WHO: The First Doctor Companions: Susan Foreman, Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright WHEN & WHERE: Cathay (former name of China) Year: 1289 WHAT: After suffering a malfunction on the TARDIS, the First Doctor and his companions traveled in a caravan lead by Marco Polo. This was the first truly "historical fiction" adventure in the history of Doctor Who, since while they traveled, in the first story arc, to some age where cave people lived, there weren't reference to some familiar historical fact and also, even it's not sure if they were on Earth at that moment. Also, reading that due the freezing, the First Doctor opted to use a scarf (any Fourth Doctor's fan will smile at this, like me!) Marco Polo is used in a very interesting way, since he is a man of honor, but also he suffers personal issues that make him in a character hard to know what he will do next in the story. Besides her good friendly relationship with Susan, she interacted with such respect and in a formal way to the First Doctor, Ian and Barbara, that it was great to read about her. GEEK MODE ACTIVATED: It's odd to read that the TARDIS can inform in which planet (Earth) they are and the year (1289), but it seems unable to define an exact location (China or Cathay) or even an exact time (if it's day or night). Since the TARDIS is inoperative, and the Polo's caravan couldn't wait for the First Doctor to do the needed repairs, so they put the TARDIS in some cart to travel with them.
Led by none other than famed Venetian explorer Marco Polo, the caravan travels across China and Mongolia to the court of the great Kublai Khan. The fierce warlord Tegana thinks they are deceptive devils come to lay curses and play tricks, and while Polo doesn't believe this to be the case, he's got a scheme of his own up his sleeve involving the strangely-dressed quartet and their flying caravan which appears barely large enough to hold one man, yet according to the Doctor can fit far more than four with no problems. The Doctor knows he and his companions must fix the TARDIS and escape, but under constant watch and unable to affect repairs, the caravan journeys inexorably onward to the palace where Kublai Khan holds court...and will be all too willing to add the TARDIS to his magnificent collection. This is a complete about-face from the last episode, which was about nothing but the TARDIS, and while Edge of Destruction isn't a terrible story, Marco Polo exceeds it in every sense. I don't know much about the real world traveler, but Lucarotti's depiction of him as a suave, debonair, and highly-intelligent agent within Kublai Khan's employ is fun and fascinating. Polo walks a fine line during the story: originally seen by the group as their saviors when he saves them from Tegana's sword, he's later revealed to be a cunning character with designs on separating the TARDIS from its crew. Marco Polo is shot through with the sort of fun, energy, and characterization that comes to mind when one considers the best Doctor Who stories. Lucarotti's novel is a stunning example of just how much fun there is to be had with the concept of a time-traveling alien, his companions, and the entirety of galactic history ripe for the exploring.
In my head, Marco Polo was a dull story where nothing happened and with not much going for it. The novelisation zooms through the plot fairly quickly (the TV story must have felt very slow) but even then not much happens for much of the book. I also felt that the character of Susan worked unusually well here as she had fellow teenager Peng-Cho to talk to and become friends with.
Marco Polo sort of kidnaps the Doctor and his companions, they travel for a bit towards China, they stop for a bit, have some food (which is explained in minute detail and made me quite hungry), the Mongol warlord baddie accompanying Marco Polo's party tries some treachery and is foiled by the Doctor/Ian/Susan (Barbara didn't have much to do in this one).
So during my rewatch I thought it would be a great way to enjoy the missing stories.
So I thought reading the novelisation would be a more satisfying way of experiencing the missing serial, and I was also a bit excited about the idea of reading a Dr Who novel - something quite pleasurably retro about the little 18cm novel with not that many words on a page - sure enough, it took me less than 24 hours to read. It does feel like a fleshed-out screenplay, which is what it is - the novelisation was actually written in the 1980s by John Lucarotti himself, the original screen-writer, who also wrote 'The Aztecs' in Season One, which I've just watched and really enjoyed.
It's based on a missing serial from the first season of Doctor Who with William Hartnell as the Doctor and Susan, Barbara and Ian as companions. I like the older Doctor Who serials because they take their time to tell a story. Still, it's a good story and in Audible it is read by Zenia Morton who was one of the actors in the original broadcast.
Having seen all of the surviving year one footage made it very easy for me to visualize the actions and mannerisms of the TARDIS crew. But I highly recommend this tale for those of you who have seen all of the surviving shows and want to know the rest of the story...