The Doctor brings Leela to Victorian-era London to give her some exposure to what he considers civilization, though things quickly become less than civilized when a Chinese man makes an attempt on the Doctor’s life. Relations between the natives of London and the city’s growing Chinese population are equally strained elsewhere, as allegations of kidnapping surround stage magician Li H’sen Chang during his residence at a local theater, run by Henry Gordon Jago. Numerous men confront Chang with accusations that he hypnotized their wives and ladyfriends during his magic show – and every woman disappeared shortly afterward. The Doctor investigates Chang’s magic show and discovers that the magician is using more than sleight-of-hand to accomplish his amazing feats – he is receiving technological help too advanced for the Victorian era, in exchange for which Chang is performing murderous services for his master – from the future.
written by Robert Holmes
directed by David Maloney
music by Dudley Simpson
Guest Cast: John Bennett (Li H’sen Chang), Deep Roy (Mr. Sin), Michael Spice (Weng-Chiang / Greel), Trevor Baxter (Professor Litefoot), Christopher Benjamin (Henry Gordon Jago), Tony Then (Lee), Alan Butler (Buller), Chris Gannon (Casey), John Wu (Coolie), Conrad Asquith (PC Quick), David McKail (Sergeant Kyle), Patsy Smart (Ghoul), Judith Lloyd (Teresa), Vaune Craig-Raymond (Cleaning Woman), Peggy Lister (Singer), Vincent Wong (Ho), Stuart Fell (Giant rat)
Original Title: The Talons Of Greel
Broadcast from February 26 through April 2, 1977
LogBook entry & review by Earl Green
Review: One of Doctor Who’s most atmospheric, tightly-plotted stories during the Tom Baker era, Weng-Chiang is a rare case of a six-parter that hangs a sharp left halfway through the story and doesn’t fall apart or feel “padded” to fill out the time. One of the few complaints that can be lodged against the story is the laughable “giant rat” effects, and even that can be overlooked. Other aspects of the production – the period feel, the rich characterizations, an amazing cast and some very effective makeup for decidedly non-Chinese actor John Bennett as Chang – stand up to this day as some of Doctor Who’s finest. The characters of Jago and Lightfoot were even, at one point, considered for a non-science-fiction spinoff series that never got any further than the planning stages. (It would’ve been an enormously entertaining show, had the same actors been retained – as guest characters go, they were that good.
Even Leela’s gritty demeanor comes into play, and it’s good to see her kick and claw her way out of predicaments during which other companions might have screamed themselves silly. There’s a subtle “Pygmalion” gag in the subtext there, and it’s just as well for the Doctor that he didn’t succeed in “civilizing” Leela this time around!