Friday, November 23, 2012

Review - "The Talons of Weng-Chiang"

Today's review isn't exactly a Sherlock Holmes item, but it is rather close. Today I am reviewing the thrilling six-part episode of "Doctor Who," "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" which is clearly modeled after the great detective.

However, before I go too far, allow me to give just a bit of background information on the show for those of you who may be unfamiliar with it. "Doctor Who" is a science-fiction adventure show which debuted in 1963. The Doctor is a renegade member of an alien race known as The TimeLords. He has stolen a TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space), a time machine and space-ship which is disguised as a 1960's police-box, and goes around the universe (and through time) saving the world.

This particular serial features the Fourth incarnation of the Doctor. Each time a TimeLord faces death, they can change every cell in their body - leading to a new version of the Doctor. Tom Baker stars as the Fourth Doctor in this serial - which in 2003 was voted as the best "Doctor Who" story.

"The Talons of Weng-Chiang" find the Doctor and his travelling companion, Leela in Victorian London. What started out as a pleasant trip turns deadly when a man dies right before the Doctor's eyes, which leads the Doctor and Leela into a dangerous world of Chinese Tongs, disappearing women and a giant rat in the sewers of London.

Tom Baker as The Doctor in "The Talons of Weng-Chiang"
"The Talons of Weng-Chiang" was my first foray into the "Doctor Who" universe and I was attracted to it by the supposed Sherlock Holmes connections. The Doctor dresses in a deerstalker hat and Inverness cape throughout this episode, and meets a medical man by the name of Professor Litefoot who acts as his Watson throughout the story. What's more, the Doctor takes to the sewers of London to find the Giant Rat which lives there. Of course, this is a direct reference to the famed untold story from the canon, and it is an absolute delight for a Sherlock Holmes enthusiast like me.

Tom Baker is quite marvelous as the Doctor. He is the longest-running Doctor in the series going from 1974 to 1981. He is a favourite of many fans of both the new series and the old. It looks as though Baker is having a great deal of fun in the role of the Doctor for this adventure, and his high-spirited nature spills over into the episode itself. Christopher Benjamin appears as Henry Gordon Jago, the owner of a small music hall who works alongside the Doctor and Litefoot and John Bennett is wonderful as the creepy music hall musician.

Tom Baker as Sherlock Holmes in a 1982
television serial of "The Hound of the Baskervilles"
In all, "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" may not be a Sherlock Holmes story, but it is certainly akin to the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. To many, the Doctor is Holmes' intergalactic counterpoint. Interestingly, after Tom Baker's term as the Doctor came to an end, Baker went on to appear as the detective in a 1982 television serialization of "The Hound of the Baskervilles." While, Baker seems to be enjoying himself immensely as the Doctor, Baker's performance as Holmes is quite the opposite. While Baker's performance isn't bad, he suffers from a dull Watson and an overall dull adaptation.

"Doctor Who" continued on until 1989 at which point the show went off the air. It returned in 1996 with a made-for-television movie and didn't return to the BBC until 2005 under the helm of Russell T. Davies. In 2010, Steven Moffatt took over as the show-runner. Moffatt is also the co-creator of BBC's "Sherlock."

"The Talons of Weng-Chiang" is a very enjoyable television serial for fans of both "Doctor Who" and Sherlock Holmes. Seeing the great detective's alien equal is a great deal of fun, and the six-part serial is perhaps the epitome of entertainment. "The Talons of Weng-Chaing" deserves a worthy 4 out 5 stars.

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