Doctor Who: “Marco Polo”

“The Roof of the World” – 22 February 1964
“The Singing Sands” – 29 February 1964
“Five Hundred Eyes” – 7 March 1964
“The Wall of Lies” – 14 March 1964
“Rider From Shang-Tu” – 21 March 1964
“Mighty Kublai Khan” – 28 March 1964
“Assassin at Peking” – 4 April 1964


** NOTE: This review is of a “lost episode” that has been reconstructed through recorded dialogue and television stills. **

The TARDIS crew lands in the Himalayas of Cathay in 1289, their ship badly damaged, and are picked up by Marco Polo’s caravan on its way along the fabled Silk Road to see the Emperor Kublai Khan. The story concerns the Doctor and his companions’ attempts to thwart the machinations of Tegana, who attempts to sabotage the caravan along its travels through the Pamir Plateau and across the treacherous Gobi Desert, and ultimately to assassinate Kublai Khan in Peking, at the height of his imperial power. The Doctor and his companions also attempt to regain the TARDIS, which Marco Polo has taken to give to Kublai Khan in effort to regain the Emperor’s good graces. Susan gets the key from Ping-Cho but is captured by Tegana before they can depart. They are finally able to thwart Tegana, who kills himself, and, in doing so, regain the Emperor’s respect for Marco Polo, who allows them to depart.

I am actually surprised at just how easy it was to watch “Marco Polo.” I was rather dreading the reconstructions, but they work well for what they are and do communicate the story the best they can.

So, what can I say about “Marco Polo?” A lot like the other serialized early adventures of Doctor Who, this one is ludicrously paced. What was a seven-episode story could have easily been told in two. Yes, I know they didn’t have money for multiple sets and actors, but it is what it is and what it is can be snore-inducing at times, straight up repetitive in others. Hell, the Doctor himself barely shows up in one of the installments as if it was just there as padding.

That being said, with the repetitive dragging nature of this drawn out serial, the story itself isn’t that bad. This was one of the episodes that was supposed to be educational in nature and, to be honest, I’m not a big enough aficionado of the real exploits of Marco Polo to judge whether it did a good job of that or not. What I can say is that the story was interesting to overcome the show’s awful pacing problems.

I know I’m also looking at this show with eyes five decades removed, but it makes me cringe to see white actors playing Asians. I really shouldn’t ding the episode for this, but some of the supporting portrayals in “Marco Polo” were right damn offensive.


“One day, we’ll know all the secrets of the skies, and we’ll stop our wanderings.”
– Susan

Fun Fact: The Doctor acquires a walking stick in this episode that he keeps with him from now on.

About the author

Jason Donner

Jason Donner devoured the universe and you are all living inside him.