Tuesday, November 17, 2009

4S6 - The Talons of Weng-Chiang 6

We at Radio Free Skaro did a commentary on The Talons of Weng-Chiang way back in Episodes 92 and 93, and found it incredibly difficult to find something else to say about it other than how brilliant is is. I'm finding the same difficulty results when trying to write about the story, too.

The Talons of Weng-Chiang is, simply put, an almost perfect example of what Doctor Who does best - aliens and whimsy in a beautifully realized historical setting. Every historical and pseudo-historical story made since 1977 desperately wants to be The Talons of Weng-Chiang. And why wouldn't they?

More notably, Talons marks the end of an era for producer Philip Hinchcliffe and director David Maloney and the supposed glory days of Doctor Who. Hinchcliffe was a fantastic producer, but he was also extremely fortunate to have Robert Holmes as his script editor. In the previous production regime, Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts used to keep each other in check. Holmes and Hinchcliffe, however, almost seemed to egg each other on with how far each could push the limits of decency allowed for a family science fiction show. The two were a perfect match for each other, creatively.

It also didn't hurt that Hinchcliffe was producer in the heady pre-inflation days of the mid-1970s. The Talons of Weng-Chiang was as lavish a production as the series has ever seen. Look ahead one year to new producer Graham Williams's first season ending serial, The Invasion of Time, which barely managed to be completed because of rising costs throughout the production year.

The creative relationship between Hinchcliffe and his star, Tom Baker, was also one of the best producer/Doctor relationships the show has ever had. Tom Baker was one of the most talented actors to play the part of The Doctor, but he needed to be kept in check, as well be constantly inspired creatively. Having had Baker in the role for the first three years of his tenure, Hinchcliffe got the best out of his lead actor. We would seldom see such a focused and dominating Tom Baker again after Season 14.

And last, but not least, the boundaries that Hinchcliffe pushed, and often crossed, in terms of decency and good taste would be held firmly in check by the BBC through Hinchcliffe's successor Graham Williams. Never again would Doctor Who be as edgy, vibrant, or, in many people's eyes, as brilliant as the Philip Hinchcliffe era, or as The Talons of Weng-Chiang specifically. As I've got half the history of the show to wade through yet on this Chronic Hysteresis, I'm hoping those people are wrong...


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