"I couldn't place it in the hanging-garden, could I?" What does he think it is? A potting-shed?
—The Doctor, mimicking Wang-Lo's comments about the TARDIS.
A long historical adventure, in which the Doctor and his companions join Marco Polo
on his journey into Cathay
. Polo sees the TARDIS arrive and believes it to be a magical box, so he decides to take it to Kublai Khan in Peking
in order to win imperial favour. He's desperate to go back home to Venice, and hopes that the gift of what he believes to be a Buddist meditation device will convince Khan to finally let him go home.
The TARDIS still hasn't recovered from the previous adventure, and she's closed off much of her facilities (including the food and water machines) to repair herself. This proves to be a problem when Tegana, a villainous diplomat travelling with Marco, empties the caravan's water supplies.
The heroes find themselves forced to accompany Marco and his caravan on the long, long trek through the desert. Susan befriends a teenaged girl named Ping-Cho, Marco's ward, who's on a journey to go marry a wealthy 70-something man, entirely against her will. Ian and Barbara get along well enough with Marco, although Marco reluctantly acts as their jailor. The Doctor isn't in the mood to play nice, and simply tries to repair the TARDIS and sneak off.
After being introduced to Kublai Khan himself, the Doctor manages to befriend the old emperor and eventually foils Tegana's plot to overthrow him. In the confusion of the battle, the gang steals the TARDIS back — although Khan notes that he would have been kind enough to give her back anyway. Marco gets to go home three years later, and Ping-Cho's fiance conveniently turned out to be Too Dumb to Live
All seven episodes are missing. A colour reconstruction— a fanmade attempt to "recreate" missing episodes using telesnaps
and other sources of visual material) — with the full audio track exists. The serial's audio has also been released on CD by the BBC, with linking narration by William Russell (Ian). An abridged, 30-minute reconstruction is also available on the DVD set "The Beginning", on The Edge of Destruction
- Artistic License - History: in this serial Nogai Khan was the head of the Golden Horde, and at war with the Yuan Dynasty led by his archrival and kin, Kublai Khan. in actuality Nogai Khan had no animosities towards Kublai Khan. It was his nephew, Kaidu Khan, that was his sworn nemesis and antagonist for many years, synchronous with the events of this serial.
- Achilles in His Tent: The Doctor.
- Arranged Marriage: Ping Cho's storyline. She's 16, her husband-to-be is well over 70. She's not happy about it, and the Doctor gives Marco a grand What the Hell, Hero? for condoning the marriage.
- Ass in Ambassador: Tegana
- Book Safe: Marco hides the TARDIS keys in a secret compartment in his journal.
- The Emperor: Kublai Khan, who's actually pretty accommodating and reasonable towards the travelers.
- Exact Words: Ping Cho promised Marco that she would not tell the TARDIS crew where the keys were hidden. She did not promise that she would not take them herself.
- Field Trip To The Past: The TARDIS crew's adventure with Polo and company spans months, making this one of the longest Who stories in terms of real time spent.
- Future Slang: Susan lets some slip when talking to Ping Cho.
- Hilarious in Hindsight: The characters wonder if a giant footprint might be from an Abominable Snowman. Patrick Troughton's doctor did in fact encounter the creatures.
- Historical-Domain Character: Marco Polo, Kublai Khan.
- Hero Antagonist: Marco only holds the TARDIS crew ransom because he desperately wants to return to Venice.
- Home Sweet Home: Both Ping Cho and Marco's main motivations. In the end, Ping Cho accepts the Khan's offer to stay in his court while Polo is allowed to return back to Venice after 18 years.
- I Never Said It Was Poison: Tegana knows about a passageway in a cave he claims he has never visited.
- Kneel Before Zod: The Doctor refuses to kneel to Kublai Khan, because his back hurts from riding a horse and he can't kneel.
- Lighter and Softer: When the story begins, the Doctor is still his original "angry old man" type. After being absent for an entire episode, he returns as his more widely-recognized "grandfatherly" type.
- Missing Episode: The entire serial, and this is one of three stories with no surviving footage at all, not even a short clip. "Marco Polo" is particularly annoying as it was one of the most widely-sold 1960s stories. In theory, there should be more copies out there than other missing episodes, but so far none have been found. There are a good number of telesnaps, though, so there's that.
- Obviously Evil: Tegana wears his heart on his sleeve regarding his hostility and distrust towards the TARDIS crew.
- Professional Gambler: Kublai Khan and the Doctor. The latter tries winning the TARDIS back after already winning pretty much half of Asia. He loses.
- Scenery Porn: Based on the surviving publicity photos and telesnaps, the story must have had some truly exceptional sets and costumes.
- Travel Montage: Marco narrates portions of the journey via voiceover while a map of the route is shown onscreen.
- What Year Is This?: The Doctor asks Marco what year it is, leading Marco to ask the Doctor exactly how long he has been travelling.