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24 September 2014

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Marco Polo

Production Code: D

First Transmitted

The Roof of the World - 22/02/1964 17:15

The Singing Sands - 29/02/1964 17:15

Five Hundred Eyes - 07/03/1964 17:15

The Wall of Lies - 14/03/1964 17:15

Rider from Shang Tu - 21/03/1964 17:15

Mighty Kublai Khan - 28/03/1964 17:30

Assassin at Peking - 04/04/1964 17:30


Arriving in Central Asia in 1289, the Doctor and his companions join the caravan of the famous Venetian explorer Marco Polo as it makes its way from the snowy heights of the Pamir Plateau, across the treacherous Gobi Desert and through the heart of imperial Cathay.

Having witnessed many incredible sights and survived a variety of dangers, they eventually arrive at the mighty Kublai Khan's Summer Palace in Shang-tu, where the Doctor strikes up an extraordinary friendship with the now-aged ruler.

They move on at last to the even more sumptuous Imperial Palace in Peking, where the travellers manage to save the Khan from an assassination attempt by the Mongol warlord Tegana - supposedly on a peace mission - before departing once more in the TARDIS.

Episode Endings

Tegana acquires from a Mongol subordinate a phial of poison with which he aims to poison Marco Polo's water gourds as his caravan crosses the Gobi desert. He confides that when everyone is dead he intends to return to the caravan and collect the TARDIS - 'the thing of magic that will bring the mighty Kublai Khan to his knees!'

Tegana arrives at a desert oasis and gleefully pours water onto the sand: 'Here's water, Marco Polo. Come for it!'

The Doctor, Susan and Ping-Cho (a young girl travelling with Marco Polo) enter the Cave of Five Hundred Eyes searching for Barbara. Suddenly Susan screams, pointing at one of the faces carved on the wall. Its eyes moved!

Having cut his way through the tent in which he and his fellow travellers have been held prisoner, Ian emerges into the clearing in the bamboo forest. The guard offers less resistance than expected - as Ian touches him, he keels over, a knife protruding from his torso.

Susan crosses from the Cheng-Ting way station to the stables, where her friends are waiting for her in the TARDIS, ready to make good their escape. As she rushes toward the ship, Tegana appears from the shadows and seizes her about the neck.

Ian holds the bandit Kuiju at knife-point, allowing Ping-Cho to retrieve her money. Kuiju reluctantly admits that it was Tegana who paid him to steal it. Suddenly Tegana arrives. He beckons to Ian, cutting the air with his sword.

As Marco Polo wonders where the time travellers are now, an image of the TARDIS console is seen superimposed against a starscape.


Marco Polo's Travels.

John Lucarotti's Canadian TV series about Polo.

Dialogue Triumphs

Tegana : "Hear me, Mongols. In these parts live evil spirits who take our likeness to deceive us and then lead us to our deaths. Let us therefore destroy these evil spirits before they destroy us!"

Susan Foreman : "One day, we'll know all the secrets of the skies, and we'll stop our wanderings."

The Doctor : [Mimicking Wang-lo's comment about the TARDIS.] ""I couldn't place it in the hanging-garden, now could I?" What does he think it is? A potting shed, or something?'"

Marco Polo : "On my travels to Cathay, Ian, I have come to believe many things I'd previously doubted. For instance, when I was a boy in Venice they told me that in Cathay there was a stone that burned. I did not believe, but there is such a stone - I have seen it... And if stone burns, why not a caravan that flies? Birds fly; I have even seen fish that fly. 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 to yesterday? No Ian, that I cannot believe."

[How Tegana should kill the Doctor] "With a stake through the heart."

Khan : [Explains to Ping-Cho] "Your beloved husband to be, so anxious to be worthy of your love, drank a potion of quicksilver and sulphur, the elixir of life and eternal youth. And expired."


One burnt-out circuit in the TARDIS deactivates the lights, water supply and heating. Condensation forms in the interior as it would inside any box in a hot climate [the broken circuit also stopped exterior temperatures affecting the interior]. The Doctor couldn't create another TARDIS (at least, not with the resources of thirteenth century Venice).

The Doctor can play backgammon well, but loses his bet with Kublai Khan over the TARDIS. He can horse ride, but has back trouble as a result. He also has problems with high altitudes and lack of water, and likes bean sprout soup.

Barbara knows lots of Buddhist history. Ian can ride, sword fight, isn't very good at Chess and knows lots of 'O' level science things, plus the fact that bamboo bangs in fire [he might have travelled abroad, probably on his National Service: see The Web Planet]. Susan uses words like 'fab' and is surprised by the idea of arranged marriages. She's had 'many homes in many places'.

Polo says that he's seen Buddhist monks levitate cups of wine to Kublai Khan's mouth [K'Anpo?].



The Location of Gallifrey



The Himalayas.

the Plain of Pamir.


The Gobi desert.

Tun Huang.


A bamboo forest.

Cheng Ting

The Summer Palace at Shang Tu and Peking.

Over at least 30 days (probably a lot more) in Summer 1289.


Susan has seen the metal seas of Venus.


The horses of the Mongol bearers are the first live animals used in Doctor Who.

An animated map is used to illustrate the progress of the journey, accompanied by voice-over diary entries by Marco Polo.

Kuiju, the mercenary bandit with the pet monkey, is never referred to by name in the story's dialogue; his name is given only in the closing credits.

Although not on holiday as such, William Hartnell had only one line of dialogue in The Singing Sands.

The Doctor acquires from Kublai Khan a wooden walking stick which he is then seen to use in several subsequent stories. Its distinctive design includes a spiral section on the stem, with a small carved figure of a monkey climbing up it.


The caption slide at the end of episode two reads: 'Next Episode: The Cave of Five Hundred Eyes'.

In episode seven, Kublai Khan refers to backgammon as a game of cards.

Where are Niccolo and Maffeo Polo (Marco's father and uncle who travelled with him?).

The use of Peking is anachronistic (it should be Khan-balik).

In 1289, Polo was anxious to leave China against Kublai's wishes, so what's he doing on the Pamir Plateau?

William Hartnell has an odd hysterical fit in episode one, laughing his head off for a full minute at all the troubles that have befallen the travellers.

Cast & Crew


The Doctor - William Hartnell

Barbara Wright - Jacqueline Hill

Ian Chesterton - William Russell

Susan Foreman - Carole Ann Ford

Acomat - Philip Voss

Chenchu - Jimmy Gardner

Empress - Claire Davenport

Kublai Khan - Martin Miller

Kuiju - Tutte Lemkow

Ling-Tau - Paul Carson

Malik - Charles Wade

Man at Lop - Leslie Bates

Marco Polo - Mark Eden

Mongol bandit - Michael Guest

Office Foreman - Basil Tang Also in Assassin at Peking but uncredited

Ping-Cho - Zienia Merton

Tegana - Derren Nesbitt

Vizier - Peter Lawrence

Wang-lo - Gabor Baraker


Director - Waris Hussein 1-3, 5-7

Director - John Crockett

Assistant Floor Manager - Catherine Childs

Associate Producer - Mervyn Pinfield

Costumes - Daphne Dare

Designer - Barry Newbery

Film Cameraman - unknown

Film Editor - John House

Film Editor - Elmer Davies

Film Editor - Richard Barclay

Incidental Music - Tristram Cary

Make-Up - Ann Ferriggi

Producer - Verity Lambert

Production Assistant - Douglas Camfield

Production Assistant - Penny Joy

Special Sounds - Brian Hodgson

Story Editor - David Whitaker

Studio Lighting - John Treays

Studio Lighting - Howard King

Studio Sound - Jack Brummitt

Studio Sound - Hugh Barker

Studio Sound - Derek Martin-Timmins

Sword Fight Arranged By - Derek Ware

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire

Writer - John Lucarotti

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

Obviously wonderful, but a little too loose and unstructured to be the all conquering classic of repute. Then again, we're denied the splendour of the costumes and sets. The device of Polo narrating map journey inserts is sweet, and the sheer length of time narrated makes this the longest 'real time' Who story.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

Marco Polo is an amazing tour de force; a superbly-executed epic that well illustrates the full and very considerable potential of Doctor Who's early historical story type. From the Pamir Plateau in the Himalayas, across the Gobi Desert (with its terrifying 'singing sands'), via the Cave of Five Hundred Eyes to Kublai Khan's Summer Palace in Shang-tu and finally to the grand Imperial Palace in Peking, the action moves from one fascinating and convincingly-realised location to another as the time travellers join Marco Polo's caravan for a hazardous journey through thirteenth century Cathay.

John Lucarotti's excellent scripts, full of wonderful dialogue and finely drawn characters, are well matched by Waris Hussein's polished direction; and the highly detailed and often lavish sets and costumes, designed by Barry Newbery and Daphne Dare respectively, make the whole thing a sumptuous visual treat. Performances from the principal cast - including Mark Eden's distinguished Marco Polo, Derren Nesbitt's devious Tegana, Zienia Merton's innocent Ping-Cho, Martin Miller's frail yet commanding Kublai Khan and, of course, the four regulars - are uniformly strong. Tristram Cary's charming incidental score, as different as can be imagined from his weird (but nonetheless effective) electronic compositions for The Daleks earlier in the season, adds to the overall impression of a near-flawless production.

It is in the historical stories rather than the science-based ones that the semi-educational aspect of the series' original format arguably comes most to the fore, and here we learn about all manner of things ranging from altitude sickness to the derivation of the word 'assassin'. In fact, if there is one criticism that could be validly levelled at the story it is that this eagerness to educate as well as to entertain is occasionally rather too obvious. Nevertheless, these little tutorials certainly served their purpose, as is obvious from the following reminiscences by John Peel in Oracle Volume 2 Number 2 dated November 1978:

'A large number of people, it appears, are engaged in debate over whether television influences young minds... I'd come down very strongly of the opinion that it does. For one thing, it influenced mine... Doctor Who made me broaden my entire outlook, and one show in particular opened a new world to me. That was... Marco Polo.

'Until this time, I had always thought of history as one of those horrible, boring lessons that school-kids were forced... to learn, and [in which they got] rotten marks for forgetting the date of the Spanish Armada or bonfire night or some equally obscure number. Now, watching the Doctor and his companions meet a traveller on the way to the court of Kublai Khan, I began to realise that history could be fun! I was enthralled; was this really the same sort of thing as that tedious subject I hated at school? It did not seem like it... Battle, intrigue, humour; they were real-life things, not the stuff from which text books were made...

'I went back to school filled with a strong desire to learn more about history - and an equally strong opinion that text books were the worst place to learn such facts!'

There are, it must be admitted, some viewers who simply dismiss the historical stories as dull and uninspiring by comparison with the science-based ones. If there is any story that gives the lie to that assessment, it is Marco Polo. As Peel put it, writing this time in Doctor Who - An Adventure in Space and Time in 1980: 'Gorgeous, fast, tense, funny and filled with character and feel for the period - Marco Polo is one of the true classics of television.'

< The Edge of DestructionFirst DoctorThe Keys of Marinus >

This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.

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