The Talons of Weng-Chiang

That was amazing. It felt like a six-day break from Doctor Who to watch the most opium-riddled Sherlock Holmes adaptation ever. Tom makes a fantastically good Holmes, and the production values are incredible. The dark, misty, grubby Victorian imagery is so evocative, setting the scene immediately so that the script doesn’t have to, allowing a gripping plot to be played out relentlessly.

On the other hand… yeah, it’s a bit racist. Sometimes it’s comical, but a lot of the time it’s cringeworthy. It’s not so much when the characters say racist things about “Orientals” that’s problematic – these are fictional creations with Victorian attitudes, behaving entirely realistically – it’s just that the depiction of the Chinese characters themselves is so wrong. It was easier to brush off black or yellow face in the black and white days, but when everything else about the production feels so fresh and timeless, it’s a stark reminder that this programme is a relic from the past.

It took a couple of episodes, but I did see past it in the end, and appreciated a quite brilliant performance from John Bennett, regardless of the rights and wrongs of his casting. He was the best of the triumvirate of brilliant baddies, closely followed by the haunting Mr Sin. Weng-Chiang himself is great, but loses marks for being so obsessed by a cabinet and Mary Poppins’s carpet bag.

But none of them could compete with the brilliance of Jago & Litefoot. I’d obviously heard of them, but was skeptical as to whether they’d live up to the hype of being the subject of approximately four hundred series of spin-off audio. But they’re simply the best guest characters we’ve had for at least a couple of seasons, and possibly the best ever pseudo-companions outside of UNIT. A perfect double act, despite only actually meeting towards the end. I’m probably still not going to listen to the audios, mind.

I see that this is Phillip Hinchcliffe’s last serial as producer, and it’s a typically dark and violent send-off. The Doctor seems to have a rather casual attitude towards death these days, and it will be interesting to see whether that disappears with Hinchcliffe. I don’t think anyone else would have introduced a companion like Leela, who’d sooner kill someone than scream at them. Nor for that matter would many other producers of a family show sanction scenes of the baddie straight up smoking opium.

It’s probably the right time for him to go, as this was the ultimate gothic horror tale, and would have been hard to top. Another all time classic for the Fourth Doctor – he’s probably had more than any other Doctor so far, and we’re less than halfway through his tenure…

RATING: 10

So the end of a mini-era perhaps, but most definitely the end of a season:

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 8.5

  • Seasons/Series watched: 14 of 35
  • Stories watched: 91 of 263
  • Individual episodes watched: 453 of 826

Glancing at the all-powerful spreadsheet, I see a long-ish run of stories where the titles mean little to me, for the first time in a while. Pretty sure that I’ve not previously seen anything now until Tom’s last season. Excellent.

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