Friday, 28 February 2014

Doctor Who: A Guide To Hong Kong's Most Successful Sci-Fi Adventure Series Part Two

It's time for part of my retrospective series in which we explore the history of Hong Kong's seminal Sci-Fi television series Doctor Who. In part one we left off in 1974 with Patrick Tse departing the TARDIS looking to return to his career in film. In his final story Planet of the Spiders, The Third Doctor contracts deadly radiation poisoning is barely able to make it back to Earth. There he regenerates in front of Sarah and The Senior Colonel. His new face would be one which would go on to be the most popular face The Doctor had in the series' history up to that point.

That face belonged to Ricky Hui.

Ricky Hui played The Fourth Doctor and would be the face that would launch Doctor Who's popularity world wide.

Audiences immediately warmed to Ricky's completely bonkers but at the same time older beyond his years Fourth Doctor. With a huge smile and impractically long scarves, Ricky would become the most iconic incarnation of The Doctor. To this day whenever anyone discusses the series, Ricky's name will always come up in the conversation and his name would top literally hundreds of Best Doctor lists in mainstream media and fandom.

The heartfelt, often comedic and wonderful interplay between Ricky and Lily Li would create a dynamic that would often be imitated but never replicated. It was during this time that The Doctor's deadly enemies The Daleks would return once more. This time Genesis of the Daleks we would learn their origin in which The Doctor is sent back in time to prevent their creation and therefore sparing the universe from centuries of torment. Here we meet their creator Davros. The serial was a huge hit and is often cited among fans and critics as the best Doctor Who story ever written.

However the series was not without it's controversy. During Ricky's years on the show it would become a target from various parent and television groups for it's depiction of violence. Yet despite the series coming under fire, something would happen that would make the mysterious Time Lord from Gallifrey's appeal go global. in 1978 UK TV channel The BBC bought the broadcasting rights for the series and began airing the show starting with Ricky Hui. The show was dubbed in English and became a huge hit. Demand for more episodes was so popular the BBC aired the previous series featuring the first three Doctors.

Not long after that word about the series spread to the US and station PBS bought the US rights to the show. Up until this time in the show's history it had always stuck mostly to sci-fi adventure, with the occasional toe-dip into horror but in order to really freshen things up producers decided to go full Gothic horror. drawing inspiration from classic English literature such as Mary Shelley, Lovecraft and a little bit of Bram Stoker. The roots of horror fiction can be felt in such stories as The Brain of Morbius, The Seeds of Doom and State of Decay. 

Ricky would continue to play The Doctor on television until 1981 when he decided that he had held onto the role long enough and wished to leave. Years later Ricky himself along with several cast and crew would admit he had become increasingly difficult to work with. Re-writing his own dialogue, directing entire scenes and even openly criticizing his own co-star's acting are just some of things that caused friction between him and various colleagues. So a search his replacement went underway.

To try and freshen up the series format the producers made the decision to go with a much younger actor. Someone who could inject some youthful vigour into the character of The Doctor. After auditioning several actors the part was given to newcomer Michael Miu. Having appeared in a handful of films he jumped at the chance at being given the opportunity to play what he considered to be a hugely iconic role. He even had the approval of Ricky Hui who felt Michael was perfect to follow on from him. So in a battle with his nemesis The Master, The Fourth Doctor fell to his supposed death in a clever nod to the popular Sherlock Holmes story The Final Problem. However the fall would not kill him instead he began to regenerate.

Michael Miu played The Fifth Doctor who to this day has remained hugely supportive of the show.

After a shaky start due to audiences not quite ready to accept a new Doctor, Michael's new take on the ancient Time Lord soon found his fans. It was during this era the show became experimental. Introducing several new companions which allowed for new avenues of story telling. Some of course were more successful than others. In particular the character of Adric. A self-proclaimed mathematical genius who joined the TARDIS crew toward end of Ricky Hui's time on the series. His petulant attitude and tendency for trouble making grated with audiences. The character's only redeeming moment would sadly be his last in which to prevent the destruction of an entire planet Adric sacrifices himself to blow up a starship high-jacked by Cybermen. 

Another failure which alomost derailed Michael's time on the show came in the form of Kameleon. A shape shifting android who found his way onto The TARDIS. yet rather then putting an actor in a suit which had been original proposed. The producers commissioned the building of an animatronic puppet which would serve as the character. The prop would turn out to be one of the worst ideas in the history of the show. Numerous technical issues prevented the prop from working correctly. Movements would be extremely limited and in some cases limbs were reported to have fallen off. The character of Kameleon was quietly dropped from the show after only appearing in half a dozen episodes.

Kameleon is often referred to as one of the worst characters in Doctor Who history

Despite the mixed results in the producers experiments with the show it would stay on the air long enough to reach the show's 20th Anniversary. To celebrate such a landmark achievement the makers decided to go ahead with an idea they had been toying with since the days of Ricky Hui. So in 1983 filming began on The Five Doctors. With each of The Doctor's incarnations abducted from their respective time lines, they were brought together and forced to survive in The Death Zone. A twisted landscape on The Doctor's home planet of Gallifrey which served to punish criminals.

Getting the actors to return proved more challenging than anticipated. Ricky Hui especially proved difficult in convincing and ultimately chose not to participate, forcing the editor's to use outtakes from an incomplete story to fill in the gaps. The budget even allowed the return of several companions including the ever popular Sarah who hadn't appeared on the show in five years. The Five Doctors was a huge success and established itself as a firm favourite among fans. So much so when TVB began putting the show on DVD in 1999, The Five Doctors was the first story released on the format.

Despite being critically acclaimed by critics and viewers alike and enjoying some well written stories Michael turned down what was considered at the time a very expensive contract extension to move back into films. The Fifth Doctor's final adventure saw him on a mining planet facing a maniacal masked villain. Through a series of unfortunate events The Doctor would contract Spectrox Toxemia, a deadly form of poison. Running on borrowed time The Doctor struggles to defeat the enemy and escape the mining planet before it explodes. Sadly The Doctor is too late to save himself and succumbs the poison but not before triggering yet another regeneration.

Join me next time when things get slightly more colourful....


Sunday, 16 February 2014

Doctor Who: A Guide To Hong Kong's Most Successful Sci-Fi Adventure Series Part One

Last year saw the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. One of the most popular and longest running Sci-fi series in television history. With it's successful blend of adventure, suspense, horror, comedy, drama and rather controversially in the eyes of fans romance. Doctor Who has created an enduring formula that has been able to move with the times and stay on our screens for 50 impressive years.

However not everyone is familiar with the show's long, storied history so I have created this basic guide for those who maybe wish to learn more about the mysterious Time Lord who can change his face when the situation calls for it.

Beginning in the early 60's, Hong Kong television station TVB were looking to create a new show aimed primarily at a young audience that would serve to educate as well as entertain. Producer Sidney Man came up with the idea of a time travelling scientist. Someone who would visit different periods of history every week and have different adventures. while shaping the concept of the series he began working with a new up and coming producer Verity Lam. Being one of the few females working as a producer at TVB she felt Doctor Who might just be the series she needed to give her career a serious kickstart.

The Doctor's craft in which he would travel through time and space would be unique in that it would change it's outward appearance to suit the environment however the production could not afford to construct specially made props for each story so the idea was conceived the craft would become stuck in the form of a British police box. The idea came from Verity Lam who had seen one on a recent trip to the city of London. The name of the craft would be The TARDIS which stood for Time & Relative Dimensions In Space. To make it even more unique the interior of the craft would be considerably larger than it's exterior which allowed for a much bigger set for the cast and crew to move around in.

The TARDIS control room in 1963. The console in the centre is what piloted the craft

Soon scripts had been written but now they faced the challenge of casting the lead role of The Doctor himself. After looking at several different actors they offered the role of Kwan Tak-Hing. Who is most famous for portraying real-life martial arts master Wong Fei-Hung in a long running series of successful theatrical films.

What could have been: Kwan Tak-Hing turned down what could have been a very successful role.

However Kwan was reluctant to play such an unusual role and felt the local Hong Kong audience would not accept him as anyone else except Master Wong. So at his own suggestion the producers offered the role to veteran actor Sek Kin, Kwan's co-star in many of his films. Sek had been looking for the chance to play a good guy role as he was growing tired of playing the bad guy so when he was offered the role of The Doctor he took it immediately.

Sek Kin started a role which would endure for the next 50 years.
Once the lead actor was locked down, they then cast Cheng Pei Pei as his grand daughter Susan and the series went in front of cameras. So, on November 23rd 1963 Doctor Who hit Hong Kong TV screens and despite a shaky start became a smash hit. It was during the early years of the show we would be introduced to The Doctor's most deadliest foe The Daleks.

The Daleks became so popular local tabloids said Hong Kong was under the grip of Dalekmania.

Sek would stay in the role up until 1966 when he had grown tired of the heavy television production schedule and had a desire to return to films which he found less strenuous also Cheng Pei Pei's departure from the show struck quite a blow to Sek as the two had a close friendship. This put the producers in a rather awkward position. They were aware a sudden change of lead character could kill the monumental success the series had enjoyed since it's debut but they felt stopping the series would be a mistake. Then they came up with one of the most bizarre ideas which ended up becoming a huge part of the series mythology.

In Sek Kin's final story as The Doctor after battling the dreaded Cyber Men, he comes under intense physical stress and ends up collapsing. He dies or so we're led to believe, suddenly a change takes place and The Doctor's body under goes what was referred to at the time as a renewal. Not only was his body healed but his appearance had entirely changed as result. Sek Kin's replacement was actor Suen Yuet.

Suen Yuet as The Second Doctor in 1973.

Despite some hesitance from the series' fans Suen Yuet brought a unique take on The Doctor which was entirely different to what Sek Kin had done previously. Equal parts clownish and deadly serious Yuet would leave an indelible mark which would be felt in future incarnations of The Doctor. It was during Suen's tenure The Doctor's past was further explored. We find out he is actually from a race of aliens known as The Time Lords who essentially watch over time and space and The Doctor had in fact stolen his TARDIS and ran away from his home planet. However much like Sek before him Yuet soon grew weary of the hectic and tiresome production schedule and left the series in 1969. The Third Doctor would come in the form of matinee idol Patrick Tse. Suen's final story found him caught by The Time Lords and punished with a forced renewal for his defiance.

Patrick Tse at the press conference announcing him as The Third Doctor.

With a new Doctor would come an entirely new style. The show was now being produced in colour and Patrick would bring a dashing exuberance to the role which critics described as "James Bond meets Albert Einstein" Patrick's Doctor was considerably more gung-ho. He would often engage enemy's in deadly martial arts show downs. Many of the action scenes were choreographed by a young Sammo Hung. Pay close attention in particular to one episode which features a young Jackie Chan being kicked in the face. His home planet was given a name: Gallifrey and The Doctor found himself exiled to Earth. Unable to use his TARDIS. Although this exile would be lifted later on.

When 1973 rolled around the show would be celebrating it's 10 year anniversary. The producers decided it would be a good idea to bring all three of The Doctors in one adventure. So the rather plainly titled The Three Doctors was aired and allowed The Third Doctor to interact with his previous selves. Tse in particular had strong chemistry with Suen Yuet with their personalities clashing in humorous ways. During Tse's time on the show we would be introduced to the United Nations Intelligence Task Force or U.N.I.T

They were led by Senior Colonel Alistair Kwan played by veteran Shaw Bros. actor Chen Koon-Tai. The character had been introduced during The Second Doctor era but producers felt the character could easily be brought back for further stories.

The character of the Senior Colonel would go on to be the most recurring one throughout the show's history.

We're also introduced to two other important characters. Firstly The Doctor's more devious adversary, a renegade Time Lord know only as The Master played wonderfully by Chang Yi. A veteran actor who had wanted a part in the series for a number of years and was pleased with being given the opportunity to play The Doctor's evil counter-part. Secondly The Doctor's most popular female companion Sarah Lin, young, determined and aspiring journalist played by Lily Li. Sarah proved so popular that when Patrick decided it was time for him to move on and leave the series, Sarah would stay on and bare witness to The Doctor's next regeneration....