Friday, 17 October 2014

014 Marco Polo Episode 1: The Roof of the World

EPISODE: Marco Polo Episode 1: The Roof of the World
TRANSMITTED: Saturday 22 February 1964
WRITER: John Lucarotti
DIRECTOR: Waris Hussein
SCRIPT EDITOR: David Whitaker
PRODUCER: Verity Lambert
RATINGS: 9.4 million viewers
FORMAT: CD: Doctor Who: The Lost TV Episodes Collection: (1964-1965) No. 1

"Success. My plan has worked. The strangers and their unusual caravan accompany me to Lop. Our route takes us across the Roof of the World, down to the Kashgar Valley and southeast to Tarkand. Here we join the Old Silk Road, along which the commerce and culture of a thousand years has travelled to and from Cathay. I wonder what the strangers' reaction will be when I tell them what I propose to do?"

Having materialised in a mountainous snowy landscape that the teachers wonder if it might be on Earth the Doctor finds that a number of the Tardis systems have failed. While looking for firewood they glimpse something that they think may be the beast that made the footprint that they found before being captured by a group of Mongol Warriors who believe they are evil spirits and want to slay them, but are saved by a European man: Marco Polo. He is accompanied by the warlord Tegana & the lady Ping Cho: she is on her way to be married. They are in the year 1289 and are on the Pamir Plateau bound for Shang-Tu. Marco Polo is interested in the Tardis wondering how it is big enough to accommodate them all and can move without wheels. Arriving at a way station the Doctor tries to repair the Tardis but is stopped by Marco Polo: Believing it to be a flying caravan he intends to offer the Tardis to Kublai Khan as a gift to buy his way out of the Khan's service. The Warlord Tegana has acquired a strong poison and intends to use it to kill the party and steal the Tardis' power for himself.


This is the first truly historical Doctor Who story. While the later three episodes of an Unearthly Child are set in the past they don't feature a documented historical setting and figure. I'm afraid I'm not a huge fan of most of these stories, but after the confusing mess that was Edge of Destruction I found this episode a relief as I could actually follow what's going on.

But in this story we get to meet actual historical figures, the first of which is the title character Marco Polo. Born in Venice on September 15, 1254 he journeyed to Cathay with his Father and Uncle in 1269. He's been in Cathay 20 years by the time of this story and his desire to return home is a major motivation in his actions here, seizing the Tardis as a gift for his master Kublai Kahn. Following the Kahn's death in 1294 he returned to Venice in 1295 living there till his death on either January 8 or 9, 1324. I can remember studying Marco Polo at Junior School so there's a chance many younger viewers would have been familiar with him, while older viewers may have read the Penguin edition of the Travels of Marco Polo, published in 1958.

The opening in the snow, with a huge footprint, and hints of a furry beast, make you wonder if they've decided to do Doctor Who and the Abominable Snowmen three and a half years early! It's not 100% clear what the beast is, or indeed if it is a beast and not one of the Mongol warriors!

The main theme of this story is a journey: The party are making for Shang-Tu. We think of Doctor Who as turning up somewhere and sorting out the trouble, but for the first few years there's lots of journeying around. We've seen a little of it already in the third episode of An Unearthly Child and again in the last three of the Daleks but here it takes up the whole story. The theme is repeated again, in various ways, in The Keys of Marinus, The Reign of Terror, the second half of Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Romans, The Chase and The Dalek Masterplan. It's not long after that that the "Base Under Siege" idea emerges and starts to tie Doctor Who down to where the Tardis brings him to.

By having the Tardis damaged again, as per the missing Fluid link in The Daleks, that forces the time travellers to remain with Marco Polo's party. Even the Doctor acknowledges that it's getting a bit repetitive when he discovers the Tardis is damaged again:

"We're always in trouble, Isn't this extraordinary? It follows us everywhere."

In fact Tardis damage/malfunction has featured in all four stories so far:

An Unearthly Child Chameleon Circuit breaks
The Daleks Fluid Link goes missing
Edge of Destruction Fast Return switch breaks
Marco Polo Lights, Heating and Water supply break

And even if there's a possibility of fixing the damaged circuits Marco's intention to give the Tardis, now in his possession, to the Emperor forces it's crew to stay with him.

Doctor Who fulfils it's educational brief on two counts here. We gets some history with Marco Polo and then there's a little science with Ian explaining to Polo that the water boils at a different temperature due to the lack of pressure.

The episode ending annoys me. Not in the context of the episode itself, it's really good and establishes Tegana as a bad guy. They thing is he doesn't use the poison on the water gourds in the next episode, he slashes them. In fact we don't see the poison he buys here again!

This week's episode earned Doctor Who it's first Radio Times cover which you can see in this article at the Radio Times website

Back comes director Waris Hussein for his second Doctor Who story after An Unearthly Child, and with him comes his production assistant Douglas Camfield. Making his debut is writer John Lucarotti. Born in England he'd started his career at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation before returning to the UK. By This point he'd contributed a number of stories to The Avengers. This is the first of three historical Doctor Who stories that he wrote for William Hartnell's Doctor, the other two are The Aztecs and The Massacre, but he was also the first writer for the Ark in Space in 1975. The then script editor Robert Holmes wasn't happy with the script and rewrote it from scratch himself.


We also have a famous sci fi guest star wander into view: Playing Ping Cho is an eighteen year old Zienia Merton, later to find fame as Sandra Benes, the senior data analyst on Moonbase Alpha in Space 1999. I've been trying to watch that right the way through in order since the first season Blu Rays came out but am struggling to!


Two of Ping Cho's (uncredited) hand maidens are worth drawing attention to: One is Violet Leon, who is the aunt of current Doctor Who Magazine assistant editor Peter Ware. He mentions this in the Race Against Time documentary on The Mutants DVD, but she's then mis-identified in the photo: she's the woman with the veil seen over Susan's shoulder in the above photo. The other is Zohra Segal, an actress of Indian origin. Born on 27th April 1912 she became the first person to appear in Doctor Who to reach the age of 100 in 2012! (I very much hope she'll be joined by Inferno's Olaf Pooley on March 13th this year). Douglas Camfield must have remembered her as he reused her in his first full story as a director when she featured in The Crusade episode 2: The Knight of Jaffa as Sheyrah. She's not the only extra from this story he uses again either: come back in part 4 when I have a closer look at which extra was in which episode as it makes interesting reading!

Missing Episodes

Marco Polo is the first story that we've come to that no longer exists at the BBC. At seven episodes it's the longest complete story missing from the BBC, although the longer Dalek Masterplan is currently missing nine of it's episodes. So over the course of it's seven episodes I thought I'd run a series on how episodes came to be missing from the BBC and why we have the missing episodes in the form we do today. I am indebted to Richard Molesworth's Wiped! Doctor Who's Missing Episodes (a fine read on the subject) and The Nothing At The End Of The Lane Omnibus edition for much of the information that follows. Both tomes will be referred to again and again over the course of this blog.

So we're using a soundtrack CD instead of a DVD for the first time this episode, and I'm looking at the telesnaps printed in Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition: The Missing Episodes – The First Doctor.

To be honest I'd not intended to get this far. At least not yet. What started off as an attempt to reblog the newly found episodes of Doctor Who in the run up to the 30th anniversary continued when I couldn't resist the lure of putting up something better than I did the first time about the first episode on the actual anniversary. Then I looked at other early episodes and started thinking "Yes I can do better than that". Marco Polo is around the point where I start getting happier with what I wrote. I'm also of the belief that Marco Polo stands a better than most chance of being returned to the BBC archives, for reasons which I'll lay out tomorrow, so I had thought I might wait a bit before revisiting this story. But the lure of continuing a season one re-blog with the episodes appearing on the 50th anniversary of their original broadcast is too great so on I go taking the risk that Marco Polo might be the first story I look at *three* times.

1) Videotape

Doctor Who was mainly recorded & transmitted on 406 line Videotape. (A small number of episodes were either recorded, edited or Transmitted from film) The initial contract for a story allowed for one showing by the BBC and a repeat showing within two years. So the original videotapes were usually retained for a period of at least two years in case a repeat showing was needed. Eventually the Videotapes, which were very expensive, were wiped and then reused by the BBC to save money. However as we'll see most Doctor who stories had previously been copied to film for overseas sales.

No William Hartnell or Patrick Troughton episodes survive on their original broadcast videotapes. A home video recording of a Patrick Troughton episode surfaced a few years ago, but it turned out to be Space Pirates episode 2, the only episode of that story which is known to still exist!

The earliest episode of Doctor Who to survive on it's original broadcast videotape is from Jon Pertwee's first season as Doctor Who: episode 265 The Ambassadors of Death part 1 broadcast on 21st March 1970. The first complete story to survive on it's original videotape is from the star of Jon Pertwee's fourth season: Day of the Daleks (episodes 304-307) broadcast 1st-22nd January 1972. The latest episode *NOT* to survive on videotape is from his fifth & final season: episode 360 Invasion of the Dinosaurs part 1 broadcast 12th January 1974, though it should be noted that episode 366 Death to the Daleks part 1 was missing for a long time and retrieved on a videotape from an overseas broadcaster. The fate of the original videos for Invasion of the Dinosaurs 1 and Death to the Daleks 1 is something of a mystery.....

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