Doctor Who Sunday: Marco Polo
Doctor Who is one of the most iconic sci-fi series from British television, and has taken its place among other sci-fi giants such as Star Trek, Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica.
And with the 50th anniversary fast approaching, what better celebration of Doctor Who can be had than to watch every single episode? Aidan and Sharona have taken on this mission. In place of your regular scheduled Doctor Who, every Sunday we’ll cover a Doctor Who Classic episode.
We’re well aware we’re out of our minds, but here goes…
Before this: The Edge of Destruction
Season 1, Episode 4: Marco Polo
A return to the historical episodes, Marco Polo is also the first of the Doctor Who stories to go missing. All that remains of this particular story is the audio, as well as photos of both the actual shots and behind the scenes. After much discussion, we decided to include these missing episodes as part of the Doctor Who revisit, as they are a crucial part of the story of the series.
Let me just say this – I enjoy podcasts and radio as much as the next person. However, when something isn’t made specifically to be listened to only, it obviously won’t be as riveting as something with both visuals and audio. As said above, Marco Polo is the first of the Doctor Who episodes to not have any moving visuals, which might have worked for a more action oriented episode. But when most of the episode involves sneaking around, audio just isn’t enough. Luckily, the scripts seem to have survived, which means when the photos and audio aren’t enough, exposition is provided in the form of text.
Previous episode ‘The Edge of Destruction’ ends with the TARDIS landing in a snowy area, and footprints visible. But woe, this is obviously not a Abominable Snowman story, which made me a bit sad. Still, Marco Polo is an interesting chap (if he really did all he said he did), and he’s travelling with some equally interesting people – Tegana, a Mongol warlord and Ping Cho, promised bride to an elderly man in the court of Kublai Khan. Our time-travelling gang are captured and not permitted back in the TARDIS (their “caravan”), and are instead forced to accompany Polo’s group to China. Along the way, Tegana is revealed to be treacherous, while Ping Cho expresses her doubts about her arranged marriage after getting close to Susan.
Unfortunately, enough photos remain to evidence the fact that everyone who is meant to be Chinese is horribly, horribly…not Chinese. So bad. What’s possibly worse is the horrible affected accents some of the ‘Chinese’ people put on. The only exception is Ping Cho, whose actress is half Burmese. In regards to the plot: not great, but not particularly bad. A seven part story about a Mongol caravan travelling to China isn’t riveting enough to keep my whole attention for all of the episodes, especially without moving pictures. To be fair though, my attention span is abysmal. Perhaps you’ll find this more enjoyable.
The story starts by having the TARDIS basically crashing (not surprising, after the mechanical strain the Doctor put it through in The Edge of Destruction). However, before the old fellow can fix it, they are captured by a Mongol caravan, which is being led by the Italian Marco Polo, in the service of the Khan of China. Despite the Doctor’s sneaky efforts to do so, Marco Polo refuses the companions entry into the TARDIS, and as a result they join him on his adventures across central Asia. The villain in this story is not an alien, but rather a Mongol warlord, who is going with Marco Polo to sue for peace from China. He then proceeds to try several forms of sabotage, from poisoning water to kidnapping Susan, to inspiring Ping Cho to leave. Eventually, they get to China, and the Doctor befriends the Kublai Khan, fixes the TARDIS, and they continue with their travels.
As a story, it is engaging, although it did feel a bit drawn out – it could easily have been told in four rather than seven parts. This was probably not helped by the lack of visual accompaniment. Doctor Who, which has always relied on visual effects as well as weird sounds, doesn’t work nearly well as an audio only program (with the exception of those audio books/stories specifically made for that medium). It didn’t help that sometimes the actors messed up their lines (this appears to be a continuing trend in these early Who stories – most probably because the BBC didn’t have enough tape to do numerous retakes). The mistakes were made even more prominent because of the onus on the audio to carry the story.
Overall, Marco Polo would probably be a much better story if it wasn’t lost. If anyone has an old copy of it recorded on VHS somewhere in their collection, I would highly recommend sending it in to the BBC so that it can be recreated. As charming as the colourised photos are, they are no real substitute for the actual film. Therefore, I would only recommend Marco Polo (and indeed the other missing stories) for those who have the patience and determination to view every episode.
Next Up: The Keys of Marinus