Classic Doctor Who: Hanging out with Marco Polo, Part 2

Classic Doctor Who (Classic Who episode list here; previous entry here; next entry here.)

Season 1, Episode 4

Marco Polo

Post #2 (Episodes 5-7)

This is the second part of the Marco Polo serial; for my first entry, go here.

We left on a disturbing note as our friends were basically under tent-arrest, but snuck out easily, only to discover that their guard had already been murdered.

Presumably this was part of the Acomat/Tegana attack plan. Acomat is waiting for Tegana’s signal. Ian and the others figure out Tegana’s about to attack. The Doctor suggests they should leave immediately and leave Marco to his fate, which I can’t EXACTLY blame him for, but it’s pretty cold. But they can’t anyway, so Ian goes to warn Marco.

Sigh, Marco STILL thinks Tegana’s on his side. Tegana seems to be getting roped in to defending Marco’s camp against Tegana’s own raiding party. For a ruthless assassin, he has the worst luck.

The Doctor suggests they all, including Marco Polo, go into the TARDIS and take off, which would be a really poor choice. You can’t remove Marco Polo from history, Doctor! But the supposed bandits aren’t appearing, because Tegana hasn’t signaled.

Ian gets the idea to blow up bamboo on the fire to frighten the bandits. Interesting. Good science teacher knowledge.

Marco’s randomly philosophizing.

He and Ian are calmly discussing Ian’s most recent escape plan, which involved taking Marco hostage. Now they’re arguing about who the TARDIS is more important to. Marco’s perspective is really ridiculous, though. No, dude, you stole it.

Bandit attack! Tegana stabs Acomat, interestingly. Not even sure where his plot is going now.

At least Marco will trust the Doctor and company now?

Marco at least stops guarding them 24/7, and lets Susan and Ping-Cho hang out again. But no TARDIS for you! “Thanks for nothing,” says the Doctor.

Finally the Doctor figures out that Tegana must have killed their guard.

A new arrival. This must be the rider mentioned in the title.

He’s explaining their transportation system, which is impressive, involving a complicated horse relay, and I assume historically accurate.

I’m noticing, during the next voiceover by Marco, that the Doctor and company have been with Marco Polo for a WHILE now. Each journey to the next stop takes several days at least.

Their next stop has a SUPER annoying host.

Wow, the Doctor attempts an imitation of the guy, which is almost more annoying.

Ping-Cho and Susan are comparing everyone to goldfish.

The skinny one is the Tenth Doctor!

Aw, they’re both missing their homes.

Sheesh, now Tegana’s trying to steal the TARDIS. Everyone wants the TARDIS.

Ping-Cho’s taking the TARDIS keys! We still have 2 more episodes after this one, so I’m sure this can’t succeed.

She gives them straight to Susan! That’s impressive! Go figure, Tegana walks by RIGHT THEN. Seriously, though, she would get in massive trouble for betraying Marco.

Presumably Tegana will manage to steal the TARDIS before they can escape?

Ian’s going to get the guard drunk. Not a bad strategy, although definitely an inept guard.

Sigh, here’s Tegana. He’s incompetent at assassination attempts, but he sure can make a nuisance of himself.

Susan holds everyone up by saying goodbye to Ping-Cho, which I can’t blame her for, but Tegana catches her.

And that ends the episode!


I appreciate how Susan’s automatic response as soon as she’s in danger is to call “Grandfather!” It speaks to her dependence on the Doctor and her reflexive trust in him to get her out of a dangerous situation. It also sets a long precedent for future companions, who also automatically call for the Doctor when they get in danger, and trust him to get them out. Sometimes with considerably less experience of him than Susan has, in fact.

In fact, it’s Ian who turns up first. This is actually appropriate in a way, as Ian seems to set the precedent for a good deal of the Doctor’s future characteristics, including being the rescuing action hero.

Welp, the escape is thwarted yet again.

Tegana still tries to kill them, but Marco stops him, which is decent of him. Speaking of decent, Ian immediately steps in and claims he stole the key from Marco’s room, so that Ping-Cho doesn’t get in trouble. Good; I was worried about that.

But the TARDIS is travelling separately from them, so it seems like there will be plenty of chances for Tegana to steal it.

Ah, the Doctor doesn’t like horseback riding.

Snort, Barbara encourages Ian to talk to Marco, Ian says it won’t do any good, Marco turns up, and Barbara promptly tells him, “oh good, Ian was just wanting a word with you.” And ditches them, ha!

Marco doesn’t understand why Ian insists on using the TARDIS to travel when there are plenty of other modes of transportation available, which explains their communication difficulty.

Ian’s trying to explain time travel. I can’t see that going well.

Marco has a lot of experience with believing previously unbelievable things, thanks to his travels, but he can’t accept time travel.

Huh, Ping-Cho’s running away. Ian volunteers to find her, which should be great if Tegana doesn’t try to kill him or something.

Oh dear God, she’s going back to the town with the impossibly annoying guy. Ooh, she’s going to catch the guy trying to steal the TARDIS for Tegana. He has a creepy monkey. Naturally, he steals her money.

What even is this nonsense.

The maddeningly aggravating rich guy figures out who she is and becomes even more annoying, but thankfully Ian turns up just in time. I mean just in time to keep me from strangling him through my laptop screen.

Ian’s going to rescue the TARDIS!

Back on the road, Tegana’s yelling at Marco for being too trusting and not doubting enough, which ironically is highly accurate if applied to Tegana.

Actually, Tegana also has a point that Barbara and Susan are weirdly cheerful and unworried.

Now Marco’s getting mad because they all oppose Ping-Cho’s intended marriage, and this is what finally convinces him to send Tegana after Ian. How annoying.

Ian and Ping-Cho are actually a pretty good companion matchup.

Everyone else is FINALLY meeting Kublai Khan.

The Doctor’s finally making a useful historical observation (seriously, he hasn’t talked much…like, this whole serial), that the architecture and décor are Chinese rather than Mongolian. Actually, that’s probably not useful from a plot perspective, but it’s been so long since he’s said anything substantive that it stands out.

Oh dear, the Doctor’s refusing to kowtow (literally) to Kublai Khan.

“Kowtow before the ruler of Asia, India, Cathay, and other territories.” They got a little vague with that last bit.

Ok, that trumpet is damned painful. And very Western. Please stop. That hurts.

Kublai Khan, like the Doctor, is old, grouchy, and stiff. They get in an argument about it. For some reason, the Khan does not kill the Doctor for impertinence.

In other news, Khan’s aware that Tegana’s boss, Nogai, is lurking—in the same place Ian and Ping-Cho have figured out the TARDIS is headed. The Khan is quite suspicious about this and wants to question Tegana. Well, it’s about time SOMEBODY got suspicious.

The Khan apparently has decided he likes the Doctor, or maybe he just likes having someone around as old and stiff as he is.

Yep, they’re bonding over old age.

I’m not sure the Doctor will ever get to do that again with PHYSICAL old age.

Susan thinks it’s funny that “the mighty Kublai Khan” is old, infirm, and grouchy. Marco gets onto her about this, and for once I’m on his side. Stop with the ageism, Susan.

Meanwhile, Ian and Ping-Cho catch the thief, but Tegana catches them…and that ends the episode. Again.


Starting off with Tegana pleasantly inviting Ian to fight him. This guy has Faux Affably Evil down pat.

Somehow the messenger from like 2 episodes ago gets there just in time to stop Tegana from killing Ian, and sends everyone to Peking, I think.

Meanwhile, the Doctor is defeating Kublai Khan at backgammon. And apparently winning the entire trade with Burma for a year.

Be careful; you might win half of Asia!

Somehow it never occurred to me that the Khan would be married, but we get a random appearance from the Empress. She’s annoying.

Kublai Khan is comparing himself to Grandpa Genghis.

Sensibly, the Doctor is wagering for the TARDIS now.

Oops, Marco might lose his chance to go home if the Doctor wins. But he doesn’t complain.

Oh for goodness sake, the Doctor lost. He’s weirdly cheerful about this.

In the meantime, Ian and Ping-Cho are arrested for stealing the TARDIS, and STILL Marco won’t believe them that Tegana’s betraying him. Honestly Marco’s fairly bright most of the time; why is he SO dense in this area?

Ian’s on trial—well, eventually. Right now it’s mainly Marco getting interrogated. At least he FINALLY admits he was wrong to confiscate the TARDIS in the first place.

So Marco’s out of favor with the Khan, for trying to bribe him. But the Khan’s not super happy with Tegana either, saying that he doesn’t trust his “power of persuasion.” IT’S ABOUT TIME SOMEBODY FIGURED THAT OUT.

Huh, Ping-Cho’s husband-to-be conveniently died the night before they were going to get married. He, uh, drank mercury and sulfur on purpose. Not a good choice.

For some reason, the Khan trusts Ping-Cho’s opinion about the Doctor and company. I mean, I’m with him on that, but I’m not sure why he’s so sure she’s trustworthy. On the other hand, he did figure out that Tegana’s shady, so maybe he IS a good judge of character.

Marco gets chastised again by the Khan—and I THINK has finally figured out that Tegana’s been betraying him all along. He and Tegana are weirdly calm about it, though.

Our TARDIS crew finally puts all the clues together. They’re sure that Tegana is about to try to assassinate the Khan, but Marco, like an idiot, tries to get them arrested again. Apparently he HASN’T figured anything out yet.

Sure enough, Tegana nearly kills the Khan. Finally Marco makes it into the throne room, and I’m pretty sure he handed the Doctor his diary to hold. Containing the TARDIS keys. Marco and Tegana have what looks like a fairly satisfying swordfight. About time.

In the end, Tegana kills himself rather than letting the Khan’s men or Marco do it.

Marco just hands the Doctor the keys at last. “Go!”

They’re running out in the middle of the action, but at least we get to see a little more dénouement after they leave. Apparently Marco finally decides he can believe in time travel. And the Khan finally decides he can let Marco go home. The end!


Before I watched this episode, all I knew about it was that “the Doctor hangs out with Marco Polo for a while.” And…that’s basically exactly what happened. However, it never occurred to me that the Doctor was hanging out with Marco Polo UNWILLINGLY—because if you had the chance to hang out with Marco Polo, why on earth wouldn’t you? I wonder what would have happened if they’d encountered Marco and HADN’T had the TARDIS confiscated. Would they have simply let him pass on by? I would think that at least Barbara would have been intrigued and would have wanted to have a conversation with Marco. Anyway, it was definitely an enjoyable episode, and I wish we had at least some of it in motion!


A few thoughts:

So far, the show has been good at giving its guest characters a good deal of depth and character variation. Well, with the exception of the Daleks. The cavepeople from the first serial may not have been highly realistic, but they certainly had differing personalities. The Thals were annoyingly physically similar, but in terms of personality, they covered a broad spectrum, all having interesting flaws and strengths. In this serial, we get a weird mix of caricatures and thoughtful characterization. Barbara’s captors in the cave are stereotypical nasty bandits, for example. I’m not actually sure if they are created to fit a particular racial stereotype, but there’s a good bit of implicit racism in consigning non-white characters to shallow, stereotyped roles of any type. The same goes for the inexplicably annoying host from the way station where the TARDIS is stolen, and the thief who takes the TARDIS. But then we have characters like Ping-Cho, Tegana, and Kublai Khan, who are multi-layered and fascinating. Ping-Cho develops from an outwardly meek, submissive child to a young woman who helps her friends at her own cost and eventually chooses her own destiny. Tegana is cold-blooded and ruthless to his enemies, but is intensely loyal to his leader. He’s also intelligent and excellent at judging personalities and how to manipulate them. Finally, Kublai Khan has his goofy moments, but is a wise and capable leader who is skilled at assessing the character of others as well as himself. And then there’s Marco Polo, who has deeply-held morals but finds himself betraying them to achieve his desperate desire to go home; who’s a good leader and a loyal friend but can’t see when he’s being manipulated. The complexity makes for a satisfying experience as a viewer.

Also, I’m thinking of crafting a blog entry on the racism in this era of Doctor Who.

Finally, I found it interesting that “home” was a really significant motif throughout this serial. Basically everyone wants to go home: Ping-Cho, Marco Polo, Susan, Ian and Barbara. The Doctor wants to get back to his TARDIS. Even Tegana wants to go home in the sense that he wants to help his leader (and presumably rejoin him once they’re victorious). It’s an interesting theme to have this early in a show that’s all about exploration and getting outside of your home territory. Interestingly, the only people who get the destination they want are the ones who chose to travel in the first place—Marco Polo, who chose his traveling lifestyle, gets to go home; and the Doctor, who chose to leave Gallifrey, gets to return to his TARDIS. Ping-Cho, Susan, Ian, and Barbara, none of whom had a choice about leaving home, still do not get to go back. In any case, it’s interesting that the drive to explore and the longing for home have been intertwined in Doctor Who from the beginning.


Will the interesting themes and characterization continue? Who knows? WHO KNOWS! Come back for The Keys of Marinus!

I haven’t even seen this episode yet.

2 thoughts on “Classic Doctor Who: Hanging out with Marco Polo, Part 2

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