Next Time, I Shall Not Be So Lenient!

Alex Wilcock writes a lot of words about Doctor Who. He’s followed DWM’s Time Team since 1999, and is now revealing everything he’s ever sent to them. Very gradually.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Doctor Who – Marco Polo Episode Six: Mighty Kublai Khan

“When great Kublai Khan appears – you will make your obeisance to him. So that he may look kindly upon you, and spare your worthless lives.”
“Pray, then, what am I supposed to do, sir?”
“Kow-tow! Kneel upon the ground and touch your forehead upon the floor three times.”
“I shall do no such thing!
“Kublai Khan is the mightiest man the world has ever seen. Not to pay him homage will cost you your head!”
“Well, if it breaks my back, then he can take all of me! So why waste time on small items?”

Although this episode starts with Polo’s most despicable moment and then goes downhill with possibly the worst piece of writing for possibly the Doctor’s most fabulous companion, have patience: there’s a great leap in quality in the second half. At last, after weeks of build-up, we get an important new character – one who’s both worth the wait, and who moves the story along. Phew! And, foreshadowing the future, there’s even a runaway bride (one who’ll have an important role in another famous wedding)…

And I Said…

Episode Six opens with Ian openly appealing to Tegana to let Susan go because he knows he hates Marco – which the warlord doesn’t deny. He doesn’t engage at all – just gives orders. Of course, Polo misses all this, but the viewers don’t, which suggests a groan of frustration up and down the land to start this week.

At last an episode does something different, mixing two different dramas and an hilarious comedy together. The Doctor and Kublai are the Odd Couple, Ping-Cho runs away and Ian chases her in a soap opera, and then there’s whatever Tegana’s playing in – which is, appropriately, the sort of thing William Russell has in past times been very happy doing, not least with Derren Nesbitt.

The Doctor emerges from the Ship for his Granddaughter rather than escaping, and tells Marco to order Tegana to let Susan go.
“The key first, Doctor.”
And that’s the measure of them; the Doctor will sacrifice himself, while Polo’s selfish desires will hold a teenage girl to ransom. As, indeed, he has been for months now.

Tegana is an enemy – of course he is. He’ll coldly kill anyone in the way of his would-be Khan Noghai’s plan of domination. But while it’s Tegana’s knife at Susan’s throat, it’s Polo who uses it: he threatens a defenceless young woman’s life to get the TARDIS key not out of loyalty to his Khan, but for entirely selfish reasons. It’s the point at which he is most entirely contemptible.

Polo having shown his true colours by making use of a knife to the throat of a teenage girl, he then proves even more stupid than usual: Tegana’s appalled that Polo keeps to his word and doesn’t just kill them all. Messr Marco, your trusted Tegana’s just defined himself as a lying killer, you idiot!

Ian rather stupidly cuts off Ping-Cho when she starts to own up – though William Russell seems to realise this is a bad move, and plays it not as a lie but as a coldly knowing ‘fuck off’ moment to Marco.

This is a terrible episode for Barbara, kicking off with her stereotypical ‘nagging wife’ lines dumping Ian with an impossible demand to talk Marco round, which can only get his back up further with no new cards to play (fewer, in fact, having not just saved his life last time this time round).

The Doctor gives up his escape to demand Marco let Susan live; Marco demands the TARDIS key first. It’s the measure of them that the Doctor will sacrifice himself, while Polo’s selfish desires will hold a teenage girl to ransom. As he has for months now.

Ian and Marco shout again, then pretend to bond again by Ian telling Marco the absolute truth, which he claims not to believe, and so telling Ian another self-serving absolute lie, pretending that if he believed Ian he’d give him the key and that therefore his not handing over the key that he’s stolen by force is Ian’s fault.

Polo getting Ian to swear the truth of the Ship but not of where he got the key gives the game away: he doesn’t want the truth, just an excuse not to believe him. Polo’s lied, Ian’s lied, but Polo knows every time he’s asked for any of the time travellers’ words of honour, they’ve kept it. Pointedly, they refused it last time! Whereas Polo broke his from the very start.

There’s one good thing about Polo this time: his beautifully crafted line – and lie –
“You are asking me to believe that your caravan can defy the passage of the sun? Move not merely from one place to another, but from today into tomorrow, today into yesterday?”
is miles better than Ian stepping aside to tell the audience at home about coal.

Oh, come on, Ping-Cho! You made Susan wait to say a proper goodbye to you – you might at least wake her when you run away.

“What do you hope to gain by this gesture, Ian? …I’m sorry.”
Yes, not everyone’s a selfish shit who threatens young women with death to get their own way, you shit. ‘Not everyone lives by your standards, Marco,’ Ian wisely didn’t say this time, but would have been as utterly justified in as his comment to Tegana last week. You can guess which gesture I’d make to Marco.

Basically, we must all thank Mark Eden, as with a less dignified actor no-one would have been able to put up with Polo for more than a week.

Tegana is at his most desperate here, browbeating Marco over Ian and Ping-Cho without success – until sensible Barbara is given the stupidest lines imaginable, even blatantly making up the Doctor (who’s not in the scene for no other reason than that he’d have stopped this nonsense) and Ian’s opinions, just to contrive for them to seem as suspicious and hardened a group of plotters as they possibly can about something that has nothing to do with their plot. Suddenly, it’s shockingly poor writing.

While Barbara, Susan, and of course Polo (about to let the ambassador vital to stop a war go riding away) all audition for the ‘Stupidest Person in the World’ awards, at least Tegana has fun. Derren Nesbitt’s positively Shakespearean “Even I? I thank you, lady,” is worth all the revelling he does in it.

The young Doctor here goes horseback-riding, just as we see old codger Matt Smith doing all those years later. Of course, as this story’s missing, we can’t see William Hartnell doing it. Though it’s just possible nobody saw it in 1964, either!

Frequent liar Polo uses Ian’s minor lie against him, not wanting the truth but only an excuse to declare him a liar. He doesn’t risk asking Ian for his word of honour, knowing that while his own word means nothing, each of the travellers has always kept theirs or pointedly refused to give it when Polo demands it at swordpoint.

Kublai Khan’s Summer Palace at Shang-Tu looks very striking, with its painted dragons, blue demon and carved pillars. And fabulous hats. And at last! After a month and a half, we have another main character, and one who can order the rest about and give Marco a good kicking! As well as a great foil for the Doctor, meaning we get more of him, too. This is win-win-win.

Marco – greedy bastard and lickspittle that he is – talks all about the Khan’s pavilions and horses as if they were his own. The Doctor gets a double gag in response after his forced ride:
“Do you know, in his stables he has ten thousand white stallions?”
“Yes, well, one’s enough for me, young man. Red, white or blue.”
Which is both funny to start with against Polo’s vicarious boasting, and then next week the Doctor wins nearly half of them himself, and unlike Polo doesn’t care!

Marco Polo may look the part, but put yourself in the travellers’ place: for all his nice face and nice manners, his defining traits are to suck up to any power or position, bully the ‘little people’, and lie, cheat and steal for his own selfish reasons. He’s not a big, operatic villain, but the sort you meet in real life – a nasty little turd.

The Doctor’s roar of outrage at being ordered to kowtow after all that riding, and deciding that even the threat of death isn’t worth doing his back in any more for, is priceless. I’ve missed him for most of the episode – it’s seventeen minutes in before he gets a big scene, but it totally dominates the week.

Here’s one thing that doesn’t change later in the series: the Doctor refuses to change to fit in, unless he’s having fun dressing up to impersonate someone. All the others are in beautiful Chinese silks, but Hartnell’s in his Edwardian jacket and grey checked trousers, gesturing with his stick and not giving a fig for any time and place.

The only progression until now has been the Doctor moving from doddery to fury to hilarity, which was an excellent character development but still all back in Episode One, and since then has been in a huff and often in a caravan. Nothing changed for any of them in five episodes, which is very frustrating for the audience.

Thank goodness for Kublai Khan. One of the reasons the story seems so repetitive is that it’s all fake geographical progression – you could miss out, mash up or add to any stop so far – and not character progression. Here at last we get real geographical progression as they reach a destination, and a bigger hooray for the big, tough warlord turning out to be a hobbling little old man (itself the set-up for another reverse, in which he’ll reveal himself as every bit as dangerous as we expected but not in the way we did). That technically cheats with character progression of a character we’ve not in fact met before now, but counts for the way everyone’s talked about him.

Mighty Kublai Khan, indeed. The whole episode, and story, is lifted by this breath of fresh air. Now that, at last, they’re out of the fresh air.

“Kow-tow before the War Lord of War Lords! Mighty and fearful in his strength!”
Well, mighty in his colossal hat, at least. We are now in Palace of the Hats. Even the great big slightly discordant fanfares are a scream! And an entertaining fluff:
“I am not being impertinent, sir. I’m far from unwell.”
I feel for them both, still taking my own gout pills.

The story’s been all fake geographical progression – you could miss out, mash up or add to any stop so far – and not character progression, but here at last we reach a destination with a character at the end of it who changes in a moment from the big, tough warlord everyone’s talked about to a little old man with gout. And who’ll reveal himself as every bit as dangerous after all.

At long, long last, Polo is slapped down for being an obvious fool. He says it’s impossible for Noghai’s army to have closed in, then confesses he hasn’t brought Tegana, meaning he has to admit what a blithering idiot he is twice in two lines.

Marco’s boss may look and sound like a pain-ridden, cross old man, but like the Doctor, he’s on the ball. And unlike Marco, for all that this seems a comedy scene, he gets the business done before seeing to his own selfish needs.

The banter between the Doctor and the Ruler of the World before they bond – refusing to bow or to get on another horse, “Then walk!” – is utterly fabulous. They should have their own show. Like Statler and Waldorf. I love the Doctor’s half-heard “Oh, don’t gallop, sir!” as they stagger off.

Just as in An Unearthly Child, the Doctor has a technological advantage, and two factions fight over him to possess it, but this time it’s the TARDIS itself: that’s surely just what the Doctor was afraid of in not letting Ian and Barbara go.

How did Ian and Ping-Cho trace Kuiju? And if he’s waiting for someone… Surely Wang-Lo should have given them some soldiers, to cover his failure under charge from the Khan’s servant and the Khan’s seal? Then… Gasp! The Hooded Claw was behind it all the time!

Another mirroring, but better for Tegana this time: not his allies ruining his bluff, but a repeat of ‘underling with sword at throat’.
“I’ll kill him.”
“Do so. He is of no importance.”
And, knowing Ian isn’t used to using a sword, nonchalantly, mockingly: “Come… Come.”

All that, and I’ve not even mentioned the incontinent monkey.

Radio Times Teasers for Marco Polo

Mighty Kublai Khan
“Tegana shows his colours, and the Doctor has an uncomfortable meeting.”
Tegana shows his colours at the end, and you almost root for an honest villain. What the Radio Times doesn’t say is that, bookending the episode, Polo shows his colours at the start, and nothing’s going to make me root for him.

Next Episode – Assassin At Peking

Guess who it is?

Previously on Marco Polo:

The Roof of the World
The Singing Sands
Five Hundred Eyes
The Wall of Lies
Rider From Shang-Tu

Coming Soon on Marco Polo:

Assassin at Peking

At last, the conclusion!

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Saturday, August 03, 2013

Doctor Who – Marco Polo Episode Five: Rider From Shang-Tu

“Look at that one there. He’s just like Wang-Lo, all fat, smooth and silky. And look at this one here – he’s very solemn, he’s just like Marco Polo. And look at this one dashing around all over the place! He’s got Ian’s energy. Ahh, look, that one’s all by itself. It’s independent, like Barbara.”
“There’s you, Susan, hmm? A wicked goldfish?”
“Now, where are you, Ping-Cho? Oh, look, there – that little pretty one down there, with the wedding veil. Oh, Ping… I’m sorry.”
“How I miss my home in Samarkand. And your home, Susan? You’ve never told me about that. Is it so very far away?”
“Yes, it is. It’s as far away as a night star.”

This week’s title promises a dashing new character who doesn’t actually play any part in the big action scene – but he’s actually part of the slowly building trailer for the most fun character apart from the Doctor, and this week’s episode title only the heralds the next one. Meanwhile, this week’s own big developments include another science lesson, the series’ biggest step yet into campery, and some goldfish. And Richard and I are back from holiday, so I’m back to writing…

And I Said…

By Episode Five, I can see – if only I could – why this is so well-remembered for its performances, details and atmosphere, but would be best watched episodically at distant intervals, taking careful note of which episode you’re up to, as nothing at all will happen to advance the plot.

The main development this week is to be that Marco is slightly less cross with the time travellers than last week, returning them to the status of… the week before. You can imagine people being mildly entertained by it, but having no idea when (if ever) it might finish.

As Ian reports finding the guard, the Doctor asks in turn:
“What’s the matter? Did you kill him?”
“No, of course not. He was dead.”
Is that telling the Doctor or the viewer that he’s not a killer, and which is the most important? So Ian is indeed the clean-cut type who might go on a daring commando raid to turn the tables on his captor, but wouldn’t stab someone in the back? And the Doctor…? Is it that he doesn’t know Ian so well yet as to rule out a ruthless edge, or that he still has his?

Outnumbered by bandits, the Doctor offers use of the TARDIS for them all. As with the Daleks, the Doctor is prepared to let people into the TARDIS under threat of death – not a threat to get into the TARDIS, which he laughs at, but when he feels a moral obligation to prevent a slaughter. Yet Polo is so paranoid and insecure that he refuses the thing he’s been most gagging for. If it’s so dangerous, how can he use it? Or does he want to leave all the risk to the Khan? What a hero.

Polo endangers everyone out of his own cowardice when the Doctor’s made a hugely generous offer, so it’s no wonder that our hero calls him “a bigger fool that even I think you are!” “You deceived me before, Doctor,” says the thieving cowardly bully to cover himself, but in fact while not volunteering information the Doctor’s never lied to him – including never pretending any respect for Messr Marco once Polo had lied to him and stole from him, which is at the root of it.

The Doctor will resist offering the TARDIS as safe haven almost every other time from now on. Is it to avoid having to make that offer that he learns how to fight baddies instead (not thinking much of the “overgrown breadknife” here)? Ironically, that would make his intervention a device to protect his people’s secrets (though they’d just tell him to ignore the morals altogether, rather than be the lesser of two evils).

In crisis, both the locals jeer, and both the travellers are generous. Says something about their characters. And for the first time Ian directly crosses Tegana:
“Could they have not killed him? What better way to give this lie the ring of truth.”
“Not everyone lives by your standards, Tegana.”

Showing how early we are in the series, it’s not the Doctor but Ian who thinks of the bamboo trick (pay attention, children).

The exploding bamboo is quite entertaining, though it doesn’t make that big a noise, and not for very long. What wussy bandits!

This week’s main development: Marco gets slightly less cross with the time travellers than last week, resetting things to the week before. You can imagine people being mildly entertained by it, but having no idea when (if ever) it might finish.

This time – reversing the previous week – it’s Tegana’s allies who mess up his bluff, rather than the other time travellers messing up Ian’s. Dramatic irony, or lack of ideas and repetition?

Ian does have some respect for Polo, somehow, as they size each other up and each other’s plans… But it can’t be a friendship – because it depends on the one with power being a thief from and enforced by threat of death on the one without.

“Marco, I wish I could explain to you how important the TARDIS is to us.”
“And I wish I could explain to you, Ian, how important it is to me.”
But you did explain – you just used your power to silence the others doing so. And how important you think it is to you isn’t the point. It’s not fucking yours!

“Well, the mighty War Lord is awake!”
shouts Acomat. Bit of a giveaway? Marco will just say it proves how famous and important Tegana is, and that he should be fawned on all the more.

Tegana affects being blasé, dismissing suspicion, but the Doctor presses him:
“Well, in battle all men face death.”
“And few expect to meet it. Mmmm?”
Damn, that’s a good moment! Suddenly he’s dagger-sharp against the real enemy; Ian and Marco’s business was the sideshow.

“We sacrificed our freedom to save you.”
“Yes, I know. And in return, I revoke the seizure of your caravan by official decree.”
“Huh! Very noble of you, I’m sure!”
“What you’re really saying, Marco, is that we’re no longer Kublai Khan’s prisoners – only yours, eh?”
“That’s right.”
“Thanks for nothing!”
I laugh at the Doctor’s dismissive tone! And he’s absolutely right about Marco the hypocritical shit.

Ian, almost despairing, wishes he could explain how important the TARDIS is to them, but Marco as usual says it’s all about me, me, me, treating Ian like the callous one. Polo, how important you think it is to you isn’t the point. It’s not fucking yours!

Marco thinks he’s being generous, and doesn’t expect such frost – but the travellers are now far colder towards him (for threatening them with death and then not repaying them for saving his life), and Tegana is now not just wary of them but quietly angry (and of course unable to say so except in subtext) that they’ve foiled his plan. So, both the attempted victim and murderer are out to get them. It feels like the stakes are raised even as Marco thinks he’s lowering them, which shows both how little the story is moving and how little Marco knows.

Interestingly, there’s one tiny crack in the dam of Polo sucking up to Tegana – when the warlord offers to be his bodyguard, he’s steely:
“You are in my charge, Tegana, not I in yours.”
Perhaps it’s because simple Marco sees everything as zero-sum, and if the prisoners have proven some honour, then Tegana’s must be reduced.

Tegana stays back to threaten – which suggests he’s worried by them. They have, indeed, foiled him again. “Work your magic on him if you will, but make no move against me.” No magic – only yours, Tegana, of argument. “He knows we’re on to him,” says Ian. Of course he does. You’ve spent the last four weeks saying ‘Tegana’s the villain’!

Ling-Tau’s extra-tight riding trousers – steady – are one of the better bits of exposition, with the bells ringing out to call for each new horse in turn. It’s just a shame that, in a rare failure of sound design, we can barely hear them. I suppose it’s just as well: were they really clanging away as he rides, they’d batter his legs and deafen him.

The Doctor gets to chip in to help with Ling-Tau’s riding exposition, but it’s also a character moment: of all of them, the Doctor’s interested in faster ways of travel…

Shang-Tu is of course Xanadu, for Mighty Kublai Khan – but why doesn’t Barbara explain that to us? Is it because only the man teacher’s allowed to do the exposition?

And here at last is Wang-Lo, the series’ first outrageously camp character. Well, the first named one (and what a name), ignoring the Kenneth Williams boy in the very first episode and the entire race of Thals.

I’m sure they only went to Cheng-Ting – the White City – to give all the BBC people a laugh. Is it the Christmas tapes? It seems like the BBC panto, with Cheng-Tu as Widow Twankey, a lovely shot of Ian and Barbara totally pissing themselves, and the Doctor even doing an impersonation before exploding!

A famous shot of Tegana’s arm round Susan’s neck. Next time something does that, she’ll learn to bite it for the photographer.

Susan and Ping-Cho watching the goldfish is such a well-written and beautifully played scene between Carole Ann Ford and Zienia Merton that if I wished to see just one moment as it was made so far, it would be this. The verbal caricatures, the wicked asides, Susan impulsively saying the wrong thing and then apologising to her friend – and the poignant pay-off as their friendship deepens, Ping-Cho at last understanding how lost Susan is without the TARDIS but Susan refusing to take advantage of her even to get it back.

“We must leave here at once.”
“Why, Messer Marco?”
“Kublai Khan wishes to see me without delay. Six days hard riding…”
Both the power of an absolute ruler, and a sign that the Khan’s bored with nothing happening and wants to press the fast-forward button, like the audience!

There’s a subtext in the crucial decision Ping-Cho – Polo’s last faithful follower – makes to steal the TARDIS key from him: she takes the chance when he goes to wash. He’s spotted it late, but they can both see his hands are dirty.

It’s lovely that, when Ping-Cho gives Susan the key, her friend’s first reaction is to be shocked and worried, rather than pleased – she doesn’t want to leave her in the lurch.

Ping-Cho’s bravery and kindness is slightly undermined by her wandering off rather than staying close by so Susan can say goodbye, and by neither of them having learnt to watch out for Tegana on the prowl.

Yay! It’s Tutte Lemkow! And he won’t take paper money to take the TARDIS from Marco – who knows, the great Khan’s economy might fall apart without him to run it… It’s a good juxtaposition with Ping-Cho’s far more innocent plotting after the same thing.

The late-night escape plan suddenly switches genres and takes them from Cheng-Ting to Colditz, with Ian as cool action man and fake drunk to let the rest creep across the courtyard.

Ian’s the one who spots Susan’s missing? Seriously? Not her grandfather? And the old man’s cry of “Great Olympus!” suggests an unexpected backstory.

A famous shot of Tegana’s arm round Susan’s neck. Next time something does that, she’ll learn to bite it for the photographer.

It’s Episode Four of The Daleks again, again! So it’s worse – having felt like it was escalating and tense, this entire episode is circular: they attempt to escape, Tegana has a plot, Marco is a prat and acts surprised, rinse and repeat.

Although it’s the same back-to-square-one foiled escape cliffhanger, at least next week’s “Mighty Kublai Khan” is a great tagline to build anticipation – and, next time, it will pay off!

Radio Times Teasers for Marco Polo

Rider From Shang-Tu
“The travellers face their enemies and Tegana fights with his friends.”

Next Episode – Mighty Kublai Khan

Featuring long-denied plot and character development, which is a relief, and gout, which is less so.

Previously on Marco Polo:

The Roof of the World
The Singing Sands
Five Hundred Eyes
The Wall of Lies

Coming Soon on Marco Polo:

Mighty Kublai Khan
Assassin at Peking

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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Doctor Who – Marco Polo Episode Four: The Wall of Lies

“Give me the key, Doctor.”
“You’re an old man, and I do not wish to use force.”
“That is what you’ll precisely have to do, Polo.”
“Put that key in the lock, Polo, and you will destroy the Ship. Then where will your precious Khan be, hmm? You need more than a key to enter my Ship. You need knowledge. Knowledge you will never possess.”
“Tell me.”
“No. Understand? No! I’d let you wreck it first!”
“Guards! Guards!
“Let go of me!”
“Bear witness. I wear the gold seal of Kublai Khan, and by the authority it invests in me, I do hereby seize and hold your caravan in his name. Be warned. Any resistance to this decree is instantly punishable by death.”
“You poor, pathetic, stupid savage…”

This is the week where it all builds to a head… Well, one of the several weeks where it does that before heading back again, anyway, but some of Tegana’s plotting is fun and the Doctor laughing at Polo at the end of the scene above – standing up to bullies, scorn against swords – has me cheering. For the rest of it, they’re trying to find slightly different ways of doing the same thing, so you may well spot that I’m trying to find slightly different ways of saying the same thing. It’s homage, not repetition, and that’s the story I’m sticking to. While if you’re agog, reader, my foot’s now only a bit red, a bit swollen, and a bit painful, so I’ve stopped taking the especially strong gout pills with their exciting side-effects on all the other things wrong with me. Whoopee!

And I Said…

While the ‘Doctor breaks into TARDIS / Tegana’s a baddie / Tegana sets Marco against our heroes’ plotting is by now overly familiar, Tegana does get some particularly fine stirring in Episode Four, prompting Polo to realise that of the time travellers it’s only the Doctor who’s dead against him – but he’s their leader, and leaders are obeyed. For all Ian’s and Marco’s alpha-maling, they’re really the catspaws for the Doctor and Tegana.

Tegana started the story by wanting the Doctor killed as an evil spirit, and it’s fair to say his level of bonhomie’s gone downhill since then: when the warlord declaims again about spirits in the Cave like a stuck record to try and prevent them finding Barbara, the Doctor laughs in his face, the only person who, never mind not doing what he says, nor even deferring to him, finds him riotously funny.

Ian spots the secret door, and Marco works out how to open it. The two make a good team. They’re definitely in the ‘buddy movie’ part of the script. If one buddy was an unconscionable shit holding the other hostage.

Polo thanks Tegana: “A moment or two later, and she would have been killed.” “What is that to you?” And what was it to you, Tegana? Why does no-one ever ask you a question on your motives?

Tegana turns the foolish Marco, always ready to bow to someone of social importance, in a crucial scene that sets up how the warlord can get away with anything (and, literally, with murder). But he hangs a lampshade on his own methods, if only Marco used his brain:
“Only a fool defends his enemies! Be warned, Marco – they will set us at each other’s throats by lies and deceit, and then, when they have divided us, then they will destroy us one by one.”

Polo demands Barbara tell him why she went to the Cave: naturally, she tells the truth – she followed Tegana. Naturally, he lies. Monotonously, Marco shouts “Be quiet!” There really is no point in asking questions when, as a matter of policy, he believes everything Tegana says. And where did the warlord go, then?

Polo losing his cool with little Ping-Cho just makes him sound like a bully who’s lost it. Which is of course exactly what he is.

It would make sense for Polo to profess a diplomatic trust in the special emissary while keeping an eye on him, but instead he takes Tegana’s word at anything, despite knowing that he’s an enemy emissary.

“Obey me!” / “Poor Ping-Cho…” You can see half-way in what a loathsome hypocrite Polo is. Straight from screaming at a defenceless girl to crocodile tears for posterity over his unjustified cruelty. It’s no surprise that he goes to threatening girls’ lives to get his own way within another episode.

Polo’s journal: “Poor Susan and Ping-Cho. And yet what alternative had I but to separate them?” Fuckwit. No leader. “Now my caravan seethes with suspicion and discontent…” And you made it so.

Ping-Cho is pretty much the one last member of the caravan – speaking, at least – to retain respect for Marco, so he brilliantly does everything he can to alienate her, including screaming at her for an exclamation he overhears, which he treats as if she’d come strutting in to him with a flamboyant lie.

If Marco weren’t played by handsome, chiselled Mark Eden but by, say, Brian Murphy, we’d see him for the dim, crawling little lickspittle that he is. It shows how casting can affect a part – though he’s clearly written to be a ‘lead’. But that’s how fawning courtiers advance, by looking the part.

Polo almost makes sense when he tells Ian he must trust Tegana as a special emissary over mysterious travellers – but rather than an overt diplomatic trust while still keeping an eye on him, he just means that he has ‘unshakeable confidence’ in Tegana’s word on anything, despite knowing that he’s an emissary of an enemy.

Tegana sitting incongruously in a café with the rest of his Noghai-ist cell – clearly echoing the Soviet spy stories of the time – amusingly must work to assert himself over his crass underlings, and though he’s playing to them you get a real sense of vindictiveness in his promise to kill Polo “like an old woman in her bed” and the ‘old magician’… “With a stake through the heart.”

While it’s a technical fail of the Bechdel Test for mentioning men along the way, there’s a touching ‘impending goodbye’ scene between Susan and Ping-Cho that drops the pointless posturing of the alpha males and is all about the two girls together and Ping-Cho’s understated misery at losing her one last friend.

“Oh, come on, Marco – we’re friends, aren’t we?”
“We were.”
A lie from Ian, followed by a bigger one from the thieving bully in a huff after having believed any wicked lie about his “friend”!

Ian’s over-heartily played bluff at the end of Episode Four is a mess all round, but part of it may be in the ambiguity of the soundtrack: surely Tegana must have had the women taken, but there’s no evidence of it. What we hear (and the Doctor not bothering to look out) makes the warlord seem less clever and covering all the angles than just a lucky bastard.

Faced with Polo’s screaming and threats of death, the fearless Doctor laughs in the impotent bully’s face. For all Polo’s swords, it’s clear which of them feels the most threatened.

As the creeping about at night, the dangerous bluffs and the tense music all build towards our heroes’ plans going terribly wrong, it’s lovely to have tiny moments of the Doctor happily reunited with his Ship, checking the instruments and humming “Bom-bom bo-bom-bom…”

So, the time travellers are ready at last to leave near the end of Episode Four but something stops them and the story has to go on an improbably long time more…? It’s The Daleks!

It’s Tegana who assaults the Doctor for the key, and Polo who shouts in weak anger for the guards – he doesn’t want to get his hands dirty. And the Doctor who’s terrific, fearless, and laughingly mocks him for a “poor, pathetic, stupid savage” as he makes it clear that nothing he can do will ever gain him control of the Ship.

Polo’s true nature is revealed here, an episode which he spends shouting at everyone from a teenage girl – the one person who’d still had any respect for him – to the Doctor, who gives him the contempt he deserves. It’s appropriate that, faced with Polo’s screaming and threats of death, the Doctor is fearless and laughs scornfully in the impotent bully’s face. For all Polo’s swords, it’s clear which of them feels the most threatened.

Marco is a terrible leader throughout, but by the end of Episode Four he’s reached his nadir. He does little but divide his forces and throw his weight about to plummeting effect – which amuses Tegana, secretly, and wins open scorn from the rest. He has to use the Khan’s authority by the end because his has entirely gone.

Well, everything’s out in the open now – it’s hurtling towards the climax next week! Eh? What? This is only the half-way marker on the journey? Surely not.

Radio Times Teasers for Marco Polo

The Wall of Lies
“Tegana is proved a liar and Marco Polo threatens to kill Dr. Who.”

But I wouldn’t bet on either of those changing anything.

Next Episode – Rider From Shang-Tu

Featuring bandits, breadknives and Marco backing down (but not very far). With bonus extra-tight trousers.

Previously on Marco Polo:

The Roof of the World
The Singing Sands
Five Hundred Eyes

Coming Soon on Marco Polo:

Rider From Shang-Tu
Mighty Kublai Khan
Assassin at Peking

What They Said…

Again, most of this will be saved for Episode Seven, but again, there’s another blog that’s worth bringing to your attention for this episode in particular. William Whyte’s “Who do you love?” pieces, like these but at much shorter length and much greater productivity, try to find something wonderful about every Doctor Who story in turn. Here’s what he found in Marco Polo:
“In episode 4, Ping-Cho, Susan’s friend, pledged in marriage to a Chinese nobleman, has been told to travel separately from Susan. ‘You will be leaving,’ she says. ‘Will you say good-bye to me before you leave? Even if it is very late?’ That last question is the killer: Ping Cho is still a little girl at heart, having the last thing she loves taken from her. But her question is also brave: the most important thing to her is to have no false hopes.

“And that’s the thing about Marco Polo: it’s set in open countrysides and under enormous skies, and everyone in it is a prisoner, bound by fear or force or loyalty to powers they can’t control. Unable to escape their situations, they give themselves some measure of control by simply telling themselves the truth. Except the TARDIS crew, of course; they still think they can escape, and so they lie and lie and lie.”

I love the first half of what he has to say, and he’s quite right… And the first sentence of his second paragraph is a splendid insight into the ironic juxtaposition of the story’s setting that’s mostly lost now we can’t see it. But if you’re reading all that I have to say about the story, you’ll have spotted that I don’t agree with his finish at all. The TARDIS crew conceal – but Tegana lies, and Marco lies even to himself. It’s only Ping-Cho and Susan who are the real innocents, telling the truth and getting into trouble, and (next time) by the end of Episode Five even Ping-Cho’s obfuscating, too, after which Marco punishes Ian for lying to protect her in another of his despicable excuses, as Ian is being selfless and Marco uses it again to justify being selfish.

Note: Dear reader, if you read last week’s question about what Google have done to Blogger’s coding, no-one’s suggested an answer. But I can tell you that it’s changed again: this week, in the spirit of experiment, I cut and pasted the previous HTML for the picture. This time, it worked the same as it did the week before last. Which is different to how it worked last week. It makes no sense to me, but at least ‘revert to when it worked without messing everything up’ is the puzzle landing butter-side up.

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Saturday, July 06, 2013

Doctor Who – Marco Polo Episode Three: Five Hundred Eyes

“Gracious maidens, gentle lords
“Pray attend me while I tell my tale…”

Doctor Who – Marco Polo: The Appreciative Audience

This week’s episode of Marco Polo is a striking improvement – for one big reason. Long-term readers can guess who it is. Its centrepiece is something very unusual for Doctor Who, when everything stops not for tea but for a performance piece. I’d say ‘a musical interlude’, but it’s a recital rather than a song, with the music just a charming background accompaniment. Should any reader want the latest bulletin on my latest gout episode (rather than going ‘Eeww, no’), there’s bad and tolerable news: my foot’s still swollen and painful and I still can’t walk much on it; but my doctor tells me the diet’s not been a total waste of time, as the attack’s less severe this time and my blood-purine count is down by more than a hundred in the last three months. Phew. Mine should have passed again before it turns up in the script. But now, back to our heroes dying of thirst…

And I Said…

Episode Three tries: there are lovely moments such as Ping-Cho’s recital, but that, like the laboured business on condensation, comes very much from a children’s educational series, and the nearest to doing anything exciting is wandering around in corridors. While there’s a small, but welcome, tension in the TARDIS crew now knowing Tegana’s up to no good while he in turn stirs it with Marco to make him suspect them, it’s difficult to see how the obvious villain and the Doctor popping into the TARDIS are going to be sustained for another hour and a half.

Episode Three starts with a very piercing tone after Tegana pisses away the water – that’s not like the music we’ve been hearing this story. Are the Daleks about? It’s the only point where Tristram Cary sounds like his earlier score.

“I fear – the end is not far off.” Oh, I wish.

The TARDIS having water streaming down the walls after a cold night, and catching the drops in cloths and cups, makes it seem a more ordinary, primitive and vulnerable spaceship than even in a Terry Nation script. Useful even when it’s a hunk of junk with no power, though.

“It’s condensation. We just call it that – it’s just a name.”
No, Mr Science Teacher, it’s called that because it condenses, and that term has a fairly simple meaning. Couldn’t you explain that? It’s a good job Ofsted’s not watching this. No wonder the show doesn’t last as a teaching aid.

The series’ first continuity problem: Susan clearly had a key of her own to get into the TARDIS when she goes home in the very first episode, but here the Doctor clearly makes only a second.

Polo seems more of a bully and coward than ever as he throws a tantrum over condensation and has the chutzpah to whine (wrongly) that someone else has lied to him: he sees it both as life-giving water they’ve conspired to deny him and poison that they’re foisting on him. Maybe the sun’s got to him.

At last, Barbara gets some intelligent lines, played by Jacqueline Hill with a lovely light tone of disbelief, as they surprise Tegana at the oasis and he just manages to stifle crying, ‘Curses, foiled again!’ Shame she defers the actual confrontation over his obvious lies to manly Ian.

“It’s condensation. We just call it that – it’s just a name.” No, Mr Science Teacher, it’s called that because it condenses, a term with a meaning. Couldn’t you explain that? It’s a good job Ofsted’s not watching this.

When Ian exposes Tegana’s blatant fabulism about the bandits, Marco again manages to miss all the subtext, seeing everything and noticing nothing. Oh, for Pete’s sake! We’ve got another month of this. From this point on, everything’s disposable until the final episode, really. “Young man, you have no concept of what is happening, have you?” About bloody anything.

“My conscience pricks me…” Polo tells his journal – but not anyone else. The Doctor directly saving his life immediately followed by Polo reinforcing his robbery has punctured his self-image, but though it seems for a moment we’ve reached a crisis point, it will in fact dangle unresolved for a full month. And probably longer, in story time.

For once, the exposition feels natural with all the tourist gushing at Tun-Huang, where Susan’s never seen so many temples and everyone competes to show off which guides they’ve read.

“There is a story of Halagu and the Hashashins,”
chips in Ping-Cho, making them sound like a popular beat combo, with the epic poem about them the equivalent of a big pop hit. No wonder Susan wants to hear it.

Probably my favourite moment of the CD narration is William Russell’s reading of a quickly inserted bit of narration in Ian’s delighted, incredulous voice: “It’s a second key!”

With the Doctor triumphant over a small victory – making another key overnight so he can slip back to the TARDIS – he’s much more amenable to relaxing and enjoying life, exclaiming “Oh, how delightful!” to the suggestion of Ping-Cho putting on a show. The pictures show him with his arms round Susan in front of him, smiling indulgently amid a mass of colourful costumes. Delightful is the word.

“Halagu and the Hashashins” sounds like a popular beat combo, with the epic poem about them the equivalent of a big pop hit. No wonder Susan wants to hear it.

Lovely as the recital is, this is basically stopping the plot for a song, and not even one that advances the story (as if anything does). Still, it’s more natural than Ian suddenly crowbarring in this week’s Reithian morsel:
“Susan, do you know that we use the word Hashashin in English today?”
Listen up, kids! The recital itself’s moral is more deftly woven: law and order’s good, but drugs are bad, mm’kay? There are two words in there, of course, so it’s a good job the hip young thing didn’t reply as Richard suggests, ‘Is it “Hash,” Mr Chesterton?’

The Recon falters slightly with its depictions of Malik and Acomat, respectively too young and too old for their parts in the script (and for the limited Tele-snaps that turned up later), but it’s great to have Tegana getting some proper plotting with more of Noghai’s agents – and for him to be upbraided for not having killed everyone yet…

By this point in the series, we’ve already had at least two ‘Doctor who?’ puns. I wonder if Tegana’s line to his co-conspirators is one by stealth:
“Yes, a caravan that flies. It belongs to an old magician who accompanies us.”

Hmm. Tegana, the vitally important official, has returned to the way-station without anyone noticing he’d gone. Babs, on the other hand, has been missed. Marco’s furious. Again. And different rules apply to Tegana. Again.

The Doctor is oddly out of character here: earlier, an explorer; later, keen to rush into danger; at this one point, content to let everyone else do the searching. Entertainingly, it seems Ping-Cho’s concern about our heroes’ jailer that spurs him into action – “Messr Marco will be angry.” “Never mind about him!”

When Chenchu warns Tegana the Doctor’s gone off to the Cave, and is beaten up and near-throttled for it, he seems much more than just a gossip. Is he a spy of Noghai’s, running one of Kublai’s way-stations? It appears there’s a positive nest of Noghai’s followers in Tun-Huang, so why are most of them squatting in the dark?

Exploring the Cave of Five Hundred Eyes, the Doctor suddenly seems much more like the Doctor: while Susan’s having fun scaring her friend, the Doctor’s delighting in the sculptor’s and his own cleverness, then offering to find the spirits, half-playful, half-conspiratorial.

The scenes running up to the cliffhanger just feel so utterly right. It’s the first time the Doctor’s been off to do some proper exploring all story – and the first time since before the series started that it’s been just with some young female sidekicks, and in a sinister cave to boot! Then Carole Ann Ford’s lungs really go for it.

It’s the secret of how to enjoy any First Doctor episode more: watch them one at a time, and the one after he’s away will be like water in the desert.

Radio Times Teasers for Marco Polo

Five Hundred Eyes
“The Doctor outwits the Gobi Desert. Barbara runs into danger.”

We’ve gone from a walk last week to running this time, so even in the Radio Times the pace is literally stepping up.

Next Episode – The Wall of Lies

In which my opinion of Messr Marco Polo becomes rather less high than previously.

Previously on Marco Polo:

The Roof of the World
The Singing Sands

Coming Soon on Marco Polo:

The Wall of Lies
Rider From Shang-Tu
Mighty Kublai Khan
Assassin at Peking

Doctor Who – Marco Polo: Ping-Cho and the Doctor. Charming

What They Said…

Most of this will be saved for Episode Seven, but two other works are particularly worth raising for this episode. Iain Coleman’s new blog Relative Dimension: The science of Doctor Who – one story at a time has already overtaken this one by a mile, but one of his most practical entries so far has been that on this story. It looks at the crisis last episode and the resolution this time, and assesses them on a scientific basis: how best to survive in the desert?

I like to think that “Iain Coleman” is really a pseudonym for someone else, perhaps because the Doctor just got his name wrong again when setting up the blog for him on an early internet-enabled computer he salvaged for him from 1966.

If you’ve read more illustrious reviews, there’s a puzzle about that interlude Tale of Ala-eddin, the Old Man of the Mountains. Ping-Cho’s performance piece is, from what I can tell, mostly static. Her voice is even throughout her recital, which doesn’t suggest physical exertion; the pictures have her sitting, swathed in elaborate (and not very mobile) robes; while the original script directs her as occasionally standing and turning for emphasis, then sitting again. So why do Rob Shearman and Toby Hadoke refer to her “dance” in the excellent Running Through Corridors Volume 1? Rob even calls it her “mime dance,” which suggests he’s got a copy of Marco Polo from an alternate reality to the spoken but apparently not danced version with which I’m familiar? Looking for the answer, About Time Volume 1 also says “mime,” but I don’t think Tat Wood started the misconception, either. It was on re-reading the novelisation while preparing for this blog that I saw it – with so many of us having come to the story first through the Target book, it’s understandable that elements of that quite different version conjured up lasting mental images:
“Ping-Cho… entered the room with short shuffling steps which made her appear as though she were floating. She stopped, fluttered her fans, and bowed. Everyone, even Tegana, applauded and she began to tell her story in a lilting voice at the same time miming it with appropriate gestures of her arms, hands and fans…”

Note: Thank you, Google, for this week’s back-end weirdness. As usual, understanding HTML only to a very limited extent by observation, experiment, and then repetition, I cut and pasted the same code to format the pictures. The same code as last week. This week it had the effect of sending the blog’s entire template haywire. I’ve now had to do it another way (you’ll notice the captions are now added separately from the photos). But couldn’t exactly the same code work in the same way it did last week? And when I get to Episode Seven and go back to add links in every episode to every other episode, will the unchanged code in the last two weeks’ episodes send the whole thing haywire upon clicking ‘Update’? This is upsetting my faith in empirical observation. And also wasting lots of time.

Dear reader, do you have any clue…?

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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Doctor Who – Marco Polo Episode Two: The Singing Sands

“Here’s water, Marco Polo. Come for it!”

It’s time for another episode of Marco Polo, and this week I have fewer comments. You can draw your own conclusions from that about the episode, though today’s not been encouraging me to write, anyway. After three months – that’s a whole Marco Polo’s-worth for the time travellers – of pills and strict diet to prevent my gout recurring, I’m now in my agonizing second attack, which makes me wonder why I bothered cutting out half the things I eat (such indulgences as asparagus and peas). I never drink anyway, but it’s enough to make me start. Couldn’t it at least have waited until Episode Six, where there’s a comedy tie-in with the story? So, starting with my ungenerous reaction on the very first time I listened to this episode, back in 2001…

And I Said…

In Episode Two, the Doctor’s asleep, and so am I, I’m afraid.

It can’t just be because the Doctor gets just one line and a cough and a spit at the end, but almost nothing of Episode Two turns up in the condensed version and even the Time Team don’t say a word about it, which says quite a bit about how disposable it is.

Episode Two: Tegana acts suspiciously, but Marco takes it out on everyone else. Also Episodes Three, Four, Five…

The episode starts with framing to make us sympathise with Polo:
“The journey across this vast ocean of sand is slow and hazardous. To make matters worse, the old Doctor continually shows his disapproval of my action by being both difficult and bad-tempered. For three days, during which time we have covered no more than thirty miles, I have had to endure his insults.”
So, Marco, you’re taking these people into the Gobi Desert by force, you’ve stolen their property and are keeping them in check at swordpoint from your band of thugs (really your Khan’s, whose power you’re abusing). But we should pity you, because they’re calling you names. Boo hoo, etc.

Polo comes across remarkably like a powerful, privileged modern-day opponent of gay marriage saying he’s the real victim because he’s been made to feel bad just because he’s a bad person.

I don’t know if all the Recon colours are accurate, but they’re very vivid, almost Technicolor. The Daleks is brilliant in claustrophobic, shiny black and white, but for this exotic travelogue the colour helps balance the lack of movement in the photos by making the whole thing come alive.

Tegana’s a good plotter, but his contempt for Polo keeps showing through and tripping him up. When he sneers openly at Polo’s confidence they have enough water to cross the desert, then tops his relentless negativity by demanding a bigger drink, it’s no wonder Marco snaps at him to exercise restraint! Is the warlord testing how much piss-taking his arrogance can get away with?

Polo’s hypocritical spin, week two:
“A game of chess, Ian?”
“Oh, I’m not very good, but I’ll give you a game.”
“I gladly accept your challenge.”
The man is forever blaming other people for his decisions – when they’re really his desires.

Tegana has a nice character moment over chess – fascinated by two armies eager to cry “Shah mat.” “Oh, check mate,” Ian chips in. “It means ‘the king is dead’,” corrects Tegana (perhaps incorrectly, by modern translations, but with relish).

Barbara comforts Susan over her sulking Grandfather, explaining that he feels defenceless without the TARDIS: “When we’re in it, we feel safe and secure, but out of it…” What? Has she forgotten the previous story? Surely the script editor can’t have – he wrote it. David, have you fallen asleep, too?

Framing the episode with the journal is designed to make us sympathise with Polo’s self-pity about the Doctor’s temper. Not me. So, Marco, you’re taking these people into the Gobi Desert by force, you’ve stolen their property and are keeping them at swordpoint from your band of thugs. But we should pity you, because they’re calling you names? Boo hoo, etc.

It’s the first Doctor-lite episode, by accident and hasty rewriting to accommodate the ill actor, but he’s even more the central character for everyone constantly talking about him, from Susan upset to Polo bitching to Ian hanging a Cathay hat on it with all his ‘The Doctor’s still asleeps’. It feels like he’s a constant presence, fulminating in the background.

Susan has some lovely lines, but for all her opposition to Ping-Cho’s nuptials they hint in retrospect at her own impending leaving:
“One day, we’ll know all the mysteries of the sky – and we’ll stop all our wanderings.”

Barbara finds night in the desert very beautiful, but Marco snaps: “Even at night, the desert is dangerous.” He’s terribly prosaic for a writer, as he’s about to prove by not spotting the ‘code’ in which Tegana comments on his chess game:
“Marco, can you save your King?”

Ping-Cho’s excitement at the Moon rising soon over the desert, “like a great silver sea,” at last prompts an unearthly thought from Susan: “The metal seas of Venus…” She’s never seen a moonlit night, emphasising their artificial existence in the TARDIS.

On a more Earthly level, here at last – five minutes into the series’ fifteenth episode, and after teetering but not quite making it through scenes in each of the previous three stories – is Doctor Who’s first unambiguously Bechdel-passing scene, as Susan and Ping-Cho talk together about the wonders of the night.

“Oh, cra-zy…” murmurs Susan in wonder as she sightsees to rippling, eerie music. She’s never this 1963-hip again.

As Marco is woken by a horse neighing, the Recon shows his head on a gorgeous blue pillow with a gold sash, his body under a gorgeous red cover with gold trim. It’s so incredibly Technicolor that it looks like a quick snapshot from Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone’s The Adventures of Robin Hood!

It’s usually Ian and Marco who are compared in this story, but the Twentieth-Century man suddenly speaks with Tegana’s superstitious voice when the sound of the rising sandstorm spooks him “like all the devils in hell.”

Marco is furious at Susan’s “We went for a walk,” shouting at the girls and showing the stiff, authoritarian side that always comes out when he doesn’t get his own way. And despite being very mildly critical of Tegana in person for doing just that, the cringing lickspittle kow-tows to him later in his journal!

Tegana gets his poison out. For most of the story, it’s more metaphorical, and it doesn’t have much impact here, either. He clearly fears being challenged next time if he goes for another wander.

Doctor Who’s first unambiguously Bechdel-passing scene: Susan and Ping-Cho talk together about the wonders of the night.

While Barbara is strangely dim and wimpy (shaken more by a storm than by the Daleks or the Tribe), Susan really gains from playing off Ping-Cho – especially, here, intelligent and confident in seeing that Tegana’s not a man who’d go for a walk just to see a pretty night… And that, though a special emissary surely wouldn’t lie about such a thing, that makes it all the stranger that he did.

Carole Ann Ford’s great when she’s determined, and Susan is the first to work out Tegana’s place in the plot, which advances it. Or would, if there were any advance in the next four weeks.

Using panoramic production photos rather than the more confined Tele-snap shots rediscovered after the Recon was completed has its advantages and disadvantages: greater scale but less variety; a mass of colour but fewer scene-specific images; and, as they cross the desert, the wagons and hats give the feel of a Western, but against a rather limited backcloth background.

Tegana turns even his uncontrollable arrogance to his advantage: by being so obvious, he’s daring everyone to think that he must be open about everything and so couldn’t be a plotter on top.

There’s a neatly ambiguous scene where it’s not clear if Tegana’s being stupid or clever: taunting Polo over his writing then patronising him over his swordplay, he obviously gets Polo’s back up and is refused permission to give the night guard orders… But is it a double bluff, so that when he creates a distraction in order to slash the gourds, he can be certain no-one will say he ordered the guard away from them?

Tegana swallows his arrogance and gets his own way at last by posing as selfless and heroic in riding ahead to the oasis rather than running out on them – though he has no intention of coming back to the desperate wagons. He can’t bring himself to wheedle like Polo, but he sees himself as the hero and can strike a more convincing pose than the Venetian.

Slaking his thirst and pouring water back into the oasis, Tegana famously gives the cliffhanger laugh: “Here’s water, Marco Polo. Come for it!” with such relish that should Richard or I ask the other to pass something but we want to stay lounging on the sofa, our flat regularly echoes to the likes of ‘Here’s ketchup, Marco Polo. Come for it!’

Radio Times Teasers for Marco Polo

The Singing Sands

“Marco Polo warns Ian of the death in the desert, and Susan goes for a walk.”

Next Episode – The Cave of Five Hundred Eyes

For which an exciting “Next Episode” caption was surely designed to encourage kids to think there’d be monsters, as with the misdirection at the start of the first episode. But was the story too obviously ‘real’ by then for it to work?

Previously on Marco Polo:

The Roof of the World

Coming Soon on Marco Polo:

Five Hundred Eyes
The Wall of Lies
Rider From Shang-Tu
Mighty Kublai Khan
Assassin at Peking

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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Doctor Who – Marco Polo Episode One: The Roof of the World

Now I come to the biggest gap in Doctor Who’s first two seasons – a story that we can’t see today, for all the flurry of rumours in the three weeks since I wrote about why so many episodes are gone. Yet this was the first full-length story after the series’ massive breakthrough with The Daleks, intended to be and succeeding in being just as big a hit and with considerably more money spent on it (as is visible, if no longer in motion, in the wealth of glorious colour photos that survive).

I first heard Marco Polo on a very indistinct audio recording about a dozen years ago, and it didn’t do a great deal for me. Since then, I’ve experienced it in several different formats, and have warmed to the story a great deal more. At the same time, I’ve grown much colder (or perhaps more heated) towards one of its main characters, which may just show through in my subtle hints below. There are a handful of supporting characters beloved of most Doctor Who critics for being apparently chummy and respectable who I now find myself disliking – another springs to mind from 1977 – but this one I’ve really taken against in a major way and, I think, with good reason.

The story itself is said by quite a few reviewers to be the best Doctor Who historical adventure, or even the greatest Doctor Who of all. I like much about it, but I wouldn’t go anywhere near that far. You’ll be able to pick out why in the one-line thoughts below, and more over the next few weeks.

The next few weeks, you ask?

I’m making a commitment that may be both unexpected and unwise. I have, amazingly, already written my one-liners for the whole story, though not yet some of the value-added material, in the aim of posting it all last night. But on reading through it all, I realised that even for me it would be an unprintably vast amount for one go. I suspect the reason for this is that, over the years since I last wrote up a story on here, I’ve watched Marco Polo several times, made copious notes each time, then done nothing with them until now. And this time round, I’ve just watched the Recon, listened to the official CD, watched the condensed Recon on The Beginning DVD boxed set, read the Tele-snap ‘photonovel’ in the DWM Special, and read the novelisation. So I may have overcompensated for not being able to watch the moving pictures on TV.

As a result, perhaps for this one time only, I’ve broken my thoughts into seven collections, and I intend to publish an episode’s-worth at a time. I suppose if ever there were a Doctor Who story for which it’s appropriate to go on for ages across many diversions without ever seeming to get anywhere, it’s this one, which lasted a month and a half on screen and is said to take three months for the characters. My usual set of ‘extra features’ will be split between today’s article and the finale, with the long journey in between just the one-liners. Time to embark…

My ‘The Review all Doctor Who Challenge’ posting in an online discussion, January 2004:

Bit of an odd one, this. The Doctor’s very entertaining – laughing at the end of Episode One, sparring with Kublai Khan – but it’s really the ‘Ian vs Marco’ story, with the series’ least incompetent plotting villain setting everyone against each other. It’s very well done, and I’d recommend the colour Recon to get an eye-popping view of the sets, but you get an odd feeling that not much is actually happening for most of it.

As some have suggested, if you got some of the episodes in the wrong order, or missed them out entirely – no-one would notice. It’s a ‘travelogue’ story where it would make no difference whether it was four parts, or twelve. It’ll depend on the mood you’re in as to which it feels like ;-)

The other funny thing about Marco Polo… No other Who story is as didactic. Ian and Barbara’s teacher status really gets rammed down our throats: ‘In today’s lesson, children, we’re going to learn about the travels of Marco Polo, condensation, nomadic Mongol encampments, and how air pressure affects a/ the boiling point of water and b/ the explosive effects of bamboo.’

Or maybe it’s just odd to hear companions giving the explanations.

“A caravan that flies... do you imagine what this would mean to the Khan? It will make him the most powerful ruler the world has ever known; stronger than Hannibal… Mightier than Alexander the Great!”

And I Said…

The first episode’s rather super, if pedagogic – both Ian and Barbara get To Show They’re Teachers, but it really kicks into overdrive when the Doctor first goes into fury and then pisses himself at Marco at the end. He really is terrific, and it’s a stunner of a scene.

Seeing eager Susan with Barbara in the snow in colour is utterly thrilling – and, blurry as it is, the slightly over-saturated colour of the Recon works better for me than the black-and-white-with-a-tint seen on BBC1 in prime time a month ago. Although, Billy, prime-time, BBC1, was something that was utterly thrilling in itself! And somehow already using the stick the great Khan gives him later this story, hmm?

With the two women kneeling in wonder beside a huge indentation in the snow, we’re meant to think, after the Daleks, that this is ‘Doctor Who and the Snowmen’! It’ll come…

William Russell’s got a lovely voice for narrating the CD, and it’s well-written and rarely intrusive… So the point at which I was suddenly taken out of it was hearing, “From it steps an elderly white-haired man…” That’s him, now! But the scene-setting works well: “These four are the time and space-travelling occupants of the TARDIS.”

This is incredibly didactic. Watched after The Beginning thirteen episodes, it stands out a mile: it’s slow, it’s informative, it’s very detailed, it has very strong guest characters and design almost to rival The Daleks… But it really shoves Ian and Barbara’s little homilies down our throats. So is this the only story ever written to the show’s original brief?

The half-hour condensed version has about ten minutes of the first episode in it. Shows how much plot there is in the rest.

I grew up in the Tom Baker days thinking the TARDIS was always breaking down, but at least by then the complexity was at fault – after the fluid link and the spring, it doesn’t get more prosaic than ‘the fuse has gone’, which seems to be the case here.

The Ship breaking down yet again and so utterly disastrously feels very forced, but the Doctor’s reaction to it feels very real: angry, frustrated and rather startling as he snaps,
“Everything’s gone to pot!”

Teacher Watch 1: a verbal tour of high mountain ranges (only Susan gets it right); air pressure affecting the boiling point; Marco Polo; Cathay.

Though it’s Susan who identifies the right mountain range, Barbara’s guess of the Andes may be a bit of prefiguring…

This is an historical in more than just the fan-story-descriptor sense: we’ve seen the Doctor in a towering, superior fury before, but this starts with a petty loss of control over a blown fuse. John Lucarotti writes both him and his granddaughter as less unearthly than in any other script, then gives the teachers all the exposition, making this perhaps the closest story to the series’ original conception but the furthest from where it was already going. An historical oddity.

Although on a more careful listen he probably says “Are you telling—?” I laughed at the more profane implication of what seemed like Barbara and the Doctor’s “But that’s serious. We could freeze to death.” “Serious. Are you taking—? There’s no need for you to tell me that, really!”

One element that lets the script down early, and is more shocking in context of the previous stories, is that Ian puts down Barbara’s story of a strange “print” in the snow as just an ‘hysterical woman’… And, where the previous stories up-ended that trope by every time showing the woman in fact justified, here it’s dead straight and he’s telling off his friend for getting the wrong idea in her silly little head. It’s certainly the wrong idea in Mr Lucarotti’s.

The script’s a strange one for Barbara, playing to her strong points when being a history teacher doing the explanations but making her a much weaker and stupider woman when involved in the plot.

Perhaps part of the reason Barbara’s role suffers here is that all the rest of the crew gain from a new pairing: Susan and Ping-Cho, passionately; the Doctor and the Khan, warily and never going to stay together long, but having enormous fun; Ian and Polo, on an entirely false basis. But Mr Lucarotti will make up for that in his next script.

The first scene with the emissary-warlord Tegana and Marco Polo gives us a taste of things to come in Mr Lucarotti’s scripts: Tegana’s “Hear me, Mongols” has the same ‘Othering’ appeal to racism he’ll use later on the Khan (and, subtly, tells us his opinion of Polo from the start), while Polo is set up as the ‘reasonable’ one overruling the ‘savages’, like Autloc will be.

It’s weird to have a first episode packed with other people, isn’t it? I’d got used to pretty much just the four of them to get into each story.

Tegana’s big horned furry hat versus the soldiers’ single-spiked furry hats suggests he’s twice the Mongol any of them are. While Marco’s massive furry hat apparently gives him authority, he’s all muff and no spike.

Tegana’s character basically starts off as ‘I’m a psycho’. Bit of a clue, there.

You can tell Ian’s a teacher: Susan’s already said it’s the Roof of the World, but she’s only a pupil, and a girl, so he wasn’t listening to her and is surprised and so looks dim when told the same by a man.

The half-hour condensed version has about ten minutes of the first episode in it. Shows how much plot there is in the rest.

Tegana is persuasive with his “magicians” line, and poetic – as well as telling – in calling the Ship “a warlord’s tomb”. And even Marco’s worried that it’s not big enough for them all: that’s the part beyond his understanding, so he tries never to find out and challenge his set ideas.

The Doctor’s sarcastic “It doesn’t roll along on wheels” to Ian way back at the start of the series becomes an observation of suspicion and danger here for the “warlord’s tomb”…

From starting the episode wound up and taking it out on everyone, the Doctor becomes utterly charming with Ping-Cho, and invitingly naughty about her soup and Tegana’s role.
“For an emissary of peace, he has rather bloodthirsty habits, hasn’t he?”
And there it is, in plain sight, in the first episode! Tegana’s a killer; he dresses like a baddie; he plots; the Doctor spots it. Obviously, in a story that goes on so very long, being so blatant so very early must only be to set up a surprise character pivot later. Eh? What’s that you say? Oh.

It’s not just Tegana whose character is given away immediately: more subtly, Polo promises help with the TARDIS; the Doctor agrees not to go inside until Lop for diplomacy’s sake. The Doctor shows he can be reasonable when there’s a reason, and keeps his word. Polo is a lying plotter from the start. Remember that through his pretensions to the moral high ground.

This is the story’s original sin: Marco saves the Doctor’s life and the Doctor gives his word in return, and keeps it. But Marco is a thief and deceiver from the very first – and when the Doctor and the others save his life in return, even several times, that doesn’t change his nature.

Barbara works out who Marco Polo is from various clues, but I wonder if this scene works better on audio than it did in the burnt TV sequence: identifying him as being the European in the Khan’s service, I suspect several of the other actors in his caravan would have looked European, too.

Last week, we had the Doctor getting Ian’s name wrong for a laugh to show his concentration relaxing once the crisis was over; here were get “That’s my grandchild, Susan, and that’s Miss Wright… And that’s Charlton. Hmm!” as another scripted gag to give Ian a little character moment and start him talking with Polo.

Polo’s map and journal combine for a very effective device: the Recon’s moving map effect and coiled dragon are lovely; Polo’s narration makes this his story and commands us into his point of view; and yet it gives him away as villainous in soliloquy, proclaiming to himself
“Success! My plan has worked.”

So, Marco is handsome, popular and utterly self-centred; he writes about his travels to show himself in the best possible light and minimise everyone else; and while not a killer for the fun of it, he’s sociopathically content to let anyone die who gets in his way. I bet JK Rowling enjoyed reading the book of this story before she came upon Gilderoy Lockhart.

Polo’s journal in which he frames himself as the hero and, more ineffectually, his speeches to a hostile audience make the point that narrators are unreliable and history is written by the side that convinces everyone they had the best justification for winning. Later, he even keeps the TARDIS key in his journal, imprisoning their story within his.

Interesting to have a narrator – it emphasises that the Doctor’s not in control of this story, and that it’s not his, long before Russell T Davies brought in stories about famous writers. When in-story narration eventually returns to the series, it’s the Doctor finding his way home after almost as long as Marco…

It seems to me that John Lucarotti saw Marco Polo as the hero but, to keep the time travellers at his side, couldn’t help writing him as the villain. More even than the Daleks, he comes across as the perhaps not evil but gittish mirror of our heroes, the selfish, self-aggrandising traveller.

With this adventure conceived as “A Journey To Cathay”, its intention as a travelogue rather than a story was plain from the start. What was less plain was that the narrator of this BBC travel show was going to be such a shit, like Michael Palin’s evil twin getting to put his show on or the baby gets it.

Barbara and Ian in Chinese hats with her in a pink pully look adorable. They’re so a couple on holiday. And so a British couple on holiday.

You get used to the teachers’ constant exposition, but Susan’s is a stranger choice: she explains “Fab” to Ping-Cho, something that the audience would know and establishing herself as a very Earthly, and indeed swinging, child.

Translating most of the words yet getting “Cathay” wrong, then “Fab”, makes you think the TARDIS really has broken down: ‘Oh, most of it’s in place, stuff it, I’m cold…’

Richard suggests the TARDIS is still sore at them after they nearly piloted it into a massive explosion last week and didn’t listen to its warnings: ‘Right, take my translation for granted, will you? Then every time you say something from the 1960s I’m going to make you look an arse.’

Susan’s shocked reaction to Ping-Cho’s arranged marriage to a seventy-five-year-old is an interesting illustration of her unfamiliarity with other cultures, but is never really more than colour at the edge of the plot: by John Lucarotti’s next script, he’s learnt to personalise much more of the story to our heroes.

Susan and Ping-Cho strike up an immediate friendship, but it’s sadly a Bechdel fail in their first episode: asking about each other’s backgrounds, it’s all about grandfather, father, then fiancé.

It’s a good job Polo has no backbone, supported by his (borrowed) soldiers in stealing the TARDIS but still too cowardly to enter it – this could have been another An Unearthly Child. Tegana reacts exactly as the Doctor feared Londoners would, fearing the TARDIS, making a big thing of it, and seeing his main chance, so I wouldn’t put it past the Doctor to invite Polo in for a look, then whisk him off, too! Imagine the series where the Doctor solves each week’s problem by kidnapping a different troublemaker…

Marco: handsome, popular, utterly self-centred; writes up his travels to glorify himself and minimise others; content to let anyone die who gets in his way. I bet JK Rowling read the book of this story before she came upon Gilderoy Lockhart.

Marco’s soldiers prevent the Doctor from entering the TARDIS – breaking Marco’s word – and he then goes into a long, self-pitying speech in front of his literally captive audience to frame (to himself, chiefly) his lying, selfish theft as ‘reasonable’ and with a ‘generous’ offer to let the Doctor build another TARDIS. Rightly, the Doctor treats him with contempt from this moment on.

Marco’s ‘invitation’ at swordpoint for the time travellers to sit and listen to his life story doesn’t go nearly as well as talking to a journal that doesn’t answer back: the Doctor’s savage laughter at the “savage” quickly needles him into losing his temper. For all the force at his command, the ‘Mr Reasonable’ act can’t stand up to the awkward truth that he’s a gobshite.

Polo’s disgusting self-serving wheedle includes the hypocrisy that he’s reliant on the Khan, suffering from old age: “If he dies, I may never see Venice again.” Yet he proclaims it reasonable that the Doctor, apparently just as old, should make a journey of many years with a long labour to build a new Ship at the end of it. And he sees no contradiction in that.

Another of Polo’s self-servingly blind hypocrisies: “Surely, for a man who possesses a flying caravan, all things are possible?” The crucial point being – for a man who possesses it. Once he doesn’t, it isn’t!

You can see just how reasonable Polo is when, after a long speech to justify his theft, he’s told why it’s impossible to build a new TARDIS and announces, “I refuse to listen to any more,” then flounces out, leaving our heroes under threat of death if they try to get their own property.

Marco telling his story to the time travellers – making himself the lead character, and so it only right that the audience sympathise with him and he gets his way – is of a part with his narration, attempting to control the narrative with a flood of words. “You do me an injustice,” he tells the Doctor, just as he later tells the Khan – and in both cases, he doesn’t actually wait to hear what the other says before butting in to assert, ‘It’s not fair! It’s all about me!’

Polo cuts the Doctor off with an accusation of “injustice” because it’s ‘unjust’ for a thief to be confronted with his thievery and why it’s wrong, instead offering generously to take them several years out of their way for an impossibility.

Marco wants to feel better about himself, but only by giving them his leavings that don’t inconvenience him in any way, and by wilfully ignoring every practical problem they raise. He looks noble and handsome, but he acts just like the Sheriff of Nottingham.

It’s clever to pair Polo with Ian, for two men of an age and an heroic pose to try and forge some bond. Had Polo mainly been sparking off the Doctor all story, we might have been reminded of several of the TARDIS crew in one – desperate to get home, and prepared to kidnap them all to do it.

It’s the first time we get to see (if only in photos, now) a Doctor Who fan on screen! …The Doctor clutches one as he faces off against Marco in the way-station at Lop.

Look! A Doctor Who fan gets on the cover of the Radio Times before even the Daleks do.

The Doctor’s most gorgeous moment in the whole episode isn’t upset, or engaging, or defiant, but at his lowest point: Polo has the TARDIS and he’s utterly powerless. So he just pisses himself laughing at the humour of not having the faintest idea what to do. It’s utterly endearing, made all the more so by the picture of Ian looking resigned to one side while the Doctor cackles!

I’ve already loved William Hartnell’s Doctor from his very first scene, but here his character expands in unexpected directions in a tour de force, turning in just the first episode from blazing fury, to incredulity, to pissing himself in the background and then the foreground as, for once, he doesn’t have a clue what to do and rather than the earlier rattiness just giggles.

While The Daleks’ moral against ‘Dislike for the unlike’ was slightly undermined by the ‘beautiful’ Thals being good and the ‘ugly’ Daleks evil, this is the series’ first ‘Don’t judge by appearances’ moral. Mark Eden is handsome, dignified, and offers a performance that makes us think Marco must be noble, overlooking all his theft, bullying and selfishness. Cast an actor with an ugly face and a whiny voice in the part to reflect his character and viewers wouldn’t give Polo the time of day.

Handsome and dignified he may be, but remember that from the first episode on Marco Polo’s prime characteristic is that he’s a thief, abusing state power for utterly selfish reasons. He’s also a scheming plotter, a fawning creep, a bully, a blackmailer, a cad, an ingrate, an idiot, a liar, a hypocrite and an all-round gobshite.
[There’s something about the detestable Polo that really encourages my vindictive side. If he sets you off in the same way, you might like to go the full Shona Spurtle:
“You are a waster, Polo. You are a lying cheat. You are a fibster, a fabulist, an equivocating shim-shammer, a cozening card sharp, a pathological mythomaniac, a yarner, a poulterer – who perjures – a whited sepulchre, a cantering serpent, a rat!”]

Marco Polo is the first of a long series of a particular kind of Doctor Who stock character – the jumped-up petty bureaucrat who abuses his power and gets in our heroes’ way. The difference from most is that he’s not a cartoon played for laughs, but has a backstory and a motive… Or, to put it another way, he’s not merely officious but crooked.

Polo is a selfish, nasty little villain who gives himself airs and can’t bear to be punctured. Tegana shows himself not just a better villain but a stronger character when the cliffhanger gives him the series’ first proper villain’s speech: not a petty promise to his journal but ambition to a fellow soldier to serve his lord, and he knows how to do it.

Messr Marco may not be a villain in the style of most in the series, a conqueror like Tegana, but he’s all the more contemptible for that – selfish, domineering, absolutely misusing the authority he holds in trust. Tegana is more ruthless and nasty, but he’s much more moral by his own lights.

We’re meant to side with the ‘reasonable’ European in the position of authority in both of John Lucarotti’s early scripts, yet both Marco and Barbara are selfishly misusing their power and, by the lights of local morality, the villain.

Next Episode – The Singing Sands

In which Brian Hodgson creates a fantastic soundscape of howling, jabbering sandstorms so justly famed that I couldn’t think of anything original to say about them. So what does that leave me with?

Coming Soon on Marco Polo:

The Singing Sands
Five Hundred Eyes
The Wall of Lies
Rider From Shang-Tu
Mighty Kublai Khan
Assassin at Peking

What Terrance Dicks Said…

I started this year at a small but perfectly formed Doctor Who convention on the first Sunday in January, Fantom Films’ Celebrate 50: The Patrick Troughton Years. On stage, former lead writer and producer Terrance Dicks and Derrick Sherwin were asked about how much the series has changed. Rather than starting with their own approach, they both pointed out that the series had always changed, even from the beginning to their day. First Derrick, not positively:
“It started off as an educational series.”
“Yes. They’d go back and see Marco Polo in history so that they could learn about him. And it very soon came to the point where the kids said, ‘Fuck Marlo Polo’—”
At which point the audience collapsed in a mixture of whoops, cheers, laughter, giggles from the few children and despairing groans from their parents, and Terrance carried on, quite unabashed:
“‘…never mind Marlo Polo – we want more Daleks!’”

I don’t entirely disagree with him, and he was hugely entertaining about it (and clearly getting the name wrong on purpose for the ‘kids’ voice’), but I should say that I do love the historicals… And that I’ve previously written on my main blog that people who slag them off as unpopular tend to get it wrong.

Radio Times Teasers for Marco Polo

An adventure in space and time


Marco Polo is a doubly important step forward: not only is this the story where the Radio Times starts getting into the series properly with exciting little teasers that for the first time tell us something about each episode, but it’s the first time the series gets the front cover. Though note that Polo’s such a rotten git that he even steals the Radio Times cover from William Russell.

The Roof of the World
“The Tardis has landed on the roof of the world. But which world, and when?”

Plus interesting guest credits:
Mark Eden, Derren Nesbitt
and introducing
Zienia Merton

Available In All Good Shops? Part I

The short answer is, of course, no: the episodes have long since been burned. The long answer is more complex and more rewarding: you can experience Marco Polo at least in part in about half a dozen different forms, some available in shops, some less officially. I’ll leave talking about two of them – the novelisation, and the condensed Recon available on the Doctor Who – The Beginning DVD box set – until Episode Seven, but in the meantime, here are the other main versions…

As I wrote three weeks ago, there are several ways in which ‘missing’ episodes survive, of which the principal ones today are soundtracks and Tele-snaps. The Tele-snaps of Doctor Who episodes have been rediscovered in dribs and drabs – and in one huge haul – over the years, and I understand that Marco Polo’s are the most recently found. The director, Waris Hussein, happened to have a set in storage, and about eight years ago, someone happened to ask him about them. As a result, they’re the only Tele-snaps for ‘missing’ episodes which you can’t view on the old BBC Doctor Who website, as that was already being wound down in favour of the new series, and these off-air photos of the action only exist for six of the seven episodes, as Mr Hussein was ill during one week and another director took over. However, this set of Tele-snaps have been made available to buy in several formats, including twice by DWM: way back across issues 342-347, and all together earlier this year in the Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition 34: The Missing Episodes – The First Doctor. You can probably still find that in shops for a few more weeks, and I recommend it.

Alternatively, the soundtrack is available on CD, recorded off-air by fans in 1964 and since cleaned up and given helpful narration from William Russell to make it a far less muffled proposition than the bootleg copies I first heard. First released singly, Marco Polo is now part of the first volume of Doctor Who – The Lost TV Episodes Collection, which I also recommend, complete with a bonus disc containing assorted interviews and other extra features in pdf form such as a map of our heroes’ travels with Marco Polo and copies of the original scripts. William Russell’s is the longest and the best of the CD interviews, intelligent, funny and informative. Though he mixes praise and criticism of the series and those who worked on it, he has an air of being forthright, firm, and telling it like it is – while also appealingly positive. Carole Ann Ford is less positive, though at least reacts with glee to mention of The Edge of Destruction – her favourite, she says, because it gave her something to do – while Maureen O’Brien is very sniffy and is not someone to listen to if you want to retain your illusions (though David the interviewer seems to have poked her with a stick into suddenly saying something nice at the end).

By far the best way to experience Marco Polo is, though, for me the glorious Loose Cannon Reconstruction, which mixes surviving sound and visual material and even offers special features of its own. I wrote about Recons last time, but this one is unique: it’s in full colour, and not only was it made before the Tele-snaps were tracked down, it unexpectedly gains from that. With so many colour photos taken of the fabulous sets and costumes, the reconstructors were able to colourise the smaller if still substantial amount of black and white material to match; I don’t think that would have happened had there been so very much detailed black and white material so temptingly to hand. I said last time that this is my favourite Recon, and though the multi-colour-switching titles are occasionally a little jarring, shivers still go up my spine for those few colourised seconds of Susan and Barbara starting off a William Hartnell story in colour, and continuing throughout.
“If only they knew – I didn’t tell half of what I saw…”

Not only is the whole story presented in bold, lively, almost supersaturated colour – clearly seeing no point in using colour if you’re only to offer anaemic hints of it – but it’s boosted considerably by some terrific extra material all (well, most) of Loose Cannon’s own. Mark Eden clearly enjoyed playing the title character; nearly forty years later he returned to the role for Loose Cannon, and what a gent, I have to say, as I doubt they had any money for him. Not only does he give an informative interview to camera – and is very blunt that it should never have been junked, instead treasured not just for the actors but its wonderful sets and costumes – but he also appears in tent, in robe and back in character for a brand new framing device, writing again about his travels. An impressive ‘Making of’ brings together actors Carole Ann Ford, Mark Eden, Zienia Merton and Philip Voss, along with clips of designer Barry Newbery and director Warris Hussein plus various other productions, then a whole mini-documentary on Marco Polo himself which is again narrated by the lovely Mr Eden and an intriguing addition.

I’d like one day to see a more complete Tele-snap-based Reconstruction than the condensed version I’ll come to in a few weeks’ time, to offer greater accuracy and some details they couldn’t provide – the revelation of Marco wrapped up against the cold in big cloak and bigger furry Russian-ish hat, say – but I can’t help feeling that it might look rather dowdy after this Technicolor masterpiece, and that I’d be more likely to watch the existing Recon again than one that’s more accurate but bound to be less visually striking.

And, if you’ll excuse one last terrible ‘fan’ gag, it’s curiously appropriate that we see the Doctor reliant on a fan in this story’s original moment of crisis – and that thanks to the series invisibly relying on fans since, we can still see and hear so much of it.

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