This is the one where the original TARDIS crew play hide-and-seek. Ah, or perhaps it is the one where they meet Marco Polo. Incidentally, those celebrity historicals that you all think Russell T Davies invented? Nuh-uh, this is the first. Sadly, none of the episodes exist since the BBC threw them all away. So this story only exists as an audio recording upon a wax cylinder that was found in a time capsule underneath Buckingham Palace.
As with all early Doctor Who serials, each episode had a title. They are as follows:
The Roof of the World
The Singing Sands
Five Hundred Eyes
The Wall of Lies
Rider From Shang-Tu
Mighty Kublai Khan
Assassin at Peking
The early serials are not known for their great titles but in this case, I have to admit that these are pretty evocative. Who could look at these titles and not want to know what happens in the story?
Before I get to the nitty-gritty and make a mockery of this story with my weak humour and awkward running gags, I have to admit that this is one of my favourite stories. You can keep your cavemen and Dalek and Thal melodramas. Marco Polo is where it’s at (no turntables and no microphones but it is still a great story). John Lucarotti has written a roaringly good romp. This is the stone cold truth. Or at least my truth, which is more or less just my opinion really. Shall we get on with the motley? Cool.
Our heroes, the First Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan (Captain Horatio P Kangaroo having being written out in the previous story), find themselves back on Earth. Nowhere near England though, or 1963. But considering the fact that 1289 is very close to 1963 (to a Time Lord), only a few hundred years out and at least he got the right planet, these puny Earthlings should quit their whining and stick on their snowshoes.
The TARDIS has come to rest on the snow-covered plains of the, um, Plain of Pamir. The TARDIS is not up to snuff following the events of the previous story and now the occupants are without heat, light, wi-fi, water and, worst of all, the wheels have fallen off the Doctor’s cherry-red 1966 Schwinn Sting-Ray. Although the last one may have more to do with Ian and the spanner he is hiding down his trousers.
Either the crew can freeze to death inside the TARDIS or freeze to death outside the TARDIS. Once that temperature drops, they are toast…figuratively speaking. They are stuck between an Ogri and a hard place. They are inching towards Icicle City…
Ian and Barbara want to sneak a few kisses so they make their excuses and leave the TARDIS, but just as Barbara puckers up she sees someone…which spoils the mood a little.
Ian and Barbara pop back into the ship when they find the Doctor jumping for joy. He has found out what is wrong with the TARDIS. A circuit is broken. A circuit that controls the heating, the lights and the water. How likely is it that these three things use the same circuit? To my mind, not very.
The ‘someone’ who stopped Ian and Barbara sucking face is back. It is a…furry thing? A something at least. I am pretty sure that it is the original male model for The Joy of Sex. In any case, our heroes chase after the hirsute something but find themselves surrounded by what turns out to be Mongol soldiers. You know, like the ones Genghis Khan had. Yes, Genghis Khan the short hairy dude from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Sigh…
These Mongols, being superstitious and not very bright, think that our heroes are evil ghosts or spirits or something similar. Just as well that they didn’t see the Doctor’s cherry-red 1966 Schwinn Sting-Ray because they would have burnt him as a witch. Before these Mongols can give them the old snicker-snack, a white man stops them. This man? Marco Polo.
Marco Polo, as you all should know well, was an Italian who travelled the silk route with his father and uncle and had many adventures. He wasn’t the first European to do so but he was the first to write a book about doing so. Marco Polo was basically an Italian Michael Palin (or Bill Bryson for any American readers of this unreview).
Marco, being an all-round nice guy, invites the TARDIS crew to join him and his Mongol chums. “They are all good eggs, old chap. Don’t let their fierce snarls and pointy swords fool you. They are softies really,” Polo tells the Doctor.
Along with Marco Polo and the Mongols are proper characters with lines and actual names and clothes that look like they were chosen specifically for the actor. Yes, shocking, ain’t it? These talking parts are as follows: Tegana and Ping-Cho. Is that it? Really? Wow, I am guessing that the BBC blew their budget on the sets (stop laughing at the back!).
I might as well go into a bit more detail seeing that the rest of the Mongol horde are basically jobbing actors reduced to looking fierce and hairy, snarling and muttering “rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb” over and over again in the background.
Tegana: a devious blood-thirsty peace emissary (eh?) and warlord who has been sent by Khan Noghai to meet up with Kublai Khan and not kill him whatsoever, no sir! It is a slur to suggest that Tegana is the Mongol equivalent of Dick Dastardly (he likes trying to catch pigeons). He loves whiskers on kittens and hates notches on his sword. A great catch for any single ladies who love a bit of hot Mongol action.
Ping-Cho: an innocent Chinese girl. She is essentially just a mail-order bride. She is due to marry a coffin-dodger. She loves boy bands, ribbons and pillow fights but hates kissing men old enough to be one of her august long-dead ancestors. She is due to be married but is up for holding hands and wishing on stars.
The Mongols, despite the Doctor’s altitude sickness, think that he is a wizard. If only these Mongols had access to a DVD player and the Harry Potter films, they would think him a caretaker instead. All the Doctor needs is a scruffy cat and a broom to chase off school kids with.
The Mongols also, rightfully but for the wrong reasons, believe that the Doctor can’t do any spells or magic when he is outside the TARDIS. Why they think this is beyond me. It isn’t as if they have any proof. Marco Polo, bowing down to the Mongol stupidity says that the Doctor can’t enter the TARDIS until they reach a town by the desert. The Doctor can fix whatever he needs to fix when he gets to the town. Sounds simple enough.
When they all get down to the way station in Lop, Marco shuffles his feet and sheepishly says to the Doctor, “You know what I said about allowing you to have that blue box? Yes? I lied. I am going to give it to Kublai Khan. I will exchange it for my freedom because I am kinda in his service. Sucks to be you, right?”
Oh, and Tegana? The peace emissary buys himself some poison so that he can poison the supply of water gourds as they make their way across the Gobi Desert…
Hold on, shouldn’t that be the Lop Desert? Actually, I know it should be the Lop Desert. Meh, in any case, I will refer to it as the desert without a name to avoid confusion but it is the Lop. Not the Gobi. Also, most travellers skirted the Lop instead of travel through it but hey, who am I to argue with Doctor Who…
So our heroes and Marco Polo group traverse the desert. The Doctor throws a hissy fit and refuses to leave his tent when they stop and settle at dusk. Barbara breaks a nail and Susan throws her own hissy fit a little later. It is like travelling with teenagers!
Susan is understandably upset by her grandfather keeping himself to himself every night. Eventually it gets to her one evening as Marco and Ian play chess (not strip chess, they have standards), and she goes off the handle, crying out about how they should be exploring the stars rather than faffing about on Earth as she and her grandfather were doing when this series started. You’ll note how unfrustrated she was to be on 1960s Earth.
Ping-Cho hears her words and blooms because of them. Her friendship with Susan is bringing this Chinese girl out of her shell. This explains why Ping-Cho accompanies Susan when they see Tegana sneaking out at night. Into a sandstorm. Suspicious? I think so. Nobody needs to pee in a sandstorm this badly.
Tegana was planning on poisoning the supply of water but the sandstorm has put the kibosh on that. So the would-be-poisoner just cuts the gourds and allows the water to drain. He figures that bandits will get the blame. As for Susan and Ping-Cho, they got themselves lost for a little while but they managed to get back to safety. Which is nice.
Despite the water being mostly depleted, the Polo drives them forward. The water gets lower and lower until they are reduced to licking the sweat off their own skin. It gets to the point where Marco has no choice but to send trustworthy Tegana to find an oasis that is mostly legend rather than fact. Marco could be clutching at straws.
Tegana finds the oasis but decides to not bother bringing any water back. “I will tell Marco,” he thinks out aloud, “that I saw a blur on the landscape but it was a mirage and not an oasis.” Tegana then eats orange pulp, pulls his suede blanket over himself and goes to sleep(er).
Back with our heroes, Marco Polo and the Mongols who go “rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb”, the lack of water is quite dire. They are only coping because the Doctor and Susan are collected water which has condensed inside the TARDIS (which oddly won’t affect the TARDIS when they leave at the end of the story). But if the TARDIS is airtight, then how can water collect during the night?
The travellers meet up with Tegana at the way station in Tun-Huang. Tegana is dismayed to see that his dastardly tricks have not…erm…done the trick (“Drat and double drat!”). While they stay there, Ping-Cho tells them about the story of Ala-eddin plus a few stories about how Ian Beale renamed himself Prester John and became the richest man ever.
Tegana does his sneak thing and leaves during the stories. He has it away on his toes to the Cave of Five Hundred Eyes (so called because of all the eyes painted inside) to meet up with Malik and Acomat, Mongol bandit/agents (think James Bond in furs and with less braincells and morals). They tell Tegana that Noghai is gathering himself an army which will be going to Karakorum. Presumably not so that Noghai can parade them up and down the streets. Noghai has murder on his mind.
Tegana, who is a peace emissary lest we forget, tells Acomat to attack and kill Marco Polo with his bandit friends. Oh, and to kill everyone else as well. Nice bloke this Tegana.
During most of this conversation a certain female schoolteacher has been earwigging. Yup, Barbara. Not as sneaky as Tegana though because she is found out and captured. Malik imprisons her in the cave, and Tegana makes his way back to the caravan where he does his surprised face when everyone else discovers that Barbara is missing.
The Doctor somehow figures out that Barbara is at the Cave of Five Hundred Eyes and, instead of taking Marco or Ian, he takes Susan and Ping-Cho with him. Not the Doctor’s best choice…especially when Susan had a case of the screaming ab-dabs when she sees one of the eyes moving. Yes, quite.
Chenchu, one of the rare Mongols who gets more to do that rhubarb all over the shop, tells Ian, Marco and Tegana that “beautiful Babs” has gone to the Cave of Five Hundred Eyes. So they all rush over there and after many Indiana Jones-style adventures, they find her in a secret room. Hurrah!
Tegana is not one to be thwarted though. So he endeavours to give Marco suspicious by dripping poison (verbal poison) about how the Doctor has a second key and how Susan is such a bad influence on Ping-Cho with her talks about mini skirts, equal rights for women, and dishy boybands.
Barbara tries to stymie Tegana by saying that she only got herself caught because she followed Tegana to the cave. Tegana responds by saying, “Cave? What is a cave?”
Marco is having none of it though. He chooses to believe Tegana who practically screams ‘baddie’ with everything he says or does. He might as well have a pink neon sign flashing above his head that says ‘BAD ‘UN’ but Marco is a sap and separates Susan and Ping-Cho.
Tegana was right about the second key though, he sets it up so that he and Marco catch the Doctor leaving the TARDIS. Marco grabs the key and tries to elbow his way in but the Doctor gives him some flannel about how the ship would destroy itself if an unauthorised person were to enter it. Marco believes this too, he really is a gullible sap. The Doctor is taken away and guarded by a guard.
There is a sight to be seen here but since there is no footage, you’ll have to take it from me that they see the Great Wall of Cathay (as China was once called) and are impressed by it. “Ooh,” they go. “Ah,” they say.
When they all get to the town of Sinju, Tegana finds Acomat and commands him to attack the travellers two days later at night. Preferably as they go through the bamboo forest. Nobody is to survive. Acromat sniggers and puddles off to the forest.
Ian, Barbara and Susan have had their freedom curtailed since Tegana started spreading rumours. But Ian has a cunning plan! He will cut a hole in the wall of the tent, knock out the guard guarding them, then have it away on their toes to freedom. Great plan. Slight flaw though, the guard is dead. Bandits are afoot!
Ian, being such a good egg, decides to tell Marco Polo all about it. Polo wakes Tegana and they arm themselves with weapons.
Ian has another cunning plan. They can frighten the bandits by throwing bamboo into the fire. This will cause it to explode loudly apparently. Especially if the bandits are cowardly custards.
When the bandits finally attack, Tegana gives Acomat a bit of the old snicker-snack and runs him through just as bandit boy is about to blurt out Tegana’s role in the attack. The rest of the bandits run away. Not only because of the bamboo explosions but because Susan has stuck a sheet over her head. These bandits think she is a ghost. Woooooo!
Because the TARDIS crew helped with the bandits, Polo allows Susan and Ping-Cho to be friends again and he allows the others to wander where they like…as long as it is not back into the time machine.
By now our heroes have finally figured out that Tegana is an all-round rotter but can they convince Polo of this? Can they heck! Polo thinks that sunshine shines out of the Mongol’s hairy bum.
A rider turns up at the caravan, a rider from Shang-Tu. He has a message asking them all to stop faffing about and get a hurry on. Hearing this, Marco tells them all that as soon as they reach Cheng-Ting, he will set them and everyone else on horses and their belongings will follow on afterwards at the normal pace.
Guess what? Tegana has yet another cunning plan. He will drop an anvil upon them all. Or perhaps order some weapons from Acme. Yes, Tegana is beginning to be more Wile E Coyote than Dick Dastardly. But not in a good way. His plan, this time, is to meet up with a friend called Kuiju (whom my spell checker ironically insists should be called Kublai) and bribe him to steal the magic blue box. Wile E Coyote would kill for a plan this simple and elegant. When Kuiju has it, he is to scarper to Karakorum where Noghai’s hirsute soldiers are waiting.
Incidentally, Kuiju is only named in the credits and is never referred to by name. IN case you are interested.
Back with the travellers, Ping-Cho has snaffled one of the TARDIS keys from Marco Polo. She gives it to Susan so that her friend can escape with her companions.
In the silent night, our heroes are on their way to the TARDIS but Susan (why is it always one of the women?) goes to say goodbye to Ping-Cho and is caught by Tegana. D’oh! Not again!
The Doctor, Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright are in the TARDIS without Susan Who (yeah, I said it). Ian pops out to beg Tegana to release Susan. Tegana, who is now back in Dick Dastardly mode, agrees but only when they have all got out and given the key to Marco. The down shot of this is that Ian’s bromance with Marco is now it tatters.
Bromance in mind, Ian tries to rekindle their relationship. Platonic relationship I should say in case someone is inspired to slash fiction the hell out of this couple. *Cough* Ian spills the beans about the TARDIS, how the Doctor flies it randomly around time and space and Basingstoke. Given all the bullplop he has swallowed from Tegana (including the location of the enemy troops of Noghai), he doesn’t believe Ian! Oh, and he tells him that the reason is because he knows that Ping-Cho nicked the key despite Ian owning up. Ian’s pants are on fire!
Ping-Cho, thief and eavesdropper, hears this and runs away. I bet this will end in tragedy.
Ian and Tegana go off to find her but Ian is the one that does. He finds her back at Cheng-Ting trying to apply to be a cocktail waitress. Whilst in the bright lights and razzle-dazzle of the Oriental Las Vegas, Ian manages to find out that Kuiju has the TARDIS after him and his men snatched it from the caravan that is following the riders.
Miles ahead, Polo is being given the hair-dryer treatment by Barbara and Susan. Girl power and all that jazz. They tell him that Ping-Cho’s marriage to a geriatric stranger is just not on, it is morally disgraceful and that Polo is a very bad man for going along with this. Polo just writhes underneath their fierce eyes and pursed lips.
Polo merely asks Tegana to make sure that Ian won’t allow Ping-Cho to escape the marriage to the coffin-dodger with him in the TARDIS. Yup, the bromance is most certainly over.
Bromance aside, Marco Polo finally arrives at the modest palace of Kublai Khan. The Doctor ain’t impressed but a bromance does occur between the two old curmudgeons. This elderly bromance kindling via their shared aches and pains and complaints about how young people smile too much and how these smiling young people could do with a stint in the armed services.
Before the Doctor and Kublai can go off for a chinwag about how young policemen are nowadays, the old Khan tells Marco Polo that there is a bit of a faff going on around the borders, thus making Tegana’s information false.
Ian and Ping-Cho, taking the scenic route, find Kuiju the bandit (is it him, looks like him) on the road to Marrakesh…ahem…Karakorum. After giving him some Chinese Burns (When in Rome…), he coughs up the goods, by which I mean he tells them the truth. Tegana, however, appears and makes gestures of menace towards Ping-Cho.
These menacing gestures, threats or threatures if you will, end when with a trumpet call and “Mighty Mouse is here to save the day!”, Ling Tau and a group of soldiers appear. Huzzah! Hurray! They quickly put Kuiju to the sword and kill him dead. Tegana avoids death by lying through his back teeth. Idiots.
Oh! Lest I forget, Tegana brags to Ian and Ping-Cho about how he has pledged himself to Noghai by kissing his ring. Um…really? He only tells them this because he expects them to be deadified soon. Why do villains always blurt out their evil plans or alliances to the good guys? Imagine Tegana dying and meeting up with the Devil…
TEGANA: …and I told them my plans because, y’know, they were going to be dead soon…
DEVIL: You what? Gee whiz! Did you not get the Evil Badguy memo? When the goodies are about to die, DON’T tell them your plans! That is the first rule!
TEGANA: So…instead of telling them, I should…don’t tell them?
DEVIL: I think the boy has it! Sigh… Because I like the cut of your gib, I will allow you to be reincarnated.
TEGANA closes his eyes and wakes up as ELMER FUDD.
ELMER ‘TEGANA’ FUDD: I may not have sorted out that wascally Doctor but that wabbit is mine!
Ahem, and you get the picture with that.
That wascally Doctor, as all this excitement is going on, is playing strip backgammon with the Khan. The Doctor has managed to win a lot of things, things which pass him on a conveyor belt: the sacred tooth of the Buddha, fondue set, thirty-five elephants, dinner service, foot spa, twenty-five tigers, his and hers matching towels, four thousand white stallions, barbecue tongs, the entire commerce of Burma for a year and a cuddly toy! Hasn’t he done well? Not so. He bets the lot on the TARDIS and loses.
Kublai asks Marco what he knows about this blue box which is not much. Mr Polo does say that he was in the wrong by taking it off our heroes but he had a good reason, he wanted to swap it for his freedom. That don’t impress him much and he threatens banishment from the imperial court if Marco doesn’t pull his socks up. This Khan has teeth!
Tegana does come back on the scene, as do Ian and Ping-Cho, and before he has even taken his shoes off he has dripped poison into the Khan. Yes, surprising, right? By not murdering the Doctor and his friends when they tried to retrieve the TARDIS after Marco stole it off them, Tegana says, Polo has broken the law. Ian and Ping-Cho counter this by telling the Khan that Tegana is in allegiance with Noghai. Kublai is not swayed either way and decides to sit on the fence and allow his court to judge it.
The Doctor may still not have his time travel jalopy but things are a little better for Ping-Cho. The old geezer she was meant to marry died after taking Viagra. Obviously not good news for him or the man who had to nail the coffin lid down extra hard but still… Oh! Also, Ping-Cho is allowed to return back home but for some reason she prefers to stay at Kublai Khan’s court.
But what of our heroes? They have been thrown into the clink. As one, they make it their goal to stop the fiendish Tegana. If only they could get out of their prison. Do they have a clever plan? No. They just attack their guard and use their Get Out Of Jail card.
They coincidentally meet up with Marco Polo and tell him that they think that Tegana is plotting to kill the Khan so that Noghai will have an easier time of conquering. During the majority of this story, Marco Polo has not believed a single word that the Doctor and his companions have uttered but now? Oh, he suddenly acts like their word is gospel. I don’t mean to decry this story but what the hell? Has some type of heavy object bopped him on the head? Is he ill? Gah! Off to the throne room!
Tegana has been a busy boy. He has slaughtered the Khan’s top guards. Also the less skilled guards. The Khan’s Grand Vizier has also copped a deadly blow. Only the boy who makes the noodles has been spared and that is because Tegana is a bit peckish. But now, oh yes, Tegana is about to turn Kublai Khan into sliced salami when Marco (and our heroes) interrupts. There is then a sword fight with lots of clashing metal noises and masculine grunts before Tegana decides to kill himself with a spear instead of being killed by Polo or the Khan’s men (the ones who were hiding when Tegana went sword-crazy).
In the confusion of the bodies being taken away, Marco gives the TARDIS key to the Doctor and allows them to escape. Polo finally did the right thing. At bloody last.
The TARDIS vanishes right in front of the Khan who has had a pretty bad day. Luckily all this has not given him a stroke. Although it may have done something to the Khan’s brain since he forgives Marco and allows him to return to Venice.
This is as near to being a happy ending as possible. The good guys won and the bad guys were thwarted. The End.
Sometimes with these unreviews, I give some kind of comment about the acting prowess of the actors involved. But given that this story only exists as an audio performance, that is a lot harder than normal. So I will leave it here. But this story does sound great and the actors do not disgrace themselves, so if you can find a copy of this story, buy it.