Lee was born around the early 1980s. His parents were industrious, law-abiding shop owners in Chinatown. His brother, Chang Ho, two years his senior, wanted to use the shop as a front for selling crack for the triad. His parents refused and were killed by a rival gang on "a warm April afternoon" as warning to the other shop owners of Chinatown.
This left Lee under Ho's protection and he brought Lee into his gang where he began a life of pickpocketing, though, as rivalries between the gangs intensified, he soon found himself getting caught up in a gang war. Ho was eventually killed in 1996, when he had his throat slit during a gang ambush at a warehouse. Lee continued to live with the gang in his brother's absence, seeing nowhere else to go. He rarely went to a hospital, instead seeing medicine practiced by "back-street medics". (PROSE: The Novel of the Film)
Assisting the Master
On 30 December 1999, Lee and his friends were beset by several members of a rival gang. The gang members shot Lee's friends one by one. Just when it appeared that Lee would follow his friends into death, the Doctor's TARDIS appeared in front of Lee and the Seventh Doctor emerged. Confused, the rival gang members fired on the Doctor, then fled. (TV: Doctor Who) Feeling indebted to the Doctor for inadvertently saving his life, and hoping for some kind of reward for his assistance, (PROSE: The Novel of the Film) Lee hailed an ambulance to take the Doctor to a hospital, giving the false name John Smith as the Doctor's identity. After the Doctor "died", prior to regenerating into his next incarnation, Lee was told of the unfortunate news by Dr Grace Holloway. He seemed mildly upset, but was more interested in feigning a relationship with the Doctor so that he could steal his belongings. As Grace became suspicious of Lee, he ran off with the bag containing the Doctor's sonic screwdriver, TARDIS key, and other items.
The next day, Lee entered the TARDIS. Here, he met and was enthralled by the Master, who, after noting the TARDIS took a liking to Lee, convinced him that the Doctor was evil, saying the Doctor was various Earth villains in his previous lives. Offering him bags of gold dust as compensation, the Master got Lee on his side. Taking the boy to the Cloister Room, the Master manipulated the natural connection to the TARDIS Lee had to open the Eye of Harmony, which helped the duo locate the Doctor. From there, they attempted to kidnap the Doctor and Grace in an ambulance, but after losing them in a chase, headed for the atomic clock the Doctor was attempting to obtain.
After the Master took Grace's mind over, the trio captured the Doctor and took him to the Cloister Room. However, given the opportunity to talk to one another, the Doctor was able to convince Lee that the Master had been lying to him. Rather than use any energy re-converting him, the Master snapped Lee's neck, killing him. The Doctor reversed time and resurrected Lee and Grace, whom the Master had also killed.
After the Master's defeat, the Doctor bade Lee farewell on New Year's Day 2000, warning him he shouldn't be in San Francisco the following Christmas. The Doctor allowed him to keep the two bags of gold dust the Master had originally bribed him with, though he told Lee to take a vacation away from San Francisco for next year. (TV: Doctor Who)
After meeting the Doctor, Chang Lee decided to mend his ways and became heavily invested in joint Chinese-American space projects. His son Chang Hu was born in 2009 and Lee decided that he would lead a generation of humans out of the Solar system. (PROSE: Observer Effect)
Behind the scenes
- Some fans consider Chang Lee a companion of the Doctor, perhaps based on the fact that the TARDIS saves his life. Other fans consider him one of the few companions of the Master. In fact, he's both — and neither. He became a willing participant in the Master's plans, but only because the Master lied to him. Later, he sided with the Doctor and was killed for it. When resurrected, he showed no interest in staying with the Doctor on any sort of long-term basis. Yee Jee Tso has on occasions referred to Chang Lee as both.
- The novelisation of the Doctor Who telefilm names the two friends with Lee on the night he met the Doctor. One was called Lin Wang. However, the book claims that one, Pik Sim, was a woman with long hair, while in the final cut of the film they are clearly both males. This discrepancy reveals the difficulty inherent in relying on Gary Russell's novel for accurate details, as it was written without the benefit of seeing the final film and apparently even before casting had been completed.
- For the UK transmissions of Doctor Who, only the sound effect of Chang Lee's neck breaking was removed; the picture remained intact.