Marco Polo – 1964 – S1 – E4/8

imageNumber : Season 1, episode 4 of 8

Which One : Meet Marco Polo.

Cast : The Doctor : William Hartnell
Susan : Carol Ann Ford
Ian : William Russell
Barbara : Jacqueline Hill
Marco Polo : Mark Eden
Tegana : Derren Nesbitt
Pino Cho : Zienia Merton
Kublai Khan : Martin Miller
Chenchu : Jimmy Gardner
Malik : Charles Wade
Acomat : Philip Voss
Ling-Tau : Paul Carson
Wang Lo : Gábor Baraker
Kuiju : Tutte Lemkow
Empress : Claire Davenport
Yeng : O. Ikeda
Man At Lop : Leslie Bates
Mongol Bandit : Michael Guest
Vizier : Peter Lawrence
Office Foreman : Basil Tang

Written By : John Lucarotti

Produced By : Verity Lamb

First UK Broadcast : 22 February – 4 April 1964.

Length : 7 x 25 minute parts.

Parts :
1) “The Roof of the World”
2) “The Singing Sands”
3) “Five Hundred Eyes”
4) “The Wall of Lies”
5) “Rider From Shang-Tu”
6) “Mighty Kublai Khan”
7) “Assassin at Peking”

Plot : The Doctor pilots the Tardis to the Himalayas, where the quartet bump into 12th-century explorer;”Marco Polo and his travelling caravan.

Whats good : Strong production values. Some good performances. Mark Eden is strong; as the honourable Marco Polo. Derren Nesbitt is good; as the devious warlord Tegana. That still set-photos still exist of the production.

Whats bad : It is too long at 7 parts. Feels stretched out in places. Not as interesting as other shorter period romps. That the Beeb destroyed this entire episode.

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Review With Spoilers : Marco Polo is the 4th episode of season 1 and the first episode in the Hartnell run to have been entirely destroyed by the Beeb. Currently no known version exists, except the still-photographs taken on set
.

The Doctor dematerializes the Tardis in the 12th century Himalayas and succumbs to altitude sickness. They are found by Marco Polo’s travelling caravan and taken to China to Kublai Khan’s palace.

The Who period pieces were never as well received, as their Sci-Fi/monster counterparts. When Who was originally conceived. It was intended to be an entertainment/educational show only; featuring only Earth-history trips. Luckily it was decided that a mix of period/sci-fi episodes – would be better.
As you would expect and armed with the Beeb’s extensive period costume dept, Marco Polo can’t be accused of skimping on the production values. The studio sets are varied and the costumes lavish.

Other plusses include; strong performances from Mark Eden as Marco Polo and Derren Nesbitt as Tegana. Both take up the central plot of the story, whilst the Doctor and company are more like observers to these events.

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I under-estimated you Tegana!” Marco Polo
“No Marco, you over-estimated yourself!” Tegana

Mark Eden in particular – is complex and commanding; as Polo. He removes the keys to the Tardis from the Doctor and even offers the Tardis or “magical flying caravan” (as he dubs it) to Kublai Khan, as a bargaining chip for his own release from service.

However, at 7 parts – Marco Polo is at least 2 parts – too long. With much of the ‘Tegana-secretly-working-against-Marco-Polo’ narrative stretched out to the point of credibility being questionable. Much of the events could be condensed (or dispensed with) into a much sharper 4-parter.

It does present a bit of sizable peril for the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan; by being accused of being magicians and evil spirits. Whilst being threatened with being put to the sword as punishment.

Coupled with this, Polo forcibly takes away the Tardis key. Which in turn, takes away the Doctor’s power and makes him and his companions – more vunerable. Getting the key back and repairing the Tardis, so that the quartet can leave becomes the main focus of the time travellers storyline whilst the other events play out around them.

Marco Polo is a sumptous period romp, which benefits from strong performances and good set/costume design. Whilst overall, it suffers from being too long and too drawn out. It does contain thoughtful dialogue, strong supporting cast performances and some neat set pieces.

🔵🔵🔵🔘⚪ (3.5/5)

Old Doctor Who