The Talons Of Weng-Chiang
Working Titles: The Foe From The Future, The Talons Of Greel.
Starring: Tom Baker (The Fourth Doctor), Louise Jameson (Leela).
The Doctor and Leela find themselves in Victorian London. Girls are being kidnapped off the street, ghosts have been sighted in the opera house run by Henry Jago, and giant rats haunt the London sewers. At the center of the chaos is a mysterious Oriental magician named Li H'sen Chang. Chang serves a man he believes is the god Weng-Chiang, and is searching for a cabinet lost by his master. The Doctor uncovers the truth, however -- Weng-Chiang is actually Magnus Greel, a tyrant from the 60th century whose escape back through time has transformed him into a disfigured monster.
Robert Banks Stewart had written the first and last stories of Season Thirteen, and was approached by the Doctor Who production office to pen the finale for Season Fourteen as well. Script editor Robert Holmes suggested a story involving a villain from the future arriving in Earth's past, and recommended Stewart draw from Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu novels for inspiration as to the style. Stewart agreed, and on Mary 7th, 1976, The Foe From The Future was commissioned. Soon afterward, Holmes left the UK with his wife on a rare vacation, believing the season was essentially in the bag. Holmes' wife took ill during the holiday, forcing an extended stay in Germany.
Upon Holmes' belated return to work, he discovered that Stewart had been wooed by Thames Television to take a job as script editor on The Sweeney. Consequently, although he had formulated some outlines for The Foe From The Future, he would not be able to do any further work on the serial. With time pressing, Holmes was forced to complete the story himself, largely throwing out Stewart's work and seeking inspiration in such Victorian-era fare as The Phantom Of The Opera, Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, and the legend of Jack the Ripper. The new adventure, called The Talons Of Greel, also included input from the director assigned to the serial, David Maloney, who had recently completed work on Holmes' other Season Fourteen serial, The Deadly Assassin.
Partly as a result of the great haste with which The Talons Of Greel was put together, it was decided that Leela would continue to accompany the Doctor into Season Fifteen. Originally taken aboard only as a short-term character, it had been thought that she might be replaced in Serial 4S by the companion Holmes and producer Philip Hinchcliffe had earlier envisaged, one inspired by Eliza Doolittle from Pygmalion. With no time to conduct proper auditions for the major role and so forth, and despite the objections of star Tom Baker, Leela was made the Doctor's permanent companion; some of the original Eliza Doolittle ideas were then grafted onto the character.
Normally, a six-episode serial would have three studio recording sessions of two or three days each. For this adventure, however, it was decided to forego one of the studio blocks in favor of extra location work on Outside Broadcast (OB) video. This meant that, unusually, some of the location material would be done on the more traditional film, and some on videotape. Filming began around December 13th, while OB work occurred from January 7th to 14th, 1977. Recording took place at locations around London and Northampton. Holmes intentionally set many of his exterior scenes at night, to take full advantage of the short winter days. It was during the OB recording period that incoming producer Graham Williams joined the crew on a regular basis. Making a cameo appearance in this footage was Dudley Simpson, Doctor Who's regular incidental music composer, appearing as the Palace Theatre's orchestra conductor.
The first studio session took place on Monday and Tuesday, January 24th and 25th, while the second began on a Tuesday and ended on a Thursday, running from February 8th to 10th. Present during much of this time was a documentary crew from the BBC2 show The Lively Arts, which was putting together an episode about Doctor Who. Unfortunately, Louise Jameson was ill for most of the studio recordings with glandular fever. In addition to Williams, another new production team member who came aboard at this time was John Nathan-Turner, replacing Chris D'Oyly John as production unit manager; Nathan-Turner's was a name which would become very significant for Doctor Who in subsequent years.
Following the completion of Serial 4S -- which was retitled The Talons Of Weng-Chiang during production -- Doctor Who's fourteenth recording block came to an end. Episode six aired on April 2nd to end Season Fourteen, and it was followed by the Lively Arts documentary, Whose Doctor Who. The adventure was generally well-received, particularly the characters of Henry Jago and Professor Litefoot (often cited as the best of Holmes' famed "double acts", although they do not meet until late in episode five). A spin-off series involving the two investigating mysteries in Victorian England was discussed, but ultimately went nowhere.
The Talons Of Weng-Chiang brought to an end the Doctor Who careers of two veterans of the programme. Maloney graduated to producer, taking the reigns of shows like Juliet Bravo and the science-fiction drama Blake's 7. Hinchcliffe moved over to the police show Target, and from there to other programmes like Private Schultz. He also novelised three Doctor Who serials for Target. Meanwhile, in the hiatus between production blocks, Tom Baker suggested that the next season of Doctor Who might be his last; it would become a familiar refrain for the following several years...