This story in a nutshell: A ghoulish, disfigured monster stalking the sewers of London, preying on young girls to feed upon...
Noble Savage: 'When we are both in the great here after I shall hunt you down bent face and put you through my agonies a thousand times!' screams Leela, close to death. It's her best story by miles and in Holmes safe hands she thrives in Victorian London, slaughtering Chinese henchmen, hunted by giant rats, trying out sophisticated clothes and going to the theatre. Never before has she seemed so alien and so human, highlighting her against so many characters draws magnificent attention to her lack of social graces and vicious killing streak. And yet in later episodes when Litefoot and Jago are in trouble she is clearly frightened for their safety and tries to convince the Doctor to save them with the beautiful retort' they are our friends, we must help them.' She's his conscience in that moment. The so-called padding from the early episodes, which set up these relationships, are satisfyingly paid off. Louise Jameson was always a little too good for Doctor Who (like Caroline John before her she deserves to spearhead a show rather than providing support for the star) but when she is spoilt with material like this it's difficult to argue against Leela's place in the show. She's works awesomely when paired with the Doctor (it's one of the few occasions where it seems that Baker and Jameson are drunk on each others company) but strikes out on her own often enough to prove that a Leela headed show could be made to work. I'm reluctant at any point of this review to dismiss Robert Holmes' part in making every aspect work and it's worth noting his part in Leela's finest story.
The Good Stuff:
* Chang and Greel make a real sinister pair; clip clopping through the streets of London in a carriage every night to seek out the Time Cabinet. The closest moment the story comes to reality sees Chang accosting a prostitute to take back to his master to feed on, the Ripper-esque horror of these scenes chills me to the bone. Like most of Holmes' villainous character this pair are both rather pathetic, Chang because he dotes so desperately on Greel under the impression he is a God and Greel because he is slowly dying and refusing to admit his Zygma experiments were little more than a footnote in history. Greel is more frightening because he is clearly desperate to fight back his death and slaughter his way through countless innocent women to achieve that. He's hysterical to the point of utter insanity and will murder anybody who gets in his way. Some of his lines ('I shall not keep you waiting long' he says to Leela who is waiting to have her energy sucked from her body, 'Now for my two partridges!') are sick and sinister. Once his mask is ripped away and we see how disfigured he truly is the tension steps up a mark. Now we know he cannot survive how far will this madman go to achieve his freedom?
* I have always been a huge fan of David Maloney's direction and agree with Philip Hinchcliffe one hundred percent when he says he was the best director on the payroll. Which Doctor Who stories stand out from each era? The Mind Robber? Maloney. Genesis of the Daleks? Maloney again. The Deadly Assassin? Oh yes. His work here is extraordinary, pulling together this mammoth tale with an eye for visuals and a talent for sheer entertainment. Go stick the DVD on and watch any five minutes and you will stumble across a moment that makes you gasp with delight. The body dragged up at the key side. Leela's reaction to Litefoot's pipe. 'Were you trying to get my attention?' The chase through the theatre. Mr Sin at the door and Leela jumping through the window. Chang and the prostitute. Leela screaming as she is gnawed away at by the giant rat. Casey found dead in the Cabinet of Death. 'Take the sting of the scorpion!' The dumb-waiter. Greel's melted face. 'I'll give you three seconds Doctor then Mr Sin will kill the girl!' Leela with the pistol. 'GREEL LISTEN!' The hypocrisy of making tea. The story is just one quality scene after another with everybody in tune with each other. Maloney's stylish direction is the icing on the cake; he chose the right actors, the right locations and the right pace for the story. The results speak for themselves.
The Bad Stuff: The rat is an obvious flaw but it's the only flaw in an otherwise stunning production. It's almost refreshing to be reminded that this is still Doctor Who.
Result: 'Sleep is for tortoises!' A great plump rich Christmas pudding of a story, that has been set aflame and contains a treasury of coinage within. Rarely have we been treated to such a luxurious story, one that takes the time to flesh out of all of its characters, tell an atmospheric and gripping tale and one that frequently dazzles with its colourful dialogue and is wrapped up in a budget-bursting production that manages to make the smallest of scenes totally believable. Add to this mix the Doctor at the height of his powers, accompanied by a companion who enriches the tale, a splendid Dudley Simpson score and a fascinating and expensive look at the Victorian era (which at this point in the series had not been explored to death) all told in six beautiful episodes that ensure nothing is rushed or underdeveloped. Whilst Robots of Death, Genesis of the Daleks, Pyramids of Mars and The Deadly Assassin are also excellent examples of how much talent was lavished on the show during the Hinchcliffe years I feel Talons is his ultimate gift to the series, the story is attention-grabbing but it's married to a dazzling production that leaves these others in its shadow. In our reality-TV driven society of razor sharp pace and instant gratification we don't see television of Talons' standard anymore and that is such a shame. Television that is content to be beautiful and characterful, to where its influences on its sleeve and dazzle with them, television that paces itself to tell a fulsome story that leaves you sated with gourmet standard quality by its climax. Halfway through the series' first run, Doctor Who climaxed its season fourteen with the best story of its entire run. Flawlessly written, wonderfully acted and featuring some of the best direction of the time, Like reaching a fantastic orgasm for six long episodes without all the embarrassment that comes afterwards. Glorious: 10/10