|Telesnaps are all that remain of the wonderful visuals of this story.|
Written by: John Lucarotti.
Companions: The Doctor, Susan, Ian Chesterton, Barbara Wright.
Monsters/Villains: The Mongol Warlord Tegana.
Brief Synopsis: The Doctor and his companions join Marco Polo's Caravan on his journey to the court of Kublai Khan.
Here we have the first casualty of the BBC's wiping of the archive. Fortunately the Audio exists for all the missing/lost stories. We start with the end of last weeks episode, in which our travellers have stepped out of the TARDIS to discover a giant foot print. From the beginning we think this is going to be a sci-fi story with huge footed monsters. But then it turns out that the foot print was made by Marco polo, so it's an historical. This episode is penned by John Lucarotti, my personal favourite writer from the B/W era. I particularly like the way Lucarotti paints the past as being just as different and as dangerous, as an alien planet. Also we get real, more immediate dangers again, not the world will be destroyed, but, if we don't find shelter and heat, we're going to die of hypothermia.
The non-regular cast are fantastic here, Derren Nesbitt as Tegana sounds great and from the Telesnaps looks great too. The complete lack of video for this story really helps you to appreciate the wonderful script and the fantastic vocal work from the leads. Mark Eden is wonderful as Marco. From the get-go he very importantly makes us like the character, even though later on he will steal the TARDIS. We sympathise with both parties. The Doctor and Co need the TARDIS as it is their only hope of escape, whereas Polo needs it to trade for his freedom from his master Kublai Kahn. There creates a common bong between Polo and The TARDIS crew. Both want to return home and neither can do so without the TARDIS. Another wonderful performance comes from Martin Miller as Kublai Kahn. All five episodes that have lead up to Marco Polo's caravan arriving at The Khan's court have built him up so much. Yet so far we have only heard him spoken of. But as we arrive at the court, we discover that Kublai Kahn is no warrior but an old man. This comedic turn wonderfully under-cuts our expectations.
|A surprising yet welcome interpretation of the role of Kublai Khan.|
The scenes where Polo is writing in his journal are excellent and so different than what we've seen before or what's to come. One of the best things about the early years of Doctor Who is that it hasn't settled in to a particular style yet, so each week we get something quite different. We might not like every varied style we're offered, but at least there is a real variety. Marco Polo has a wonderful sense of time passing. The time travellers spend months here. This kind of story would never get made today in current Doctor Who, but then there is probably a good reason for that. It is a story of it's generation. This story certainly has aspects of an educational serial. There is a clear 'lesson' on condensation. But what Lucarotti does skillfully is making the condensation lesson not just an extra not even simply justified, but vital. Marco thinks the TARDIS crew have betrayed him by lying that they had no water. Without Polo understanding that the water they now have is due to condensation the TARDIS crew would have had it.
|Mark Eden is brilliant as Marco Polo.|
If you don't fancy listening to the whole 3 hours of audio there is a wonderful condensed 30-minute version on the Edge of Destruction DVD, using telesnaps, off screen stills and production photographs.
When I was young I never much enjoyed the Historical stories. I always preferred the futuristic ones. I don't know why now, as after listening to this story again I feel that this is perhaps the saddest loss of the Archive wipes. Marco Polo is gone, yet it's inferior follower The Keys of Marius has been released on DVD with digitally re-mastered sound and video.
Join me next time for a 'short' post on The Keys of Marius.