2. PROFESSOR LITEFOOT'S DINING ROOM.I've written about the TV version a couple of times before. Back in 2007, I said:
(LEELA peers out of the window. She hears the front door shut, then turns around.)
LITEFOOT: Nobody out there now! Fellow must have got wind of .. .
(He breaks off mid-sentence with a groan. There is a rustling sound in the hall.)
(She goes towards the door.)
Are you there, Professor?
(She is almost at the door when it swings open. MR. SIN is standing there, a knife glinting evilly in his hand. He moves purposefully towards LEELA. For a moment she is frozen with fear, then she grabs a carving knife from the side-table.
As MR. SIN moves stiffly towards her, she hurls the knife at him, with expert precision. It thuds into MR. SIN's throat but, to LEELA's amazement, it seems to have little effect. The weird little mannequin continues to shuffle towards her.)
The Talons of Weng-Chiang, from 1977, is the climax of the great Holmes/Hinchcliffe era of Doctor Who (also the last directed by the superb David Maloney), and is as good now as I remember it being when I was nine. (I admit I have also seen it a couple of times since, once in the company of a girl from Manila who giggled pleasingly at the line about the Filipino army advancing on Reykjavik.) Thanks to my background reading I was now alert to look out for a particular shot at the start of episode 4 which had escaped my notice previously (on the DVD commentary track, Louise Jameson laughs loudly). There is so much great stuff here: Leela and the Doctor are both alien to Victorian London, so Jago and Litefoot are effectively the viewpoint characters; Deep Roy, later to play hundreds of Oompa-Loompas in Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, turns in a great Mr Sin. Yes, the ethnic stereotypes are rather regrettable (and quite apart from the Chinese, I would draw the attention of Irish viewers to Chris Gannon's Casey), but the setting and drama are just fantastic.And in 2010, I wrote:
I always loved The Talons of Weng-Chiang, and rewatching it made me realise once again how brilliant it is. (I know, I said this about The Deadly Assassin too, but it's true in both cases.) There are two big problems with the story: the fairly useless and unterrifying giant rat, and the racism including having the lead Chinese role played by a non-Chinese actor. However, the settings are beautifully done, the plotting is tight enough, Magnus Greel's distorted face is truly horrible, and everyone takes it seriously and does it well. The script has some particular delights: "I can play the 'Trumpet Voluntary' in a bowl of live goldfish"; "sleep is for tortoises"; etc.The script, published in 1989, is really for completists only, but I would say two things: first, two of the most problematic elements of the TV series - the use of a white actor to play Li H'sen Chang, and the rather poor implementation of the giant rat - are of course invisible in the script (the racism, alas, survives); but second, so is the gorgeous staging which made it such a vivid experience when I was nine. A nice bit of nostalgia which you can get here.
It is fantastic that Big Finish have manged to take the Jago and Litefoot partnership and turn it into a thumping success, starting with last year's Companion Chronicle, The Mahogany Murderers, and then on to this year's mini-series with another one promised for next year. I'll be buying it.
I have listened to most (but not all) of Big Finish's Jago and Litefoot audios, now sadly terminated by the loss of Trevor Baxter last year, and enjoyed them a lot.