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 !

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If you ever get a chance to look at the DVD set for the Pertwee story "The Mutants", one of  the extras is a featurette discussing the history of race in British television, narrated by Noel "Mickey Smith" Clarke, with input from various black and Asian actors. It's included in "The Mutants" on the somewhat ephemeral pretext that said story has a black actor in it (Called "Rick James", oddly enough!) , something of a rarity for UNIT era Doctor Who.  It covers the whole history of British TV and Doctor Who in particular. Anyhow, it mentions "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" and says that this particular story was banned in Canada because of having a white actor playing a Chinese character.  It also describes American TV as being a good deal more progressive on the matter of racial issues than British TV, which makes British TV sound pretty dire. On the other hand, there was The Black and White Minstrel Show , so maybe it was pretty dire.

I've read, I think, three of the Fu Manchu books. The first in the series, The Mystery of Dr Fu-Manchu, contains many flatly racist statements e.g. "No white man, I honestly believe, appreciates the unemotional cruelty of the Chinese" (ch.10). Fu-Manchu is described as invested "with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race" and "the yellow peril incarnate in one man" (ch.2) and has powerful figures in China behind him. In The Mask of Fu Manchu this racist element is not overt, but I think it is implicit in the conception of Fu Manchu.

 

I posted on The Mask of Fu Manchu, the novel, here. The Avon comic is a faithful adaptation; from memory, there's an unimportant change in how two characters are related. Fu Manchu's goal is to stir up a rebellion in the Middle East (Rohmer was very interested in Egypt).

 

Leaving aside the racism issue, I haven't found the books all that exciting. There's a sequence in Mystery which is what I wanted the books to be - Fu-Manchu kills the participants in a police raid with a super-fast-growing fungus - but that's about it.

 

The Classic Thrillers edition of Mystery has a very enjoyable introduction by D.J. Enright. ("But the biggest chink in Fu Manchu's armour consists in his peculiarly elaborate and roundabout techniques of assassination and his use of highly eccentric accomplices... We... are left with the chastening thought that had Fu Manchu been content with a revolver the world would now be his.")

"the biggest chink in Fu Manchu's armour"

There's something deleriously funny in that phrase.

"his peculiarly elaborate and roundabout techniques of assassination and his use of highly eccentric accomplices"

A running theme in the various James Bond villains, wouldn't you say? Auric Goldfinger comes to mind, but then, so does the entire story FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. And how about that stunt with the airplane Karin Dor pulled in the movie YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE? Seems like a tradition of British thrillers.

If I recall right, Doug Moench's solution was to try and remove all the racism and simply turn Fu into a bona fide "James Bond villain". What's funny is how similar the main plot and climax in his "Magnum Opus" was to the movie MOONRAKER, which came out 2-3 years later... except, the comic book was 100 times better-written. Which reminds me, my best friend & I went to see MOONRAKER the day it opened, and before he got home, I was able to introduce him for the very first time to DOCTOR WHO ("Robot, Part Two"). Like me, he got hooked on Tom Baker, immediately.

Thanks for clearling up the thing about the Arabs. I'm indebted to Greg Theakston for reprinting that story in one of his collections. If Marvel ever got off their ass and finally did reprint MASTER OF KUNG FU, they should also include that Wally Wood comic at the front of the collection. Until the KUNG FU phenomena exploded (however briefly), we almost got a "regular" FU MANCHU comic. I guess it would have seemed at home next to TOMB OF DRACULA.

1)Apparently the character that eventually became Leela was originally meant to be from the Victorian Era - much more of a direct "lift" of Eliza Dollittle.  Thus, this story would've been the character's debut.  Plans changed, but the story was retained. Part of it was that since Robert Holmes had just written "The  Deadly Assasin", he didn't he to have to do the next script, as well. I do like the feel of this story, this sor tof period drama is something the show has always done well.

 

2)Louise James was quite ill with glandular fever while making this, and the scene where she had to get soaking wet in her underwear didn't help her any.  I liked the scene with Leela and Litefoot having dinner together.

 

3)If you're interested to know what composer Dudley Simpson looked like in 1977, that's him "conducting" the  theater orchestra.

 

4)Henry Gordon Jago is played by Christopher Benjamin, in my favorite of the three roles he's played in Doctor Who over the years. I've always thought of Jago and Trevor Baxter's Professor Litefoot as the archetype of the "classic Holmesian double-act", and I was surprised to realize that the two don't even meet until Part Five.

 

5)Mister Sin (a.k.a. The Peking Homunculus) is played by Deep Roy, who's also appeared in Star Trek, Star Wars and The X-Files, among many others.  It's creepy to think that that tihng was eve rmeant to be a kid's toy.

 

6)John Bennett does OK as Li H'sen Chang, all things considered.  Of coruse, they'd never have a European actor play that part today. He does get a good death scene, though.

 

7)Baker has fun playing the Doctor playing Sherlock Holmes - even down to the deerstalker cap.

 

8)I liked Patsy Smart as the crazy lady down by the river. A small part, but she made the most of it.

 

9)Michael Spice does some high-grade overacting as Morbius Sharaz Jek Weng-Chiang, the latest Holmesian crippled war criminal on the lam.

 

10)Some fun quotes:

  • "You've been drinking."  "Not a drop, sir."  "It's time you started."
  • "I understand we all look the same."  "Are you Chinese?"
  • "Were you trying to attract my attention?"
  • "Ah, Casey, you're a pixilated leprechaun."
  • "A Time Agent would not ask questions, a Time Agent would know."  Be funny if Captain Jack showed up.
  • "A couple of incscrutable Chinks."  You'd never get away with that line nowadays.
  • "Savage - found floating down the Amazon in a hatbox."
  • "It's quite clear the man got stupidly drunk and picked a fight with a dwarf."  Yeah, I know a couple guys that's happened to.
  • "I can play the Trumpet Voluntary in a bowl of live goldfish."
  • "Come on, Rock of Gibraltar."
  • "Sleep is for tortoises."
  • "This one has muscles like a horse!"
  • "Do we need to give the responses?" "There's no obigation."
  • "Chang shoot fifteen pesants learning this trick."
  • "One of us is yellow."
  • "Elementary, my dear Litefoot."
  • "The Ice Age in the year 5000."
  • "It had one organic compenet - the cerebral cortex of a pig."
  • "He's not only a scientific fool, he's an absent-minded one."
  • "'Eureka' is Greek for 'This bath is too hot'."
  • "I brought you to the wrong time, my girl. You'd have loved Agincourt."
  • "I was with the Filipino armyat the final advance on Reykjavik."  "How can you in the 19th Century know anything of the 51st?"  I guess after the fall of the Eaerth Empire humans went back to fighting amongst themselves.
  • "I am Magnus Greel."
  • "The Butcher of Brisbane."
  • "Die, Bent Face!"

 

11)Cliffhangers:

  • Part One: The Doctor and Leela encounter an unconvincing ROUS!
  • Part Two: Mister Sin stalks Leela!
  • Part Three: The UROUS attacks Leela!
  • Part Four: Weng-Chiang is a happy little maniac!
  • Part Five: Leela pulls off Weng-Chiang's mask!
  • Part Six: they all have muffins!

 

Overall:

Another old favorite, that manages not to have too many draggy parts in the  iddle.  Robert Holmes just grows in my estimation as the best writer ever to work on Doctor Who.

 

Coincidentally, I just re-read the "About Time" entry on this one last night (and it made me want to re-watch it, which I haven't).  The authors describe this as the perfect story to introduce someone to Doctor Who with, because (not an exact quote) "everything you think of as representing Who at its best can be found in this one."  {Except for the rubbish rat.}

Deep Roy can also be seen (briefly) in FLASH GORDON (1980), and (prominently) in THE NEW AVENGERS episode "Target". He gets to use a blowpipe to kill a couple of people in there.  Also on display in that same episode is Keith Barron (from ENLIGHTENMENT) as the main villain, Robert Beatty (2001, WHERE EAGLES DARE, THE TENTH PLANET) as a Russian "unofficial observer", and Frederick Jaeger (PLANET OF EVIL, THE INVISIBLE ENEMY) as another of the baddies.  But the real reason to watch this, Joanna Lumley looks the prettiest she ever did in the entire run of the show.

The two strongest elements this serial has going for it are setting and characters. In addition to the Doctor and Leela, characters such as Li H'sen Chang, Mister Sin, Magnus Greel, Henry Gordon Jago and Professor Litefoot are all fleshed out and fully realized. Nevertheless, I was a little surprised to learn that “Jago & Litrfoot” have six entire series of audio adventures (with two more slated for release in 2014) available from Big Finish.

I think the “Victorian Odd Squad” (as someone once dubbed Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax) are Steven Moffat’s “take” on an updated version of Jago & Litefoot. Seeing as how Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter are both still associated with the characters, it would have been nice to see them reprise the roles on TV, but of course that would mean sacrificing the Victorian setting in which the characters work best.

As I said on the other thread, I really love a lot about Talons of Weng-Chiang. Leela is one of my favourite companions and she has some really good lines in this one. Jago and Litefoot are very good.

But at the time it came out, there really was no place for the kind of racist casting in it. I didn't watch DOCTOR WHO back then (not much), but I applaude the Ontario broadcasters for drawing the line and not showing it.

Growing up in an extremely integrated neighbourhood, I was aghast at how backward TV shows still were in the '70s--American, Canadian and British. You'd have thought that the people at the BBC would understand something about racial casting by that time--and if Ontario's decision gave them a knock up side the head, then bravo for them.

It might have meant that some Who fans didn't get to see Weng-Chiang in Canada, but humanity always trumps fan indulgence.

Canadian TV shows (especially those from Ontario) and American TV shows did some things with Asian characters that made me cringe--but at least they used actors of Asian ancestry for Asian parts. 

I'm surprised that was an issue.



Jimmm Kelly said:

As I said on the other thread, I really love a lot about Talons of Weng-Chiang. Leela is one of my favourite companions and she has some really good lines in this one. Jago and Litefoot are very good.

But at the time it came out, there really was no place for the kind of racist casting in it. I didn't watch DOCTOR WHO back then (not much), but I applaude the Ontario broadcasters for drawing the line and not showing it.

Growing up in an extremely integrated neighbourhood, I was aghast at how backward TV shows still were in the '70s--American, Canadian and British. You'd have thought that the people at the BBC would understand something about racial casting by that time--and if Ontario's decision gave them a knock up side the head, then bravo for them.

It might have meant that some Who fans didn't get to see Weng-Chiang in Canada, but humanity always trumps fan indulgence.

Canadian TV shows (especially those from Ontario) and American TV shows did some things with Asian characters that made me cringe--but at least they used actors of Asian ancestry for Asian parts. 


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.

Sort of looks like their version of Hee-Haw, which I think got some feedback on stereotypes as well.

When I watched Weng-Chiang some months back, I loved it so much that I wanted to forgive its racist elements. But there were just too many of different kinds. It's one thing to forgive one racist lapse, but forgiving several made me feel like a racist apologist. 

You could look at the casting of the white actor in a Chinese role as some kind of self-reflexive comment on how this was done in the period of the story. But that bit of logical gymnastics doesn't forgive the racist attitudes of the white characters toward the Chinese or the racist type casting of the Chinese characters or the fact that there's no redemption given to the Chinese characters or that the Doctor, who is usually so keen, doesn't make some observation about the backward racism of the time..

In the '60s, I could overlook all that, because they didn't know any better and maybe there weren't that many non-white actors in Britain. But by the late '70s, that excuse doesn't wash. There were precious few leading parts for Asian actors in Britain in the '70s and yet London was a multi-cultural place with many good Chinese-British actors looking for work. And they were all passed over so a white guy could play a racial stereotype.

I am left to conclude that the people at the BBC were stick-in-the-muds who couldn't get with the times and couldn't see their own racism for what it was.

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