The first Doctor, William Hartnell, and his companions join the caravan of the legendary explorer Marco Polo in this seven-part "lost" story from the programme's original 1964 series.
MARCO POLO was in fact, the 4th full length serial for the fledgling programme back in 1964. It places the Dr and his 3 companions in the unusual position of being forced to accompany Venetian explorer Marco Polo on his months-long journey across 13th century China (then known as Cathay). Polo is working in the service of Kublai Khan and is hoping that by giving the Doctor's TARDIS to him as a gift he will be permitted to return to his native land.
Those expecting the usual run-ins with alien beasties or robotic terrorizers will doubtless be disappointed with the lack of sci-fi elements to this tale. This is not to say that there isn't a great deal of drama and incident -there's a splendidly devious Mongol Warlord contributing most of the problems which our heroes encounter. But this is one of the purely historical tales which were a staple of DR WHO's early years, then later abandoned.
What surprises one about this 40 year old soundtrack is the pace, intelligence and subtlety of the script. All the characters are interesting and credible. Moreover, you get a free history lesson while you're enjoying the plot - this is done beautifully, no boring info-dumps from this script; instead a magical evocation of an ancient culture which is every bit as fascinating as any luridly imagined alien world.
The acting, the music, the situations all lead one to visualise a sumptuous production in the mind's eye. It is simply criminal that the BBC destroyed this and many other "lost" DR WHO serials later on in the mid 1970s. In my view MARCO POLO represents one of the best stories in the whole TV canon of the show. We're lucky to have this cleaned up soundtrack even if we may never get to see Barry Newberry's set designs as they were meant to be appreciated.
The story comprises of the original TARDIS crew: Hartnell, Russell, Ford and Hill - and by this point not only have the actors cemented their relationships it seems that the characters have as well. No longer do we hear their continuing bickering as was the case with previous early adventures, but we hear them working as a team and rely on each other to escape.
Set in China during the reign of Kublai Khan, the story traces the travels of Marco Polo, superbly acted by Marc Eden. Although simplisitc, the story is effective - each episode tells a piece of the journey and the apparent perils that beset the company on the way to it's terminus: the Khan's palace.
This may seem slow - however, it is far from that - the charcterisation gives real life historical figures substance. In his scripts, Lucarotii brings characters from the past vividly to life and it is complex and detailed characterisation that makes this story worth its classic status. Similarly, if the visuals existed, Barry Newbury's excellent design, would set this apart from all the other stories at the time. Even Disney were interested in turing the adventure into a film!!
A must for fans - not only is it a classic story, but it comes from the early days of the show, when little was known about the Doctor and as each episode had a name title back then, we did not know where the TARDIS would take the time-travellers next.
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