Monday, 16 December 2013

Review: Doctor Who Classic: The Talons of Weng-Chiang
Li H'sen Chang would probably be a cool character
if it wasn't a blatant use of Yellow-facing.
Doctor Who - Season 14, Story Six - The Talons of Weng-Chiang
Written 9/6/13

Phillip Hinchcliffe had been given the boot by the BBC in 1977 because of the gore in his era, culminating in a Mary Whitehouse complaint about the drowning cliffhanger in The Deadly Assassin and various other moments. For his last story as Producer, the duo raised the bar and managed to fit in every dark theme they could possibly think of, carrying allusions from all sorts of great British Literature as a last magnificently twisted send-off.
     Which is unfortunate, as one of the things the story is known for outside of the fandom is for just how ridiculously racist it manages to be. The villains are an Asian street-gang in Victorian London, brainwashed into worshipping a mad time-traveller, and who are led by the less stereotypical but equally as offensive Li H'sen Chang, who is played in a fairly transparent yellowface and silly accent by white actor John Bennett. While the various racist remarks made throughout the story can be attributed to the time, and there are some anti-racist sentiments here or there (Chang sarcastically deadpanning, "Of course, I know we all look alike"), the overall tone of Yellow Peril and the fact that The Doctor himself is making jibes in the wrong direction makes for an incredibly uncomfortable experience in some parts.
     If you can manage to look past that part of the serial, then the allusions to other stories make themselves clear. There are heavy, heavy references to Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes and the historical atmosphere surrounding those stories - most obviously seen in The Doctor's adoption of a deerstalker and a cape. Unusually for a six-parter, the story is almost entirely free of padding and a lot of the story's time and effort goes into building atmosphere, and building dread around Phantom-of-the-Opera villain Magnus Greel and his twisted cyborg-pupped assistant Mr. Sin as they kidnap underage girls and prostitutes in order to absorb their life essence and keep Greel alive.
Deep Roy under heavy prosthetics as Mr. Sin.
     This week's guest cast are a varied bunch, the most memorable certainly being the exciting duo of Jago and Litefoot, a theatre owner and a pathologist who manage to find their way together and have in spin-off materials become something of a Classic Series Torchwood team. Deep Roy is terrifying as the disturbing Mr. Sin, and despite the horrendous racism of his casting in the role John Bennett does a great job as Li H'sen Chang. I was much less impressed with Magnus Greel, who follows a string of ranting madmen in the Hinchcliffe era, none of which besides maybe Morbius ever really come up to scratch.
     Talons finishes the season and leaves the show in a very different state than to when it arrived. I fail to see the problem that so many people had with the violence in the Saward Era when stories like these in the show's so-called "Golden Years" did far worse with little message to back it up. The story is well made, and on the whole I enjoyed it, but the crippling racism that only reveals itself in hindsight is enough to make me want to avoid this story. Farewell to Hinchcliffe, and on to the Williams years!


NEXT WEEK: We meet the enemy of an enemy who is not our friend in The Horror of Fang Rock.

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