It’s Mystery Science Theatre 1889…
Sue: 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…
Sue: 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.
Sue: 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:
Sue: 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.
Old 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?
Sue: 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.
Sue: 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.top
Jago 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.
Sue: At school. They called me Susie Wong.
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.
Chang 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?
Sue: Just checking.
Sue: 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.
Litefoot, 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…
Sue: 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?
Me: 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?top
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!
Leela 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?
The 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.
Weng-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…
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 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?
Sue: Bloody hell.
Leela escapes into the sewers, only to find herself hunted by a giant rat.
Sue: 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.top
Me: 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.
When 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 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.
Sue: 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.
Sue: 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?top
The 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?
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.
Weng-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.
Sue: 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.
Sue: Are the actors still alive, then? In that case, give them cameos in the anniversary special. Is Tom Baker in any of them?
Sue: So Tom Baker is doing Big Finish now?
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.
Sue: 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.
Jago 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.
Sue: 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.top
The 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.
Sue: 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.
Sue: 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.
Sue: 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.top
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.
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…
We 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.top
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