The Talons of Weng-Chiang
The Talons of Weng-Chiang was the sixth and final story in the fourteenth season of Doctor Who. It is often considered one of the most popular serials. Fan-favorite characters Henry Gordon Jago and George Litefoot made their first and only televised appearance, but would later be given their own audio series, Jago and Litefoot.
Chinese magician Li H’sen Chang entertains a Victorian music-hall audience with his dummy Mr Sin. After the show, as Chang talks with theatre manager Jago, Joseph Buller arrives and accuses Chang of being involved in his wife’s disappearance. Buller threatens to call the police, and as he leaves, Chang and Mr Sin exchange significant glances – across the room from each other…
The Fourth Doctor and Leela arrive in period costume, in which Leela is feeling very uncomfortable. They head for the theatre, as the Doctor plans to show her how her ancestors enjoyed themselves. Meanwhile, as Buller walks home, he is confronted by Mr Sin, holding a knife. The Doctor and Leela hear a scream and investigate. They find several Chinese men carrying the body of Buller. After a scuffle, most of the men run off at the sound of police whistles, leaving one behind. The police take the Doctor, Leela, and the Chinese man to the station on suspicion of causing an affray.
At the theatre, while Chang performs, Jago notices blood running down the dummy’s arm. At the police station, the police sergeant questions the Doctor and Leela. The police find a body, this time in the river, which has been badly mauled. Chang arrives at the police station to help question the Chinese man as an interpreter. He surreptitiously gives the man a poison pill, and the man takes it and dies. The Doctor notices the man was marked as a member of the Tong of the Black Scorpion, a Chinese criminal organisation that follows the god Weng-Chiang. The Doctor takes charge of the situation, giving the sergeant orders to have the body removed to the mortuary for examination; he suspects scorpion venom as the cause of death.
At the theatre, Jago goes into Chang’s dressing room to investigate the dummy. He is joined by his doorman, Casey, and they head for the cellar.
The Doctor and Leela go to the mortuary and meet Professor Litefoot. The Doctor and Litefoot deduce that Buller (whose body had been dumped in the river) was attacked by an apparently giant rodent, but was already dead from a knife wound to the heart. The Professor is startled by Leela’s knowledge of knife fighting, and the Doctor hastily invents a cover story of her being raised by savages in the Amazon. The Doctor recalls that the Tong’s patron Weng-Chiang is the god of abundance and growth – he could make things grow very big. The Doctor leaves, and is attacked by a Chinese Tong thug, but the man falls dead when Leela attacks him with a janis thorn (angering the Doctor). The two climb down into the sewers to investigate and find a giant rat coming at them…
The Doctor and Leela climb back up the ladder, escaping the giant rat after throwing their oil lantern at it. In the theatre’s cellar, Jago and Casey find a lady’s glove, monogrammed EB. Chang arrives and hypnotizes Jago into forgetting what he saw. When Jago leaves, Chang descends into a hidden sub-basement and kneels to a figure dressed in black – Weng-Chiang. Weng-Chiang needs to find the Time Cabinet to keep him alive, but meanwhile requires the life essence of humans to survive. Chang tells him about the Doctor, whose mind he cannot read with the powers Weng-Chiang gave him.
The Doctor and Leela rejoin Litefoot at the mortuary, where a policeman gives them information about Buller’s last known movements; he was last seen heading to the Palace Theatre, making “‘orrible threats”. Litefoot invites Leela and the Doctor to dinner, but on the way the Doctor heads for the Palace Theatre to investigate, planning to join them later. He meets Jago (who initially thinks him a performer trying to audition for a spot early), hypnotizing him to remember what Chang made him forget; Jago realizes that the “EB” on the glove he founds stands for Emma Buller – the missing wife of the dead cabbie who had confronted Chang earlier. They head for the cellar, encounter a giant spider, and go down a trap door that leads towards the river Fleet. They see a “ghost skull”, and Jago faints; the Doctor recognizes the apparition as a hologram.
Litefoot and Leela are having dinner – a strange event for him with Leela’s lack of table manners. Nearby, Chang and Weng-Chiang (in a carriage) discover that the Time Cabinet is at Litefoot’s house; Chang and Mr Sin prepare to take it, sending Weng-Chiang back to the Palace Theatre. Litefoot notices someone lurking outside his house and, leaving Leela inside, gets a gun and investigates.
Jago recovers from his faint, and he and the Doctor chase Weng-Chiang through the theatre. Weng-Chiang hits Jago from behind and nearly kills the Doctor, before getting away.
Litefoot, finding nothing outside, returns to the house. Leela, waiting for him, hears the sound of a body falling. She opens the door to find Mr Sin, holding a knife…
Leela throws a knife at Mr Sin (which it brushes aside) and jumps through a window. The Doctor ducks at the sound of breaking glass, just as Chang shoots at him. Chang and Sin escape in a carriage, and Leela hops a ride on the back. The Doctor tends to Litefoot and they discuss Litefoot’s Chinese cabinet.
In the morning, the Doctor and Litefoot map out the sewers and the course of the river Fleet and prepare to explore the Thames in a boat. The Doctor brings an elephant rifle which he has stuffed full of all kinds of ammunition; he points out to a worried Litefoot that he’ll be fine, since it was made in Birmingham.
Meanwhile Chang hypnotizes a young woman and brings her to his dressing room at the Palace Theatre, watched by Leela, who is still following him. While Chang leaves to find another young woman for Weng-Chiang, Leela switches places with the hypnotized girl. Chang brings Leela and a theatre cleaning woman to Weng-Chiang, who grumbles about how wiry they are.
The Doctor enters the sewers alone, with Litefoot waiting in the boat. In the theatre cellar, Weng-Chiang puts the cleaning woman in a distillation chamber and turns it on. Leela chokes him and turns off the machine, but the woman is dead and aged. Leela escapes into the sewers and Weng-Chiang closes the bar gate and calls the giant rats by banging a gong; when they don’t find food there as usual, they will comb the sewers for it…
Two Chinese laundry men arrive at Litefoot’s house and exchange one basket for another. At the theatre, the hypnotized young girl Leela replaced awakens, remembering nothing but blaming Chang for her predicament. Jago tells Casey he is working with someone high up in Scotland Yard (the Doctor). In the cellar, Weng-Chiang accuses Chang of failing to kill the Doctor and dismisses him for his failure.
In the sewer, Leela runs away from a giant rat. Elsewhere in the sewer, the Doctor hears noises and prepares to shoot. He sees Leela ahead being attacked by a giant rat, screaming in agony…
The Doctor kills the rat attacking Leela, who is ashamed by not having killed Weng-Chiang. They hear another rat coming and leave the sewers – the gun will take at least half an hour to reload. They return to Litefoot’s house, where Leela describes what happened to the cleaning woman. Litefoot brings in a set of clothing for Leela and sends her off to change with the help of his housekeeper Mrs Hudson, while the Doctor and Litefoot discuss a key for the cabinet. A well-dressed Leela returns and is delighted to hear they are going to the theatre…
At the Palace Theatre, Chang hears Jago and Casey discussing the Scotland Yard investigator, who he deduces is the Doctor. He readies a gun and informs Weng-Chiang he will kill the Doctor as a sacrifice to him.
The Doctor and Leela attend a performance at the Palace Theatre, where they are met by Jago. Chang performs a card trick with the Doctor’s help, then calls the Doctor to the stage to help with his Cabinet of Death trick. Meanwhile, Weng-Chiang, moving through the theatre, encounters Casey and kills him.
Two Chinese men arrive at Litefoot’s house, killing the policeman on guard. Mr Sin is already in the house, having arrived earlier in the laundry basket.
The Doctor escapes the Cabinet of Death, and as Chang continues the trick, Casey’s body is revealed inside. Chang, who is as surprised as everyone else, realizes that Weng-Chiang is not a god, and flees as Jago frantically cancels the night’s performance and offers refunds. The Doctor and Leela find Chang in Weng-Chiang’s hideout, which has been abandoned and his equipment removed. Chang explains how his “god” appeared years earlier and that he has been looking for the Time Cabinet – taken by the Emperor’s soldiers – ever since. When Jago arrives, distracting the Doctor and Leela, Chang flees into the sewers.
Leela finds the clothing of the missing women, and as Jago realizes that his top act was responsible for the spate of disappearances a scream is heard; the Doctor darkly explains: “You’ll need to find a new top of the bill…” The Doctor blames the Time Cabinet for Weng-Chiang’s deformed condition, which he explains is worsening every time he absorbs life-energy. He agrees with how Leela tries to see this explanation – as a water bag with a hole in it; every time he puts more water in the bag the hole just gets bigger. As the others leave, Jago starts planning how to make money out of the hideout: “See the lair of the phantom – bob a nob!”
Soon afterwards, the Doctor and Leela return to Litefoot’s house only to find the body of the murdered policeman outside, and an unconscious Professor inside. Meanwhile, Weng-Chiang and Mr Sin drive away from Litefoot’s house, taking the Time Cabinet with them as Weng-Chiang laughs wildly…
Treating a bruised Litefoot, the Doctor deduces that Mr Sin must have been hiding in the laundry basket and that he is something called the Peking Homunculus. It is partly organic (containing the cerebral cortex of a pig), mostly computer, and comes from the future (about the year 5,000 A.D.), and loves carnage; it was probably responsible for the murders of the Commissioner of the Icelandic Alliance and his family, sparking a bloody war. At the same time, someone named Findicus tried and failed at several time experiments – experiments which the Time Cabinet is based on. The Doctor, realizing that Weng-Chiang’s Time Cabinet could destroy London, takes Leela with him to the address found on the laundry basket.
Weng-Chiang is still missing the key to the Time Cabinet, which is in a carpetbag at the Palace Theatre, and forces one of his followers to commit suicide in punishment for not recovering it.
Jago has found the carpetbag, and learning that the Doctor and Litefoot have spent time together, goes to Litefoot’s house. They leave both the bag and a note for the Doctor and go back to the Theatre to watch for anything suspicious.
The Doctor and Leela arrive at the Chinese laundry and find Chang, dying from his injuries. He is heavily drugged by opium to dull the pain, and wants to revenge himself on Weng-Chiang. However, he dies after giving the Doctor two strange clues: a touch on his shoe and a message to “beware the eyes of the dragon”; the Doctor grumbles that he’s left them a Chinese puzzle.
Jago and Litefoot follow some Chinese men to the Tong headquarters, where they are spotted from a window by Weng-Chiang. They are captured, and Weng-Chiang threatens to kill Jago if Litefoot does not tell him where the key is. After Litefoot reveals it is at his house, he and Jago are put into a locked room along with two young girls who have been hypnotized – Weng-Chiang’s next meal.
The Doctor and Leela go to Litefoot’s house and find the note and the carpetbag containing the key – a crystalline roundel the Doctor describes as a trionic lattice. Leela wants to help Jago and Litefoot, but the Doctor thinks it is better to wait for Weng-Chiang’s men to come to the house, since they need the key. They search for weapons to set up an ambush.
Jago and Litefoot find a dumbwaiter in their room and escape into the throne room, where they are recaptured.
As Leela stands near a window practising with one of her weapons – a golf club – Weng-Chiang sneaks up behind her and chloroforms her. As she struggles, she pulls off his mask, revealing a hideously deformed face…
As the Doctor returns with a pile of possible weapons Weng-Chiang confronts him with the unconscious Leela. Weng-Chiang threatens to let Mr Sin kill Leela if he will not hand over the Cabinet’s key but the Doctor makes a deal with him. They will all go to the House of the Dragons. Weng-Chiang will release Jago and Litefoot, and then the Doctor will give him the key. They all go, leaving Leela behind at the Doctor’s insistence, but she follows them.
At the Tong headquarters, the Doctor realizes that Chang’s shoe clue referred to the tongue of his shoe – the “Tong”. Mr Sin secretly climbs into the head of a large dragon statue, where there is are laser controls inside. The Doctor and Weng-Chiang talk, with Weng-Chiang revealing his real name – Magnus Greel. The Doctor knows of him: he is from the 51st century and is a war criminal responsible for over one hundred thousand deaths – the “Butcher of Brisbane”. Jago and Litefoot are brought out to the Doctor, who now also wants the two young girls freed. Greel, angered, orders Mr Sin to fire on them; laser beams come from the dragon’s eyes to hit the Doctor, who realizes the second clue from Chang – “beware the eyes of the dragon” – before passing out. The three men are put back into the locked room. When the Doctor has recovered, he sets a trap. After bringing the girls out of their hypnotic trance, he makes a gas bomb that blasts some of the Tong men. They all escape, with the girls running out of the building to safety.
Leela has made it to the Tong headquarters but is captured and put into Greel’s distillation machine. He turns it on, but the Doctor has grabbed a Tong hatchet and flings it at the machine, disabling it. Incensed, Greel orders Mr Sin to kill them, and they take cover behind a bench as Mr Sin fires the laser at everyone – including the Tong. The Doctor tries to convince Greel to not use the Time Cabinet, knowing it cause a massive implosion will kill them all. Leela finds a gun near a dead Tong, and disables the dragon’s laser eyes after a few bad shots (“I’ve never fired one of these before!” she protests when Litefoot complains). Greel pulls a gun on Leela, but the Doctor throws him into his own distillation machine; he undergoes a cellular collapse and crumples into dust. Mr Sin jumps Leela, but the Doctor stops him by yanking his computer core out of him. He then breaks the Cabinet key.
Jago and Litefoot accompany Leela and the Doctor back to the TARDIS. As it de-materializes, Jago thinks it comes from Scotland Yard.