Marco Polo (Doctor Who)

Marco Polo (Doctor Who)
004 – Marco Polo
Doctor Who serial
Marco Polo.jpg
Marco Polo, Susan, the Doctor and Ian
Writer John Lucarotti
Director Waris Hussein (episodes 1-3,5-7)
John Crockett (episode 4)
Script editor David Whitaker
Producer Verity Lambert
Mervyn Pinfield (associate producer)
Executive producer(s) None
Production code D
Series Season 1
Length 7 episodes, 25 minutes each
Episode(s) missing All 7 episodes
Originally broadcast 22 February 22–4 April 1964
← Preceded by Followed by →
The Edge of Destruction The Keys of Marinus

Marco Polo is a 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. Although audio tracks and still photographs of the story exist, none of the footage of this serial are known to have survived. The story is set in China, in the year 1289, with the regular series characters interacting with Venetian merchant-explorer Marco Polo and Chinese 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.



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. They are finally able to thwart Tegana, and, in doing so, regain the Emperor's respect for Marco Polo, who allows them to depart.

Historical episodes

Historical episodes such as Marco Polo, 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 is notable for featuring many educational elements, both historical and scientific, as was originally part of the show's remit. The next historical adventure arrived later in the first season with The Aztecs, and such stories continued to be regularly featured until 1967, when the purely historical format would be discontinued after The Highlanders. The format enjoyed a brief revival in 1982 with Black Orchid, and in novel form with 1995's Sanctuary, and in the Big Finish audio series of Doctor Who, has made a resurgence, with a conscious decision being made to have each Doctor have at least one purely historical episode. Examples include The Marian Conspiracy, Other Lives, The Fires of Vulcan, and The Council of Nicaea. However, this format has not been repeated in any televised form.



Serial details by episode
Episode Broadcast date Run time Viewership
(in millions)
"The Roof of the World" 22 February 1964 (1964-02-22) 24:12 9.4 Only stills and/or fragments exist
"The Singing Sands" 29 February 1964 (1964-02-29) 26:34 9.4 Only stills and/or fragments exist
"Five Hundred Eyes" 7 March 1964 (1964-03-07) 22:20 9.4 Only stills and/or fragments exist
"The Wall of Lies" 14 March 1964 (1964-03-14) 24:48 9.9 Only stills and/or fragments exist
"Rider From Shang-Tu" 21 March 1964 (1964-03-21) 23:26 9.4 Only stills and/or fragments exist
"Mighty Kublai Khan" 28 March 1964 (1964-03-28) 25:36 8.4 Only stills and/or fragments exist
"Assassin at Peking" 4 April 1964 (1964-04-04) 24:48 10.4 Only stills and/or fragments exist

The commentary that accompanies the Loose Cannon recreation mentioned below 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

  • Veteran Bollywood actress Zohra Segal 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.

Missing episodes

  • This is one of only three stories (along with Mission to the Unknown and The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve) of which not a second of broadcast footage survives (see Doctor Who missing episodes). "Telesnaps" (images of the show during transmission, photographed from a television set) 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 television transmissions.
  • Doctor Who historian David Brunt remarked on the Doctor Who Forum that as Marco Polo was the most widely sold abroad of all the missing stories (it was bought and screened by broadcasters in 23 countries,[citation needed] starting with Australia in April 1965), "that fact makes its absence even more annoying".
  • The last known TV Broadcast of this Doctor Who story was in Ethiopia, which screened Marco Polo over a period of seven weeks, between 21 January and 4 March 1971. On the instructions of BBC Enterprises, the prints used were returned to the BBC in London in April 1972. Their subsequent fate is not known, but they were presumably destroyed or discarded at some point between April 1972 and December 1977.[citation needed]

In print

A novelisation of this serial, written by John Lucarotti, was published by Target Books in December 1984.

Doctor Who book
Book cover
Marco Polo
Series Target novelisations
Release number 94
Writer John Lucarotti
Publisher Target Books
Cover artist David McAllister
ISBN 0-426-19967-7
Release date 11 April 1985
Preceded by '
Followed by '

CD and DVD releases

  • 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 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. ^ Shaun Lyon et al. (31 March 2007). "Marco Polo". Outpost Gallifrey. Archived from the original on 6 May 2008. Retrieved 30 August 2008. 
  2. ^ "Marco Polo". Doctor Who Reference Guide. Retrieved 30 August 2008. 
  3. ^ Sullivan, Shannon (26 July 2006). "Marco Polo". A Brief History of Time Travel. Retrieved 30 August 2008. 

External links

Fan reviews
Target novelisation

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