Monday, January 16, 2017

"Dr. Chinn," an Idea For a TV Series I’d Like to See

There is a Hollywood joke about a mover-and-shaker in the Business who explains what he does by saying, "I take a notion, develop it into a concept and turn that into an idea, for which I get paid a lot of money."

Well, this is kind of like that, although I don't anticipate getting paid anything. The reason for that is that the concept I am developing is far from original, although I have already put some effort into the development. While working as an attendant at a laundromat some years back, I came up with the idea of an American version of a story that has already been done in both Japanese and Korean versions. The story was originally created by an author of Japanese graphic novels (manga), Motoka Murakami. His series was entitled “Jin.” It was then produced as a Japanese TV miniseries by the same name, and subsequently as a Korean miniseries, “Dr. Jin.”

Spoiler Alert Spoiler Alert Spoiler Alert

The original story,
 Murakami's manga

Japan TBS
Although there are variations in the three versions, there are basic similarities, as well:

A twenty-first century neurosurgeon named Jin is depressed because his fiancée is in a coma. He is cajoled into performing surgery on an apparently homeless man who has a head wound. (This man is facially disfigured so that no one would recognize him even if they knew him - or maybe nobody looks at his face under the bandages. Plot holes happen.) Jin discovers a fetus-shaped brain tumor, which he removes and puts in a jar, intending to write a paper about the odd find. In the night, the patient gets out of bed, steals the jar with the fetus-tumor along with some basic medical supplies, and tries to escape. Dr. Jin tries to stop him but instead grabs the jar and the bag of medical supplies and falls from a great height (e.g., from the hospital roof).

When he wakes up, Jin finds himself in 1860 when his country was in a turbulent period, and people - including a young captain of the guard who is to become Jin’s nemesis - almost immediately start trying to kill him. However, he manages to find a ready ally in someone who turns out to be a more or less well known historical figure.

Jin is introduced to a middle-class family whose eldest daughter looks exactly like his fiancée in the twenty-first century. She has promised to marry another – the very captain of the guard who tried to kill Jin upon his arrival in 1860 – even though she does not love him. Her older brother has been struck on the head with a sword, and Jin performs life-saving brain surgery using primitive tools like chisels and hammers. He begins an on-going process of improvising with what is available in 1860 in order to achieve twenty-first century medical results.
Jin has a few allies now, but he also has many enemies. He manages to meet more and more important people and usually finds his way into high society by performing surgery on someone who otherwise would not have survived using 1860s medicine. This ultimately begins to bother Jin as he realizes that he could change history by saving someone who was otherwise fated to die.

A highlight of the story is Jin being faced with a cholera epidemic, which he at first despairs of doing anything about because it would mean reinventing all of the medical technology used to treat cholera, including IV drips for the worst cases. He nevertheless meets the challenge and also launches a public sanitation campaign, becoming a kind of ad hoc public health officer. At first resistant, other doctors come around as Jin gets results.

Jin opens a school in which he trains doctors in scientific methods and his reputation eventually brings him into the upper circles of political power where he becomes a rival to the court physician and therefore a target of the intrigue that is already in progress against various political figures.

Complicating matters, Jin is in love with the woman who is betrothed to another man – who is something of a bad guy. meanwhile, the first man who befriended Jin upon his arrival in 1860 uses Jin as a pawn in his own political intrigues, sometimes with Jin’s knowledge and sometimes without it.

Jin worries more and more about how his actions will change history. He most wants to return to a future where he will be reunited with his fiancée, well and whole, but, he worries, will his actions in the 1860s make this more or less likely? He also learns that there are others who are trapped in the past or who have been to the future. He begins having blackouts which he discovers are caused by a tumor in his brain. He eventually experiences a head trauma that disfigures his face but also sends him back to his own time where he becomes the homeless man who is brought to the hospital to receive brain surgery.

Could This Story Be Adapted to an American Setting?

Now here is my re-imagining of this idea as an American TV series, and I must risk giving it away because I do not have the rights to the original Japanese sources:


Michael Chinn (a quirk of Korean pronunciation is that “Jin” and “Chin” are pronounced identically) is an African-American neurosurgeon who is on staff at a hospital in Maryland in the year 2018. His fiancée is in a coma for which he blames himself. In a flashback he meets her, they fall in love, have a fight, and she goes into a coma. Incidentally, we learn that Michael’s ancestors go back many generations in Maryland.

He is ordered by the hospital administrator to operate on a homeless man with a head trauma, and discovers a bizarre-shaped tumor. He also runs across a little girl who is wandering the hospital but does not speak. He gets someone to take charge of her and does not think anything more of her. (She will later turn out to be a time-traveler from the 1850s, whom Michael will meet in the 1860s.) At night, Michael finds his patient trying to escape with the tumor in a jar, and Michael chases him to the roof where Michael grabs the jar and a bag from the patient but falls off the roof. (The bag turns out to contain antibiotics, rubber tubes, gauze and other medical supplies.)

He wakes up in Maryland in 1860 and is almost immediately pursued by slave-catchers who are being aided by the local sheriff and a police lieutenant from DC. He escapes with the aid a freed slave, Lem, who is also being chased by the slave-catchers, who do not care that he is free. Lem, the free man, has a pair of pistols and he manages to help Michael escape.
Lewis S. Leary,
abolitionist, how I
imagine Lem appears

Lem finds Michael puzzling. “Are you slave or free?” Lem asks. “Free, of course,” replies Michael. “Why ‘of course’?” asks Lem. Lem is on his way to Washington, DC, and takes Michael with him. Along the way, Lem finds Michael some clothes and fills him in on the political situation. As soon as he does, of course, Michael realizes that he knows more about what is about to happen than Lem does. Abraham Lincoln has just been elected, and the start of the Civil War is only months away.

Just outside of Washington, Lem and Michael come upon two white men who are dueling over the issue of slavery. The man who opposes slavery loses and is shot in the head.  To everyone’s surprise, horror and wide range of other reactions, Michael steps forward and insists that he can save the duelist’s life. Lem is torn between trying to protect Michael and giving up on this crazy man who might get them both killed. Michael prevails by demonstrating his ability to keep the patient, Tom Purcell, alive until they can get him home, which is complicated by the fact that dueling is illegal and, once again, they must evade the same Maryland sheriff and same DC police lieutenant who were after Lem and Michael earlier.

At Tom’s home, Michael and Lem meet the patient’s family, which includes his widowed mother and younger sister, Becky, who looks exactly like Michael’s twenty-first century fiancée. Michael asks for things such as carpentry tools and grain alcohol and persuades everyone to help him save Tom’s life. He does, and the Purcell family gives him a place to stay. Lem leaves but promises to keep in touch with Michael. Becky’s fiancé, Benjamin Tyrell, comes to visit and turns out to be the DC police lieutenant who was chasing Michael and Lem, but he does not recognize Michael even though he is generally suspicious of him. A childhood friend of the Purcell’s, he suspects that Tom is one of the duelists he was supposed to arrest, but he pretends not to be able to solve the crime.

Abraham Lincoln
When a cholera outbreak threatens Washington City, Michael again steps up and figures out how to improvise with primitive technology and a sanitation program to save neighborhood after neighborhood. He enlists other doctors, most of them reluctant, to adopt more effective treatments. Michael thus comes to the attention of President Abraham Lincoln who, over the objections of his regular physician, takes Michael on as a medical consultant, especially after Michael wows the president with his knowledge of marfan’s disease, the president’s condition that makes him so tall and gangly but also gives patients double vision and a heart defect. Lincoln is impressed because, although, he does not have any medical knowledge about his disease, he confirms that he has double vision and some relatives who had the same condition died young from sudden heart attacks.

Frederick Douglass,
abolitionist newspaper
Sen. Charles Sumner,
Through his unorthodox medical practice, Michael meets various political figures including abolitionist newspaper editor and orator Frederick Douglass (who turns out to be friends with Lem), Senator Charles Sumner (the man who first suggested that Lincoln should issue an emancipation proclamation) and others. Michael also treats some runaway slaves – a man, woman and their son – whom he realizes are his own ancestors. This freaks him out, especially when he is unable to save the father and mother on two separate occasions. One of his ancestors, then, is this orphaned boy for whom Michael becomes responsible.

When the Civil War breaks out, Michael becomes caught up in the preparations and in the crises of battles near Washington including First Bull Run where Michael helps with the wounded. He continues to see the Purcell family, falling in love with Becky. Ben Tyrell joins the Union Army, becoming a captain and a member of General George McClellan’s staff. Tom joins a different unit of Union volunteers as an officer. Lem journeys to Massachusetts and joins an all-black regiment. The war rages, presenting everyone with challenges and dangers, not least Michael whose medical skills are repeatedly called upon.
Michael becomes a public health official and among other things heads the program to have doctors certify that the city’s many prostitutes are clean. In this capacity he meets an African-American madam who comes to him with a brain tumor. Eventually she reveals that, when she was a little girl, she found herself in a hospital in Maryland in 2018, and before she was brought back to 1851, she met a doctor named Chinn. She has been watching Michael and knows when and where he is from. Ever since becoming a time-traveler she has had headaches that eventually turned into blackouts. She believes that all time-travelers develop a brain tumor. Michael has been experiencing headaches and blackouts.

Michael is always reminded that he is a black man in a high position in a time when this is not generally accepted. He is held in contempt by some, suspicion by others, and occasionally Confederate agents try to assassinate him. Michael hires Lem as his bodyguard.

At last, the war ends and Michael tries to prevent the assassination of Lincoln, becoming involved in intrigues between members of Lincoln’s cabinet at the same time, and he is unable to get anyone to take the Booth conspiracy seriously. Michael is at Ford’s Theater when the assassination occurs, and he tries to save Lincoln’s life, but he realizes that the damage to Lincoln’s brain is devastating. Even if he could technically save the president’s life, it would not be any kind of a life. So he decides not to take any heroic measures, and he explains to Dr. Charles Leale that there is nothing to do but keep the patient comfortable. The three other doctors attending the president know Michael by reputation and expect him to perform a miracle, but Michael accepts that he cannot.
Dr. Charles Leale
Meanwhile, Becky becomes severely ill and Michael is trying to save her, but his antibiotic factory is burned to the ground by a mob that blames him for not saving the president. On his way back to Becky’s side with the last and only vile of antibiotic, Michael is attacked by assassins. Lem is killed giving Michael a chance to get away, but Michael falls head first from a building and wakes up in a twenty-first century hospital, his head wrapped in bandages. (All of these falls from roofs must be short falls or else cushioned by trash bins or other fall-breakers.) He feels only the urge to get back to 1865 for Becky. He puts on scrubs and steals some antibiotics and other supplies. Then he sees the jar with his tumor in it. He has developed the theory that this tumor itself facilitates time-travel, so he takes the jar, too, and he heads for the roof with the intention of jumping and the hope of being transported back in time to save Becky. Instead, he runs into the other Dr. Chinn. They struggle and Michael grabs the other Michael’s lapel and ID badge before they both fall, but it is the other Michael who is transported back.

Michael wakes up in a hospital bed, his face wrapped in bandages. “Welcome back, Dr. Chinn,” says a nurse he knows. A doctor he also knows explains to him that his face was so badly smashed by the fall that they only recognized him by his ID badge. Now he has had the first in a series of plastic surgeries that should restore his face. Then the doctor leaves, saying, “There is someone here to see you.” Michael’s fiancée walks into his view. She smiles at him and takes his hand in hers.


No comments:

Post a Comment