Doctor Who/Marco Polo

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Marco Polo
Airdate February 22, 1964
Production Number D
Writer(s) John Lucarotti
Director(s) Waris Hussein and John Crockett
← 003
The Edge of Destruction
005 →
The Keys of Marinus
Doctor WhoSeason One


Marco Polo is the fourth serial of the first season of Doctor Who, and the fourth serial overall.

Guest Stars: Mark Eden (Marco Polo), Derren Nisbitt (Tegana), Zienia Merton (Ping-Cho), Martin Miller (Kublai Khan), Paul Carson (Ling-Tau), Jimmy Gardner (Chenchu), Claire Davenport (Empress), Tutte Lemkow (Kuiju)

Plot Overview

The Roof of the World

Our companions land on the Plain of Pamir in the year 1289. Having sustained damage in a recent ordeal, the TARDIS has neither lights nor heat. Forced to look elsewhere for shelter while repairs are made, the Doctor and his companions encounter a group of Mongols, who mistake them for evil spirits. The Mongols surround the group intending to kill them. Things look quite bad until Marco Polo intervenes, ordering their leader, Tegana, to spare them.

Marco Polo agrees to transport the TARDIS to the city of Lop, but because of his men's superstitious fears, no one is allowed to enter the TARDIS until they reach their destination. The Doctor is forced to give Marco the key to the TARDIS.

Upon arrival in Lop, the Doctor is outraged to find that Marco Polo actually intends to present the TARDIS to the Kublai Kahn as a gift. He hopes that such a great gift will persuade the Kahn to release him from his service, allowing him to return home. However Marco Polo is not the only one with plans to steal the TARDIS. Tegana secretly plots to poison Marco's entire entourage, and then steal it for himself.

The Singing Sands

Forced to travel through the Gobi desert, the Doctor grouses, sulks, and insults Marco Polo, trying Mr. Polo's patience to the utmost. Ian, on the other hand, plays chess with the man.

Ping Cho, a young woman in Marco Polo's entourage, is being conveyed to an arranged marriage (to a man of 70 years). Susan and Ping Cho share a tent and soon develop a special rapport. At Susan's urging, they follow Tegana through the darkness as he secretly leaves camp to meet with his co-conspirators, but Ping Cho starts to feel hot and they turn back. Just as they do, a sandstorm hits, leaving them disoriented and screaming for help. Tegana answers their calls for help, ushering them back to camp. His explanation for leaving camp in the first place: he simply wanted to take a walk.

Later that night Tegana cuts the caravan's water gourds, draining virtually all of their water onto the desert floor, in the hopes that it will force the caravan to turn back toward Lop; but Marco Polo, wise about such things, suspects bandits. Bandits would do such a thing to force them to turn back, where they would then be ambushed when they had become weak from lack of water. Instead he pushes onward across the desert.

Days later, the group is tired, has no water, and progress has slowed to a standstill. Tegana offers to go ahead alone to an oasis and fetch water. The desert heat is taking its toll more harshly on the Doctor due to his age, so he and Susan are allowed to sleep in the TARDIS.

Five Hundred Eyes

In the TARDIS the Doctor is awakened by a water droplet. Water is condensing on the inner walls, because they are cold! He wakes Susan and together they collect the water, mopping it from the walls with pieces of cloth. Emerging from the TARDIS with a jug of water, the Doctor must confront Marco Polo's suspicions: they told him they didn't have any water. He laboriously explains the concept of condensation, and eventually the Doctor is able to make his point.

The water is enough to get them to the oasis, where they encounter Tegana, who is somewhat surprised to see them alive. Barbara becomes suspicious after hearing his story of how bandits camping at the oasis prevented him from returning immediately. After resting for the night near the oasis, they move on.

They arrive at the Tun Huang way station. Nearby is the Cave of a Thousand Buddhas and also the Cave of Five-Hundred Eyes. The Doctor reveals to Susan and Ian that they key he gave to Marco Polo is a key, but it's not a key to the TARDIS. The Doctor still has the key to the TARDIS.

After Ping Cho's recital of the story of Ala Eddin, The Old Man of the Mountain, Barbara follows Tegana to the Cave of Five-Hundred Eyes. There in an inner chamber he meets with followers of Noghai and arranges an attack on Polo's caravan. Barbara, still in the outer chamber, is caught intruding and taken prisoner.

When the others realize that Barbara is missing, they search for her. Following Ping Cho's advice, the Doctor , Susan, and Ping Cho go to the Cave of Five-Hundred Eyes, where they find Barbara's scarf. Fearing that something bad has happened they begin calling for her.

The Wall of Lies

Susan thinks she saw the eyes of a wall painting move, but her grandfather assures her that she must have imagined it. Tegana arrives and asks why they are here: evil spirits dwell in this cave. Later when Marco Polo and Ian arrive, Marco finds a way into the inner chamber. The Mongol guard watching Barbara moves to kill her, but Marco rushes to her aid, killing the guard before he can harm her.

Although Barbara tells Marco that she followed Tegana to the cave, Tegana's flat denial is all that Marco cares to hear. He trusts Tegana. He doesn't trust her.

Marco separates Ping Cho and Susan, claiming that Susan is a bad influence. They travel onward through Su Chow, Kan Chow, and Lan Chow, proceeding onward to Sinju. There Ping Cho again tries to convince Mr. Polo of the truth about Tegana, but he will not listen. Meanwhile Tegana arranges another attack on the caravan.

The Doctor, who has been secretly entering the TARDIS to work on the broken component, is caught by Tegana who reports him to Marco. Marco forces the Doctor to give him the real key, but the Doctor still refuses to tell him how to use the key to enter the TARDIS. He assigns the Doctor and his companions to a separate tent to keep them out of trouble.

Sequestered in their tent, Ian cuts his way out the back with a piece of the broken plate, a plate that he himself had broken in anger only a moment before. He sneaks up on the guard, hoping to keep him from sounding the alarm, but the guard is dead!

Rider From Shang-Tu

As Tegana prepares a torch to signal the attack, Ian wakes Marco to warn him: the camp is surrounded. As bandits enter the clearing, they stack bamboo on the fire. Marco gives everyone swords, including Ian and the Doctor. A swordfight ensues, but it doesn't last long. As expected, the bamboo on the fire heats, and as it heats, it begins to explode. The sound of the explosions startle the bandits and they flee into the night.

Fearing that Ian was after the key to the TARDIS, Marco hides the key in his journal, making sure that Ping Cho knows where it is hidden. He makes her promise not to reveal its location.

The group moves on to Cheng Ting, where Wang Lo, the administrator of the way station, moves the TARDIS to the stables. In the nearby gardens, Ping Cho learns that Susan can never go home without the TARDIS. Meanwhile elsewhere in Cheng Ting, Tegana hires a one-eyed man, Kuiju, to steal the TARDIS at midnight.

Ping Cho only promised Marco Polo not to reveal where he hid the key. She sincerely wants to help Susan go home, so she takes the key from Marco's journal herself and gives it to Susan. Everyone gathers in the TARDIS, ready to leave, but Susan goes back to Ping Cho so she can say goodbye. On her way she is caught by Tegana, who realizes that they are trying to escape.

Mighty Kublai Khan

Tegana, holding Susan hostage, forces everyone out the of TARDIS. Careful questioning of the Doctor leads Marco Polo to realize that it was Ping Cho that had given him the TARDIS key: the Doctor did not actually know where the key had been hidden.

They journey onward, leaving most of their baggage, including the TARDIS, for a trade caravan to haul. At an inn on the way to Shang Tu, the Doctor tells Marco that the TARDIS can travel through time. He is impressed, but somewhat dubious.

Ping Cho, facing a forced marriage to a man three times her age, leaves the inn and returns alone to the way station at Cheng Ting, where she tries to book passage home (with a one-eyed man). He takes her money, promising that he will help. It's money she'll never see again.

Back at the Inn, Marco discovers her missing. He cannot afford to look for her himself, nor can he allow Tegana to leave either. He must arrive before the Khan with Tegana -- that was his errand. So he reluctantly takes Ian up on his offer of help. Ian is outiffted with a horse and sent to look for her.

At the Summer Palace at Shang Tu, the Doctor initially refuses to kowtow before the Great Kublai Khan, but at Susan's insistance, he tries anyway. However due to his back problems, he is unable to properly bend down and touch his head to the floor. After ascertaining that the Doctor is not mocking him (for his own afflictions of age), the Khan allows them all to rise.

The Khan informs a surprised Marco Polo that Noghai's army is already encamped at Karakorum. Later he announces that he will be going to Peking, and also declares that the Doctor will ride in the carriage of state with him. As the audience ends, the Khan walks with the Doctor, and as they converse they find a special kinship in the challenges of old age. They head off together to try the healing waters of the palace.

Meanwhile Ian has found Ping Cho. Together they determine that the TARDIS has been stolen, probably by the one-eyed man. So they follow him until he stops. He is waiting for someone. Ping Cho distracts him, so that Ian can jump him and take his sword. At just that moment Tegana arrives. He has defied Marco's orders and come to collect the TARDIS. He draws his sword and advances on Ian.

Assassin at Peking

Just as Tegana is about to attack Ian, Ling Tau, the Khan's messenger, arrives with soldiers in tow. Kuiju, the one-eyed man who stole the TARDIS, is killed when he trys to run away. Always plotting, Tegana then accuses Ian and Ping Cho of stealing the property of the Great Kublai Khan: the TARDIS. They are taken prisoner.

Meanwhile in Peking, the Doctor has been playing backgammon with the Great Khan ... and he is winning. The Khan owes him a great deal of money ... and half of Asia. When the Doctor learns that the Khan considers his losses to be debts of honor, he proposes one more game: his current winnings against Marco Polo's as-yet-unseen gift, the TARDIS. When Marco learns of the stakes (from the Great Khan himself even as the game is underway), he is irritated but has a newfound respect for the Doctor. In the end however, the Doctor loses, getting only a piece of paper currency as a consolation prize.

Back inside the palace, the Khan questions Marco Polo: why did he not execute Ian for trying to steal the TARDIS. Marco is forced to admit that he did not do so because he had originally taken the TARDIS from the Doctor, hoping that such a gift would influence the Khan to give him leave to return home to Venice. Disappointed the Khan tells Marco that his gift did not work; he will not be allowed to go home.

Ping Cho's husband was in town and they were to be married, but he drank a youth potion (containing quicksilver and sulfur) and of course died. The Khan gives Ping Cho a choice: return to her home in Samarkand or stay in the Royal Court and bless them with her presence. She choses to stay.

Elsewhere in a prison cell within the palace the Doctor and his companions discuss the situation and come to the conclusion that Tegana plans to assassinate the Khan. They have to warn someone, but nobody will listen, so they lure the guard inside and Ian incapacitates him.

Running through the palace, they bump into Marco who orders his guard to seize Ian and return him to his cell. But at just that moment a messenger, Ling Tau, arrives with urgent news: Noghai's army is marching on Peking. With dread Marco realizes that Tegana is now alone in the throne room with the Khan.

Marco rushes to the throne room and enters just as Tegana begins to move against the Khan. After a good bit of swordplay, Marco manages to disarm Tegana. The Khan calls for his guards. The guards arrive as do Susan and the other companions. The Khan then declares that Tegana must die for his deeds, but before the guards can act, Tegana grabs a sword and impales himself upon it. Susan screams in horror.

Marco Polo gives the Doctor the keys to the TARDIS and urges them to hurry. Susan says her goodbyes to Ping Cho and enters the TARDIS as well. With everyone aboard, the TARDIS starts its journey to another time and another place, even as Kublai Khan and Marco Polo look on.


No video for this story exists aside from the lead-in shown at the end of The Edge of Destruction. However, there are numerous still photographs, taken during the making of the show.

Loose Cannon Productions has lovingly created a video montage of this story using audio soundtrack recordings and still photos, many of which are in color and many more which have had color painstakingly added. The "reconstruction" also includes actor Mark Eden reprising his role as an older Marco Polo penning his memiors in Venice, recounting the strange tale of four travellers and their peculiar "caravan".

Arc Advancement



  • Ian plays chess with Marco Polo in the Gobi Deset.
  • In his audience before the Great Kublai Khan, the Doctor reiterates that he is not a physician.
  • At some point during his travels Ian gets a robe which we will see him wearning in later shows.



The Show

Behind the Scenes

Allusions and References

  • Marco Polo hopes to be released from the Kublai Khan's service and someday return to Venice.
  • Ping Cho is from Samarkand.
  • The first people the Doctor and his companions meet are the Mongols led by Tegana.
  • In this historical story, references to Cathay (China) abound.
    • The TARDIS lands on the Plain of Pamir.
    • For a time the Doctor and his companions travel through the Gobi Desert along the Silk Road.
    • Tun-huang is the site of the Cave of Five-Hundred Eyes, where Barbara is held captive. Nearby is the Cave of the Thousand Buddhas.
    • In their travels with Marco Polo they travel through Su-Chow, Kan-Chow, and Lan-Chow on their way to Shang-tu.
    • When Kuiju steals the TARDIS, he takes it along the little-used Karakorum road.
    • Finally, at the palace in Peking, Marco Polo returns the keys to the TARDIS.

Memorable Moments

  • At one point in the installment Mighty Kublai Khan, the Doctor is playing backgammon with the Khan and winning. Winning so much that the Great Kublai Khan owes him half of Asia!



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