Set the story in Victorian London, give it a Sherlock Holmes rip-off, add a dash of misogyny, top it off with a lot of yellowface racism, and throw in a giant rat! What do you get? Doctor Who’s season 14 finale The Talons of Weng-Chiang (1977). At least the costumes are by John Bloomfield, who had previously designed the costumes for miniseries The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970) and the 1972 movie version, plus the first season of the original Poldark (1975-1976). This was one of the most expensive serials produced by Doctor Who during the ’70s, and it mostly shows on screen, making it worth a review for the costumes alone.
Because, whoa, this was hard to rewatch for the story. I’ll summarize: The Doctor (Tom Baker) and his newest companion, Leela (Louise Jameson) arrive in London in the 1890s, where they get caught up in the mysterious disappearance / murder of several women. Leela, btw, is a “savage” who usually wears a skimpy outfit of animal skins and tends to solve most problems with violence first.
She was intended to be an “Eliza Doolittle” character for the Doctor to “educate,” and this episode goes OTT with that conceit. The good thing for Frock Flicks, at least, is that means she’s made to wear historical garb the whole time. She complains about it, but she does it, down to her undies … which she runs around in due to, um, plot reasons :-/
However, the costume is proper Victorian garb with correct hairstyling, which is pretty damn amazing! When she and the Doctor arrive, she’s wearing an adorable knickers suit, rather like what a woman of the period would wear to ride a bicycle. The jacket has huge leg-o-mutton sleeves and is piped all over along the seams, she’s wearing a high-collared blouse with a tie, and you can just barely see gaiters on her legs below the knickers.
However, Leela swaps places with one of the unfortunate victims, changing into that woman’s clothes. And for some reason, she has to remove the borrowed clothes and ends up running around in her underwear in the sewers. At least this shows that she’s wearing Victorian undies (though no corset). This is also the only time her hair is down.
When the Doctor and Leela attend the theater to get more info on the perpetrator behind this mystery, Leela is persuaded to wear a full ladies gown. +1 for the period hairstyle, -1 for obviously not wearing a corset.
The Doctor also wears Victorian costume in this episode — in fact, it’s the only serial in his entire run that the Fourth Doctor doesn’t wear his trademark long scarf! Instead, he wears a Sherlock Holmes inspired costume that John Bloomfield specially created for Tom Baker.
Do you remember this Doctor Who episode?
Hey no dissing one of my favorite episodes! I’m sure it’s all kinds of problematic by modern standards but I don’t care!
The great thing about Leela is she’s not having any of this Eliza Doolittle crap. She will wear period clothes when necessary but she is a Warrior of the Sevateem and doesn’t care who knows it.
This is one of my all-time favorite episodes, and while it’s problematic, I think you have to see it as a satire of the penny dreadful gothic novels of the period. In reality, it should make the viewer uncomfortable, but it doesn’t reflect the views of the period in which it was made.
I was a great doctor who fan…but I left home in ’77 so don’t remember this one [too busy with being grown up I suppose lol]
Sounds DIRE, but hey ho Leela’s lack of clothing was very popular at the time I recall
Wow, that knickers suit is unparalleled in its hideousness!~ I can only imagine that actress recoiling in horror when presented with it.
That last shot with the patterned velvet coat and waistcoat is pretty snazzy, though.
Actually it looks pretty cute on her. The pictures are not the best.
Leela’s native costume is a great example of making you think you’re seeing more than you really are.
True. The coverage is at least as good as a standard one piece bathing suit or a leotard. Lots of arm and leg but little else.
Also can you imagine Leela agreeing to wear a corset? I’m surprised she agreed to wear combinations!
I met Tom Baker on the street in Rye, which is a town close to the village he lives in. Our BnB landlady told us we might see him. I had just got a tattoo and was full of beans but we were both too shy to go and say hello, he is a formidable presence!
A fellow actor described Ton Baker as having eyes that fo right through you. And oh, that beautiful voice!
Eek, this storyline sounds like the worst! I’ve gone back and forth on whether i should bother watching the old dr. Who episodes, and so far the needle points to “no”
If you’re familiar with the sensational material publish in the penny-dreadful novels of the late Victorian era, you’ll see this as the satire it was meant to be. This is one of the best Tom Baker stories, but you need to know its roots. Think source material in the realm of Sweeney Todd and Fu Manchu, and you’ll be in the right frame of mind.
There is also the two-parter “Black Orchid” where the Doctor and crew have an Agatha Christie style costume ball, which is kinda cool. And the later serial “Ghostlight” which is all about the Victorian costumes (and some crossdressing by the companion, Ace, sparking a mini sexual revolution).
It’s rather fitting that John Bloomfield was the costume designer on this, as he was also CD on 1980’s ‘The Fiendish Plot of Dr Fu Manchu’ a few years later, and then 1986’s ‘Tai-Pan’. I’m assuming he was chosen for his skill in doing ‘Eastern’ garb, but a shame that in both ‘Talons in Weng Chiang’ and ‘Fiendish Plot of Dr Fu Manchu’ his rather lovely designs are worn by actors in racist makeup.
This wouldnt be the last time the original Doctor Who would have varying iffy racist Asian stereotypes – the appalling ‘Time Flight’ a few years later would have Anthony Ainley as ‘Kalid’, sporting a rather lovely gown designed by Amy Roberts…but sadly worn with some really racist makeup (look it up, it makes the makeup here look take)