on 17 March 2004
William Hartnell's Doctor is sadly forgotten by many people these days, which is a crying shame because without the charm and conviction he brought to the role, we could not have had Messrs Pertwee, Baker (Tom and Colin) and all the other actors whose names spring more readily to mind in connection with DR WHO.
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.
on 11 April 2006
I didn't want to enjoy Marco Polo as much as I did. Marco Polo has obtained a legendary status - dubbed by some as "the best Doctor Who story ever made" - that I had largely put down to it being the earliest missing story in the series' twenty-six year run.
None the less, I was involved in the story from the outset, even in audio-only form. It's not a fast-paced story - historicals seldom would be - rather, it takes a laid-back pace over its seven episodes (indeed, the story spans a period of several months) and allows the listener to soak up the atmosphere.
Atmosphere is something Marco Polo does very well indeed. The sound effects and incidental music of flute and harp suit the story perfectly and are very evocative. Indeed, given that this is a first season story and entirely studio-bound, one suspects that the serial is almost more atmospheric without the pictures.
John Lucarotti's script is intelligently written and contains several well-formed characters and subplots. This is reinforced by strong performances from all concerned (even William Hartnell doesn't fluff to many lines) with guest stars Mark Eden as Marco Polo, Derren Nesbitt as Tegana and Zienia Merton as Ping-Cho, who forms a very close bond with Susan, all adding something to the story.
Finally, William Russell provides effective linking narration that doesn't interfere with the dialogue or the mood of the story as a whole. It may drag ever so slightly around episode six, but Marco Polo is an excellent piece of Who that is well worthy of its reputation as a classic.
on 12 October 2004
Marco Polo is the first 'missing' story from the BBC archives, which judging by the quality of the story is a great shame. It is hard to believe that this story is over 40 years old and was one of the first stories to be produced and broadcast, nonetheless, it is excellent both as a piece of historical fiction and as part of the Doctor Who cannon.
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.
on 29 July 2009
Alongside a great deal of other classic television, a lot of 1960s DOCTOR WHO episodes seem to be lost forever, due, it would seem, to an unfortunate lack of foresight on the part of television companies in the past. Whilst it is very lucky that quite a substantial chunk of the first year of the programme does still survive, this is the earliest DOCTOR WHO story for which no episodes now exist in their original form, and also the first true "historical" narrative the series attempted, so it is very fortunate indeed that somebody took the time to make an audio recording of this story and enable us to enjoy it again after so many years.
In fact William Hartnell's era as DOCTOR WHO is particularly well served by this series of BBC Soundtrack releases, not least because some of the shortcomings of the visuals of 1960s television can be overlooked - although set photographs that do survive show that this production may well have overcome many of those shortcomings - and the listener can concentrate on the story and the performances, and "MARCO POLO" is a beautifully structured gem which never outstays its welcome despite its long running time. Over the course of seven episodes our heroes spend a significant amount of time in the company of the eponymous traveller (played here by a youthful Mark Eden) as he travels from the "roof of the world" to the court of "mighty Kublai Khan" all the while trying to thwart the evil plans of the warlord Tegana (Derren Nesbitt) whom Marco seems to trust rather more than he should, and Susan, the Doctor's Granddaughter, also manages to form a strong friendship with Ping-Cho (Zienia Merton) a young girl who is being transported far from her home to be married to an elderly man she has never met.
I have enjoyed this range for many years now, with the soundtracks of old stories enhanced by the addition of narration which, in this case, is appropriately (and rather excellently) provided by William Russell who played Ian Chesterton (the science teacher) in the original show. I find that the explanatory narration very successfully replaces the missing visuals and doesn't detract at all from the story, and whilst I know that there are some who would rather not have anything added to the original soundtrack recordings as aired, I tend towards the view that they do help to sell the story and in this form the stories are reborn in an audio medium and can happily help pass a long car journey or long day at the computer. When listening, you should try to remember that this story dates from simpler times when the show still had an educational remit, so you do find references to how condensation happens and the source of the word "assassin" as the story rattles along. William Hartnell's Doctor is rapidly transforming into a more loveable character already somewhat removed from his early - rather abrasive - performance, and the classic original lineup is completed - alongside the aforementioned Ian Chesterton - with Jacqueline Hill as Barbara Wright (the history teacher) and Carole Ann Ford as Susan.
This story follows directly on from the previous story (which does exist and is known as "THE EDGE OF DESTRUCTION" in its DVD release) and leads on into "THE KEYS OF MARINUS" (which also exists and will soon also be available on DVD), so buying this story will fill a gap in the unfolding narrative of the "Adventure in Time and Space" that the show styled itself as in its formative years. Interestingly the DVD set "DOCTOR WHO - THE BEGINNING" which includes the aforementioned "EDGE OF DESTRUCTION" alongside "AN UNEARTHLY CHILD" and "THE DALEKS" also includes a 30 minute "reconstruction" of "MARCO POLO" which takes highlights from the soundtrack and links them with existing photographic material to provide just a taste of what this long lost show might have resembled.
As ever, the sound quality is mostly pretty good across the 3 CDs, considering the source material, although it does fade out every so often. The packaging designers have also taken the time to include a replica map of the journey taken by the characters during the story which is typical of the care that the producers of this range put into these releases.
on 4 October 2014
"Marco Polo" was the fourth story in the classic series and is sadly the earliest missing story, which all seven episodes were wiped by the BBC. But luckilly like all the missing dr who episodes, the soundtrack exists which is very enjoyable to listen to, but it would have been so much better if the footage did exist. The acting performances sound very good from the cast and the humour from Hartnell is very enjoyable to listen to, especially the scene when he hurts his back when bowing to Kublai Khan. So far this is the first story I have listened too and overall there are 10 stories which are completely missing, which I am looking forward to listening to "The massacre of St Bartholemew's eve" with William Hartnell and "The power of the daleks" with Patrick Troughton. But maybe sometime in the future more classic episodes might be found which would be fantastic.