Chapter 94. Doctor Who – Marco Polo (1985)

Synopsis: The Venetian explorer Marco Polo meets four travellers stranded with their strange blue caravan – a box that that he immediately realises will make a splendid gift for the great Kublai Khan. On their long journey, the strangers become friends as they share stories of many cultures, but their journey is fraught with danger, not only from a hostile environment but also from within the party as a traitor schemes against them.

Chapter Titles

  • 1. Roof of the World
  • 2. Emissary of Peace
  • 3. Down to Earth
  • 4. Singing Sands
  • 5. Desert of Death
  • 6. A Tale of Hashashins
  • 7. Five Hundred Eyes
  • 8. Wall of Lies
  • 9. Too Many Kan-Chow Cooks
  • 10. Bamboozled
  • 11. Rider from Shang-Tu
  • 12. Runaway
  • 13. Road to Karakorum
  • 14. Mighty Kublai Khan
  • 15. Gambler
  • 16. Best-Laid Schemes
  • 17. Key to the World

Background: John Lucarotti adapts his own scripts for the series broadcast in 1964, so stealing the record from himself and The Aztecs for the biggest gap between broadcast and novelisation at 20 years, eight months and a week.

Notes: A new opening scene sees Susan give a temperature in centigrade and Ian calculates the fahrenheit equivalent. Ian opens the TARDIS door, then shuts it quickly (suggesting that the doors are the same as those on the exterior of the ship) and jokes that they can’t be in the Alps because there’s no yodelling. The Doctor also gives a clearer reason for staying outside of the ship (it will act like a ‘cold storage room’ and kill them). He introduces his granddaughter as ‘Susan Foreman’ (!) and both she and Ping-Cho are 15 years old (not 16 like on TV). Once again, the Doctor uses a pen torch [see The Aztecs]. Susan mentions the TARDIS ‘water producer’. Surprisingly, the device of Marco’s journal is not used; instead, some of the events he describes are expanded upon. 

Ping-Cho learns of the death of her husband-to-be as soon as she arrives at the Imperial Palace. The Empress notices exchanged glances between Ping-Cho and the Captain, Ling-Tau; she urges Kublai Khan to promote the captain so he might be of sufficient rank to be a husband to Ping-Cho. Tegana doesn’t get to commit suicide; he’s shot dead by Ling-Tau with an arrow that kills him instantly. There’s no swift escape to the TARDIS at the end either. Kublai Khan invites the Doctor to stay as his personal secretary, but he declines and says a relaxed goodbye to him, Marco and Ping-Cho before leaving in the TARDIS. Kublai Khan dubs the key to the TARDIS the ‘Key to the World’ and has it placed on a gold chain (unaware that it’s the Doctor’s spare). The Key is said to lie in a museum that was once the imperial palace.

Cover: David McAllister returns with a painted composition of Marco Polo, Tegana, Pingo Cho and Kublai Khan, along with some other elements that apparently come from an entirely different production called Marco Polo from the 1980s. It’s nice to see accurate resemblences to actors Mark Eden, Zienia Merton and Derren Nesbitt here.

Final Analysis: John Lucarroti’s second novel and it’s as much of a jolly history lesson as the first, with additional highly detailed descriptions of various menus. Obviously, each of the locations is grander than the sets in Lime Grove could have allowed and also we get a real sense of the time passing, as each chapter adds days onto the journey, which lasts around 40 days in all. It might lack the fun and melodrama of monsters of robots, but it’s a rare story that truly allows us to step into a culture and enjoy various aspects of it.

One thought on “Chapter 94. Doctor Who – Marco Polo (1985)

  1. I read this long before telesnaps and audios, and I loved it. It was so lush and epic. Then I got the audios and was less than impressed. The book is the Marco Polo tale I want the TV edition to be. Maybe, one day, animated episodes might be able to do it justice.

    Liked by 2 people

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