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....


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