RERUN REVIEW: Doctor Who 1×004 – “Marco Polo”

The fourth adventure of the first Doctor (William Hartnell) is one of the many lost adventures of the 1960’s.  Unfortunately for Doctor Who fans, the BBC taped over many old episodes of the show, figuring no one was going to want to see them in the future.  They are, of course, regretting this decision now and have for many years.  Fans still hope the lost episodes will still be found in foreign markets.

Some episodes still exist as audio tracks and with still photographs shot on set at the time of filming.  Among these are the “Marco Polo” episodes.  This adventure consisted of seven episodes in which the Doctor and his companions, Ian (William Russell), Barbara (Jacqueline Hill), and Susan (Carole Ann Ford), end up in ancient Mongolia and meeting adventurer and explorer Marco Polo (Mark Eden) who’s on his way to meet Kublai Khan.  Marco and his men save the Doctor and his friends from a chilly fate on a Mongolian mountain, and Marco decides he wants to present the Doctor’s “flying caravan” (the TARDIS) to Kublai Khan as a gift.  Marco wishes to return to Italy, but figures the Khan will still keep him in his charge unless he’s presented with such a magnificent gift that the Khan will feel obligated to grant his request.

In the meantime, a traitor is among Marco’s men.  Tegana (Derren Nesbitt), a representative of a faction warring with the Khan, is headed to Peking to meet the Khan and discuss a peace agreement.  His real mission, however, is to assassinate the Khan.  He also realizes that a flying caravan would be a great instrument of war.

Marco forbids the Doctor and his companions from entering the TARDIS and even gets the keys to it from the Doctor to keep them out of it.  The Doctor protests, but what can he do about it?  He and his friends are at the mercy of Marco and eventually the Khan.  Granted, Marco is a perfect gentleman and treats them well.  He even comes to respect Ian despite his initial misgivings about him.  Susan and Barbara are soon suspicious of Teagana, however, and Susan is nearly killed by some of his compatriots until she’s rescued by Ian and the others.

Teagana’s plot is finally unveiled at the Khan’s palace and Marco gives the Doctor the keys to the TARDIS after realizing he’s been blind to the treachery the Doctor, Ian, Susan, and Barbara have been warning him about all along.

You can still “watch” this episode online.  Many fans have made good reconstructions of it using the still photographs and the audio track.  There are enough photographs to keep you visually informed of the scene.  It’s not much different from listening to a radio play.

This is one of many episodes in the which the first Doctor met various people from history.  Some may consider this the second “history” adventure, with “An Unearthly Child” (the very first adventure) being the first since it involves the Doctor and his companions meeting cavemen, but I still think that adventure takes place in a far-flung post-apocalyptic future.

Mark Eden, who plays Marco Polo, has stated that he wishes these episodes were found because (A) he’s in them, of course, but (B) he feels the sets and costumes were among the most lavish ever made for the series.  He may be right, judging from the photographs taken during filming.  Everyone is dressed in exotic Asian costumes and the sets are impressive.  You can tell the designers put a lot of work into the sets.  Many of them seem bigger than they actually are.

Ian comes off as the big hero of the adventure, and also the most frustrated.  The Doctor tends to laugh at their situation, while Ian and Marco build a begrudging friendship – mostly with Ian trying to convince Marco to see Tegana’s treachery that’s right in front of him the whole time.  Susan and Barbara don’t have much to do apart from back up Ian.  The always-reliable Derren Nesbitt is excellent as Tegana.  You don’t have to see his performance to feel his cunning, treacherous nature.  It’s in every word he speaks.

The next adventure, “The Keys of Marinus,” is another sci-fi tale and a MacGuffin story.  More on that later.

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About the author

Nik Havert