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....



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