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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 June 2015
John Lucarotti's lost epic, `Marco Polo', has a very special reputation among fans of the classic `Doctor Who' historicals. As yet, I haven't watched the recon or heard the soundtrack, so this Target novelisation by him was my first introduction to the story.

When the TARDIS gets stranded in 1289 on the high, freezing Plain of Pamir, "the roof of the world", with serious electrical problems, the Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara are rescued by a passing caravan on its way to Peking. The leader, young Venetian nobleman Marco Polo, agrees to take them down to safety - with the TARDIS on a sledge. But Marco has a hidden plan; he will take the TARDIS all the way to Peking, to present it as a priceless gift to Kublai Khan and thus buy his freedom to return home to Venice.

That's more or less the whole story right there; despite many attempts to escape, for one reason or another the Doctor and his friends can never quite manage it and eventually find themselves, weeks later, arriving in the heart of ancient Peking at the court of the Great Khan Kublai. The story is enlivened by the scheming and banditry of the Tartar warlord Tegana, who serves a rival khan, and the love story of Ping-Cho, a girl of noble family being taken to Peking for an arranged marriage, but who has fallen in love with Ling-Tau, one of the Khan's elite messengers.

This is a very unusual and very long story. Not only was it originally a seven-parter, but the story unfolds at the leisurely pace of a horse-drawn caravan over not hours or a few days like most `Doctor Who' stories, but over several months; across the Gobi desert, down into lush farmland and bamboo forests, through way-stations, villages and towns until the final arrival at the Khan's Summer Palace and on to Peking.

It's a journey of cultural discovery, complete with different customs, clothing, meals that must have sounded incredibly exotic to viewers in 1964 and the people and places of China before it was even called China - in 1289, Peking is capital of Cathay. There's time for evening chess games and even a dance and song performance by Ping-Cho. The different characters of the Doctor and his friends are very well written as they form an uneasy part-friendship with Marco. He's a good man and they instinctively like him - but they are his prisoners as far as Peking and he wants the Doctor's `flying caravan' for his royal master.

The eventual meeting with Kublai Khan is comical and works well; he's an elderly man with gout and takes a liking to the Doctor, playing high-stakes backgammon with him - and winning the TARDIS fair and square. Only when the Doctor saves the Khan's life from an attack by Tegana are our friends free to continue their voyaging, in an ending that is more traditional and less rushed than in the original scripts. Here, rather than them simply escaping during the fight, Kublai freely returns the TARDIS in gratitude and asks the Doctor to accept a high rank at court, and there is a final, delightful twist with the TARDIS key - "the key to the world".

The only reason I haven't given this book five stars, is that I felt it was just too short. I believe that Target books had a standard length, rarely exceeded, which was fine for a four-parter but not for a seven-part epic of this scale. The dialogue is just as good as I expected after watching `The Aztecs' and there are moments of real magic in the descriptive prose, but I'm sure the author could have expanded the landscapes and details of the journey to double the length if space had been available.

Perhaps not many readers would have wanted that, but for me that's the real delight of this book; a journey with the Doctor not through Space and Time, but at the slow speed of a cart, through an historic world which now seems as wondrous and remote as Kinda or Traken.
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on 13 April 2016
The seven part serial ‘Marco Polo’ is, perhaps, one of the greatest losses of the BBC archive purge. The various audio/photo/image reconstructions certainly give the impression that this was one of the best ‘historical’ Doctor Who serials. Of course, the other way to still enjoy this is through this novelisation.

Personally I was a little disappointed by the novelisation. This might be because my expectations were too high after various reconstructions. These give the impression of something more epic than the novelisation delivers. Essentially this is due to the absence of the narration sequences from the character of Polo and the map images of the route Polo’s caravan is taking. These are quite intriguing and give the impression that the story was a little different stylistically. The narration also fills in the gaps where little is happening rather than plodding through landscape and thus serves the purpose of allowing the story to conveniently jump between locations and events. Without them the transition from one section of the story to another feels a little abrupt and disjointed, and at times as if something is missing.

The above might also explain why the resolution of the conspiracy plotline involving Tegana seems a little simple and slightly insignificant within the novelisation. It is almost a ‘blink and you miss it’ moment. Once more the telesnaps and audio indicated there was a bit more action involved.

‘Marco Polo’ is arguably the first story where the Tardis crew clearly work as a team throughout; the proceeding three stories generally seeing them more at loggerheads and unused to each other. The novelisation conveys this very well.

In the novelisation Polo comes over as more antagonistic, certainly in his arguments/debates with the Doctor, than the reconstructions suggested. He seems less chummy with both Ian and the Doctor and his desperation to return to Venice is more apparent. Having his motivations more pronounced does improve the story and it is likely that this is something the reconstructions don’t put across as successfully.

The Doctor appears to indicate the location of where the Terracotta Army is buried. I can’t remember it hearing it in the audio or the photo reconstructions. As ‘Marco Polo’ was shown in 1964 but the Terracotta Army wasn’t found until 1974 I’m assuming that this is retrospective alteration in the novelisation which was published in 1984.
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on 17 July 2015
A brilliant Hartnell adventure. So far, this is the only Lucarotti novel I have read, and I think it's absolutely brilliant. The story itself is highly entertaining and never sags at all. One of the things that is I personally like about this is how it is described that the doctor refers to marco simply as 'polo' in the sort of grumpy way you expect to him to do so. But yeah this quite a nice quick story which flow through all the way. (Shame that it is only existing as a reconstruction, but this novel really fills the gap because the imagery is superb). Great novel!
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on 26 January 2017
Who says that lost doctor who episodes are an issue. I believe that this book makes an excellent substitute to a VHS or a DVD. The book is written very well with unbelievable character development. Very Good!
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on 25 October 2015
Quality 1st historical Doctor Who story. Sad that the seven episodes are missing
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on 8 October 2016
Really enjoyed this book, very good read
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on 28 May 2007
Marco Polo is famed as one of the 'lost' Whos, a long 7-parter none of those parts are now remaining, just the soundtrack and telesnaps. From what I know there are three versions of Marco Polo available, first a 30-minute summary with soundtrack and telesnaps on the Beginnings Box Set, then the soundtrack and of course, this Target novelisation. I think that this is a lot better as far as the plot etc is concerned, however the ability to actually see it is a great advantage of the reconstruction on the Beginnings Box Set. Unfortunately I have not heard the full soundtrack though. This deals with a thorough explanation of the plot, not missing a single spot. The details are good, however description is missing in some places.

A great way to find out more about the 'lost' epic! Well worth getting if available!
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on 4 August 2014
excellent
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