon both acknowledged, history is always read through modern eyes and tomorrow’s will be too.

  19. Jenn M.  June 6, 2012

    Reeling with glee and horror at the idea of Sue writing fanfic. I’d read it. :-)

    Loving that Sue likes Leela, and I agree there’s no way that Leela would’ve missed! 8/10 is perfectly fair.

  20. bestbrian  June 6, 2012

    This story is one of my faves, and I’m glad Sue enjoyed it. Although, I’m a little sad she missed another case of the door not being closed to the Tardis on arrival. :)

  21. Marty  June 6, 2012

    “Doctor Who inspires attempted murder” yes I can imagine Whitehouse would have got quite energetic over that.

    I’m getting interested in this 50th anniversary story that Sue’s writing with the Moff. Sherlock, the Doctor, Jago and Litefoot, Tom Baker in a cameo.
    But I agree with Neil a children in need crossover would be more likely (though still quite unlikely).

  22. Chris Too-old-to-watch  June 6, 2012

    Must admit I was expecting a much lower mark: I love this story and was fearing the worst. Yes the giant rat is bad, but it has fairly minor appearences, so can be forgiven.

    More problematic is the racism – not of the episode itself, but the uncontrollable reaction of fans to it. Polaryreversed (see above) answered most of the criticism, but may I also point out that in 1970′s UK there weren’t that many Chinese actors around able to carry that part. At the time virtually every oriental part was played by Burt Kwok (Pink Panther to Tenko, with a little bit of Bond). Personally I’d rather have what we got than a bad actor who was Chinese.

  23. Ludwig Wittgenstein XI  June 6, 2012

    “As a proper story. It would be great. The Doctor could take the modern Sherlock to Victorian London so he can solve the case of Jack the Ripper. Only he couldn’t tell anyone about it or time would go wibbly-wobbly and explode or something. How cool would that be?”

    Moff’s whispers through Sue’s mouth … yep, it’s coming and you heard it here first, ladies and gents …! (that Moffat, he’s one stealthy PR genius, that man is!)

    cheerio…!

  24. matt bartley  June 6, 2012

    It’s only reading through Sue’s reaction that you realise how much great stuff is in this story, from the writing to the production values to the little things like the unfortunate policeman who gets an axe in the back – can’t imagine that happening these days.

    So glad she’s taken to Leela now – she really is magnificent, especially here and in the next story (which is my favourite EVER so I’m hoping for a good score).

    Of course I can only imagine Sue’s reaction to her final story…

    • Dave Sanders  June 7, 2012

      You won’t get one. She’ll be asleep.

      • PolarityReversed  June 7, 2012

        Nah – she likes Andrex puppies…

  25. gangnet  June 6, 2012

    One thing that always bothered me about New Who’s mythology… There were no time agents! In this story, Greel is obviously presuming that his experiments were a success, time travel became commonplace, and eventually agents would attempt to track him down (a la “Let’s Kill Hitler”). The whole point was that his assumption was false. There were never going to be any time agents because his experiment was a failure.
    Even assuming that an institution called time agents arose later by coincidence, Greel had obviously never encountered them nor had cause to hear about them. The only time travel he knew about was his kind… the failure. Any references to time agents on Greel’s part could only be wild supposition.
    I think that this is probably a case on RTD’s part of “Did not do the research”.

    • Chris Too-old-to-watch  June 6, 2012

      Re Time agents: Greel may have knowledge that time travel worked from other races. He may even have been in contact with them, which is where he got his idea from? No indication that Time Agents (NuWho/Torchwood) is a human organisation…

      • Josiah Rowe  June 7, 2012

        It’s also possible that Time Agents using vortex manipulators, from the *late* 51st century, showed up regularly in Greel’s time (the *early* 51st century), and he assumed incorrectly that the vortex manipulator technology was a more advanced form of the zygma experiments.

  26. Lewis Christian  June 6, 2012

    In Tom’s run, I’m really only looking forward to a few more stories now: 4V, 4Z, 5J, 5H, 5G (particularly for the audio/video commentary), 5L and 5V.

  27. Mark Faulkner  June 6, 2012

    Whole-heartedly agree with Sue on Prometheus. 2/10.

    • Mark Faulkner  June 6, 2012

      Oh, and a nice little homage to Jackie Jenkins at the end there!

  28. BWT  June 6, 2012

    Yep – very nice. Agree with the mark. Nice to see Tom ditch the scarf for a whole serial – always loved the Holmes cossie he wears in this…

    “Is that racist or is the Doctor taking the piss?” would make a good T-shirt? Or maybe something like – “Attack of the Fingerbobs” would do.

    Oh and yes – John Bennett is superb in this. In fact, I don’t think he ever gave a crap performance in anything – I just don’t think he was capable them…

    • John G  June 6, 2012

      Yes, I watched him in the 1967 Forsyte Saga recently and he really stood out as an exception among performances which, for the most part, look rather stagy to modern eyes. Both his Who appearances also show what an excellent actor he was – and Mulberry too, if anyone remembers that…

  29. Paul Mudie  June 6, 2012

    “They are creating a very strong atmosphere, and that’s half the battle.”

    Never a truer word! I can forgive the silly rats and the dodgy racial stereotypes when the atmopsherics are handled this well. And when I was a lad, Mr Sin was just about the most terrifying thing I’d ever seen. Quality stuff.

    • encyclops  June 6, 2012

      Mr. Sin was hands down the scariest thing I ever encountered in Doctor Who. I was about ten and reading the novelisations. I’d never seen this episode, but I’d READ it, and afterward I would check for Mr. Sin in the bathroom cupboard, under the bed, behind the door, etc. For some reason it was never the big monsters that got to me, but the small ones that could be hiding anywhere.

      The second scariest thing was the Ogri. I watched that story late at night while we were staying at my grandmother’s, and I was certain they were going to come crashing through her windows any moment to come attack me. Fans always scoff “what were they thinking? That would NEVER have worked” about the Ogri, but screw you, it DID.

      • bestbrian  June 6, 2012

        The Ogri? I remember watching that one with my then “girlfriend” (we were in 5th grade; how much of a girlfriend could she be?), and telling her how fun, and cool, this weird show from Britland was, and then, the one time she looked up from whatever she was doing, she saw the stagehands in shot pushing the Ogri. We had a big argument over that, called each other names, and “broke up”. And now, over 30 years later, I look up “Stones of Blood” on the Tardiswiki, because of your post, and find out she was right.

        Sorry, Missy. :)

        • Wholahoop  June 9, 2012

          Aah, but you have to look it the Ogri with 1978 eyes. They scared me sh*tless when this was first shown

      • Paul Mudie  June 8, 2012

        Ventriloquist’s dummies have always creeped me out, and I suspect Mr Sin may have been the cause of that!

  30. Matt Sharp  June 6, 2012

    ‘At school. They called me Susie Wong.’

    Me: What?

    Sue: I looked Chinese. Well, that’s what they said.’

    I rather suspect they were saying something else entirely. Never underestimate the viciousness of fifteen year old girls. It might also be quite important that Sue doesn’t find out what ‘The World of Suzie Wong’ is actually about…

  31. encyclops  June 6, 2012

    Is the Ark In Space sequel you’re talking about Destination Nerva? I listened to that and was thoroughly confused as the monster that SOUNDED like it was supposed to be the Wirrn turned out not to be at all. I still don’t know why they bothered setting it on Nerva at all.

    Plus Tom Baker sounded so different that I honestly didn’t recognize him at first. People say “he sounds just like he did in the 70s!” but I can’t figure out which audios they’re listening to that give that impression.

  32. James C  June 6, 2012

    It’s a marvellous outcome for us as fans and readers of this blog to read Sue’s responses to the last few stories, positive and negative. Her comments, and the quality of the discussion thread recently, makes for a much more rewarding discussion of this very well trodden territory than we usually experience.

    One thing that has struck me through the last three stories – Face, Robots & Talons – is that they are structured as a group in exactly the same fashion as the first stories of every new series lead companion. For Rose, Martha, Donna & Amy they were taken to the future and the past directly after their first adventure (ignoring Runaway Bride) to invest the viewer with their experience of the wonders of time travel. It’s the same here – and notable that Sue has responded to Leela in the same way that we are asked to respond to today’s TARDIS inmates. Leela’s experience in these stories is as important as the stories themselves, and her character is all the better for it. She’s not simply written strong – she’s written well.

    They did much the same in 1963, and again (though differently) with Sarah, but that’s all I can think of. To me the strong origins of all these characters are a pretty strong argument in favour of today’s standard line that Doctor Who is best when told as the companion’s story.

    • encyclops  June 7, 2012

      I love your observations here, though I’m not sure I’m sold on the conclusion. I think these three stories would probably have worked nearly as well with a generic companion; that some attention was paid to making the companion a true character with an active role to play in the stories definitely enhances them, but isn’t their sole purpose. I actually wonder if the “companion’s story” idea isn’t part of what makes the new series feel so bland to me; I love the show the most when it’s exploring concepts and worlds, and not so much when it’s bending over backwards to make two characters the parents of a third, let’s say. There’s a balance needed, and I’d agree with you that it’s really well struck here.

      • James C  June 7, 2012

        Yep, I agree with what you’re saying at the end there – it’s all about balance and that’s well done in this case; and I think with Rose & Amy (each first season) too. Though in the latter case the exploration of concepts and worlds is very much part of the character’s story, which either floats your boat or it doesn’t.

        • encyclops  June 7, 2012

          Yeah, not to digress too much, but Amy’s not really my favorite companion, and the more she and Rory are defined mainly in terms of each other, the more River’s story is defined mainly in terms of the two of them and the Doctor, the less interesting they all become to me. I suppose the same could really be said of Rose, Mickey, and Jackie to some extent, but something about Mickey dating a shopgirl within a year seemed more realistic to me — and more dramatically interesting — than Rory guarding a tomb for 2000 years.

          • Chris Too-old-to-watch  June 7, 2012

            I think the “companion-finding-out-about-the-Doctor” role played by Rose (and to some extent Amy) is understandable from the POV of the new series for the sake of introducing new viewers. However, everyone now knows who the Doctor is and (to some extent) his character. I think it’s about time that the companion was the one to “go on the journey”, not the Doctor. He should be the constant, because we know him.

  33. Mark Taylor  June 6, 2012

    And the mug should be:
    “It’s a shame about the giant mouse, innit?”

  34. John Heaton  June 7, 2012

    “Sue: ‘I am Chang and I can’t be killed’.”

    Community reference for the win!

  35. Piers Johnson  June 8, 2012

    Ah, I love “Talons”! You should have kept the picture murky though, back in the Eighties when this was frequently repeated on the ABC nobody had a good telly.

  36. Michelle Van Balkom  June 8, 2012

    I’m glad Sue enjoyed this story as it is my favorite Classic Who so far. Also, I think her 50th anniversary idea should 100% be sent to Mr. Moffat. Benedict, Matt, and John in an episode of DW! Awesome!

  37. Paul Mudie  June 8, 2012

    Oh and by the way, Neil – Sorry to hear about the employment situation. I hope some wonderful new opportunity heads your way soon.

    • Neil Perryman  June 8, 2012

      It’s entirely self-inflicted, so don’t worry ;-)

      • Richard Lyth  June 9, 2012

        Will you be making use of your free time to turn The Wife In Space into a book/videogame/interactive DVD?

        • Neil Perryman  June 9, 2012

          I might work on a Wife in Space app. Watch this space.

          • Jeremy Phillips  June 14, 2012

            Or a ringtone: “Is it the Master?”

  38. Stormageddon  June 9, 2012

    Neil, can we see a picture of your headless Weng-Chiang action figure?

  39. Gareth Lee-Thomas  June 10, 2012

    It’s a strange thing. You can watch this and not think about it and it seems to be thoughtless and ham-fisted, or you can think about it and it seems thoughtful and measured. So I am inclined to say that it is high art in-so-much that it is a platform for whatever you bring to it.

    “If you leave the smallest corner of your head vacant for a moment, other people’s opinions will rush in from all quarters.”

    You can probably apply any George Bernard Shaw quote to this story although I’ve gone a bit “Meta”.

    For me – the main message is that we all jumble along but there will always be some loon who takes good ideas and does bad things.

    Fair score from Sue I think. I am left in a difficult position about watching Prometheus now. I was thinking that it would be something I should watch on the big screen and people might talk about it for a long time. With high expectations and poor delivery I think nothing annoys me more. Was there something in particular that was bad about it that I might forgive or should I not bother?

    • encyclops  June 10, 2012

      I saw Prometheus last night, and I thought by far the worst aspect of it was that the characters seemed largely motivated by what the script thought it would be useful for them to do at that moment. Also I hated all of the characters except for Idris Elba’s (because he actually seemed like a human doing things a human would do, at least until the end) and Charlize Theron’s (because she mainly spent the movie being justifiably icy or pissy or both and looked great doing it). Fassbender was terrific too, particularly given what he had to work with.

      Once you get past the idea that there should be people who behave like people in a movie (perhaps you could justify it by setting it in an alternate universe?), there’s some very ugly alien/human interaction that seems less like an animal’s life cycle and more like visual rape. And if that doesn’t faze you, you’re left with some nice sets and cinematography, some half-baked but still kind of evocative philosophy / what-if theology, and some of the worst old-age makeup I’ve ever seen in my life.

      It’s a mixed bag, is what I’m saying, and watch what you eat before you go in. You were probably asking Neil, but that’s what I thought.

      • Dave Sanders  June 10, 2012

        I haven’t seen Prometheus yet but I’m getting strong Tomb Of The Cybermen vibes from it. Or maybe that’s just me.

  40. Frankymole  June 10, 2012

    I watched John Bennett playing a German scientist in The Saint episode “The Gadget Lovers” yesterday, and he looked far more Chinese in that, than he does in this. He didn’t need that make-up!

  41. CJJC  June 10, 2012

    If Sue wants to see the modern Sherlock deal with offensive sweet-and-sour/”ah so” style Chinese stereotypes she need look no further than The Blind Banker, and no time travel was needed.

  42. Colin John Francis  June 12, 2012

    “What next, a remake of The Dam Busters where the dog’s name is changed, despite the historical importance of the name? Yes, I’m being facetious, but I think this discussion has gone as far as it can in this particular instance” — Funny you should say this – here are some quotes posted on Wikipedia about this.

    “The British Channel 4 screened the censored American version in July 2007, in which the dialogue was dubbed so as to call the dog Trigger, this screening taking place just after the planned remake was announced. For the remake, Peter Jackson has said no decision has been made on the dog’s name, but is in a “no-win, damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don’t scenario”, as changing the name could be seen as too much political correctness, while not changing the name could offend people.[15] Further, executive producer Sir David Frost was quoted in The Independent as stating: “Guy sometimes used to call his dog Nigsy, so I think that’s what we will call it. Stephen has been coming up with other names, but this is the one I want.”[16] In June 2011, Stephen Fry mentioned in an interview that the dog would be called Digger in the remake to avoid offending modern audiences. [N 1] In September 2007, as part of the BBC Summer of British Film series, The Dam Busters was shown at selected cinemas across the UK in its uncut format.”

  43. bestbrian  June 14, 2012

    It’s funny. I love this story, and I was a little worried about Sue and Neil getting the commentary bogged down in the dated racist stereotypes on display, but instead, it’s the sophisticated Ming Mongs of Whodom beating the horse to death. :) It’s a 50 year old show, and it’s going to reflect the elements and mores of its time; some of them will be jarring to modern sensibilities, but like all the “Niggers” in Huck Finn, it’s just something you have to accept.

    I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m ready for Fang Rock. :)

    • Andrew Bowman  June 14, 2012

      Yeah, sorry about that! ;) Bring on the Rock! :)

    • Thomas  June 17, 2012

      Except that the sensibilities towards the Chinese displayed in the episode are woefully out of place for 1976, when the English-speaking world at large was beginning to overcome the strong prejudices against various Asian cultures (Pacific Overtures had premiered on Broadway a year earlier, if memory serves correctly, which should give some sort of example of what I’m saying).

      Plus, Huck Finn isn’t a racist book, and even if one was bothered by the language, it still makes definite strides to go against the racist views of the time. Talons, as good as it is (and though I lambast it heavily for its indifference to the Chinese, it doesn’t completely take away from the fact it is a remarkably good episode, and one I really enjoy to watch), doesn’t do that, and that’s why it gets criticized.

      • Andrew Bowman  June 17, 2012

        I had a rather interesting discussion about the use of the the word “nigger” in The Celestial Toymaker on the, now sadly defunct, Facebook DWM discussion page a while ago. The basic feeling was that it didn’t matter at all in the scheme of things, as it’s just one instance of the word being used innocuously (inasmuch as racist jibes are innocuous), and that by drawing attention to it only made it worse. If The Hall of Dolls had been discovered, would they take the offending word out, thereby not presenting the episode as it was on transmission? Would that be right? It isn’t, after all, a racist story.

        On the subject of Talons, the racial stereotypes represented aren’t necessarily racist, but the attitudes are. Equally, the Doctor’s lack of concern about this, while clearly a concern to many, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the Doctor agrees with these attitudes. And let’s face it, stereotypes generally have a whiff of truth about them anyway. :)

        • Thomas  June 17, 2012

          Have you read Sandifer’s thoughts on Toymaker concerning the racism? It’s an interesting read.

          And for the second part, the lack of concern does imply he either agrees or doesn’t care about the attitudes, both of which are, in my opinion at least, decidedly un-Doctorish.

          • Andrew Bowman  June 17, 2012

            I think it’s just that he doesn’t care, un-Doctorish or not; I mean, he’s certainly got bigger fish to fry and anyway, a part of me thinks he’s more amused by human beings’ tendency to pick on each other over the smallest difference. I still stand by my, and others, observation that the Doctor’s being ironic for the majority of the time.

  44. sparklepunk  June 24, 2012

    Oh well she liked it and if you’re wondering at all why I’m so behind in the times (probably not hah), I just like to save these up and read them in binges. haha I should probably watch it as an adult sometime, I have no idea really what I had against it. I do remember though, loving the scene with Leela eating the meat too. I was reading about this on another site recently where they were complaining about the way Leela was treated in this and I’m glad that most people see her the way I do instead as I thought she was a great companion and loved how competent she was, I felt a bit like they were stretching just to try to be offended or something.