“We’re always in trouble! Isn’t this extraordinary – it follows us everywhere!”
22 February – 4 April 1964
The Memory Cheats
So here we are. The run through hits a problem. Marco Polo is the first story that does not exist in the archives. None of it. Not even a clip. The rumours persist it has been discovered but to date these have proved unfounded.
Around 2004 I first discovered a company called Loose Canon whilst searching online for information about missing episodes of Doctor Who. I discovered they had reconstructed every missing episode of Doctor Who using telesnaps, other source material and some recreation. If you sent them a VHS of the required length, they would send you the recon for free. Back then VHS was still the primary recording format it is strange to believe. I did not get around to ordering any.
About four years ago I found a few of these reconstructions on YouTube and started to download them. I decided that when in 2013 and the 50th Anniversary came around I would want to watch these episodes so began with Marco Polo as it was the first missing story. I have seen other stories that have been reconstructed, but apart from the opening I have never seen this story. So new Who!
The Time Space Visuliser
The only moving film clip from this story at all is not really from the story. The recap from last week lets us see a large footprint that is later explained away rather quickly as melted snow. It is really hard to get into this story at first although Tegana’s and then Polo’s arrival begin to quicken the pace. Apart from the initial scenes with Polo, the early part of the story is pretty Doctor-lite. The focus really is on Susan’s horror at Ping Cho and her arranged marriage to Jimmy Saville, Ian and Polo’s chess game, and guess what? Barbara gets captured and rescued. Not quite sure why Polo thinks he is entitled to the TARDIS, nor why he doesn’t seem to want to look inside.
There are some quite captivating moments though. Notably the narration from Mark Eden, (Mind that tram!), Tegana’s stealing of the water, and the condensation on the TARDIS walls, drinking each other’s breath and sweat marginally less gross than drinking your own wee.
Tegana is the story’s villain and as such provides a template for many more to follow. We haven’t really had a proper humanoid baddie yet, and the actor gives it full on ham, though the performance is pretty good. I do spend my time wishing him to be discovered though.
Despite the length of the story without any form of moving image I found it on the whole quite good. It is interesting that is a real journey over a large period of time. Until Time of the Doctor, this was probably the story that took place of the longest amount of time. (Without travel in the TARDIS of course.) The regulars spend the adventure not trying to get back to the TARDIS as they normally do in early Doctor Who, but getting into it and getting it to work. This tends to cause the story to drag in parts. Strangely though, it seems very rushed at the end and the pacing of the resolution is rather off. The Doctor’s meeting with Kubla Kahn a high point, Hartnell’s performance here is great. It is interesting that the travellers reveal the true nature of the TARDIS to a real life historical character. The story benefits from losing almost 6 episodes for the recon on ‘The Beginning’ box set which I also watched following the story. I struggled a bit with this story at the time of watching. I thought Mark Eden was superb though, and the regulars have really hit their stride now. I am enjoying William Hartnell as the Doctor. Hopefully if it does ever turn up I will be able to view it afresh.
Maniacal laughter. Though it is not from the Master, nor Tegana. No. The Doctor really goes for it in episode one!
Narration. It happens rarely in the classic series. I can’t think of any other examples. Possibly Trial of a Timelord. The next obvious one is the TV Movie. In the new series it happens quite a lot, most recently in Time of the Doctor.
The 500 Year Diary
3rd November 1289
The TARDIS broke down again! It seems to rather unreliable at the moment – I can’t even steer it! No light, heat or water. Anyway, Ian & Barbara go looking for fuel on the roof of the world and end up being followed back. Thanks for your help guys! These Mongols were about to kill us for being evil spirits, but happily were interrupted by a young man I’d always wanted to meet, Marco Polo!
Once again, not feeling well – altitude sickness of all things – but managed to get through the introductions of Polo’s travelling companions. There’s Ping-Cho who’s off to marry some old git and Tegana – he looks a bit shifty – he’ll probably come to a sticky end!
Outrageously, Polo bans us from entering our ‘flying caravan’ as he calls it until we reach town because they all think I’m an evil sorcerer. Now do I look like an evil sorcerer? Rude! Then once we get to town Polo says he’s going to requisition the ship as a gift for Kublai Khan so he can buy his freedom. Ruddy cheek!
All of this makes me laugh hysterically & maniacally for ages. I thought that Polo was a good chap; at the moment I wish he’d get run over by a tram!
10th November 1289
Refusing to come out of the tent! Just can’t be bothered to talk to anyone. This obviously upsets Susan, but she’s got those schoolteachers to keep her company. Heard the singing sands, evidence of a sandstorm. Later heard that Susan and that Ping-Cho got lost in it – foolish girls! Now it turns out we’re running out of water. Tegana’s gone to search for some. Wouldn’t surprise me if he finds some and does something bad to it.
17th November 1289
Saved the day again! We’d run out of water, but amazingly condensation had built up in the ship so we managed to provide enough for everyone. Polo was a bit angry, but after Ian banged on about the water cycle like a proper schoolteacher, he calmed down.
We arrived in Tun-Huang. Met up with Tegana again – he didn’t bring any water with him – in fact he looked a little surprised to see us.
Sat through a show put on by Ping-Cho. Was alright. Although it was a bit like when someone brings out a guitar at a party. They just take over.
Barbara disappeared. These companions keep wandering off! I deduce she’s gone to the cave of Five Hundred Eyes. Susan gets flipping hysterical and starts screaming because she thinks the eyes are moving. There are times when I wish I’d left her on our home planet.
24th November 1289
Barbara’s a suspicious one (happily Ian found her in the cave). She’s convinced that Tegana was involved in her kidnap – the wall of lies she thinks he is telling everyone.
I think Polo’s had enough of us. He’s separated Ping-Cho and Susan and when he realised I had a second key to the ship (sorry about that), he placed us under armed guard. At one point he was going to enter the ship but told him that if he did the ship will be destroyed – a little lie he believed. Actually, has no-one thought what Kublai Khan is actually going to do with it?
Anyway, we’re stuck in this tent and Ian has a plan to get us out.
1st December 1289
Well Ian’s plan to save us nearly got us all killed. At one point I thought he’d killed our guard. Turns out it was bandits who attack us. I was quite handy with a sword actually. Polo has forgiven us after Ian warned him – still won’t give me back my TARDIS though! Don’t know why Polo still trusts Tegana – it’s obvious he’s a wrong’un!
A rider from Shang-Tu arrives and bangs on about he can ride horses over 300 miles quickly. Good for him! He brings a message that they want us to speed up, so we’ll to go on horseback. Not only that, the TARDIS will be sent on later. The comedy innkeeper at Cheng Ting is going to sort it out.
Well nearly managed to avoid all of that as Ping-Cho gave Susan the key. We all rushed in and just as we’re about to leave, we realise that Susan is missing – held at knifepoint by Tegana. She went back to say goodbye to her friend. Bloody women! Seriously, if she keeps messing up I’ll leave her in some future desolate place.
8th December 1289
Ping-Cho ran off. Think she was a bit scared that she might get found out for stealing the key. Ian took the blame for that. I would have done that too obviously, but he got there first! Ian offers to go off and find her. Sometimes his heroism is sickening.
Finally we’ve arrived at the palace of the so called mighty Kublai Khan. I initially refused to kow-tow, but when this old duffer is brought in, I realise he’s a kindred spirit and we end up talking about lumbago and a load of other ailments we share. It’s good to have someone to moan with. He was actually very kind and gave me a new walking stick! I’ll certainly be using that in my upcoming adventures!
15th December 1289
Knew that innkeeper was rubbish! Ian tells me that the TARDIS was stolen by a guy with an eyepatch and a monkey. He’s dead now. The man not the monkey. He brings Ping-Cho back and luckily for her she doesn’t have to marry this old geyser because he died. And there was her worrying over nothing!
Played a few games of backgammon with old Kublai. Needed a sit down after all that horse riding. I managed to win thirty-five elephants, four thousand white stallions, twenty-five tigers, the sacred tooth of the Buddha and the entire commerce of Burma for a year. I decided to wager it on one game for possession of the TARDIS. I lost! I was amused by this. Except thinking about it now, feel a bit gutted as the TARDIS zoo has been empty for years.
Polo’s not such a bad chap after all. He admits that he shouldn’t have taken our TARDIS in the first place! Great – he could have thought that before all these months of travelling! We end up getting locked up again – why does this keep happening? – until guess who comes up with a plan to escape through the art of charades. We bump into Marco who finally believes that Tegana was actually bad – he was an assassin at Peking (which is a bit weird as Peking was actually called Khan-balik – perhaps the TARDIS translator is on the blink)!
Anyway after a massive sword fight between Tegana and Polo (Ian not involved – bet he was gutted), Tegana is thwarted and being a rather bad loser, throws himself on a sword. Polo gives us the keys and off we go. Thankfully, Ping–Cho was nearby so we didn’t have to go through that rigmarole again. Goodbye China!
The Five Word Lords
Visually stunning, shame it’s gone.