Story 004: Marco Polo

The Doctor and The Kahn (The Polo in the background)

The Doctor and The Kahn (The Polo in the background)

Apparently, the BBC originally envisioned Dr. Who as an educational show. This is pretty evident in that the Doctor’s human companions are both teachers, one of history and one of science. While to this point I haven’t noticed much sciencey education stuff going on, I suppose Ian could teach the kiddies a thing or two along the way in the future. Barbara, the history teacher, finally finds a way to make herself useful in this story in which the travelers land in the Himalayas in the 13th century and hang out with Marco Polo for while.

Unfortunately, every episode of this story has been lost. In the sixties television executives (at least those at the BBC) decided to save money by re-using video tape. This is understandale, considering that video tape was very expensive back in the day. The result, however, is that a number of episodes of shows from that era were taped over and therefore lost. This is the case for a number Dr. Who stories. Marco Polo is the first to have fallen victim. At some point, some people used the original audio and some production stills to reproduce the episodes. The result is a kind of slideshow. The images were either in color or have been colorized.

The Crew

The Crew

The TARDIS is broken (big surprise), but Marco Polo won’t let the doctor into the ship to repair it. Instead, he wants to give the TARDIS to the Kubla Kahn as a gift in hopes that Polo will be allowed to return home. The travelers accompany the Polo’s caravan, which is also joined by evil warlord Tegana. Tegana wishes to use the Doctor’s flying caravan against the Kahn. Tegana attempts to sabotage the caravan by destroying their water supply and various other evil deeds. Tegana is by far the most diabolical enemy we’ve seen so far.

Meanwhile, the Polo goes along blissfully unaware that the Doctor has used a second key and is fixing the TARDIS and that Tegana is trying to bring down the empire. He is in such a state because he and Ian are apparently in love. Their relationship is odd and their closeness is slightly homoerotic. Maybe it wouldn’t feel that way if I could actually watch the original episodes, but just listening to the audio and looking at the images it’s a bit awkward. Adding to the awkwardness is the Polo reading from his diary. It acts as a travelogue and really does much of the educating about Marco Polo and Chinese culture, but it also includes Polo’s personal thoughts. In our current times, we don’t exactly associate diary-keeping with masculinity, although I’m not sure how the blogging movement fits into that picture. Anyway…

Susan and Ping Cho

Susan and Ping Cho

Susan and the screaming. More danger = more screaming. Susan befriends some Chinese girl who is betrothed to some old dude and the Polo is transporting her. The two of them sneak out one night to follow the evil Tegana. A sandstorm whips up and the two run smack into Tegana! Terror! Screaming! Unfortunately for the viewer/listener this is an episode cliffhanger. So, two minutes later when I began the next episode: Terror! Screaming! Shut up, already! I’m glad I wasn’t watching it in public. Susan expresses shock and disgust at the idea of her friend marrying this old guy and tries to argue and stop the marriage. As an educational show, shouldn’t Susan’s disgust be left out? If that’s how the culture was, it should be presented as such, yes? Is the show educational or political?

A lot of things I’ve seen about this story regret that it has been lost. they feel that it’s one of the best stories and that the production stills reveal impressive sets and costumes. I’m not sure if I’m quite as devastated. I will say, however, that the adventure and intrigue in Marco Polo was top notch. Tegana heads out to the watering hole, planning to abandon the dehydrated caravan….Susan and her friend (Ping cho, I think) lost in the sandstorm (minus the screaming)…the frantic attempt at a getaway, spoiled by Susan. It’s a pretty good story and the images do make it appear as if it had good production value. I’ll withhold judgement on the level of unfortunateness in losing the episodes, but 4 stories in, it’s near the top.


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About These Adventures

This blog exists to document my trip through over 30 seasons of the British science fiction television show Dr. Who. Prior to beginning, I had never seen a single episode of Dr. Who and will be learning the show's mythology and experiencing it all for the first time. I began sometime in July of 2009. Hopefully it doesn't take me over 30 years to reach the end.

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