Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Time and Relative Dimensions of Ape

I once saw Doctor Who in a film whose plotting makes the current series look wholly unremarkable and conservative by comparison.

Doctor Who is back, and during the flurry of frenetic out-of-sequence incidents which serve as season openers these days, (yes, I've become a grumpy old fan) I found myself wistfully recalling a time when his appearance was a complete surprise.

Back when I was at school they used to show films at lunchtime - actual cinematic releases (of a certain vintage) which were usually screened over two or three consecutive days in winter.  One otherwise ordinary Monday we listened  unenthusiastically as our 4th form teacher read the morning notices, but he suddenly got my full attention with the final item that the lunchtime film was King Kong.

Already being a geek my first thought was "Which one?"  I assumed the 76 version was a safe bet, and friends and I paid our 50 cents at the door, finding seats in a surprisingly packed AV room and expecting a grubby pre-pubescent fix of Jessica Lange.

The production was in colour but opened with a model submarine passing over the camera before the unforgettable title King Kong Escapes blazed across the screen.
As I say, I was a geek and knew exactly what we were in store for, and the film didn't disappoint. 'Suit-mation' antics abounded, with karate-kicking dinosaurs, variable model effects, a giant robotic Kong and badly dubbed Japanese actors.   This was the second and final Japanese Kong film from the legendary Toho Studios, and so gloriously awful that it was actually great fun. Each lunch-time session was packed out and for the first time ever a repeat evening screening was arranged.

But my favourite part was the ripple of surprise which passed over the teenage audience when all-American hero Rhodes Reason deduces the identity of the villain behind the sub 'spy-fi' evil scheme which the vaguely ties the series of monster suit scuffles together:
"... it's that international Judas, Doctor Who"

There is an infamous quote from a producer at the BBC when having first heard the proposed title of their new science fiction series for children, stating he thought Doctor Who sounded like a Chinese restaurant.  Casual racism aside the name has perhaps always had a vaguely oriental sound (in fact, the character my or may not be named as 'Dr. Hu' in the King Kong Escapes end credits, depending upon which source you refer to).  So it's all simply a strange co-incidence, of course.

Except... distinguished character actor Hideyo Amamoto is decked out in a silver wig, occasional cape and something very like an astrakhan cap, looking for all the world like an evil eastern first Doctor.

Doctor Who (left) and Doctor Who
This film was made in 1967 and the impact of the television series and the Cushing films would have been felt, particularly in Britain where the soundtrack for King Kong Escapes was recorded.

So, a clear and present link between King Kong and Doctor Who? As wonderful as that would be, unfortunately, it seems not.

King Kong Escapes was actually based upon, of all things, an American animated children's series(the first ever to be produced in Japan) called the King Kong Show.
Running from 1966 to 1969 it was here that the character of  Dr. Who was introduced, and he looked like this:

Dr Who
The King Kong Show was heavily influenced by another British institution, down to the surname of the family who befriend the titular giant ape: Bond.  And the recurring villain with his Ernst Blofeld tendencies appears to be simply named in reference to the first screen James Bond villain: Dr No.

So, with a Roger-Moore-like eyebrow waggle, 007 wins the day again?  Perhaps, but still, looking at Mr Amamoto again you really have to wonder...

"Turning Japanese, I think I'm turning Japanese, I really think so,  hmmmm?"


  1. This is really amazing thank you for sharing this. The information you updated about this is incredible as well as interesting.
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  2. Many thanks for that - much appreciated!
    I'm embarrassed to admit that some new information has come to light since I posted this blog which seems to contradict my conclusion:
    Although the start of the King Kong Show may have preceded King Kong Escapes, it looks as if the Character of Dr Who appeared in the Toho movie first, and was then appropriated for the TV series - Ooops...
    I'll try to do some more research to confirm this before I make any more hasty pronouncements!