Retro ‘Doctor Who’ Reviews – Vol. 4.6
The Talons of Weng-Chiang
Given that this particular serial now comes in one of the ‘Revisitations’ box-sets and comes with a whopping 2-discs of bonus materials, we were expecting something a little more ground breaking from this six-episode long arc. Maybe it’s the lack of the Doctor’s trademark scarf.
The Doctor and Leela arrive in 19th Century London and decide to take in a show, but not before donning the appropriate garb. Whilst Leela struggles with the notion of wearing more than a leather scrap bikini the Doctor is more in his element dressing up as Sherlock Holmes for his own amusement. What they soon uncover is a conspiracy involving a Chinese stage magician and a series of missing girls through the district. The Doctor goes into full detective mode and soon finds that it all leads back to a stranded 51st century despot and his diminutive cyborg who are trying to get their time cabinet working.
Using the tone of a Sherlock Holmes story in the context of Doctor Who is a solid idea, and one that will be revisited in later seasons, but the writers may have forgotten that most Holmes tales were short stories. Compacting things into four episodes, and pushing the reveal of the villain back into later in the narrative would have made for a much tighter story. Instead things meander back and forth for longer than it needs to, and for a mystery story there isn’t much mystery at all after the second half. Likewise the supporting characters have little to offer in their own sub-plots, giving the Doctor little more than someone to talk to when Leela isn’t around.
There is some fun to be had in the scenes where Leela is being educated in the ways of the 19th century, and it’s a shame that much of it feels like padding. Tom Baker is on form as usual but for most of the story he seems somewhat disinterested. It’s not among the best of the series to date.
Horror of Fang Rock
This serial moves away from the formulas that Doctor Who had been putting out prior to this episode to create a closed in and tense horror story. Horror of Fang Rock bears a resemblance to The Thing in that it’s set in an isolated area with an enemy that disguises itself as one or more of the people within that area. The Doctor and Leela arrive off the coast of England during the early 20th century with the only population nearby being the keepers of a lighthouse. Soon the time travellers wind up taking refuge in the lighthouse as an unnatural fog rolls in. They’re joined soon after by the survivors of a ship that wrecks on the rock in the fog, and something from outer space who is less than friendly.
Even with Tom Baker’s goofy and eccentric take on the Doctor and Leela’s difficulty fitting in with the ‘civilised’ society it’s a pretty intense couple of episodes. Although the viewer is often aware of who has been possessed by the alien it’s the way that the cast turn against each other through paranoia and fear that make things interesting. Trust becomes the driving conflict until the numbers have dwindled and the alien makes it’s real appearance for a final showdown. The location is also used to great effect, with the tight spiralling stairs and the small cramped rooms heightening the feeling of isolation and paranoia. It must’ve been a bitch to film in those spaces the they’ve carried it well.
Being produced several decades ago the effects have aged pretty poorly, but it’s a minor quibble. When the script and concept are this solid it’s easy to overlook a couple of dorky looking effects.
The Invisible Enemy
Following on from their adventure on Fang Rock the Doctor and Leela find themselves in another fresh and unique adventure. Arriving in space during the pioneering days of humankind expanding in to the wider universe they cross paths with a group of colonists working on the moon of Titan. As the colonist ship passes through space the passengers get infected by a highly intelligent virus that possesses their bodies. The virus uses the passengers to set up an incubation liar on Titan for the arrival of the ‘nucleus’, which has possessed the Doctor. Leela is left with the burden of rescuing the Doctor before they can put a stop to the virus, and she rushes him to a medical station.
At the medical station Leela teams with medical analysing robot dog K9 in fending off the humans possessed by the virus while the Doctor creates microscopic clones of himself and Leela that travel inside the Doctor’s brain to defeat the virus. Things are complicated further by the virus escaping and enlarging itself to human size. The whole thing sounds like it could be a mess of ideas, but what we get is a faced paced serial with plenty of twists and turns. We switch from a possession story to shoot-outs to Inner Space and it never stops being fun. We also get the introduction of K9, one of the most iconic characters of the show, and he’s plenty of fun.
The Invisible Enemy is a snappy and fin set of episodes with plenty of ideas and actions to enjoy.