Saturday, July 02, 2011

Vamp or Not? Doctor Who: The Talons of Weng-Chiang

The Talons of Weng-Chiang is a Tom Baker era Doctor Who – for that read the best era of Doctor Who in my opinion – that was directed by David Maloney and first aired in 1977. Leila contacted me and suggested that I watch the serial as she felt it was a homage to Amicus and Hammer and that it was one that could be classed as a vampire episode.

Of course vampires are not unusual in Doctor Who and, indeed, the Tom Baker era contained one of the best vampire storylines in the form of Doctor Who – state of Decay. This series is not as obvious as that one – what with State of Decay featuring fangs, bats and blood drinking – and thus this serial does need some scrutiny.

John Bennett as Li H'sen Chang
The serial did attract some criticism due to its portrayal of Chinese characters as members of the murderous Tong and opium addicts. It also features a Chinese character, Li H’sen Chang (John Bennett, Night Angel and The House that Dripped Blood), played by a Caucasian actor in makeup. To some degree this reflected the Fu Manchu films that part inspired the story – indeed Limehouse is a location used in the serial. There is also some racially derogatory language used that perhaps reflected the attitude at the time the episode was set – Victorian era London – and shouldn’t be seen to be an endorsement of such attitudes.

Tom Baker as the Doctor
As mentioned the episode is set in Victorian era London where the Doctor (Tom Baker, Doctor Who: The Stones of Blood and Vault of Horror) has brought his companion Leela (Louise Jameson, Disciple of Death). The aim is to take a trip to the theatre. The star of the Palace Theatre is the Chinese magician Li H’sen Chang and his ‘dummy’ Mr Sin (Deep Roy, Howling 6: the Freaks). That night a cab driver (Alan Butler) comes in and accuses Chang of taking his wife – she is one of a series of girls to have vanished recently.

the Mysterious Weng Chiang
He is given short shrift but is then attacked by members of the Tong. The Doctor and Leela stumble onto the attack and capture one of the Tong – though the others escape with the cabbie’s body. This leads them to the police station and eventually the morgue where the Doctor meets pathologist Professor Litefoot (Trevor Baxter). Also drawn in to the investigation is theatre owner Henry Jago (Christopher Benjamin) and the Doctor does take on a Sherlock Holmes type persona (indeed his costume for the serial is Holmesian). Of course Chang is involved and this is all due to his master, the Chinese 'God' Weng-Chiang (Michael Spice).

melted face
It is around Weng-Chiang that the vampire aspect is based and thus we will go no further on except to say that he is not a God but, in fact, a 51st Century war criminal who managed to time travel out of paying for his crimes. Unfortunately he lost his time travel device (which he now looks for and Litefoot happens, unbeknownst to himself, to have) and the trip has made his molecules unstable. He wears a leather mask permanently – though we see his melted, twisted face later – and is physically weak and unhealthy.

sucking the life out of a victim
His is behind the disappearances, distilling the life essence of the missing girls and feeding upon them. This is done through mechanical means but the machine literally sucks the life out of the girls. The Doctor at one point does refer to this as cannibalism but the man is literally cheating death by preying parasitically on others. The Doctor does also refer to it as vampirism, stating that “some slavering gangrenous vampire comes out of the sewers and stalks the city at night”.

This is a case of energy vampirism, it would seem, but it is definitely a case of vampirism. Thus we shall go Vamp. The first of the 6 episodes’ IMDb page is here.

No comments: