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 Waris Hussein (episodes 1–3, 5–7)
John Crockett (episode 4)
Written by John Lucarotti
Script editor David Whitaker
Produced by Verity Lambert
Mervyn Pinfield (associate producer)
Executive producer(s) None
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
List of Doctor Who serials

Marco Polo is the completely missing fourth serial in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in seven weekly parts from 22 February to 4 April 1964. The story is set in China, in the year 1289, with the regular series characters interacting with Venetian merchant-explorer Marco Polo and Mongolian Emperor Kublai Khan. The historical period and context avoids science fiction elements beyond establishing the way by which the Doctor and his companions have travelled to the past. Although audio recordings and still photographs of the story exist, no footage of this serial is known to have survived. This is the earliest serial that has no recovered episodes.


The TARDIS crew lands in the Himalayas of Cathay 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.

Historical episodes[edit]

Historical episodes, stories that feature no science fiction elements beyond the basic premise of the show, were relatively common for the first few seasons of Doctor Who. Marco Polo features many educational elements, both historical and scientific, as was part of the show's original remit. The next historical adventure, The Aztecs, arrived later in the first season, and such stories continued to be regularly featured during the first four seasons until The Highlanders, in 1967, after which the purely historical format was dropped. The format enjoyed a brief revival in 1982 with Black Orchid, but has not since been repeated in any televised form. The historical format is also employed in the 1995 novel Sanctuary, and is a semi-regular part of the Big Finish audio series of Doctor Who.


The commentary that accompanies the Loose Cannon recreation also shows the wages of the people who worked on the original show (fee per episode): William Hartnell £210, William Russell £147, Jacqueline Hill £99.15s, Carole Ann Ford £63, Mark Eden £68.5s, Derren Nesbitt £84, Zienia Merton £36.15s, Martin Miller £84, Claire Davenport £42, Tutte Lemkow £63, Peter Lawrence £42, Paul Carson £36.15s.

Cast notes[edit]

Veteran Bollywood actress Zohra Sehgal appeared in several episodes in an uncredited role as an attendant. She later appeared in episode two "The Knight Of Jaffa" of The Crusade. Zienia Merton appeared in The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith, an episode of the Doctor Who spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures, 45 years after her appearance in this serial. Jimmy Gardner later played Idmon in Underworld. Philip Voss later played Wahed in The Dominators. Tutte Lemkow later played Ibrahim in The Crusade and Cyclops in The Myth Makers. Derren Nesbitt has appeared in two Doctor Who audio plays: as Thomas Dodd in Spare Parts and as Quences in Auld Mortality. Mark Eden later appeared in Mark Gatiss's 50th anniversary Docudrama An Adventure in Space and Time as Donald Baverstock.

Missing episodes[edit]

This is one of only three stories (along with Mission to the Unknown and The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve) of which no footage whatsoever is known to have survived (see Doctor Who missing episodes). "Telesnaps" (images of the show during transmission, photographed from a television) of Episodes 1–3 and 5–7 are held by the serial's director, Waris Hussein. The audio soundtrack is also intact, having been recorded "off air" during the original transmissions.[1]

The last known TV broadcast of this story was in Ethiopia, which screened Marco Polo over a period of seven weeks, between 21 January and 4 March 1971. The fate of the prints is unknown.[citation needed]

Themes and analysis[edit]

Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles point out that at the time this was made Penguin Books had only recently released a new translation of The Travels of Marco Polo, and note that Lucarotti, who had various times lived in England, Canada, Mexico, the US, and Spain, might have been writing from personal experience when dealing with Polo's wanderlust and Susan's complex relationship with the idea of home. They also note the story's similarities to ITC historical serials like Sir Francis Drake, and talk about the impressive scope of the story and how unlike later Doctor Who it is that it unfolds over three months and in a large geographic area.[2]


Episode Title Run time Original air date UK viewers
(millions) [3]
Archive [4]
1 "The Roof of the World" 24:12 22 February 1964 (1964-02-22) 9.4 Only stills and/or fragments exist
2 "The Singing Sands" 26:34 29 February 1964 (1964-02-29) 9.4 Only stills and/or fragments exist
3 "Five Hundred Eyes" 22:20 7 March 1964 (1964-03-07) 9.4 Only stills and/or fragments exist
4 "The Wall of Lies" 24:48 14 March 1964 (1964-03-14) 9.9 Only stills and/or fragments exist
5 "Rider From Shang-Tu" 23:26 21 March 1964 (1964-03-21) 9.4 Only stills and/or fragments exist
6 "Mighty Kublai Khan" 25:36 28 March 1964 (1964-03-28) 8.4 Only stills and/or fragments exist
7 "Assassin at Peking" 24:48 4 April 1964 (1964-04-04) 10.4 Only stills and/or fragments exist

^† Episode is missing

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 John Lucarotti, was published by Target Books in December 1984. The Tele-Snaps of episodes 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7 were published in the Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition: The Missing Episodes – The First Doctor in March 2013.

Home media[edit]

In 2003, a three-CD set of the audio soundtrack was released, as part of Doctor Who's 40th anniversary. This CD set is unique in containing a map of Cathay (China) as represented during the period of the Doctor's visit to China, and also explaining historical inaccuracies. Further, the first disc in the set contains data as well as audio; the data includes MP3 files of the soundtracks without additional narration (which is provided on the CDs by William Russell, filling in details when action was mostly visual), PDF files of the narration scripts, and computer wallpaper versions of the aforementioned map of Cathay. The audio is also available to download from AudioGo.[5]

The 2006 DVD box set, The Beginning, includes a condensed 30-minute form of this story as an extra on The Edge of Destruction disc. This version of the story, compiled by Derek Handley, consists of telesnaps set to an edited audio track. The original three-CD set was re-released in 2010 in The Lost TV Episodes – Collection One 1964–1965 with a bonus disc of interviews. The set was also remastered.


  1. ^
  2. ^ Wood, Tat; Miles, Lawrence (2006). About Time Volume 1. Mad Norwegian Press. pp. 54–55. 
  3. ^ "Ratings Guide". Doctor Who News. Retrieved 28 May 2017. 
  4. ^ Shaun Lyon; et al. (31 March 2007). "Marco Polo". Outpost Gallifrey. Archived from the original on 6 May 2008. Retrieved 30 August 2008. 
  5. ^ "Doctor Who: Marco Polo (TV Soundtrack)". AudioGo. Retrieved 13 October 2013. 

External links[edit]

Fan reviews[edit]

Target novelisation[edit]