Review By Paul Mount, 4 out of 5

That rat. That damned, damned rat. Many fondly-remembered DOCTOR WHO yarns are defined by abiding memories ?the maggots, the spiders, the shopwindow dummiesond that rat; that damned, damned rat. There’s no doubting that ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’, hailing from DOCTOR WHO’s 1976-7 high point both in terms of audience popularity and creative achievement, is one of the great adventures from the show’s long and turbulent history. But ask anyone ?fanboy or otherwise ?what they can remember about it and you’ll probably get something like ‘the rat was rubbish.’ It’s true. The rat ?or rather the giant rat ?is hopeless. It’s supposed to be terrifying but it’s a big cuddly furball (or at least a man in a tatty costume) thrashing about unconvincingly in a studio sewer. No matter how atmospheric the production, how sparkling the script, how confident and assured the performances, that damned rat casts its rodent shadow over the whole endeavour and knocks just a bit of the sheen of a wonderfully evocative science-fiction adventure story.

Rat aside, ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ is a glorious treat. Its six episodes allow the BBC to do what it used to love to do the most ?recreate a byone era, here the late 19th century. And ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ does it with gusto. Toothless crones, misty streets, clunky music hall turns, ‘Gor blimey’ London coppers ?they’re all here in pristine working order with a malevolent deformed 51st century war criminal and his killer homunculus in tow just to add a bit of spice. It’s wonderful stuff virtually from start to finish. Robert Holmes’s script is clearly a labour of love, the story is intriguing and full of twists and turns, Tom Baker in Sherlock Holmes mode is so convincing that you can’t help but wonder why he was so hopeless at the part when he did it in a BBC serial a few years later. There’s very much a sense of a bunch of talented thespians thoroughly enjoying themselves here and the whole thing is done with such devotion and attention to detail it’s a bit depressing to imagine how difficult the BBC would find it to mount such a marvellous production is these grim, reality-TV obsessed times. Let’s cherish these quality DOCTOR WHO stories in these immaculate DVD transfers for I suspect we’ll not see their like again on British TV in our lifetimes. Oh but that damned, damned rat?

THE DISCS: Another packed two-disc release and one which tries to contemporise the show by presenting clips and bits and pieces which would have publicised the story while it was on air. It’s a nice idea and it does a lot to remind us just how high-profile DOCTOR WHO was when it was really popular and the BBC thought a lot of it. So here we get the hour-long 1977 LIVELY ARTS documentary ‘Whose DOCTOR WHO’ where a boyish Melvyn Bragg introduces classic clips and some talking heads. This well-remembered documentary was the BBC’s first in-depth analysis of its sci-fi phenomena and it was the first chance many of us had to see scenes from these ancient stories. The contributors are a hoot; the kids are well-behaved and respectful and one poor mite is called Caspar and he’s wearing a pin stripe suit! Not a baseball cap or Gameboy in sight. Bliss! Other features include a PEBBLE MILL interview with outgoing producer Philip Hinchcliffe, a surreal selection of BLUE PETER clips where John Noakes and co get disturbingly over-excited about making a DOCTOR WHO theatre out of bits of old tat (although apparently over 30,000 youngsters bombarded the BBC with requests for the ‘Making of’ factsheet?cary fact!) some appalling quality behind-the-scenes footage, another damned TARDIS-cam, trailers, photos and a nice, chatty commentary by some of the cast and crew but sadly no Mr Baker. All in all, marvellous stuff and, if you’re a fan, indispensable.

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