Magnum, P.I.

Season 1 Episode 3

China Doll

Aired Unknown Dec 18, 1980 on CBS
out of 10
User Rating
54 votes

By Users

Episode Summary

China Doll
Magnum is hired by a beautiful Chinese antiques dealer that he's making a play for to protect a precious ancient vase, The Soul of Sung, until its buyer arrives in Hawaii to collect it. But unbeknown to him, the priceless ornament is wanted by a Tong gang from the girl's home country, and a deadly martial arts assassin who can kill in the blink of an eye is hot on the trail.moreless

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  • A Great Episode (possible spoilers)

    This was a good episode following the amazing two part pilot.

    In this episode Magnum is being asked to protect a vase from China's Soong dynasty by Mai Ling. A Tong gang who is pursuing Mai Ling and the vase will stop at nothing to retrieve it, even going so far as to murder people who get in their way.

    I enjoy watching the relatioship that magnum has with other major characters including TC (who pilots the helicopter or chopper), Rick and Higgins.

    This episode is hardly dull, it is interesting but sometimes cuts away when interesting things happen. I.e. when Rick escapes that guy from the Tong gang, just after he thought he had the actual vase. I would have prefered actually seeing this rather than hearing about it.

    Apart from this minor problem the episode was good, it had a good story, some funny moments with a decent resolution. So all in all this was a good episode.moreless
  • Magnum & friends help to protect an ancient vase--and its beautiful owner--from a fury-fisted foe.

    Classic Magnum, right from the start. After a meandering and somewhat rocky pilot episode, the cast and crew of Magnum PI wasted no time in establishing a winning formula that would cement the show's success not only for eight seasons, but for decades afterward. China Doll is really the archetypal Magnum episode: it is the episode that introduces the comaraderie of Thomas Magnum, Orville "Rick" Wright, and Theodore "T.C." Calvin. Somehow the droll banter between Magnum and Higgins (my favourite aspect of the series overall) is already in place and operating at full steam. Add a love interest, a mystery, and plenty of action to the mix and you get a typical Magnum episode--of which China Doll is one of the best.

    China Doll features not only classic plots, but classic shots: many of the scenes immortalized in the opening credits are from this episode. Most notable, of course, is when Magnum in his red "Island Bird" shirt turns back to the camera and smiles implishly while raising his eyebrows. Another is Higgins turning to the camera in black and white robe, assuming a martial arts pose. Perhaps the only problem with this episode is that the music (not just the theme song by Ian Freebairn-Smith) is still trying to find its groove. Magnum PI stepped into the production shoes of Hawaii Five-O, and it seems that the music of China Doll was taken right from it. It would take a few more episodes for Magnum to truly make a clean break, cast off the last vestiges of Five-O influence, and come into its own as the best show of the eighties.moreless
  • A beautiful Chinese antiques dealer who Magnum is making a play for hires him to protect an ancient vase, but a martial arts assassin who can kill in the blink of an eye is also on the trail. After the shaky Pilot, a top-notch first regular episode...moreless

    After the so-so Pilot – which was perfectly watchable but a bit patchy and definitely finding its feet – along comes this excellent first regular episode, which I consider to be one of the classics of the series.

    The various differences of the Pilot are changed to their regular appearance here, such as the interior of the Masters Estate, the familiar 'Robin 1' license plate on the Ferrari, and – most notably – Rick now owning the beachside King Kamehameha Club instead of his (rather dated) club in town. No reference to the change of club is given in this story, but it will be mentioned in a couple of later episodes. Although Rick still isn't my favourite character, this new setting (and changes to his personality) suits him – and the series – much better.

    Anyway, the story (working title: 'Never Play with a China Doll') is a very good one, and far more engaging than the Pilot.

    I really like Susie Elene as Mai Ling, and she and Selleck's Magnum work very well with each other. In fact, there are good performances all round – and George Kee Cheung as (nearly always silent) Tong assassin Choi is a great nemesis, in fact one of my most favourite from the entire show's run.

    The main four leads (including the tweaking of Rick) have already settled perfectly into their characters. I particularly like the banter between Magnum and T.C. as they fly to see Mai Ling, with T.C. almost crashing into the cliffs and the poor tourists in the back fearing for their very lives! The running gag of Magnum breaking into the safe, infuriating Higgins, is also great.

    The episode has a perfect blend of drama, comedy and adventure, and is in many respects the perfect template for many future series greats.

    Although some aren't keen on the early music for the series, as with the Pilot I really like it. The in-episode music (some recycled from the Pilot, some new) suits the episode very well.

    (As a side note, the DVD version of this episode, both Regions 1 and 2, has a sound mixing error, and for much of the story, the musical cues are 12 seconds out, meaning that they come in late and in some cases play over dialogue!)

    All-in-all, this is one of my all-time favourite 'Magnum, p.i.' episodes, and definitely one for my Top 10 favourite episode list. A great start to the series proper, and a sign of some of the great things to come.moreless

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (5)

    • There are some noticeable differences between the pilot episode and this, the first official episode of the series. The license plate on the Ferrari is now ROBIN1, the interior of Robin Masters' has changed significantly, and Rick now owns the King Kamehameha Club, with no explanation given as to what happened with the bar he owned in the pilot.

    • Magnum speaks at least three languages: English, French and Vietnamese.

    • Early in the episode, the male relative that Mai Ling runs the Treasures of the Dove antique shop with is refered to by Magnum as (her) Uncle Ho, but later he is refered to by both as Cousin Ho.

    • When Magnum and Mai Ling arrive at the estate and are met by Higgins, after Higgins' inquires as to which dynasty the vase is from, the shot cuts to Magnum saying 'Mai Ling...'. This is the exact same line used a few seconds earlier, but the second time around the lip-syncing doesn't match, indicating that it was not the original dialogue.

    • As Magnum assures Higgins how easily he will be able to get into the safe, he looks back over his shoulder and raises his eyebrows. This shot would be immortalized and used at the end of the episode credits throughout the season's entire run. A few moments later, the same scene is used, only this time it's a mirror image.

  • QUOTES (0)

  • NOTES (4)

    • The German episode titles are "Das chinesische Abenteuer" and "Der Fluch des letzten Kaisers", meaning "The Chinese Adventure" and "The Curse of the Last Emperor". The French title is "La poupée chinoise", meaning "The Chinese Doll". The Italian title is "La dinastia dei Sung", meaning "The Sung Dynasty".

    • There were two different sequences edited together for the opening credits, resulting in an error with the license plate on the Ferrari. At the beginning, there is a shot of the Ferrari from behind, showing the license plate reading ROBIN 1. On a following shot, when Magnum smiles and peals out, the license plate reads 56E-478 (which was only seen in the pilot).

    • In 1981, this episode won an Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Television Episode.

    • In the opening credits, after Tom Selleck's starring credit, the credit before John Hillerman's name is listed as co-starring. This would change to also starring three episodes later in "Skin Deep".