Please feel free to comment on my review.
Marco Polo with the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan
I’ve listened to the original seven-part story of ‘Marco Polo’ in ‘Doctor Who’ on audio at last!
In 1964, the fourth story of ‘Doctor Who’ in the classic series was shown on TV. This was an historical adventure featuring William Hartnell as the First Doctor with his companions Ian, Barbara and Susan. They visit ancient Cathay in 1289 and meet Marco Polo on a journey to meet Kublai Khan.
This fourth story of ‘Doctor Who’ is sadly the first complete missing adventure from the series, as all of the seven original TV episodes have been missing presumed wiped since their original TV broadcast. There isn’t even any surviving footage from the seven episodes of the story to be found.
I did see a condensed 30-minute reconstruction of ‘Marco Polo’ on ‘The Edge of Destruction’ DVD from ‘The Beginning’ DVD box set of ‘Doctor Who’. It featured off-air tele-snaps and photographs with the audio soundtrack to accompany it. It was interesting to watch that version of ‘Marco Polo’.
But of course, I can’t say that I’ve enjoyed the full experience of ‘Marco Polo’ just from watching that 30-minute reconstruction on ‘The Edge of Destruction’ DVD. So I eventually purchased the complete audio soundtrack of ‘Marco Polo’ as a download on Audible and I listened to the story via my tablet.
The audio soundtrack of ‘Marco Polo’ can also be purchased on CD in ‘The Lost TV Episodes: Collection One’ box set from BBC Audio. The story has linking narration provided by William Russell who played Ian in the story. It was great to hear Bill Russell guide me through the story via narration.
This ‘Doctor Who’ story of ‘Marco Polo’ is by John Lucarotti, who makes his first contribution to the TV series. John Lucarotti is renowned for writing historical adventures in ‘Doctor Who’ and he has a knack for it, as he presents the historical world of ‘Marco Polo’ accurately in this story for the series.
I admit I’m not very knowledgeable about who Marco Polo is and his adventures in ancient Cathay. I gathered he was an explorer, but I wasn’t sure what his significance in history was. Listening to this ‘Doctor Who’ story has given me some insight into the historical character and into how he behaved.
Marco Polo is a merchant explorer from Venice who goes on an arduous journey to meet the mighty Kublai Khan in Peking. Cathay is an ancient name for China, as the TARDIS lands there in the Plain of Pamir and the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan meet Marco Polo and his caravan party along the way.
During the journey to Peking, Marco Polo befriends the Doctor and his companions as well as his ward Ping-Cho. But there is a traitor in the midst of Marco Polo’s caravan, as the Mongol warlord Tegana wants to sabotage Polo’s meeting with Kublai Khan. Will the Doctor and friends expose him?
For the TARDIS team, this story takes place after ‘The Edge of Destruction’ where the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan have now accepted one another as a family team. In the previous three stories of the series, there was tension and bitterness between the four TARDIS regulars before it mellowed.
At the start of ‘Marco Polo’, the Doctor is frustrated when he finds the TARDIS severely damaged and he has to repair one of the components which may take a few days. During the journey to Peking, Marco Polo intends on giving the TARDIS as a gift to Kublai Khan against the Doctor’s wishes.
There is a lot of tension filled throughout this story. Marco Polo takes the Doctor and friends on face value at first and treats them as friends. But when he intends to give the TARDIS as a gift to Kublai Khan, that friendship becomes strained as the Doctor and friends attempt to get away in the TARDIS.
The friendship between the TARDIS regulars and Marco Polo also becomes strained when Tegana causes trouble. Tegana sees an opportunity to make Marco Polo distrust the TARDIS team further, as he distracts him in order to sabotage his efforts on making the long journey to Peking successful.
Just to say, whilst the TV episodes of ‘Marco Polo’ are now missing from the BBC archives, there are still a number of surviving photos from the story to enjoy. And many of these photos are in colour! This is truly amazing as we can get to see how lush and beautiful the sets and costumes looked then.
Mark Eden stars as Marco Polo in this ‘Doctor Who’ story. Mark would later appear in the docu-drama ‘An Adventure In Space and Time’ for the 50th anniversary of ‘Doctor Who’, playing Donald Baverstock. It was intriguing to see him in the flesh in that docu-drama after he’d done this TV story.
I enjoyed Mark Eden’s performance as Marco Polo in this story. Mark portrays the nobleness and grandness of Marco Polo as I believed him to be. He also adds an edge to Polo, as he becomes distraught and torn when he distrusts the Doctor and friends, when trying to get back in the TARDIS.
There are moments throughout the story where Marco Polo writes in his journal on the journey to Peking which was interesting to listen to. Marco Polo gains a respect with people like Ian, Barbara, Susan and the Doctor. But he’s not willing to accept Tegana is a traitor and relies on him as a friend.
It was interesting to listen to the story on how long and arduous the journey is for Marco Polo and his caravan to Peking. They go through various places from the Plain of Pamir; through the Silk Road; the Gobi Desert; Shang-Tu before eventually Peking. The TARDIS is carried all the way in this journey.
William Hartnell delivers a good performance as the Doctor in this adventure. The Doctor is displeased and laughs it off at the end of the first episode when Marco Polo announces to give his TARDIS to Kublai Khan as a gift. He’s portrayed more as a frail old man when on this story’s journey.
The Doctor struggles in his frailty, since the journey’s long and arduous to Peking. It was unusual to see the Doctor in this light, as I’ve seen him very sprightly and youthful in his latest incarnations. He has this interesting relationship with Kublai Khan and gets to outwit him in a game of backgammon.
William Russell is very good as Ian Chesterton in this story. Ian seems to be more of a negotiator compared to the Doctor in this story. He’s more on talking terms with Marco Polo, as Ian tries to persuade him to listen and give back the TARDIS to him and his friends. But Polo isn’t willing to do it.
Ian also gets to be his usual heroic self, especially when he tries to find Ping-Cho who runs away from Polo’s caravan. He finds her and learns the truth about Tegana before Tegana finds them. Ian also has a strong relationship with Barbara, as both confide in each other when things get so wrong.
There’s a moment in the story when Ian reveals to Marco Polo that he and his friends are time-travellers. Polo is unwilling to believe Ian on this, but it was interesting how he reacted to it since he doesn’t become overtly sceptical and tests Ian’s honesty in asking how he obtained the TARDIS key.
Jacqueline Hill is lovely as Barbara Wright in this story. Of course, Barbara is very familiar with Marco Polo and this period of Earth’s history, since she’s a history teacher back at Coal Hill School on Earth 1963. It was very interesting to see how Barbara copes with the trials and tribulations of this period.
Barbara is the first to suspect Tegana’s treachery during this story, especially when she doubts what he says when going to get away from an oasis in the Gobi Desert. Barbara also faces horrors when she enters the cave of Five Hundred Eyes and she’s almost killed by Mongols before she gets saved.
Carole Ann Ford is equally lovely as Susan in this story. She’s not so squeamish and girl-like as she has been in other stories, but she still has that tendency of getting in trouble. Susan shares a lovely friendship with Ping-Cho, since the two become really close and they’re of the same age in this story.
It was quite tense when Susan and Ping-Cho follow Tegana out into the Gobi Desert and get caught in a sandstorm. It was also interesting when Susan and Ping-Cho share about each other’s homes and families, and although Susan was vague, it was interesting to hear her about missing her home.
Derren Nesbit guest stars as the villainous Tegana, warlord of the Mongols. Derren would later guest star in a ‘Doctor Who’ audio by Big Finish called ‘Spare Parts’ with Peter Davison. It was so intriguing to hear him in this lost TV adventure as a villain and how he’s jeopardising the TARDIS team’s efforts.
I’m not sure what Tegana’s motives are in being a traitor within Marco Polo’s company. But it’s clear that he’s against Polo’s meeting with Kublai Khan and wants to prevent it from happening. Eventually Tegana attempts to assassinate Khan, before he ends up fighting Polo in a duel of swords.
Zienia Merton guest stars as Ping-Cho, a young Chinese girl who is a ward to Marco Polo on his journey to Peking. I liked that she becomes a friend to Susan in this story, as they’re of a similar age. Ping-Cho is betrothed to be married to a man she has never met and who is much older than she is.
It becomes clear later on in the story that Ping-Cho doesn’t want to marry a man who is older than her and doesn’t love her. Barbara, Susan, Ian and the Doctor are against Polo on this. Ping-Cho attempts to help Susan and his friends by giving them the TARDIS key and very soon runs away for it.
Martin Miller guest stars as Kublai Khan in the story. Kublai Khan is the emperor of the Mongol Empire in Cathay. Khan only appears in the last two episodes of the story. In this story, it transpires that Khan is a frail old man like the Doctor. Both share this interesting relationship with each other.
It was interesting to hear the Doctor and Kublai Khan interact with each other, as the Doctor makes a deal with him to give him his TARDIS back if he wins this game of backgammon with him. Marco Polo hopes to win Khan’s favour by giving him the TARDIS as a gift in order to return home to Venice.
The story ends with the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan given the TARDIS key back by Polo. They quickly get into the TARDIS and depart from Kublai Khan’s palace in Peking. The end did seem rather abrupt for me, but I liked how Polo reflects on where and when they are now – in the past or the future.
‘Marco Polo’ has been a very enjoyable seven-part ‘Doctor Who’ TV story to listen to on audio. It’s sad the original TV episodes are missing from the BBC archives, but I found it an interesting historical adventure on how the Doctor and his friends met Marco Polo and also journeyed with him to Peking.
My Dad recalled watching this story on TV as a kid when it was originally shown in 1964. He remembered being fascinated by the historical context of ‘Marco Polo’. For him, it was truly one of the first historical adventures of ‘Doctor Who’ and I enjoyed listening to my Dad share that with me.
I hope that ‘Marco Polo’ will be found again someday as a TV story with all of its original TV episodes intact. Like Marco Polo, I wonder where that lost TV story is now. Is it in the past…or in the future…?
‘Marco Polo’ rating – 8/10
|The previous story
For the First Doctor was
For Ian was
For Barbara was
For Susan was
|The next story
For the First Doctor is
For Ian is
For Barbara is
For Susan is
|Return to The First Doctor’s Timeline|
|Return to Ian’s Timeline|
|Return to Barbara’s Timeline|
|Return to Susan’s Timeline|
|Return to The Doctors’ Timelines Index|
|Return to The Companions’ Timelines Index|
|Return to Doctor Who Timelines|
|Return to Doctor Who|
|Return to Sci-Fi|