Doctor Who - The Talons of Weng-Chiang VHS
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"The Talons of Weng-Chiang" is one of the very best Doctor Who stories, a six-part adventure set in a gothic Victorian London inspired by The Phantom of the Opera and Sax Rohmer's tales of Fu Manchu, with nods toward Jack the Ripper, Dracula, and Sherlock Holmes. The final story from the Golden Age of the show, Philip Hinchcliff's three-year tenure as producer, the tale boasts superior production values and a bizarre storyline involving a time-traveling war criminal, giant rats in the London sewers, and a malevolent ventriloquist's doll with the brain of a pig.
Pitted against this flamboyant madness, largely centered on an East End music-hall run by the self-important Henry Gordon Jago (a memorable performance by Christopher Benjamin) are Tom Baker's fourth Doctor, in pre-self-parody top form, and Louise Jameson's Leela at her primal best. There's strong support from Trevor Baxter as the Watson-like Professor Lightfoot, and John Bennett as the villainous Li H'sen Chang. Really helping matters is the first-rate direction from David "Genesis of the Daleks" Maloney, evoking a creepy atmosphere in a fantasy London of shadows and fog. "Weng-Chiang" was the pinnacle of gothic Who and still remains highly enjoyable entertainment. --Gary S. Dalkin
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The series is a bit of an acquired taste of course but I think many would find The Talons Of Weng-Chiang worthwhile.
Like most of the stories produced by Philip Hinchcliffe this one is a homage to some literary classics like The Phantom Of The Opera, Fu Manchu, Sherlock Holmes and maybe more.
Writing is excellent, very action-adventure oriented but a good amount of time is devoted to character development and atmosphere.
Most of the story seems to take place in the Victorian era and there is a mention of Jack The Ripper.
The nighttime setting and antiquity make for a creepy malevolence, but most of the characters maintain a good humor.
Casting is excellent, first class professionals. They care about their work and the director David Maloney does too and it truly shows.
Unfortunately the lead villain, Weng-Chiang, also known by other names, is an over the top stereotype and is rather two dimensional.
His assistant, Li H'sen Chang, is basically a Chinese stereotype but the character is made authentic by good writing and outstanding acting. Very impressive performance.
I am also very impressed by the wonderful Louise Jameson whose performance as Leela, the Doctor's assistant, make this story a quintessential example of her acting prowess.
I think her talents rival those of Tom Baker's and they seem to be a little competitive at times.
She gives a wonderful performance here even though her hands are a bit tied by the constraints of the character she is portraying. Sublime. I tend to think of her as the Emma Peel to Baker's John Steed.
Of all the extras included my favorites are Whose Doctor Who, for the footage of Tom Baker doing a read-through and playing Foosball with a young Deep Roy (Mr. Sin) and the extra Behind The Scenes, 24 minutes of continuity/working dailies.
The Scenes extra is terrible in quality but was never meant to be a finished product of course. It reminds one how tedious and arduous the entertainment industry is.
The mark of a professional actor is the ability to maintain focus and enthusiasm. It must be something like trying to be the Life Of The Party while doing retail inventory, something I found to be relentlessly mind numbing and exhausting.
The Talons Of Weng-Chiang is a fascinating adventure and a definite benchmark for Doctor Who.
An authentic television drama masterpiece!
Primarily, I'm writing this review to let you know the differences between this (upcoming, as I write this) October 2011 Special Edition DVD set, and the first DVD set released back in 2003. I checked this out for my own purposes. I have the 2003 set, and I need to figure out if I "need" to purchase the Special Edition set when it comes out in four months. All information below is from British websites.
Here's the extras on the older 2003 two-disc DVD set (issued as part of the Dr. Who 40th anniversary year). This set includes an option for English subtitles, and is complete and unedited (you can see the nunchuks!):
1. Commentary by producer Philip Hinchcliffe, director David Maloney, actor Louise Jameson (Leela), actor John Bennett (Li H'Sen Chiang), and actor Christopher Benjamin (Jago)
2. "Whose Doctor Who", a 59 minute 1977 episode from the BBC2 TV series, "The Lively Arts". Hosted by Melvyn Bragg, this is a fun look at the psychological impact of the Doctor Who show over the years, and includes interviews with school-children. Part of the program has behind-the-scenes footage of "The Talons of Weng-Chiang".
3. "Blue Peter: Make Your Own Doctor Who Theater", a 25 minute 1977 TV episode of a British show, "Blue Peter Theatre", a kid's show. It includes showing kids how to make a Doctor Who episode, complete with sound effects.
4. Behind the Scenes, 24 minutes of raw footage from the filming of "The Talons of Weng-Chiang". It's in black & white and poor quality, but it gives you an idea of the compromises the cast and crew made to film the episode with it's time/money/space constraints.
5. 1977 Interview with producer Philip Hinchcliffe on the BBC TV show "Pebble Mill at One". He talks about Doctor Who in general, as well as the impact of screen violence on children. I always find it interesting that Doctor Who was considered a children's show in England. In the U.S., it's mostly sci-fi loving adults, like me, who get a kick out of it.
6. Intros and teasers by Howard Da Silva
7. Production Note option
8. Photo Gallery, both design and production stills, accompanied by atmospheric music.
9. "TARDIS-Cam No. 6". This footage was originally produced for the BBC Doctor Who website, though I don't have a year. The idea was to show what could be done with Doctor Who in the era of CGI. Of course, now we KNOW how Doctor Who looks with CGI. One shot has the TARDIS moving with a pod of space whales (shades of Fantasia 2000!). Apparently, this figured in a Doctor Who story that never made it to production.
10. Trailers and Continuity Announcements
I am assuming that this 2011 DVD release for Region 1 (U.S. and Canada) will follow the October 2010 release in England (Region 2) - they both have the same name, "Special Edition". It always takes a while for videos from England to be translated to Region 1, and usually the content is the same.
Assuming that the U.S. edition follows the British edition, there will be three DVD discs in the Special Edition, one more than the two discs in the 2003 DVD set. Discs number 1 and number 3 will be the same as the 2003 DVD release, with the exception that the show itself has been remastered. The resultant show is crisper and cleaner, though there's only so much you can clean up the cheesy sets and poor lighting! The audio is reportedly the same as the first DVD release. The extras on this Special Edition disc #2 are new.
Extras for the Special Edition are as follows:
1. Commentary by five people. (The same as extra #1 of the 2003 DVDs.)
2. Production Subtitles (same as #7 of the 2003)
3. Coming soon trailer for "The Seeds of Doom" episode
4. "The Last Hurrah". This description is from a British review site: "Tom Baker and Philip Hinchcliffe meet at the Baker residence to discuss the making of what would be their final story together. There are also contributions from actors Louise Jameson, Trevor Baxter, Christopher Benjamin, along with late director David Maloney, designer Roger Murray-Leach and costume designer John Bloomfield. This is great stuff, a definitive look at the making of one of the best (if not the best) stories in the show as a whole--Baker and Hinchcliffe spark marvellously off each other, and having the producer and Louise Jameson chatting informally together (not to mention Baxter and Benjamin) also makes this more interesting than the average talking head style of documentary--it's fabulous stuff, and even has Baker and Hinchcliffe debating as to whether the depiction of the Chinese in the story could be considered racist. The end of this featurette is almost moving, as it has a list of the Doctor Who production team who were to leave at the end of the shoot of The Talons of Weng Chiang. Oh, and be sure to check out the running visual gag during the Tom Baker interview."
5. "Moving On", a short interview with producer Philip Hinchcliffe. "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" was his last Dr. Who episode and he discusses why he left.
6. "The Foe from the Future", a short interview with writer Robert Banks Stewart and producer Philip Hinchcliffe. The subject is the original idea for an episode called "The Foe from the Future", which didn't pull together, and eventually "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" was produced instead.
7. "Now and Then", a short feature where locations shown in "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" are compared to how those locations look now.
8. "Look East", a TV news clip from January 1977, when David Case, a regional BBC news reporter, watched some of the filming of "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" at the Northampton Repertory Theatre, and interviewed Tom Baker.
9. "Victoriana and Chinoiserie", a short feature where producer Philip Hinchcliffe and Dr. Ann Witchard discuss literary influences and references that writer Robert Holmes included in his script for this story.
10. "Music Hall", a 20 minute feature that looks at the history of the Victorian music hall, and features songs performed by Katy Baker. If you've already seen "The Talons of Weng-Chiang", you know that a music hall features prominantly in this episode.
11. "Limehouse: A Victorian Chinatown", a 19 minute documentary, tells the history of the Limehouse, the old docklands in London's East End. In the Victorian era, this was a rough and ready, but vibrant and commercially necessary area
12. Photo Gallery. Unlike the photo gallery of the 2003 DVD release, this time the photos are shown as moving past you, as if you're viewing them on a film tape. Perhaps this is supposed to make it more exciting. Accompanied by music.
13. PDF Materials. You can put disc 2 into your PC and pull up these PDF files: the original Radio Times listings for "The Talons of Weng Chiang", the original Radio Times listings for "The Lively Arts: Whose Doctor Who" episode (see extra #2 on the 2003 release), a letter from an eleven-year-old complaining that there aren't enough monsters in Doctor Who, and the reply by "Producer Designate" Graham Williams, and a letter from a gentleman asking when Leela is going to be back in her leathers. Leela spent most of this episode in proper Victorian attire, obviously not to everybody's liking.
14. "The Lively Arts: Whose Doctor Who", same as extra #2 of the 2003 DVD
15. "Blue Peter Theatre" episode, same as extra #3 of the 2003 DVD
16. Behind the Scenes, same as extra #4 of 2003 DVD
17. Interview with Philip Hinchcliffe, same as extra #5 of the 2003 DVD
18. Trailers and Continuity, same as extra #10 of of the 2003 DVD
19. Photo Gallery, same as extra #8 of the 2003 DVD
20. Tardis Cam No. 6, same as extra #9 of the 2003 DVD
At this time, I cannot find any direct information on what will be on the Region 1 release of "Doctor Who: The Talons of Weng-Chiang Special Edition", but looking at the Region 2 release gives us an idea. If, as is currently shown on this amazon page, the U.S. Special Edition has only two discs, I'd say it's a given that the show itself will be the new remastered version. But what extras will and won't be on the 2nd disc (if there's only 2 discs) remains to be seen. It may be that the new disc number two will replace the old disc number two, and the 2011 version will still have only two discs. On the plus side, we do finally get to see an interview with Tom Baker, even if he doesn't do commentary.
As some other commentator noted, the photo of the DVD case, shown on this page, does say "3-discs" if you enlarge it. So it's probable that the region 2 release will have three discs, the same as the region 1 release.