Follow TV Tropes


Recap / Doctor Who S1 E4 "Marco Polo"

Go To
Polo sadly reacts to the news that his story was junked.note 

"'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.

Production code: D

The one where the Doctor does a full sci-fi free historical drama. Also the first proper "lost serial".

Written by John Lucarotti. This seven-episode serial first aired from February 22 to April 4, 1964.

Episodes: "The Roof of the World", "The Singing Sands", "Five Hundred Eyes", "The Wall of Lies", "Rider from Shang-Tu", "Mighty Kublai Khan", "Assassin at Peking". (All missing)

A 7-part 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 Buddhist 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 jailer. 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 the 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, making it the earliest serial to have any missing episodes at all as the first three serials have survived. Several fan-made reconstructions, attempts to "recreate" missing episodes using telesnaps and other sources of visual material along with the full existing soundtracks, have been made, including one in colour. 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"'s disc.

Not to be confused with the Fifth Doctor Big Finish episode that shares its name with this serial's first episode.


  • Artistic Licence – 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 reality, 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 spends most of the serial attempting to murder Marco and undermine Kublai Khan's court.
  • As You Know: "Where is the key?" "The Doctor has it. You wouldn't let him come up here."
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: The TARDIS crew travel with Marco Polo and meet Kublai Khan.
  • Big Bad: Tegana is The Heavy of the story, being responsible for the acts of sabotage against Marco's party, directing the bandits that harass them and attempting to assassinate the Khan. His master, Noghai, is the unseen Greater-Scope Villain.
  • Book Safe: Marco hides the TARDIS keys in a secret compartment in his journal.
  • Bound and Gagged: Barbara in Episode 3, when she is captured by Bandits.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The old man who Ping-Cho was arranged to marry tried to make himself younger using a potion made of sulphur and mercury.
  • The Emperor: Kublai Khan, who's actually pretty accommodating and reasonable towards the travellers.
  • 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.
  • Hero Antagonist: Marco only holds the TARDIS crew ransom because he desperately wants to return to Venice.
  • Historical Domain Character: Marco Polo, Kublai Khan.
  • 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 is ordered to kowtow before Kublai Khan. He refuses, but not out of pride — he's an old man and very stiff from having just walked most of the way across China. Fortunately, the great Khan, who is also quite elderly, finds the scene amusing.
  • Lighter and Softer: When the story begins, the Doctor is still his original "angry old man" self. After being absent for an entire episode, he returns with his more widely-recognized "grandfatherly" personality.
    • The story has far lower stakes compared to the two previous serials.
  • No Name Given: The mercenary bandit is never named in the story, and is only named Kuiju in closing credits.
  • Obviously Evil: Tegana wears his heart on his sleeve regarding his hostility and distrust towards the TARDIS crew.
  • Portrait Painting Peephole: The Doctor and Susan enter "The Cave of Five Hundred Eyes" which has walls painted with two hundred and fifty men. Susan sees one set of eyes moving and screams.
  • 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.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • John Lucarotti did an immense amount of research in writing this serial. He mainly drew from Marco Polo's diaries.
    • The serial's designer, Barry Newbery, used Aurel Stein's Ruins of Desert Cathay (1912) and Nelson Ikon Wu's Chinese and Indian Architecture (1963) for research of the 13th century designs. Newbery also found that Korean architecture from 1900 was similar to that of the 13th century.
  • 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.
  • Written-In Absence: The first in the show’s history, as the Doctor spends all of the second episode inside the TARDIS, only popping up for one line near the end. Oddly, no reason has been ascertained as to this, as Hartnell was not on holiday at the time.
  • Yellowface: Just about every actor in the Khan's court except Zienia Merton, Ping-Cho's actress, who was half-Burmese
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle!: The travellers have outwitted their hosts/captors and regained control of the repaired TARDIS. Then, as Susan is about to join the others inside, Tegana grabs her from behind.

"They would not believe half the things that I have seen in Cathay. But what is the truth? I wonder where they are now? The past or the future?"


Video Example(s):


Doctor Who reconstructed

An official reconstruction of the missing Doctor Who serial Marco Polo, utilizing a fan-made audio recording, existing photos (tele-snaps and publicity stills) and a clip from the still-existing previous episode.

How well does it match the trope?

4.6 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / MissingEpisode

Media sources: