Doctor Who: Marco Polo (1964)
It is a good time to be a Doctor Who fan. The 50th Anniversary is little more than a month away. The final complete story was recently released on DVD -- or at least, it was the final complete story before the recent discovery of two entire stories in a film vault in Nigeria (now due for release on disc next year, or now on iTunes for those who prefer their video downloaded!) And there are promising indications, with the recent release of one partially-lost story, and the upcoming release of another, that the BBC may intend to animate all missing episodes!
Speaking of missing episodes, Marco Polo is entirely missing; not a known skerrick exists anywhere. (As such, and as the longest missing story, there's a chance the BBC won't be getting around to animating it any time soon!) However, while the video may be lost, the audio for all missing episodes has been pieced together and restored; these stories have been released in Audio format, with narration filling in the necessary gaps in the action. I admit, despite my love of the Big Finish audio plays, I had my doubts about these restored audio episodes, but since I do want to work my way through every Doctor Who story out there (in order) I've finally had to bite the bullet and tackle this one.
And I'm glad I did. It was great!
The TARDIS materialises on a lonely mountain path, and promptly breaks down. Fears of freezing to death up on the mountain before repairs can be made are allayed fairly quickly as the travellers meet none other than Marco Polo, on his way to meet the Great Kublai Khan at his Summer Palace. While Marco is friendly toward them, he also sees an opportunity in their "flying caravan" and confiscates the TARDIS to present to the Khan. Travelling with Polo are the warlord Tegana (ostensibly a peace emissary from one of the Khan's enemies, but actually on a mission to strike from within and weaken his master's foes for the planned war) and the young Chinese woman Ping-Cho (on the way to an arranged marriage with a 75-year-old man she has never met.)
All our intrepid travellers must do is rescue the princess and save the world. Well, perhaps not quite. In fact, for most of the story's seven episodes, their focus is primarily upon gaining access to the TARDIS so that they can make the necessary repairs, and escape. Along the way, they fall afoul of the warlord Tegana's numerous nefarious schemes -- from poisoning the water supply, to destroying the water supply, to setting bandits against the caravan, to stealing the TARDIS for himself, and ultimately, to assassinating Kublai Khan. No matter what they uncover, they can never quite manage to convince Marco Polo that Tegana's intentions are less than honourable. Meanwhile, Ping-Cho and Susan have become fast friends, and none of the companions think it at all fair that she should be forced to marry an ancient stranger.
Can Ping-Cho win her freedom? Will Tegana be foiled at last? Will the crew of the TARDIS escape?
The Doctor himself seemed somewhat absent during at least a couple of the episodes, and I couldn't help but wonder if even then, that early in his run, William Hartnell was having problems with his health? So, while it was left to Ian and Barbara, and Susan, to carry the action for a while, I think my favourite scenes are those between the Doctor and the Khan: two old men, united by their shared aches and pains, bonding as buddies -- and, indeed, playing a mean game (or three) of backgammon. The Doctor was up by several countries and half the Khan's gold before he made an all-or-nothing wager in an attempt to win back the TARDIS.
I do hope I'll get to actually see this episode some day, but until then, the audio presentation works quite nicely!