February 2, 2014

Doctor Who: Marco Polo

We come to the first serial in the Whoathon for which no video exists. Every one of the seven episodes of "Marco Polo" was wiped by the BBC. Audio recordings and snapshots remain. Whovians are a devoted lot. There are many fan reconstructions of missing episodes. Some are animated. For this episode, I watched a reconstruction in which someone had taken the existing audio recordings and matched them up with photos. I've also read a novelized version of "Marco Polo," but that was years ago. It can be hard to get into the story when sometimes there is noise such that you know something is going on, but you have no idea what.


The TARDIS materializes in the Himalayas. The Doctor, Susan, Barbara, and Ian are stuck because the TARDIS is broken again. It will take the Doctor a few days to fix it. They wander around and stumble upon a group of Mongols. The Mongols think they are demons and want to kill them, but Marco Polo intervenes.

Marco Polo

The Doctor isn't doing well. Marco Polo says they'll take the travelers' "caravan" with them down the mountain. This is one of those times when I think, a Time Lord is getting altitude sickness? But, he wasn't labelled as such as this point, so he is generally treated as a weak old man. Later on he passes out from lack of water.

Marco Polo misses Venice, but Kublai Khan won't let him go. Polo decides that he will make a gift of the TARDIS to Kublai Khan so that maybe then he will be allowed to return home. Most of this serial consists of the trip to Kublai Khan's palace. The Doctor and his companions keep trying to get the TARDIS key back from Marco Polo. It strikes me as incredibly weird that the Doctor can't get into the TARDIS without the key, but again, this is early on in the series. Ian and Polo are friendly and play chess, even though Polo is stopping them from leaving.

Traveling with them is Tegana, an emissary from a rival warlord sent to make peace with Kublai Khan. In reality, he is meant to assassinate the Khan. Tegana also repeatedly makes trouble for the Doctor and crew. Also with them is a young woman on her way to an arranged marriage. She and Susan become friends.

The Doctor and Kublai Khan immediately hit it off, bonding over their old man aches and pains. The Doctor tries to win back the TARDIS in a game of backgammon, but loses. Until they met up with Kublai Khan, it seemed like the Doctor wasn't in this serial very much.

In the end, Tegana's assassination attempt is foiled, and Marco Polo gives the TARDIS key back to the travelers. I like this serial, even though it drags in parts. Obviously it would be better if the video still existed. Marco Polo is an interesting character. He narrates the story through his journal, so we get an insight into his mind that we usually don't with characters other than the leads. He is keeping the TARDIS from the Doctor and his companions, but he never comes across as the villain of the piece. He is homesick. He doesn't realize that the TARDIS is the only way they have of leaving or that they can't just make another one. Ian tries to explain the situation to Polo at one point, but Polo doesn't believe that they are time travelers until he sees the TARDIS dematerialize at the end of the last episode. CONTINUITY FUN! Sometimes they call the TARDIS "TARDIS," leaving out the word "the" beforehand. Most of the time they use the word "the" before they say TARDIS. In later episodes, it's never "TARDIS" without the word "the." Hearing them refer to "TARDIS" instead of "the TARDIS" makes my Whovian ears hurt.

Next time is "The Keys of Marinus." I'm excited! It's one of my favorite first Doctor stories.


Doctor: First
Companions: Susan, Ian, Barbara
Episode: #4, "Marco Polo," seven parts - 'The Roof of the World,' 'The Singing Sands,' 'Five Hundred Eyes,' 'The Wall of Lies,' 'Rider from Shang-Tu,' 'Mighty Kublai Khan,' 'Assassin at Peking'
Adversary: Tegana
Classic Lines: Marco Polo, musing on the Doctor: "To make matters worse, the old Doctor continually shows his disapproval of my action by being both difficult and bad-tempered. For three days now...I have had to endure his insults."
Tuck This Away to Impress Your Friends: The Doctor can make TARDIS keys. This story takes place in the year 1289.
Next Up: "The Keys of Marinus"


  1. JL:  In later episodes, it's never "TARDIS" without the word "the." Hearing them refer to "TARDIS" instead of "the TARDIS" makes my Whovian ears hurt.

    Lousy Brits! At least they eventually got "the TARDIS" right. Now to get them to talk about "the hospital" and "the university" the right way!

    JL: Tegana also repeatedly makes trouble for the Doctor and crew.

    People whose names start with "Tegan" are always bad news in Doctor Who.

    What's the color image from?

    I'm really enjoying these. I'm less familiar with the First than any of the Doctors, and your reviews, as well as the First Doctor Sourcebook from Cubicle 7, are getting me interesting in seeking them out, something I wouldn't have believed possible.

    1. "Get Tegan to hospital. She needs treatment for being annoying."

      The color image is a screenshot from one of the reconstructions I watched. Sometimes the photos are in color, sometimes black and white. It's a little weird to see color photos of Hartnell and Troughton episodes. I always picture them in black and white.

      It's nice to hear you like these so much! Some of the first Doctor episodes are outstanding- as far as I remember, anyway. I hope the serials I remember being the best don't disappoint when I see them again. I should bring one the next time I come visit.


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