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Episode Guide
Marco Polo
Production Code: D
Season 1, Story Number 4
Written by John Lucarotti

Each episode is identified with date of transmission, duration, ratings in millions, and (for 1963-1974 only) archive status.

The Roof of the World
22 February 1964 | 24'12" | 9.4 | Not in archive
The Singing Sands
29 February 1964 | 26'34" | 9.4 | Not in archive
Five Hundred Eyes
07 March 1964 | 22'20" | 9.4 | Not in archive
The Wall of Lies
14 March 1964 | 24'48" | 9.9 | Not in archive
Rider From Shang-Tu
21 March 1964 | 23'26" | 9.4 | Not in archive
Mighty Kublai Khan
28 March 1964 | 25'36" | 8.4 | Not in archive
Assassin at Peking
04 April 1964 | 24'48" | 10.4 | Not in archive
Archive Status: All seven episodes lost. No footage exists, though a very large body of color photographs from the story's production do exist. A complete set of telesnaps for episodes 1-3 and 5-7 were discovered in 2003 in the possession of director Waris Hussein, who returned them to the BBC archives; this includes the only visual evidence of the narrative map used throughout the story.
William Hartnell (Dr. Who), William Russell (Ian Chesterton), Jacqueline Hill (Barbara Wright), Carole Ann Ford (Susan), Mark Eden (Marco Polo), Derren Nesbitt (Tegana), Zienia Merton (Ping Cho), Martin Miller (Kublai Khan), Jimmy Gardner (Chenchu), Leslie Bates (Man at Lop), Michael Guest (Mongol bandit), Charles Wade (Malik), Philip Voss (Acomat), Paul Carson (Ling-Tau), Gabor Baraker (Wang-Lo), Tutte Lemkow (Kuiju), Claire Davenport (Empress), Peter Lawrence (Vizier), Basil Tang (Foreman), O. Ikeda (Yeng)
Ian realises that the footprint could be just an ordinary one enlarged by the snow melting. A more serious problem soon presents itself as the Doctor reports that the TARDIS has developed a major fault: all the lights have failed, the water supply has been affected and the heating is inoperative: 'Everything's gone to pot!' As Barbara points out, they are now in danger of freezing to death.

Exploring the snowy plateau, the travellers are confronted by a group of Mongol warriors led by a man named Tegana (Derren Nesbitt), who prepares to have them put to death as evil spirits. They are saved by the arrival of a man of European appearance whom Barbara later identifies as the Venetian explorer Marco Polo (Mark Eden).

The year is 1289 and Polo is taking a caravan from the Pamir Plateau - also known as the Roof of the World - across Cathay en route for the court of Kublai Khan. He is accompanied not only by Tegana, an emissary from the rival Mongol warlord Noghai, but also by a young girl named Ping-Cho (Zienia Merton) who is to undergo an unwelcome arranged marriage to a 75-year-old nobleman at the Khan's summer palace in Shang-Tu. Polo seizes the TARDIS, intending to present it as a gift to the Khan in the hope that he may then be allowed to return to his native Venice, and the Doctor's group have little choice but to join the caravan. Tegana also secretly plans to steal the TARDIS, but for his own master Noghai.

Mistrust and acrimony abound as the caravan makes its way across the Gobi desert and through Cathay, stopping every so often at way stations along the route. Tegana and his Mongol allies make a number of unsuccessful attempts to kill the rest of the party, but the time travellers are unable to convince Marco Polo of the man's treachery or to regain access to the TARDIS, which the Doctor has in the meantime managed to repair.

The caravan finally arrives at the Khan's summer palace in Shang-Tu, where the travellers have an audience with the ageing leader. The Doctor and the Khan (Martin Miller) strike up a cordial relationship, which continues when the whole party moves on to the imperial palace in Peking. This leads to a game of backgammon between the two old men, with the TARDIS as the prize. Unfortunately, the Doctor loses. There is some good news, however, as Ping-Cho learns that her intended husband has died after drinking an aphrodisiac, allowing her to continue her romance with the dispatch rider Ling-Tau (Paul Carson).

Tegana now plays his hand: his true intention has always been to assassinate the Khan, leaving the way clear for Noghai's army to attack and overrun Cathay. Marco Polo, having been alerted by the time travellers and Ling-Tau, saves the Khan's life by engaging Tegana in a sword fight and overpowering him. Humiliated, the Mongol takes his own life by throwing himself upon a sword.

Polo returns the TARDIS key to the travellers in gratitude for what they have done, and they make good their escape. The Khan is philosophical, commenting that the Doctor would have won it back at backgammon in any case …

Synopsis from Doctor Who: The First Doctor Handbook by David J. Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker, reprinted with permission; further reproduction is not permitted.

Production Team
Jeremy Hare (Assistant Floor Manager), Mervyn Pinfield (Associate Producer), Daphne Dare (Costumes), Barry Newbury (Designer), Ann Ferriggi (Make-Up), Verity Lambert (Producer), Tony Lightley (Production Assistant), David Whitaker (Script Editor), Brian Hodgson (Special Sounds), Dennis Channon (Studio Lighting), Jack Brummitt (Studio Sound), Delia Derbyshire (Theme Arrangement), Ron Grainer (Title Music)
Story Notes
The first "historical" adventure, now sadly lost. Considered by many to be one of Doctor Who's all-time great stories, and its greatest historical, this story was sadly lost in the purges of the 1970's and no footage exists. Telesnaps were taken but lost, though many color and black & white photos, along with the audio soundtrack, remain. Originally planned to be the third story of the season (it was one of the first stories commissioned) until it was delayed by "The Edge of Destruction". This story featured the first use of live animals in Doctor Who. It also featured a very stylish narrative including an illustrative map detailing the travels of Marco Polo; indeed, the adventure took place over an extended period of time. Working title: "A Journey to Cathay". The working title of episode three was "The Cave of Five Hundred Eyes"; this was actually seen on the end of the print of the second episode in the preview for next week.
For more in-depth information about the contents of this story, a complete episode-by-episode detailed breakdown can be found at the Doctor Who Reference Guide.
Additional, more detailed information about the production of this story can be found at Shannon Patrick Sullivan's A Brief History of Time (Travel).
DVD release
While there is no footage to be released on DVD, an abridged reconstruction of this story, featuring telesnaps taken of the action and selections from the story's original soundtrack, can be found on "The Beginning" DVD boxed set in the UK [released January 2006] and Australia/New Zealand [March 2006] (BBC DVD catalog #1882), US/Canada [March 2006] (WHV catalog #E2491).
Audio release
Complete audio soundtrack released on CD as "Marco Polo" by the BBC Radio Collection in November 2003, narrated by William Russell.
In Print
Novelised as "Doctor Who - Marco Polo" by John Lucarotti (Target #94), first released in 1984, with cover by David McAllister.
For more details on the various novelizations of this story, with additional background material, artwork and details of both UK and foreign releases, visit On Target.
Links and Additional Info
Reconstruction: Reconstructed using photos and the original audio soundtrack by Loose Cannon Productions, both B&W and full-color edition, including introduction by Mark Eden (Marco Polo) and documentary about the making of the story by Richard Bignell; details are available at recons.com. Also reconstructed earlier by Change of Identity, no longer in circulation.

Full Script: The script for "Marco Polo" can be found at the Scripts Project site, hosted by the Earthbound Timelords.
Screencap Descriptions
Descriptions of each story screen capture above right, top to bottom:
  • A set of extremely rare photos from this serial: the TARDIS is hauled on Marco Polos expedition
  • Marco Polo (Mark Eden)
  • Ping Cho (Zienia Merton)
  • Ian (William Russell) and the Doctor (William Hartnell) tangle with a member of Polos troup
  • the Doctor, Susan (Carole Ann Ford) and Ping Cho in the Khans fortress
  • Kublai Khan (Martin Miller)
  • a swordfight between Marco Polo and Tegana (Derren Nesbitt)