Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) thoughts on the first four episodes
There’s a first for everything and this opening episode provides me with a complete novelty But before we get to that, a word about genre classification. This is supposedly a science fiction story, using time travel to relocate a skillful neurosurgeon from modern times to the Joseon period of 1860. We therefore have a man with all the skills to completely revolutionise medical treatment. This would potentially introduce major changes in the timeline with him saving hundreds of people who should have died. We’ll come to the explicit treatment of the paradox issue later. For now let’s just focus on the mechanism. This falls squarely into the fantasy area. Our surgeon opens up the skull of an emergency patient and, as he’s repairing the immediate injuries, decides to look at a tumour which shows up on the scan. This proves to be a highly immature foetus. As he removes it, there’s a flash of light and he’s aware of a desire to “return” somewhere. We see the foetus preserved in a glass jar, presumably using formalin or its equivalent, and we’re to assume it’s now manipulating the present. After a number of incidents, our hero finds himself falling off the roof of the hospital trying to catch the falling foetus only to land in the past. For the record, the foetus is photographed using creepy lighting to imply it’s sentient and working “magic”.
Based on the manga “Jin” by Motoka Murakami, Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) is a Korean drama remake of the Japanese television series which ran from 2009 to 2011. This sageuk features Dr. Jin-Hyuk (Song Seung-Heon) with two women in his life. The first is Yoo Mi-Na in modern times with the same actress playing Hong Young-Rae (Park Min-Young) in Joseon times. Unfortunately, the Joseon version is engaged to marry Kim Kyung-Tak (Kim Jae-Joong). He’s the illegitimate son of Kim Byung-Hee (Kim Eung-Soo), the Minister of Justice, which is shown as a dreadful social position. Appropriately he’s in position to almost arrest our hero when he first appears in Joseon. Fortunately, our hero is rescued by Lee Ha-Weung (Lee Beom-Soo) — a real historical figure so there can be a token consideration of the paradox issues. The other female of note is Choon-Hong (Lee So-Yeon) who floats between all interested parties as a top hostess.
So here we go with the central problem with the script. If our time traveller changes anything in the past, there’s a cascade effect into the future. For an extreme example, “A Sound of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury has a traveller who kills a butterfly while on a dinosaur hunt. When they return to the “present”, they find it different. While the most obvious paradoxes come when you kill your own parents, the implications of any change are potentially profound. If A died when he was twenty years old, there’s no problem if our traveller kills him at the right time. But if he saves A who then goes on to have ten children, there’s a ripple effect as all these new people live out lives they should not have had. So what does our good doctor do. Well, he’s no sooner walked into Hanyang (literally translated as the fortress on the Han river) than he comes across Joo Pal Yi (Lee Won-Jong) choking. Now any sensible time traveller looks on dispassionately and says he cannot intervene without upsetting history. Ha! As if. . . Our good doctor is immediately into action with the Heimlich Manoeuvre. When that doesn’t work, he’s pretending he’s still in the ER. “Intubate stat!” he shouts to no-one in particular grabbing a knife and cutting open Joo Pal Yi’s neck. Perhaps everyone is in shock at this murderous attack, because they all stand back and do nothing to stop him as he blows into the man’s neck to get the lungs working. Then he’s manoeuvring in the Heimlich style and the obstruction pops out. The patient is immediately leaping around assuring everyone he’s fine while the doctor staunches the blood with an old piece of cloth guaranteed to be full of bacteria. Minutes later, he’s bashing on the skull of Hong Young-Whee (Jin Lee-Han) with a wooden wallet and a chisel. In my early years, people called this a lobotomy but, in these primitive times, it enables our visiting doctor to remove a blood clot with his fingers. If you missed it the first time, he’s off again minutes later. This time cracking open the head of Kim Byung-Hee. Remarkably, all these patients are up and frolicking the next day. They had fantastic powers of recuperation in Josean times. This is being observed by the sceptical Royal Doctor, Yoo Hong-Pil (Kim Il-Woo) — he’s one of these professional naysayers.
Not content to show off his carpentry skills on people’s skulls, he then demonstrates the skills of a lifeguard to half the court, swimming out and bringing a drowning Choon-Hong to shore. As she’s about to die, he fondles her breasts and kisses her dead body. No-one objects to this necrophilia. Instinctively they know this will one day be known as cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Then before you can say “I’m really a brain surgeon from the future,” he’s stitching up a poor woman’s forehead which is leaking blood like it’s on special offer at the local donation centre. And then guess what. He walks back into Hanyang and finds he’s in the middle of a cholera outbreak. This guy is like a lightning conductor. He only has to walk into shot and someone drops down with a malady only he can diagnose and cure. So now he’s the only one who can stop the epidemic from killing thousands. The scriptwriters should have given him a real challenge like bubonic plague, not something this easy-peasy.
Indeed, you can just hear the scriptwriters fleshing out the script outline and asserting they needed value for money out of the idea of transporting a doctor back in time. Just think, they said gleefully, he can save an entire city from death by curing cholera. How many butterflies is that worth? But you are shaking your heads. The historical records show no major death toll from cholera in 1860 so the doctor must have been there. Except there’s absolutely nothing in the historical records of the day to show revolutionary medical treatments based on opening up the body to remove clots or tracheal obstructions. Since these events are being witnessed by the Royal Doctor, there would have been records. So since our good Doctor knew no time traveller had introduced advanced medical techniques in 1860, he must be changing the timeline from the moment he sets foot in the past. Having a token real person to worry about is a nonsense. Everyone is a real person for these purposes and the more people he saves, the worse it gets. For these reasons, we have to abandon Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin as anything approaching science fiction and see it as nothing more than wooly historical fantasy.
For reviews of other episodes, see:
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 5 to 8
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 9 to 12
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 13 to 16
Dr Jin or Dakteo Jin (2012) episodes 17 to end