Read some complaints about this story's racism on a blog. Here's my reply...
When I came in, Leela was running thru the sewer, chased by a giant rat. Perhaps it was the SAME giant rat seen in THE NEW AVENGERS episode, "GNAWS"? Anyway, NA got here before DW. I was so enamored of Sarah-Jane at the time, when the rat grabbed Leela, I remember yelling at the TV, "Yeah! Yeah! GET her!!" I doubt I'd have said that about Sarah... or Purdey.
So this one took me a bit to figure out. Come to think of it, the 2nd time I saw it, I came in at the beginning of Part 2, when that hatchet was thrown at Tom Baker. This sort of thing can be maddening. Certain stories over the years I've seen myself missing the beginning, then, on repeat viewing, missing a bit LESS of the beginning, until, eventually, I do see the beginning. Strange phenomena. (With TCM, I eventually started going to their website and compiling a month-long list of films I might want to see. That way, I could actually manage to have the tv set on to that channel before the movie started.)
I have never had a problem with this story. Ever. Maybe because I understand the traditions of the story, and just thoroughly enjoy them as they are?
In the early-to-mid 70's, comic-book writer Doug Moench said he had great difficulty, while writing MASTER OF KUNG FU, of dealing with the main character Shang-Chi's origins. Because Shang's father was none other than Dr. Fu Manchu. To this day, I still have trouble understanding this. Fu Manchu, in my eyes, does not represent ALL Chinese. He is what he is-- a SUPER-VILLAIN who just happens to be Chinese. Oh, yes, and he's very racist about it.
But then, so was Sir Denis Nayland Smith, at least, if you've ever seen the 1933 MGM film THE MASK OF FU MANCHU. I understand that film went out of its way to be as "sensationalistic" as possible-- including its racism-- far more, in fact, than the book it was adapted from!
Having read the 1951 comic-book adaptation of the same story, with art by Wally Wood, one can see far more civility and mutual respect between Fu and Sir Denis than was on display in that Boris Karloff movie. Of course, the comic had Fu raising an army of bloodthirsty racist ARABS, while the movie had an army of bloodthirtsy racist ASIANS. (Anyone know which it was in the novel?)
A stranger-but-true thing about the MGM film was, while many "pre-Code" films vanished or were heavily censored once the Hayes Office began enforcing The Production Code (late-'35-early'36), MASK remained intact-- until the mid-70's, when Asian groups complained and the film's most excessively racist dialogue was removed. But then, some years later, it was put back-- except, from an inferior source. So while, in its current form, the film looks pristene and clean as if it were "made yesterday", every time the "offensive" stuff comes up, both the picture and sound quality DROP. In those moments, it's like watching a kinescope film copy of DOCTOR WHO that's been returned from overseas. "Do you want women like this one for your brides? Then KILL the white man-- and TAKE his women!" Ohhhh... what a movie!
It'd be interesting to hear opinions about various "Blaxploitation" films of the early-mid 70's, which were often every bit as "offensive" to all sides involved. "What is this BLACK thing, Shaft? YOU ain't so BLACK!" "And you ain't so WHITE, baby!"
I'd never actually noticed that Litefoot and Jago represented BOTH the book Watson AND the Nigel Bruce variety, side-by-side! Now that is clever. Just saw Christopher Benjamin in "Koroshi", the only 2-part DANGER MAN ever made, where John Drake tries to stay as far as he can from him (in the exact same way Sean Connery tries to avoid Rowan Atkinson in NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN). Also in "Koroshi" is Burt Kwouk, playing a chauffer who turns out to be a sword-wielding baddy. So... would Lee Sien Chang have been less "offensive" if Burt Kwouk had played him?
I wish the idea of "educating" Leela had continued. She was so good at proving herself better than the people who looked down at her, it was a nice source of humor. Also, considering her "Avengers girl" look in the next story, I wish she'd have visited modern-day England (or maybe swinging sixties London), in something other than a tribute to a Hammer horror film.
You know what we really need? More crossovers like this...
CHARLIE CHAN VS. FU MANCHU
TARZAN VS. FU MANCHU
DOC SAVAGE VS. FU MANCHU
...and the really obvious one...
MR. MOTO VS. FU MANCHU !
I didn't think much of that when I watched it because that was the Victorian age. I didn't think the Doctor commented because that was simply the age he was in and Leela probably had no idea what racism was, being from a culture that didn't really have it. Leela never even saw a Tesch -the enemy she had been taught to hate all her life- until after she met the Doctor. To the Doctor, it probably would have been like the class differential that he saw in the Horror of Fang Rock.
The Baron said:
If you ever get the DVD for the Jon Pertwee story, "The Mutants", one of the extras is called "Racing With Time", which discusses race in Doctor Who and in British TV in general. It's a real eye-opener. If notihng else, the fact that something like this existed will blow your mind.
It's called "Race Against Time" and I can't believe I already posted about it earlier in this same thread! I really must learn to read more carefully!
I haven't seen confirmation on this, but I'm hearing that Trevor Baxter, who played Professor Litefoot in this story and in several audio stories, has passed away.