Doctor Who meets Sherlock Holmes and Fu Manchu and The Phantom of the Opera is pretty much the list of ingredients that make up The Talons of Weng Chiang, a classic “Classic” story that I really had no intention of tackling at all. It`s pretty much pitch perfect and, like the story that TX`d before it, Robots of Death, any edit would probably end up being just a simple cut-down compilation. That didn`t really appeal to the Fan Editor in me. Robots had simply been done out of curiosity, to see just what you could do with a “good” story that didn`t really need improving and I thought Talons would be much the same.
Aside from the infamously unconvincing Giant Rat, the only real downside to the story is that it`s Magnus Greel who`s the villain and not The Master! And I`d already fixed that via my re-imagining of the story as The Talons of Death [which you can find elsewhere!] so the question was not so much how to edit the story but why edit it at all?
Well, if I was to tackle it the first thing I would do would be to work around the aforementioned ridiculous rodent and cut it out of the story altogether, it`s clearly only been put in so there`s a monster of sorts in the story but, like the Magma Creature many years later, we don`t really need it. Apart from that, there`s only a couple of on-screen bloopers that mar the production and there isn`t a single duff performance from any of the speaking cast. Cutting out the rat didn`t seem like a good enough reason on its own to edit the story, so what changed my mind?
Well, in the end, the inspiration for tackling the project was the idea of using Hans Zimmer`s music from the two Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey Jr. I`d recently seen Game of Shadows and really liked the Dulcimer theme music. The Doctor is playing at being a Classic Sherlock anyway in the story and the more I thought about it the more it seemed like such a mad idea that it might just work! And then I thought, well if I`m using the Movie Sherlock music then I have to use some of the TV Sherlock music as well, which, spookily, also uses a Dulcimer; after that, The Talons of Weng Chiang – The Sherlock Edit was on!
The first thing to do was to see if I could edit together the opening credits in a way that emulated the style of those in the Guy Ritchie movies without the budget or technology. Believe me, if I could have recreated the stunning “Ink and Paper” effect used in the movies I would have. Instead we have to settle for something that`s probably a bit more in keeping with the kind of thing we might have got from the BBC in the mid-to-late-Seventies.
What I came up with in the end, and it took two attempts to get it right, was a freeze frame that quickly went sepia whereupon the caption was inserted. The captions were in yellow as a nod to the classic Granada series with Jeremy Brett. The first version of the titles was good enough to convince me the project would work and that the idea was an inspiring one. However, I knew that I could do a better job on it so I left off it to go and work on the pre-credits sequence leading up to it instead.
I put together a short pre-credits sequence, starting with Leela exiting the Tardis and ending with Mr Sin jumping the cab driver Buller. I used a reverse of the Tardis` departure from the end of episode six in order for us to see it arrive on video instead of film.
I thought I`d try using the TV Sherlock Theme from the off as I felt it was important to get the music in there as early as possible to help set the tone. And when I say TV Sherlock Theme I mean the incidental one on the Dulcimer, not the music that runs over the opening and closing titles. I used a combination of TV and Movie music throughout this edit and had great fun putting in all those new cues.
As I started on this sequence, I had a few more creative ideas which I incorporated as I went along. When you watch the opening sequence, you`ll notice there are some additional shots from Granada`s Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in there. Initially they were only in there for atmosphere, scene setting and to fill up the length of the music cue until the Tardis lands. That meant finding shots of hansom cabs on the streets at night to establish that this is Victorian London. I knew there were some shots like that in the Empty House episode, which I`d watched recently. However, viewing that footage gave me another wild idea…
The idea of Jeremy Brett making a cameo appearance, accompanied by the wonderful Sherlock theme from the Bendy Cumberbitch version was just too bonkers and delicious a notion to resist. I finally managed to work out a montage of shots which worked brilliantly, with all sorts of lovely juxtapositions going on.
I just couldn`t resist the notion of Holmes and Watson seeing the Tardis arrive and it took ages to find the right shots to give the impression that they see it materialise from a window above the landing site. A helluva lot of work and completely unnecessary but when you see the finished sequence I think you`ll agree it was fun enough to be worth it. And if you don`t like it you can easily cut it and start it with a Fade In from black and Leela leaving the Tardis.
All in all, just these opening five minutes took me nearly a whole weekend to complete, with the first day given over to version one of the credits and the second spent working out the Sherlock cameo and doing the credits mark two. Although the credits only last two minutes, all in all they took the best part of an entire day to complete. It was a very painstaking sequence to put together, involving sorting through lots of alternate shots until I found the ones I was happy with. There was also the challenge of changing my mind about which font to use when I`d already compiled half the sequence. Yes it took ages to do but that wonderful Hans Zimmer theme made it a real fun sequence to work on and it sets the tone for the rest of the show, which is what a good title sequence should do.
Then, as if that wasn`t enough, I jumped straight to the end of the story and did the end credits as well! This is only the second Movie-style Edit of a Doctor Who story that I`ve done – the other one was Inferno – but I think the “movie” style really suits the story. It`s always nice to be able to do something different and creative from the normal cut-down compilation that makes up the majority of the work showcased here and I think you`ll like it.
As for the episodes themselves, we lose the cliffhanger to part one by cutting away from the morgue before the Doctor leaves, thus avoiding our Giant Rat Problem. When it came to the ending of part two the music is different on both versions – the cross over point from part two to part three is at the close up of Leela as Sin advances on her. When it came to action sequences like this one I left them pretty much intact, knowing that I would be going back to redo them later and recut them to fit the music. The only other audio fix was to put in a loop of the cab horses hooves underneath the cab scenes in part two, something curiously absent in the original if you listen.
When I put together the 71 Edit I cut out the whole part three subplot of Leela finding Weng Chiang`s lair, substituting herself for the blonde scrubber Chang picks up and finally escaping into the sewer to meet the Giant Rat. The fact that I wanted to get rid of the rat meant the entire chain of events leading up to it had to go too. But the story worked less well without it and I ended up reinstating it. I have, however, cut the rat right back to the bare minimum and now it only appears in two brief long shots, one of which is after it`s been killed!
Ideally I would have cut this quite obvious, though very well filled, loop and combined both attacks on the house into one but Leela`s change of outfit makes that impossible. Chang vanishes into the sewers never to be seen again and we whizz through parts five and six as quickly as we can to get to the end. There`s a fairly obvious loop involving Jago and Litefoot`s escape attempt in the dumb waiter which would ordinarily have been cut. However, not only are Jago and Litefoot eminently watchable, there was no way to remove it as it intercuts with the Tom and Leela scenes back at the house so it stayed.
I initially cut out the despatch of Mr Sin but the cut was too obvious so I had to reinstate the scene. I cut the middle section down for two reasons – one, to remove the blooper moment where you can see the pedestal of the camera taking the mid-shot and two, to make it a bit less obvious that Tom is throwing a dummy around and not Deep Roy!
This has been one of the most enjoyable edits I`ve done so far and I reckon it`s some of my best work to date. Hopefully you`ll think so too! Talons was Fan Edit #78 and marked the halfway point in my ongoing mission to Fan Edit all of the Classic Series.