It’s been said that there aren’t many Doctor Who stories that justify six episodes, but one of the few that undoubtedly did was The Talons of Weng-Chiang, Philip Hinchcliffe’s swansong on televised Who. His new six-episode tale, adapted by Marc Platt, uses its running time wisely, with various different locations, and a number of plot threads woven through. Some stretch from start to end; others reach a conclusion much earlier – sometimes at exactly the point where otherwise they might be outstaying their welcome.
The Gothic tropes were well-mined in the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era and this tale adds bodysnatching and zombies to the repertoire. It’s occasionally very grisly – Mordrega’s table manners leave something to be desired, and nothing to the imagination – and there are a few elements that feel closer to Platt’s Ghost Light than the Hinchcliffe era, particularly the use of contemporary music (or rather, slightly anachronistic music – one of the hymn tunes used wasn’t collected until nearly half a century later; the other was written in 1861!).
There’s never any danger of the story running out of steam: Ken Bentley maintains a cracking pace throughout. Tom Baker, Louise Jameson and Carolyn Seymour seem to relish the various unusual scenarios, Andy Secombe and Sean Carlsen give Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis’ Burke and Hare a run for their money, and there’s a nicely judged performance from Ivanno Jeremiah in what had the potential to be a difficult part to put across with the necessary attitudes.
Verdict: A creepy and atmospheric tale of life and death and somewhere horribly in-between… 9/10