Legend of the Sea Devils marks the debut of a new Doctor Who director. But who is Haolu Wang?

Ever since Doctor Who’s return in 2005, the casting team have had a gift for finding talent just on the cusp of greatness, giving many now famous faces their first major exposure. In recent years the Doctor Who team led by showrunner Chris Chibnall have extended that philosophy to the directors chair. Since Series Eleven, the team have delved deep into the world of short film making to find talented directors. Following in the footsteps of Azhur Saleem (who’s gone on to direct Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys) is Legend of the Sea Devils’ Haolu Wang (王昊鹭).

Wang is a Chinese writer-director who’s been based in London for most of her career so far. She’s been part of BAFTA’s scholarship scheme for developing new directors and been mentored in her progress by none other than Alex Garland. And her short films illustrate why the Cardiff team will have seen her as a good fit for Doctor Who. They’re both intensely emotional and skilled uses of science fiction and fantasy to explore human nature. Meanwhile, as is common for such up and coming directors, Wang has also written several of the scripts for her own short films, showing a keen understanding of both sides of the storytelling formula.

 

Haolu Wang's film The Pregnant Ground
Haolu Wang’s film The Pregnant Ground

Haolu Wang’s short films often feature deep looks at human fears through a fantastical lens

Lao Wei (named for a contemptuous Chinese term for foreigners) explores fear and tension as Ting, a lost first time visitor to England, takes a lift from a strange man. Over the course of the journey she becomes increasingly uncomfortable as the long drive wears on. Set on a beach in Hong Kong, Flip Flops also deals with the unspoken fears at the edge of our minds coming to the fore. After a furious row with the boyfriend on a day out, a woman awakes to find no sign of him. Soon she’s spiralling into a growing terror that he’s drowned, placing herself in danger to find him.

Haolu Wang’s most recent short film is the melancholy and fantastical The Pregnant Ground. When Xiau An has a traumatic stillbirth the blame and lack of sympathy from her husband and family pushes her further into a fantasy world. Or could a child really be growing under the ground outside her flat? Meanwhile both Being James and Emma are sensitive tales of longing and men and women pursuing perhaps the idea of another person rather than their reality whether through the London Underground or the world of photography.

 

The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) makes a stand in Legend of the Sea Devils (c) BBC Studios Thirteenth Doctor Doctor Who
The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) makes a stand in Legend of the Sea Devils (c) BBC Studios

After Doctor Who, Wang is set to make the jump to feature films with A Dutiful Wife

As with her predecessors, it appears that Doctor Who will just be the beginning of exciting times ahead for Wang. Post-Legend of the Sea Devils she’s working on her first two feature films as a director. Fellow Travellers is from the producers of The Girl With All the Gifts, though little else has been revealed yet. While A Dutiful Wife is a psychological thriller about a woman that is secretly holding her ‘missing’ husband prisoner in their home.

But before all of that, Haolu Wang’s Legend of the Sea Devils has its debut. It’s an ambitious story full of action, monsters, period costumes and special effects. And by the look of all the trailers and promotional images it’s going to be visually fantastic.

 

The Sea Devils: their flag means death (c) BBC Studios Doctor Who Legend of the Sea Devils
The Sea Devils: their flag means death (c) BBC Studios

Doctor Who returns with Legend of the Sea Devils on Easter Sunday, at 7.10pm on BBC One in the UK, and 2.10pm on BBC America in the US

In a swashbuckling special adventure, the Doctor, Yaz and Dan come face to fin with one of the Doctor’s oldest adversaries, the Sea Devils. Why has legendary pirate queen Madam Ching come searching for a lost treasure? What terrifying forces lurk beneath the oceans of the 19th century? And did Yaz really have to dress Dan up as a pirate?

The episode will be available on iPlayer once the episode has aired on BBC One

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