Monday, 23 June 2014

Doctor Who: The Talons of Weng Chiang, Episode 3

The trouble with creepy ventriloquist's dummies, is that they are susceptible to knives thrown at them. As an instrument of fear & terror, they fall flat. Like clowns, they are difficult to remove from their entertaining origins. This may be an entirely personal prejudice, but it was the creepy dummy that lost my engagement here.
This episode otherwise has a full house of the conventions of frightening Victorian literature: mysterious cabinets, Chinese men, sewers, quality table linen, a mysterious Master, you name it. An additional kinky element is added by the lascivious way in which the Lord requires 'fresh young donors'. Perhaps I'm beginning to lose it completely, but I was disappointed to find, on my second viewing of this episode, that he did not say it in a Leslie Phillips voice! That is purely the product of my own deranged imagination.
Tom Baker, though, in his incarnation as the Doctor, appearing in Victorian London, gets into Victorian gentleman role perfectly. I don't remember Doctor Who habitually using the word blackguard to refer to his enemies, but he does here, a wholly era-appropriate phrase. This has caused me to reflect on how Doctor Who adapts to the time in which he is - as a Time Lord, this ought to be a piece of cake, but he always either gets it subtly wrong (Matt Smith) or completely refuses any engagement with the age in which he finds himself (William Hartnell). Here, Tom Baker seems to get a certain pleasure from his Holmesian role. I do love the way he caught a salmon in the fleet & shared it with the Venerable Bede!
If I had seen this when it was first broadcast, I would probably have found it both very frightening & yet wanted more. As an adult I keep finding my attention wandering again. Perhaps I'm just not in a Doctor Who mood...
My favourite line:
The Doctor (of a gun): 'Explode? Unthinkable! - It was made in Birmingham.'
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