Marco Polo (Doctor Who)

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004 – Marco Polo
Doctor Who serial
Marco Polo.jpg
Marco Polo, Susan, the Doctor and Ian
Directed by
Written by John Lucarotti
Script editor David Whitaker
Produced by Verity Lambert
Incidental music composer Tristram Cary
Production code D
Series Season 1
Length 7 episodes, 25 minutes each
Episode(s) missing All 7 episodes
Date started 22 February 1964
Date ended 4 April 1964
← Preceded by Followed by →
The Edge of Destruction The Keys of Marinus
Doctor Who episodes (1963–1989)
Doctor Who episodes (2005–present)

Marco Polo is the completely missing fourth serial of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who. It was first broadcast on BBC TV in seven weekly parts from 22 February to 4 April 1964. It was written by John Lucarotti and directed by Waris Hussein; John Crockett directed the fourth episode. The story is set in China in the year 1289, where the Doctor (William Hartnell), his granddaughter Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford), and her teachers Ian Chesterton (William Russell) and Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill) meet the Venetian merchant-explorer Marco Polo (Mark Eden) and Mongolian Emperor Kublai Khan (Martin Miller).

Lucarotti had previously written works based on Marco Polo's adventures, and was suggested by Doctor Who creator Sydney Newman when the show was early in development. Throughout production, the script was rewritten to make the story more personal to Polo. Barry Newbery, the serial's designer, used several historical books for research of the old designs, taking inspiration from 1900 Korean architecture. The serial premiered with nine million viewers, and maintained audience figures throughout its seven-week run. It received generally positive responses from critics and was sold widely overseas, but was erased by the BBC in 1967; the entire serial is missing as a result. The serial received later print adaptations, and soundtrack releases based on the surviving audio.


The TARDIS crew lands in the Pamir Mountains of the Himalayas in 1289, their ship badly damaged, and are picked up by Marco Polo's caravan on its way along the fabled Silk Road to see the Emperor Kublai Khan. The story concerns the Doctor and his companions' attempts to thwart the machinations of Tegana, who attempts to sabotage the caravan along its travels through the Pamir Plateau and across the treacherous Gobi Desert, and ultimately to assassinate Kublai Khan in Peking, at the height of his imperial power. The Doctor and his companions also attempt to regain the TARDIS, which Marco Polo has taken to give to Kublai Khan in effort to regain the Emperor's good graces. Susan gets the key from Ping-Cho but is captured by Tegana before they can depart. They are finally able to thwart Tegana, who kills himself, and, in doing so, regain the Emperor's respect for Marco Polo, who allows them to depart.


Conception and writing[edit]

The serial features the Italian merchant and explorer Marco Polo, as well as some of his friends and associates.

Show creator Sydney Newman suggested writer John Lucarotti, an old colleague from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, to the production team during the show's early development. Story editor David Whitaker contacted Lucarotti to write for the programme; Lucarotti, who had recently worked on the 18-part radio serial The Three Journeys of Marco Polo (1955), was commissioned on 9 July 1963 to write a seven-part serial about Italian merchant and explorer Marco Polo, titled Dr Who and a Journey to Cathay. While developing the storyline, Lucarotti struggled with the fourth episode, and used anecdotal material from Polo's memoirs, The Travels of Marco Polo, to pad out the plot. The serial was originally placed third in the show's running order, to begin broadcast on 18 January 1964,[1] but was pushed back to fourth to accommodate the two-part "filler" serial The Edge of Destruction. Waris Hussein, who worked on the show's first serial, was selected as the director for Marco Polo;[2] John Crockett directed the fourth episode in Hussein's absence.[3]

The serial's designer, Barry Newbery, used Aurel Stein's Ruins of Desert Cathay (1912) and Nelson Ikon Wu's Chinese and Indian Architecture (1963) for research of the old designs. Newbery also found that Korean architecture from 1900 was similar to the period. The incidental music for the serial was composed by Tristram Cary, who previously worked on The Daleks. Cary used conventional instruments for the score, including flute, harp and percussion, and he recorded electronic voices for the second episode's sandstorm scenes.

Casting and characters[edit]

Mark Eden was cast as Marco Polo; Hussein had seen Eden in the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of A Penny for a Song in 1962. While the serial's narration was originally scripted for the Doctor, Ian and Barbara, Hussein decided to make the story more personal to Polo, and the narration was rewritten. Derren Nesbitt was cast as Tegana, having appeared in several historical film series in the 1950s. For the role of Ping-Cho, Hussein wanted an oriental actress who had not appeared in the West End production of The World of Suzie Wong or the film 55 Days at Peking (1963); 19-year-old actress Zienia Merton auditioned at Hussein's home, and was offered the role.[4] William Russell was unhappy with sudden rewrites minimising his character's role in the serial, and his agent wrote to BBC's head of serials Donald Wilson; Wilson replied to Russell's agent, assuring that he would "be watching very carefully" to ensure the scripts "use [Russell's] talents to the maximum".[5] The fifth episode featured an untrained spider monkey, who the cast found difficult to work with; Carole Ann Ford recalled that "it was a nasty little thing peeing all over the place and biting anyone who came near it".[6]


A week of shooting took place at Ealing Studios from 13–17 January 1964, consisting mostly of inserts of locations and props for the montage sequences.[7] Rehearsals for the first episode ran from 27–30 January,[8] and the episodes were recorded weekly at Lime Grove Studio D from 31 January to 13 March.[7] When William Hartnell became ill in the first week of February, quick rewrites were performed on the second episode to eliminate the Doctor from most scenes.[9] For the sandstorm in the second episode, a wind machine was used, with other footage superimposed on top; Hussein was unhappy with the effectiveness of the effect, later stating that "it looked like everyone's aerials had blown over". Merton recalled the wind machine blowing sawdust into her eyes, rendering her unable to see for the rest of the scene.[10] During camera rehearsals for the sixth episode, Eden's right hand was accidentally lacerated by a dagger used by Nesbitt.[11]


Broadcast and ratings[edit]

EpisodeTitleRun timeOriginal air dateUK viewers
Appreciation Index
1"The Roof of the World"24:1222 February 1964 (1964-02-22)9.463
2"The Singing Sands"26:3429 February 1964 (1964-02-29)9.462
3"Five Hundred Eyes"22:207 March 1964 (1964-03-07)9.462
4"The Wall of Lies"24:4814 March 1964 (1964-03-14)9.960
5"Rider From Shang-Tu"23:2621 March 1964 (1964-03-21)9.459
6"Mighty Kublai Khan"25:3628 March 1964 (1964-03-28)8.459
7"Assassin at Peking"24:484 April 1964 (1964-04-04)10.459

The first episode was broadcast on BBC TV on 22 February 1964, and was watched by 9.4 million viewers. The following two episodes maintained the same viewing figures, rising to 9.9 million for the fourth episode, before dropping to 9.4 million for the fifth and 8.4 million for the sixth;[12] from the sixth episode, the show's broadcast time was pushed a further fifteen minutes, from 5:15pm to 5:30pm, overlapping with competitor programme ITV News.[13] The final episode was watched by 10.4 million viewers. The Appreciation Index dropped slightly across the seven episodes, from 63 to 59. The serial was sold widely overseas, but was erased by the BBC on 17 August 1967; the entire serial is missing as a result.[12] It is one of three stories of which no footage whatsoever is known to have survived, though tele-snaps (images of the show during transmission, photographed from a television) of Episodes 1–3 and 5–7 exist,[14] and were subsequently released with the original audio soundtrack, which was recorded "off air" during the original transmission.[15]

Critical response[edit]

The serial received positive reviews from television critics and viewers. Following the broadcast of the first episode, the BBC Programme Review Board noted that there were "several appreciative notes" on the show.[16] Philip Purser of The Sunday Telegraph noted that Eden impersonated Marco Polo "with sartorial dash", but felt that the main characters were poorly written, describing Barbara as "a persistent drip".[17] In a 2008 review, Mark Braxton of Radio Times praised the serial, stating that "the historical landscape was rarely mapped with such poetry and elegance", though noted inconsistencies in the foreign characters' accents.[18] In Doctor Who: The Complete History, editor John Ainsworth described the serial as "exotic and arresting", praising the simplicity of the narrative and exploration of the characters.[19] The serial also gained the attention of two sources for further development: in June 1964, Young World Publications showed interest in adapting the serial for the Super Mag comic series, but were turned down as the comic rights had been sold to TV Comic; and in July 1964, The Walt Disney Company approached the BBC for the film rights to Marco Polo, though no developments were made.[17]

Commercial releases[edit]

In print[edit]

Marco Polo
Doctor Who Marco Polo.jpg
Author John Lucarotti
Cover artist David McAllister
Series Doctor Who book:
Target novelisations
Release number
Publisher Target Books
Publication date
11 April 1985
ISBN 0-426-19967-7

A novelisation of this serial, written by Lucarotti based on his original scripts, was published in hardback by W. H. Allen & Co. in December 1984, with a cover painting by David McAllister; the paperback was published by Target Books in April 1985. A three-CD set of the audio soundtrack was released in November 2003, as part of the show's 40th anniversary, with linking narration by William Russell and a fold-out map of Polo's journey. This was later re-released as part of Doctor Who: The Lost TV Episodes: Collection One in August 2010 by AudioGO, along with the original camera scripts of the episodes.

Home media[edit]

A condensed 30-minute reconstruction of the episode, compiled by Derek Handley, was released as part of Doctor Who: The Beginning on 30 January 2006, using telesnaps, photographs, and the off-air soundtrack recording.[20] The telesnaps were also published in a Doctor Who Magazine special edition, The Missing Episodes – The First Doctor, in March 2013.[21]


  1. ^ Ainsworth 2016, p. 48.
  2. ^ Ainsworth 2016, p. 49.
  3. ^ Ainsworth 2016, p. 65.
  4. ^ Ainsworth 2016, p. 53.
  5. ^ Ainsworth 2016, p. 67.
  6. ^ Ainsworth 2016, pp. 67–68.
  7. ^ a b Ainsworth 2016, p. 71.
  8. ^ Ainsworth 2016, p. 60.
  9. ^ Ainsworth 2016, p. 63.
  10. ^ Ainsworth 2016, p. 64.
  11. ^ Ainsworth 2016, p. 69.
  12. ^ a b Ainsworth 2016, p. 78.
  13. ^ Ainsworth 2016, p. 76.
  14. ^ Ainsworth 2016, p. 38.
  15. ^ Chapman, Cliff (11 February 2014). "Doctor Who: the 10 stories you can't actually watch". Den of Geek. Dennis Publishing. Archived from the original on 24 February 2018. Retrieved 24 February 2018. 
  16. ^ Ainsworth 2016, p. 74.
  17. ^ a b Ainsworth 2016, p. 77.
  18. ^ Braxton, Mark (3 October 2008). "Marco Polo". Radio Times. Immediate Media Company. Archived from the original on 25 February 2018. Retrieved 25 February 2018. 
  19. ^ Ainsworth 2016, pp. 38–39.
  20. ^ Ainsworth 2016, p. 79.
  21. ^ "Missing Episodes special edition of Doctor Who Magazine". BBC. 21 March 2013. Archived from the original on 25 February 2018. Retrieved 25 February 2018. 


  • Ainsworth, John, ed. (2016). "Inside the Spaceship, Marco Polo, The Keys of Marinus and The Aztecs". Doctor Who: The Complete History. Panini Comics, Hachette Partworks. 2 (32). 

External links[edit]