The TARDIS lands in the Himalayas in 1289, and promptly breaks down, stranding the Doctor, Ian, Susan and Barbara. Fortunately for them, a caravan is passing through and they are able to secure shelter. Ian and Barbara are impressed to learn that their new benefactor is none other than Marco Polo himself, on his latest passage to Cathay from Venice. But they are less enthused when Marco reveals that he intends to take the Doctor’s “flying caravan” to Peking as a gift for Kublai Khan, who will hopefully be impressed enough to continue to grant Marco safe passage. The Doctor and his companions continue traveling with Marco and his own suspicious companion, the Mongol warlord Tegana. Susan befriends a young girl named Ping-Cho, who is being transported to meet her future husband in an arranged marriage. The Doctor doesn’t give up hope that he will have an opportunity to recover the TARDIS, but he may have to travel with Marco for months to sieze it.
written by John Lucarotti
directed by Waris Hussein and John Crockett
music by Tristram Cary
Guest Cast: Mark Eden (Marco Polo), Derren Nesbitt (Tegana), Zienia Merton (Ping-Cho), Leslie Bates (the man at Lop), Jimmy Gardner (Chenchu), Charles Wade (Malik), Philip Voss (Acomat), Philip Crest (Bandit), Paul Carson (Ling-Tau), Gabor Baraker (Wang-Lo), Tutte Lemkow (Kuiju), Peter Lawrence (Vizier), Martin Miller (Kublai Khan), Basil Tang (Foreman), Claire Davenport (Empress), O. Ikeda (Yeng)
Broadcast from February 22 through April 4, 1964
Notes: Guest star Zienia Merton would later become a semi-regular cast member on the 1970s ITV science fiction series Space: 1999, as Moonbase Alpha crewmember Sandra Benes. The master tapes of this episode were destroyed by the BBC in the early 1970’s, and no video copies exist, though it has been released as a narrated, audio-only story on CD.
LogBook entry & review by Earl Green
Review: The earliest Doctor Who story to have been wiped from the BBC’s archives, Marco Polo is an extended historical epic with jeopardy and suspense aplenty, though when the whole premise of the Doctor and company staying with Marco is the long wait for an opportunity to escape in the TARDIS, one wonders if viewers in 1964 thought of this seven-parter as one long wait to reach the end of the serial.
In terms of casting, Marco Polo comes up aces. Mark Eden does an excellent job – at least judging by the existing sound recordings of the story – of playing Marco as reluctantly ruthless. He comes across as a normally decent man forced into a more cutthroat way of thinking by circumstances, though it could also be argued that since he makes that transition so easily, Marco Polo doesn’t get an entirely heroic portrayal here – an interesting early example of a historic figure being painted in shades of grey in Doctor Who.
We also see here one of the first examples of the Doctor vanishing from the story for a while, on this occasion to rest in the TARDIS. (In future stories, it would be almost common for the Doctor to require rest, or to be knocked out cold, in order to get the character out of sight so William Hartnell could get some rest of his own; this trick also turned up during Patrick Troughton’s era from time to time.) Ian and Barbara are proactive enough in the story, and Susan’s relationship with Ping-Cho is vital enough to the plot, that it works.
A fine example of a historical adventure, it’s a shame that Marco Polo is now something only to be heard, and not seen. It has appeared on a CD release narrated by William Russell (Ian), as well as in an extremely condensed form in the Doctor Who: The Beginning DVD box set.