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.

Chapter 59. Doctor Who and the Keys of Marinus (1980)

Synopsis: A huge pyramid surrounded by a sea of acid. Inside is Arbitan, sole protector of the Conscience of Marinus, a powerful computer that can control minds. The Doctor and his fellow travellers agree to help Arbitan locate a set of keys for the machine, which have been hidden in different locations across the planet. So begins a deadly quest for the time travellers that will involve mind-controlling brains in jars, killer plants, a frozen tundra and a trial for murder. All the while, they are unaware that Arbitan’s enemy, Yartek, leader of the Voord, has captured the pyramid and now lies in wait for their return with the keys…

Chapter Titles

  • 1. The Sea of Death
  • 2. The Marble City
  • 3. The Velvet Web
  • 4. The Brains of Morphoton
  • 5. The Screaming Jungle
  • 6. The Whispering Darkness
  • 7. The Snows of Terror
  • 8. The Demons
  • 9. Sentenced!
  • 10. The Mystery of the Locked Room
  • 11. The Missing Key
  • 12. Arbitan’s Revenge
  • 13. Final Goodbyes

Background: Philip Hinchcliffe adapts Terry Nation’s 1964 scripts, during a period when the story titles for Hartnell’s stories had not been agreed on by consensus, so the title page states that this is an adaptation of Terry Nation’s ‘The Sea of Death’.  So far, this is the biggest gap between the broadcast of a story and its release as a novel, at 16 years, three months and one week. It’s also been three years and 29 books since the publication of a First Doctor story under the Target banner.

Notes: Time is measured in zeniths in inter-galactic time. The Voord submersible pods are BXV sub-oceanic assault craft. Apparently, Barbara suffers from space-time travel sickness and she believes human bodies are not built for time travel – or at least hers isn’t. Hinchcliffe describes the inside of the TARDIS thus:

They were inside a large hexagonal-shaped control room with white hexagonal-patterned walls. A hexagonal console in the middle of the room supported a transparent cylindrical column which moved slowly up and down when the ship was in flight. 

The Doctor has ‘mischievous blue eyes’ (unlike Harnell’s own, which were brown). Barbara and Ian’s first meeting with the Doctor and Susan is summarised and we’re told that the TARDIS can ‘change its appearance like a chameleon’. Ian is still wearing a ‘Chinese jacket’ that he picked up ‘the court of Kublai Kahn’ [sic], which we’re told ‘undermined his air of schoolmasterly interest’. 

The Voord have webbed hands and feet, they’re the same shape as a man, but stronger and more agile:

Its skin was dark and rubbery, its bulletshaped head smooth and devoid of features except for two frog-like eyes and a snoutish protuberance like corrugated piping. The head was flanked by two flat, pointed lugs. The face as a whole faintly resembled that of Anubis, the jackal-headed god of Egyptian mythology. The creature, however, was far from being any sort of god. It was, in fact, a Class I Voord Assault Trooper, programmed to kill enemy life-forms on sight!

The word ‘programmed’ suggests at least some degree of robotic or artificial intelligence. Yartek developed an immuniser that enabled the Voord to ‘rob and cheat, kill and exploit’; Arbitan’s people were helpless as the Conscience made them incapable of violent resistance. Susan calculates that Arbitan’s temple is a couple of miles all round, while Barbara’s comparison from the TV version of the temple to those of the Egyptians and South Americans is given to Ian for some reason. Vasor is said to be like a ‘Breughel peasant’, which suggests he should have been down an alley, puking. Yartek is said to smile and his face has ‘bulbous eyes’, so he doesn’t quite look like his TV counterpart.

Cover: David McAllister’s first contribution to the range is both beautifully painted and disappointingly bland – the TARDIS hovers in space above a generic planet. Were they too squeamish to attempt one of the Brains of Morphoton for this? As the policy of the time was to avoid having older Doctors on the cover, this might have limited their options, so having the iconic TARDIS might have seemed more marketable, but it’s a shame as we could have had something rivalling Alun Hood’s Terror of the Autons cover for sheer horror.

Final Analysis: This was one of four books I received as a Christmas present in 1980, the first Target books I owned, rather than loaning from the library. Aside from maybe an episode at a convention in the mid-1980s, I’m not sure if I saw the TV story for more than a decade later, so it’s Hinchcliffe’s version that was imprinted on my mind, alongside The Daleks, as what Hartnell’s Doctor was really like. Good going, considering the Doctor himself is missing for half of the story and Ian is, as on TV, very much the lead character. This is Hinchcliffe’s final novel for the range and it’s such a weird choice for him, but it’s every bit the Boy’s Own adventure that was at the heart of his time as producer (including what feels very much like the belittling of Barbara to elevate Ian more), so it’s perhaps not as surprising as it first appears. It faithfully adapts Terry Nation’s scripts, which acted as a template for what the series would quickly become. It has a quest (although after all those Key to Time novels, that’s not necessarily a positive); four alien lands with hostile environments; repulsive monsters; selfish antagonists who are more than a bit rapey; and a trial! At the end, the Big Bad Wolf-style villain is revealed to be rather disappointing, but as this is Hinchcliffe, the description of Yartek’s demise is much, much nastier than the fade-to-white we saw on TV.