In which the TARDIS materialises on the Roof of the World. The travellers have arrived on the Plateau of Pamir in 1289. The ship promptly breaks down - a burnt-out circuit causing loss of heat, light and water. Looking for wood to set up a fire they encounter a group of Mongol soldiers, whose leader, Tegana, accuses them of being evil mountain spirits. They are saved by the arrival of Venetian explorer Marco Polo. Tegana is travelling with his caravan to meet Kublai Khan, as part of a peace mission. The travellers join them as they leave the Plateau for the Gobi Desert. The Doctor needs time to fix the ship, but both Marco and Tegana have designs on it. Marco thinks it will make an ideal gift for the Khan - prompting him to finally allow him and his uncles to go home - whilst Tegana sees it as a potential weapon. He has no intention of seeking peace - as he secretly plans to assassinate the great ruler.
The caravan runs out of water in the desert. Tegana pretends to go and fetch some from an oasis. The travellers are saved when condensation forms inside the TARDIS (cooling down at night after the great heat of the day).
There are various other adventures as they journey towards their meeting with the Khan - including sandstorms, thieves and a visit to the Cave of Five Hundred Eyes. A girl named Ping-Cho, whom Susan has befriended, is on her way to Peking for an arranged marriage. She steals the TARDIS key from Marco, to help the travellers escape - but Tegana foils the attempt.
Ian has had the measure of Tegana since the start. Marco comes to suspect as well, but daren't upset the warlord and jeopardise the peace attempts.
Once they meet with the elderly Khan at his Summer Palace at Shang-Tu, the Doctor tries to win the ship back with a game of backgammon. He loses.
Tegana makes his move at Peking. Marco stops him, and the assassin impales himself on a spear rather than be taken captive.
Marco relents and returns the TARDIS key. The Khan isn't too upset, and tells him he can return to Venice soon.
This 7 part story, broadcast between 22nd February and 4th April 1964, was written by John Lucarotti. Waris Hussein directed all but episode 4 - his second (and final) contribution to the programme.
The story is significant for several reasons. First, it represents the earliest example of a missing story. Not one clip survives. We know about it only through the testimony of those lucky enough to see it at the time, a plethora of photographs (many in glorious colour) and the soundtrack recordings made by fans. In 2004, the Telesnaps for the episodes also materialised. (I will post separately about Telesnaps and John Cura shortly).
The DVD of Edge of Destruction has a 30 minute edit of the entire story as an extra - using the snaps and audio.
For many years, Marco Polo was also the longest Doctor Who adventure - as in the epic time-scale of the tale. The action takes place over several weeks, the long journey illustrated on screen by an animated map, as Mark Eden's Marco narrates his diary entries.
The designer was Barry Newbery, and the colour photographs give us a taste of his incredible sets, as well as Daphne Dare's lavish costumes.
Whilst the cast includes many actors and extras from diverse ethnic backgrounds, all but one of the principal roles are filled with western actors in make up - something which would be unacceptable today. (Ping-Cho is played by Zenia Merton, whose mother was Burmese).
The story has strong educational aspects, from the science of condensation to the story of Marco's actual travels, via the drug-related derivation of the word "assassin". Marco is, of course, the first real historical character seen in the programme.
The story's cliffhangers are:
- The Roof of the World - Tegana's treachery is revealed. He's going to poison the caravan's water and then he'll have the TARDIS.
- The Singing Sands - Tegana's still being treacherous - hoping the travellers will die of thirst.
- Five Hundred Eyes - This cave has faces carved on it (250 of them). Susan is shocked to see the eyes of one carving move.
- The Wall of Lies - In a bamboo forest, Ian discovers more treachery. A guard has been murdered.
- Rider From Shang-Tu - The travellers are waiting in the TARDIS to make their escape. Susan has lingered to say good-bye to Ping-Cho, and is captured by Tegana.
- Mighty Kublai Khan - Tegana threatens Ian with his sword.
- Assassin at Peking - Marco ponders where the travellers will end up next. They are seen standing around the console, superimposed over a starscape.
Unfortunately it is impossible to truly judge this story as we cannot experience it fully in the way it was intended. Your attitude towards the purely historical adventures might also influence your opinions of it. Older fans rate it, so perhaps we shouldn't beg to differ.
Things you might not know:
- William Hartnell has only one line of dialogue in episode 2, as the Doctor collapses from the heat and thirst.
- The Doctor picks up a walking stick in this tale which will appear in later stories (and Ian keeps his costume for the next adventure).
- For the first time there is no lead-in to the next story at the end of the final episode. (Only try to insert some fan-fic or BF adventure if you can explain Ian's costume continuity with the next tale...).
- I was born between episodes 2 & 3 of this adventure... Le reste appartient à l'histoire...