Reviewed By: Lord Slarr
Review Date: 6/29/16 1:05 pm
3 out of 4 found this review helpful.
Marco Polo was the fourth ever serial made for Doctor Who and is the first proper example of a historical, sure An Unearthly Child was first but it was a bit silly and didn't have much in the way of history as we don't particularly know famous people or events from those times. However here the TARDIS crew encounter the explorer from the 1200s, Marco Polo.
The plot is that Marco Polo wishes to give the TARDIS, or a flying caravan as he knows it to his master, Kubli Khan as a gift so that he may be dismissed and return to his home in Venice but out of guilt take the Doctor and co with him and promises to help them build a new "flying caravan" despite the Doctor insisting that it's an impossibility. As they travel through Asia in Marco Polo's caravan they have to survive the many schemes set out by the War Lord Tegana who is also in the company of Marco Polo on a peace mission and attempt to escape into the TARDIS.
So overall when you look at it, not a lot happens in this story for 7 episodes but it's the amazing level of engagement John Luccarotti creates with his writing that keeps you invested. All of the characters are masterfully written and you'd be mad not to want Marco Polo and Ping-Cho to get on with the TARDIS crew as at points they are really good friends but due to the fact Marco has taken the TARDIS and the schemes set out by Tegana to stir distrust amongst the travellers its not meant to be which adds a lot of dramatic conflict as you as the audience should want them to get in which keeps you thoroughly engaged.
The War Lord Tegana is a brilliant enemy, while the actor is no Kevin Stoney, Derren Nesbitt does the job admirably in bringing the character to life. Tegana is scheming, devious, treacherous and when he gets the chance, bloodthirsty. It's a perfect character which you love to hate as he is the source of all trouble in the story which makes it all the more satisfying when *spoilers* he meets his death at the end.
Marco Polo is also a fantastic character, you really do want to like him as he his a strong sense of morality and anything wrong he does is only out of desperation to see his home again. Him and Ian are really great to watch in this episode as they really get on and I do detect a bit of chemistry between William Russell and Mark Eden which certainly helps a lot. He's a very torn man, stuck in limbo between wanting to do the right thing and wanting to see his home again. In the end it's heartwarming to know in the end he gets to go back.
One of the best parts of this episode other than the excellent character interaction is all of the Chinese culture and history explored. This is edutainment at its finest as you do learn a lot about politics in Asia in the 1200s and their many customs and issues facing the populace, you even get to hear a myth told by Ping-Cho to everyone which was a very nice moment. All the sets and costumes are clearly well researched with lots of love care and attention put into it. Sure some of the outdoor sets look a little shabby like the Gobi desert but you could swear they were filming in China when they are in a building or in a city.
If I was to highlight any problems I'd struggle as the episode is beautifully constructed and one which I really do enjoy. However if may not be to everyones taste as not a whole lot happens on the whole so unless you like the characters you're not going to enjoy it at all. Plus I might add that the first three episodes are definitely stronger than the subsequent four, they're not bad, the drop in quality is very small, but it's there and I'm struggling to think of negatives.
Overall this episode is a beautiful little tale in ancient China which while it may not to be to everyones taste, it's certainly to mine as I love it and consider it the best of the "pure" historical serials.