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"The metal seas of Venus..."
Marco Polo
Series: Doctor Who - TV Stories
Season Number: Season 1
Story Number: 4
Doctor: First Doctor
Companions: Susan Foreman
Barbara Wright
Ian Chesterton
Enemy: Tegana
Setting: 1289
Writer: John Lucarotti
Director: Waris Hussein (episode 1-3, 5-7)
John Crockett (episode 4)
Producer: Verity Lambert
Broadcast: 22nd February - 4th April 1964
Format: 7 25-minute episodes
Prod. Code: D
Previous Story: The Edge of Destruction
Following Story: The Keys of Marinus

Marco Polo was the fourth story of Season 1 of Doctor Who. It is generally considered to be the first true historical story over An Unearthly Child, whose depictions of prehistoric cave dwellers was somewhat stylized and speculative. Unfortunately, it is also the earliest of the stories from the 1960s of which no film or video copies are known to exist.



The TARDIS lands in Central Asia in 1289, where the Doctor and his companions fall in with Marco Polo as his caravan makes its way along the fabled Silk Road from the Pamir Plateau, across the treacherous Gobi Desert and past the fantastic Cave of Five Hundred Eyes to end up in Peking at the height of its imperial power.

Along the way they face many dangers, from natural hazards to assassination attempts from a Mongol warlord. The Doctor strikes up a friendship with Kublai Khan in his summer palace, before eventually departing again in the TARDIS, which has been carried with them across thousands of miles.



The Roof of the World (1)

Tegana plans to poison Marco Polo
The TARDIS crew have arrived in the snowy wastes of the mountainous Pamirs, and the ship is damaged and unable to produce light, heat or water. The Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan face the prospect of freezing to death as night approaches and the temperatures plummet. Fortunately they are spotted by a Mongol caravan. It is managed by Marco Polo, an Italian in China as an emissary of Kublai Khan.

Polo welcomes the Doctor and his companions to his company and introduces some of his fellow travellers including Tegana, a Mongol warlord. Tegana is an emissary of peace from the Khan Noghai who has been at war with Kublai Khan. A young Chinese woman named Ping-Cho is also travelling with Polo so that she may meet her 75-year old groom in her arranged marriage. Ping-Cho forms a strong friendship with Susan.

The Mongols fear the Doctor is an evil sorceror who is powerless while outside of the Tardis and so Marco Polo forbids him from entering it until their party has made a stop in a town at the edge of the desert.

When the caravan stops at the way station in Lop, Marco Polo tells the Doctor that he is requisitioning his "flying caravan" as a prize for the Emperor to attempt to buy his way out of his service. Marco takes the TARDIS key from the Doctor to ensure the safety of his prize.

Meanwhile, the lord Tegana purchases a poison to use on the caravan's water supply as it ventures on into the Gobi Desert.

The Singing Sands (2)

Tegana taunts Marco Polo with water
A vicious sandstorm, during which Ping-Cho and Susan are briefly lost, prevents Tegana implementing his plan. Instead he slices open the gourds during the night and ensures the bandits are blamed.

Marco Polo insists the caravan presses on to the next stop, but the water rations get fewer and fewer as the days pass by and eventually Tegana is dispatched to find a fabled oasis. The Mongol finds the oasis easily, but does not return with water to the caravan as promised.

Five Hundred Eyes (3)

Ian explains condensation to Marco Polo
With the water supply now completely exhausted, the situation becomes ever more desperate. The travellers only survive the arid conditions when the Doctor and Susan are able to collect water from the TARDIS which formed as condensation on the walls during the night.

The caravan moves on to the next way-station at Tun-Huang where stocks are replenished and they meet an incredulous Tegana, who rejoins their caravan. Ping-Cho makes their stay pleasant with the tale of Ala-eddin (Aladdin) and the Hashshashin (or assassins).

Tegana slips away during the performance and makes his way to the Cave of Five Hundred Eyes, where he is told by the Mongol agents Malik and Acomat that Noghai is assembling an army and marching toward Karakorum. Tegana tells Acomat, a bandit, to attack the caravan soon and kill Marco Polo and the others. Their plans, however, have been partially overheard by Barbara, who followed Tegana to the cave, though she does not realise the extent of Tegana's involvement. She is found and then kept prisoner by Malik while Tegana returns to the caravan, feigning surprise when her disappearance is discovered.

The Doctor deduces that Barbara may be at the cave and heads there accompanied by Susan and Ping-Cho. Susan cries out in fear when she see a pair of 'painted' eyes, moving!

The Wall of Lies (4)

The TARDIS travels to Beijing
Marco, Ian and Tegana arrive at the cave. Anxious that his plans will be exposed, when the search party find Barbara and Malik, Tegana kills his ally to cover his tracks.

When the party returns to the caravan, Tegana tries another tactic and attempts to make Marco suspicious by telling him that Susan has an unhealthy hold over Ping-Cho, and that the Doctor has somehow made a second key to gain entry to the TARDIS. Other suspicions are aroused when Barbara admits how she ended up at the Cave of Five Hundred Eyes, but Tegana flatly denies ever having been there. Marco stamps his authority on the caravan by separating Ping-Cho and Susan, making both of them ever more suspicious of Tegana. At the next way station Tegana's plans are further bolstered when he proves to Marco that the Doctor has a second key to the TARDIS, forcing the old man to hand it over, and driving ever deepening enmity into the travelling party.

The caravan now catches sight of the Great Wall of China and the journey heads South to Lan-Chow along the banks of the Yellow River. At the next town of Sinju Tegana meets with the evil Acomat and tells him to attack the caravan two nights later as they journey through the bamboo forest. The guards on the caravan are killed and Acomat waits in the jungle, looking for Tegana's signal to attack.

While attempting to escape from the caravan, Ian discovers a dead guard.

Rider from Shang-Tu (5)

Tegana threatens Susan
Unwilling to leave Polo and his party to their fate, Ian frightens the attacking bandits off by throwing bamboo in to the fire which explodes noisily. Acomat is slain by Tegana to protect the truth – while the other bandits flee in fear. In thanks for their help defeating the bandit attack, Marco Polo allows Susan and Ping-Cho to share company once more.

The Doctor and his companions have meanwhile worked out that Tegana is the source of many of the journey's troubles, but cannot make Marco Polo realise how dangerous he is. A new traveller now arrives at the caravan, a message rider named Ling-Tau, who has travelled from Shang-Tu (300 miles away) in just 24-hours. He bears a message commanding the caravan to speed up, and so Marco commands that once they reach the city of Cheng-Ting that the travellers should all take to horseback to speed up their journey while the TARDIS and the other belongings are brought on later. As ever, Tegana has another plot at the next way station. He meets an ally called Kuiju and bribes him to try and steal the TARDIS when the convoy is split up, and take it to Karakorum, where Noghai's troops are massing.

Ping-Cho knows where Marco has hidden the two keys to the TARDIS and gives one to Susan to help the time travellers escape. But, when Susan returns to the TARDIS after saying goodbye to Ping-Cho, she is accosted by Tegana.

Mighty Kublai Khan (6)

Ian rescues Ping-Cho
Ian takes the blame on himself for stealing the TARDIS key. As the journey enters its final phases the travellers attempt to ingratiate themselves with Marco Polo once more by telling him the truth about the TARDIS. Marco deduces Ian did not steal the key and so determines it was Ping-Cho after all and, fearing detection, she flees the caravan. Ian finds her back at Cheng-Ting, having ridden there alone, which is just as well as while there he uncovers the fact that Kuiju has stolen the TARDIS from the second convoy. When Ian and Ping-Cho find the bandit on the road to Karakorum, they force him to admit the truth, but then Tegana arrives and threatens to kill Ping-Cho.

Assassin at Peking (7)

Marco Polo and Tegana cross swords
The stand-off between Ian and Tegana is broken when Ling Tau and a band of soldiers arrive. They kill Kuiju, but once more Tegana talks his way out of a tight situation and the entire party agrees to ride on to the imperial palace in Peking.

The main convoy has meanwhile finally reached the summer palace of Shang-Tu. Kublai Khan presides over a rich and beautiful city. When the travellers are brought before the great Khan, the Doctor is so bruised after his horse ride he is unable to kow-tow properly. Ironically, the aged Khan sees the aches of age as a point of friendship with the Doctor. He decrees they will all leave the following day for Peking, and the Doctor will travel with him in his own carriage. But he is concerned that Tegana has not presented himself, being worried that Khan Noghai has now moved his armies from Samarkand to Karakorum.

When the imperial party reaches the capital city, the Khan engages the Doctor in a game of backgammon. The Doctor wins 35 elephants, 4000 white stallions, 25 tigers, the sacred tooth of the Buddha and the entire commerce of Burma for a year - but loses the key to the TARDIS. The Khan presses Marco for the history of the "magic caravan" and the emissary admits he was wrong to try and obtain the vehicle, but only did it to try and buy his freedom. The Khan is not impressed, and warns Marco that if he does not regain his trust somehow then he will be banished from court.

Nevertheless, events take a turn for the better for another. Ping-Cho is spared a loveless marriage when the elderly man she was due to marry passes away after drinking an elixir of life. She is content to make eyes at Ling Tau, with whom she has formed an attachment.

When Ling Tau's party arrives at the palace, Marco Polo begins to have serious doubts about the actions and motivations of Tegana. He confides in the Doctor and his friends and together they work to unmask Tegana before it is too late, as they now deduce Tegana has come to Peking to kill the Khan.

Tegana slays the Khan's guards and is moving in for the kill when the Doctor and his allies arrive and is prevented in his actions. His mission failed, Tegana takes his own life. In the ensuing melee, Marco Polo gives the Doctor and his party the key to the TARDIS and bids them escape. The "magic caravan" fades away before the eyes of the Khan and his courtiers. As a final act, the Khan forgives Marco Polo and agrees he can return to Venice.


Uncredited cast

  • Marco Polo's Writing Hand - John Woodcock
  • Mongol Extras - Leslie Bates, Gordon Bremworth, David Brewster, Ronald Chee, Stanley Chee, Clem Choy, Elton Fing-On, Arnold Lee, John Lee, Philip Lee, Valentino Musetti, Carlton Ngui, Arman Tokyo, Roy Vincente, Santos Wong
  • Extras - David Anderson, Bill Brandon, Robert Chow, Harry Dillon, Kay Fong, Michael Guest, Maung Hlashwe, Irene Ho, Lloyd Lam, Boon Wan Lee, Violet Leon, LL Lim, Henry Loy, Iris Loy, Suk Hee S'Hng, WA Scully, Zohra Sehgal, Peggy Sirr, Suchin, Doreen Tang, Aman Tokyo, Ying Wiu



  • The TARDIS contains a circuit that if damaged can deactivate the lights, water supplies, and heating. Without this circuit the external temperature can affect the inside of the TARDIS allowing condensation to form on the walls.
  • Barbara is interested in Buddhist history.
  • Ian can ride a horse and is an experienced swordfighter.
  • Susan has travelled to the metal seas of Venus.
  • The Doctor acquires a walking stick from Kublai Khan which he then uses in several subsequent stories.

Story Notes

  • This was the first true Doctor Who historical story.
  • This was the first story to feature live animals (the Mongol horses).
  • This was the first and only television story to feature a narrative and a map tracking the journey of the main characters (although character voice-over narratives have been featured in part during other stories, such as The Deadly Assassin, Army of Ghosts/Doomsday, The Family of Blood, and The Forest of the Dead).
  • Many colour and black and white photographs of this story remain. Along with the soundtrack these were used by Loose Cannon Productions to make a reconstruction of this story. (see external links).
  • The working title for this story was A Journey to Cathay.
  • Episode 3 was made under the working title The Cave of Five Hundred Eyes and this name even appeared at the end of Episode 2.
  • No footage of this story now exists having been lost in the purges of the 1970s.
  • The original audio soundtrack of this episode remains and was released on CD as Marco Polo as part of the BBC Radio Collection in November 2003. This was narrated by William Russell.
  • Although originally planned to be the third story in the series it was delayed, with that place being filled by The Edge of Destruction.
  • Although Telesnaps of this story were made all of these were lost. However in 2004 telesnaps of episodes 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7 were found by Derek Handley in the private collection of Waris Hussein who directed these episodes. These telesnaps were reproduced in Doctor Who Magazine.
  • Kuiju the mercenary bandit is never named in the story and is only included in closing credits.
  • As Lance Parkin notes in A History of the Universe, some historians now question the veracity of Marco Polo's accounts, particularly his friendship with Kublai Khan.
  • John Lucarotti also wrote a Canadian TV series about Marco Polo.


  • The Roof of the World - 9.4 million viewers
  • The Singing Sands - 9.4 million viewers
  • Five Hundred Eyes - 9.4 million viewers
  • The Wall of Lies - 9.9 million viewers
  • Rider From Shang-Tu - 9.4 million viewers
  • Mighty Kublai Khan - 8.4 million viewers
  • Assassin at Peking - 10.4 million viewers


  • William Hartnell was on holiday during filming of The Singing Sands. (This was not the case although he did only have one line of dialogue).

Filming Locations

Discontinuity, Plot Holes, Errors

  • At the end of episode 2 the caption claimed that episode 3 would be called The Cave of Five Hundred Eyes.
  • Marco Polo was not a lone European traveler. Specifically, his travels were almost always family ones, and certainly would have been in 1289. No explanation is provided for why Marco's father Niccolo Polo and uncle Maffeo Polo, who he mentions in the first episode, are not present during this journey.
  • The name Peking is an anachronism and the city should properly have been referred to as Khan-balik. Furthermore, had the title of episode 7 been "Assassin at Cambuluc", it would have been an accurate nod to the way that Marco Polo was known to have spelled the name of the city. Of course, use of the Mongol name, or its Polo variant, would have likely confused all but the tiniest fraction of the viewing audience. "Peking" was undoubtedly used simply for the audience's benefit. The TARDIS translates for the Doctor and companions, and very likely would have translated the city into an English variant that Barbara and Ian would have recognised (i.e., Peking).
  • The distance from Shang-Tu to Peking is a not inconsiderable 250km. It is extremely unlikely the distance could have been covered in the time allowed in Episode 7.
  • In episode 7, Kublai Khan refers to backgammon as a card game. In itself, this isn't really an error. The word "backgammon" only dates to the 17th century. Khan's confusion over the term is understandable. It's more of an error that Marco Polo calls the game "backgammon" and seems totally familiar with it. In truth, the anachronism of backgammon in this episode would have been alleviated by calling the game "nard", a Persian variant which dates to the 6th century. It's probably the only thing resembling backgammon that could possibly have traveled to Khan-balik by the 13th century. As with the use of the name "Peking", though, "backgammon" is almost certainly used here for the benefit of the audience.
  • William Hartnell has an odd hysterical fit in episode one, laughing his head off for a full minute at all the troubles that have befallen the travellers.


  • It is later revealed in NA: Birthright that after the Doctor departed, the court of Kublai Khan was visited by Jared Khan, who wished to acquire the TARDIS for the Charrl.


DVD, Video, Audio and Other Releases

  • Fan produced photo video reconstructions have been made of this story by A Change of Identity and Loose Cannon Productions.
The reconstruction of this story by Loose Cannon Production includes the following features:
A celebrity introduction by Mark Eden.
An interview with Mark Eden.
A historical documentary detailing the real Marco Polo narrated by Mark Eden.
A documentary about the making of "Marco Polo."
Cover for the 2003 CD release
  • The remastered soundtrack for this story was released on CD by the BBC in November 2003, ISBN 0-563-53508-3. It consisted of three discs.
  • A thirty minute reconstruction (with telesnaps) was released in The Beginning DVD as a bonus feature.


Cover for the Target novelisation
Main article: Marco Polo (novelisation)

This story was published by Target Books as Doctor Who - Marco Polo by John Lucarotti, ISBN 0-426-19967-7, in April of 1985. It was number 94 in the series of 156 Doctor Who novels published by Target.

See Also

External links

Feature article and specific information

Season 1
An Unearthly Child  • The Daleks  • The Edge of Destruction  • Marco Polo  • The Keys of Marinus  • The Aztecs  • The Sensorites  • The Reign of Terror
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Marco_Polo_(Doctor_Who). The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with the TARDIS Index File, the text of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License 3.0 (Unported) (CC-BY-SA).

This article uses material from the "Marco Polo (TV story)" article on the Dr Who wiki at Wikia and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.


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