WARIS HUSSEIN &
A JOURNEY TO CATHAY
'THE BEGINNING' DVD BOX SET (BBCDVD1882) RELEASED IN JANUARY 2006;
AND 'MARCO POLO' AUDIO CD (ISBN 0-563-53508-3) RELEASED IN NOVEMBER 2003.
The TARDIS ARRIVES IN Central Asia, in 1289. There the TRAVELLERS MEET Marco Polo, on HIS mammoth journey to Peking.
Unfortunately for the TRAVELLERS, THEIR Ship proves OF interest to Polo, who sets his mind on presenting it to the mighty Kublai Khan on arrival at his court.
But Polo isn't the only one with designs on the TARDIS. The warlike Tegana will go to any lengths to steal the magical blue box.
AND When the Doctor meets Kublai Khan, his precious Ship is his only collateral in a high-stakes game of backgammon - and Khan is a master of the game...
ALL SEVEN EPISODES ARE MISSING.
22ND FEBRUARY 1964 - 4TH APRIL 1964
1. THE ROOF OF THE WORLD 2. THE SINGING SANDS
3. FIVE HUNDRED EYES 4. THE WALL OF LIES
5. RIDER FROM SHANG-TU 6. MIGHTY KUBLAI-KHAN
7. ASSASSIN AT PEKING
The special feature that I enjoyed most of all in The Beginning DVD box set was the inclusion of a half-hour reconstruction of Marco Polo. Although I’d previously been able to enjoy this lost story by virtue of the BBC Radio Collection’s CD soundtrack release, that exclusively aural experience does not compare to Mark Ayres’ stunning reconstruction.
The combination of telesnaps and the soundtrack gives us what will most probably prove to be the closest that we’ll ever get to experiencing the serial as it was originally intended. And whilst a full-length reconstruction would certainly be worthy of its own release, this condensed version really captures the spirit of the story; the feel of the travellers’ epic journey. Ayres even retains Marco Polo’s enchanting diary entries to help narrate the story, which are especially useful here considering how much of the story he has been forced to exclude.
There were things that I disliked about the serial though. Marco Polo himself, for example, and later on in the story even Kublai Kahn, seem far too agreeable to be viewed as credible threats to the four travellers. Worse still, the real villain of the piece, Tegana, is far too much of a stereotype to be compelling.
On the whole though, Marco Polo’s lofty reputation is well deserved. It is certainly one of the better historical stories and its presence on The Edge of Destruction DVD really rounds of the lavish Beginning box set in style.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design
and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
Imagine tuning into to Doctor Who during that first year and being entranced by the plains of 100,000 BC, the haunting wilderness of post-apocalyptic Skaro, and even the claustrophobic spaciousness of the TARDIS. The thrills and scares and laughs of this mad universe blossoming before you and not having a clue what was coming up next. The joy of finding out where the next story would be set, what the monster would be and what period of history you would be visiting. We have lost something in our post-internet world in that we are told exactly what the next season’s stories will be; indeed, in most cases a series’ showrunners capitalise on that expectation and pull in viewers by offering hints of what is to come. Watching An Unearthly Child, The Daleks and then The Edge of Destruction in sequence – three completely different stories – must have been a thrilling experience and to have those followed up with a story as scary and exciting as Marco Polo… they just don’t know how good they had it.
The thought that Marco Polo is the only complete serial to have been lost from the first two seasons is a criminal injustice. However, recently the telesnaps have been recovered from the director, Waris Hussein, and so we have had a chance to see what a triumph this was for everybody involved. The skill with which this story was assembled beams from those still pictures, right from the set and costume designers to the lighting engineers and the director.
This is a truly epic journey told over a period of weeks as we follow Marco Polo through the Roof of the World (the Himalayas), the Gobi desert, the Cave of Five Hundred Eyes, Shang-Tu and finally Peking. Attempting to recreate an embarkation worthy of a series of movies in the hot and poky Lime Grove studios with a limited budget was potentially suicidal for the series, but just look at those photos - the story is lit beautifully, the sets are lush and appear very spacious, the costumes radiate colour and charm. And from listening to the audio soundtrack it is clear that all are putting in glorious performances; the music is charming, and the pacing allows for some real character growth.
The script is one of the most ambitious in the series and allows each of the regular cast a chance to shine. Ian drops the baffled science teacher role of the last three stories and finally gets a chance to be the macho man of the series and really steps into his more recognised role as the protector of the family, facing up to the warlike Tegana in a number of wonderful scenes. Barbara gets a truly horrific moment where she is tied up by bandits and they roll dice to see which of them will slice her throat open. In a rare chance to see more to Susan than a drippy teenager, her relationship with Ping Cho radiates warmth and chemistry. The Doctor faces off with the mighty Kublai Khan in some gloriously funny sequences, the two of them playing backgammon for high stakes (he wins the material wealth of Burma for one year!)
We gain a new semi-regular in Mark Eden’s Polo, a thoughtful and delicate performance, initially distrustful of the regulars but growing to like and finally to protect them in his quest to return home to Venice. His narration of the story gives it a thoughtful edge and makes the plot even easier to follow (especially on audio). I like the shaded edge to Polo’s characterisation in this story; he can be grumpy and unlikable as well as unselfish and welcoming. At the end of the story he is far more at ease with the travellers and I could imagine our first historical companion stepping into the TARDIS; another soul desperate to get home.
When you study the telesnaps you have treasurable little windows into a dark and powerful story, and when you match the photos and the audio and the strength of the writing shines through even without movement. Try and hide from the horror of the singing sands with Susan and Ping-Cho; join the Doctor as he wakes up in the slowly condensing TARDIS; shiver as Susan is grabbed by Tegana, just as they are about to escape into the ship to another adventure; and marvel at the concluding fight between Polo and Tegana that ends in a delicious bloodbath.
Marco Polo is a massive departure from the rest of Doctor Who; a lyrical, educational epic that forgets all about alien monsters and villains and sees the Doctor and company truly experiencing the beauty and the horror of history. It is the standout story of the first season and is a cornerstone for just how good Doctor Who can be when it really pushes itself.
Copyright © Joe Ford 2010
Joe Ford has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design
and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
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