Number : Season 1, serial 4 of 8
Which One : First period serial, 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 episodes.
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 good value; as the honourable Marco Polo. Derren Nesbitt is good; as the devious warlord – Tegana. That ‘still’ set-photos, still exist of the luxurious production sets/costumes.
Whats bad : It is far too long at seven episodes. Feels stretched out – in places. Not as interesting as other (shorter) four episode period romps. That the Beeb destroyed this entire serial – to reuse the tape reels..
Review With Spoilers : Marco Polo is the fourth serial of season 1 and the first serial – in the Hartnell run to have been entirely destroyed by the Beeb. Due to their (thankfully abandoned) policy of overwritting prodcution tapes with new shows. Currently no known version exists or has been found, except the still-photographs taken on set and the (thankfully) recorded dialogue.
The Doctor pilots the Tardis to the Himalayas – in the 12th century and succumbs to altitude sickness. The quartet are found by Marco Polo’s travelling caravan and taken to China – to Kublai Khan’s palace.
The Doctor Who period-drama stories were never as well received, as their Sci-Fi/Monster-of-the-week counterparts. When Doctor Who was originally conceived, it was intended to be an entertainment/educational show; featuring more Earth-history trips. Luckily it was decided that a mix of period/sci-fi episodes – would be better received.
Armed with the Beeb’s extensive period costume dept, Marco Polo can’t be accused of skimping on the production values. The studio sets and costume designs are lavish and varied.
Other pro’s 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 observers to the events.
I under-estimated you Tegana!” Marco Polo
“No Marco, you over-estimated yourself!” Tegana
Mark Eden – in particular, is complex and commanding; as Marco 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 seven episodes – Marco Polo is at least two episodes – 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-episode story.
Marco Polo does present a bit of sizable peril for the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan; by them being accused of being magicians or evil spirits. Whilst being threatened, with being put to the sword – as punishment.
Coupled with this, Marco Polo forcibly takes away the Tardis key. Which in turn, takes away the Doctor’s power and makes him and his companions – more vunerable (as a plot-device).
Getting the key back and repairing the Tardis, so that the quartet can leave – becomes the main focus of the 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 – at seven episodes. It does contain thoughtful dialogue, strong supporting-cast performances and some neat set pieces.
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