Saturday, January 18, 2014

Doctor Who-The Talons Of Weng-Chiang

                         While visiting Victorian era London in order for Leela to learn about her ancestors social customs-in particular the theater of the time. After the nights performance at the Palace Theater,the Chinese illusionist Li H'Shen Chang is set upon by a man whose wife had gone missing,one of a number of women in London who'd met with this face recently,and that her last whereabouts had been in the presence of Chang. On their way to the theater,the doctor and Leela find themselves taken in by the police after witnessing the murder of a cab driver-actually the man who'd just visited Chang, at the hands of a group of Chinese men. During questioning Chang is bought in as an interpreter of events-during which time a vile of scorpion venom given by him to one of the suspects reveals a tattoo on the suspects arm to the doctor as belonging to the tong of the black scorpion-devoted followers of the ancient Chinese god Weng Chiang. 

                     Following this the doctor and Leela consult with the local pathologist Professor Litefoot. With his help in using his home as a base of operations,the doctor and Leela manage to track these specific murdering
of women to Chang himself who has been taking women-mostly of them volunteers in his magic act,who has been taking them to the hideaway of an individual who he is convinced is Weng-Chiang himself. He is using the life forces of these women as sustenance . But he than chastises Chang for not meeting up with his very specific instructions. The doctor and Leela face up to enormous rats that feed off of human flesh in the city's sewer system-while the Palace Theater's owner Henry Gordon Jago attempts to assist the doctor in tracking down the mysterious Weng-Chiang-who is continuing to abduct women and has made off with an ancient cabinet Litefoot had in his home,having been raised in China by a colonialist family.

                 The doctor,Leela and Jago eventually end up following Chang to one of his performances at the Palace-where an attempt to kill the doctor backfires when one of his tricks lead to the revealing of the murder of one of the theaters employees. Not guilty of this murder,Chang goes on the lamb only to be dragged away. With the help of Litefoot,the doctor and Leela find Chang half dead from injuries at an opium den. He tells them that Weng Chiang presented himself as a god upon arrival-with Chang serving him with the women whose life force was his very survival. But Chang was betrayed and gives the doctor a Chinese Puzzle that reveals the local of his former master. Meanwhile Professor Litefoot and Jago have discovered a case of strange ephemera. When the doctor arrives he discovers an object he recognizes as the key to a time cabinet-part of a failed time travel experiment from a 51'st century war using unstable Zigma rays. 

                  When Jago and Litefoot are held captive by Weng-Chiang,Leela finds herself gagged when set upon by the deformed Chiang himself. The doctor arrives and agrees to a barter to spare provide Chiang with the time cabinet key in exchange for the safety of Leela,Litefoot and Jago. And he demands that Chiang lead him to his palace. Once there the doctor learns Chiang is really Magnus Greel,an unethical scientist attempting to restore himself to life using the same unstable methods he had in his own time. The doctor rescues Leela from this fate while they,along with Jago and Litefoot,escape the laser eyed dragon head used by the Peking Homunculus-a murderous cyborg whose mind is that of a pig that almost caused World War Six in the future. The doctor manages to disconnect him while throwing the weakened Greel into his own chamber-which de-molecularizes him. Following this,and a leisurely journey with Litefoot and Jago to buy muffins,the pair thankfully bid the doctor and Leela farewell as they depart in the TARDIS.

                   During its time,this has become one of the most controversial Doctor Who serial. The Canadian National Council For Equality apparently found this story so offensive that Canada and many stations in North America refused to carry the episode. I can certainly see why this might be. Li H'Shen Chang is portrayed as a villainous and deceptive character-using powers given to him by Greel to manipulate his victims. In addition to being portrayed by an English actor,those portrayed by Asian actors are the characters of hoodlums-members of the Tong Gang. Racial slurs and continual derogatory language abound in the dialog as well. Strange as this might be for a show that defines itself by a strong,universal moral code,it somehow seems totally appropriate to me given the Victorian English setting-where the Chinese were vilified and viewed only in stereotypical terms. The doctors wittily expressed condensation towards this racial slurring would also seem to indicate the characters disapproval.

                   Interestingly enough outside this controversy,this really is a wonderfully placed historical murder mystery with a rare glimpse of another time traveler outside the time lords-the highly unskilled (and himself highly bigoted) Magnus Greel. Also welcomed is the presence of two contemporary companions for the doctor in this episode. Fascinated by the doctors deductive abilities and seeking a personal fortune,the jocular and pompous Henry Gordon Jago provides a wonderful comic type character-constantly afraid of his own shadow. Professor Litefoot on the other hand is an estate and adaptive individual-who deeply respects the doctor and Leela-even relaxing from his devotion to Victorian morays to eat meat with his bare hands and deducing a way to use the dumb waiter in Greel's palace to launch a jailbreak for himself and Jago. Its the juxtaposition of two opposite ends of history-along with the presence of well realized characters that make this story so wonderful and compelling.
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