Mighty Kublai Khan

The Doctor, Barbara, and Ian make their way into the Ship and are preparing to depart when Ian realizes Susan isn’t aboard yet.  Ian goes out to search for her, but she’s already on her way back, having said goodbye to Ping-Cho.  She’s nearly to the Ship when Tegana appears, grabbing her—“Grandfather!” she screams…

According to the old saying, the truth shall set you free.  But telling the man who’s (kind of) your captor that you come from 700 years in the future, and that the mysterious box you’ve been trying to get inside for weeks is, in fact, a means to travel through time—well, you can’t really blame him for not believing you.

Ian and Ping-Cho at Cheng-TingMarco says he can’t believe Ian because Ian lied about finding the key to protect Ping-Cho, but here’s the thing: I think Marco does believe Ian’s claim that they came from the future, but is so determined to return home to Venice that he’s willing to allow the time travelers.  To be honest, I’m not sure I wouldn’t have done the same, especially if I’d been away from home for nearly twenty years.  (The real Marco Polo, of course, finally returned to Venice in 1295, 24 years after leaving.)

Wang-Lo and Ian discuss who has taken the TARDIS“Going home,” ironically, is a theme that runs throughout Marco Polo.  Ian and Barbara hope to return to London in their own time, for example, while Susan’s melancholy, wistful (if brief) descriptions of where she and her grandfather come from belie an unspoken longing to end their wanderings and just go back.  Ping-Cho runs away from Marco Polo, hoping to make her way more than a thousand miles back to her home in Samarkand, located in present-day Uzbekistan, but which was on the silk road in the thirteenth century.  And then, of course, there’s the Doctor.  Ostensibly, the Doctor is “at home” anywhere, but more fundamentally than that, the TARDIS is his home, it’s been taken from him, and he wants it back.  Sounds fair enough to me.

Susan and Barbara in awe of Kublai Khan's palaceThere’s no good reason for Ian to ride back to Cheng-Ting way station to search for Ping-Cho—any able-bodied man would have sufficed—but it finally gives Ian the opportunity to gather hard evidence of Tegana’s skullduggery and underhandedness and that he’s actively been working against Marco the entire time.  He and Ping-Cho deduce that Tegana’s allies have taken the TARDIS to Karakorum by way of an abandoned road. Later, Marco received similar news of an amassing army at Karakorum, and Tegana’s treachery becomes even clearer.

The “mighty” Kublai Khan, “the greatest administrator the world has ever known” is, in fact, a frail old man suffering from gout.  He strikes up a friendship with the Doctor almost immediately.  They’re an odd couple, but they’re definitely kindred spirits, and the Khan tells the Doctor that they’ll ride in state together to Peking the next day.

The Doctor and Kublai KhanI have to say that while Marco Polo is perhaps the best serial so far, it’s probably about two episodes too long.  Just like I wondered while watching The Daleks, I don’t know how much this has to do with me being a modern viewer used to much faster paced stories than a viewer in 1964, or even if that’s a fair comparison to make.  Nevertheless, after the first three serials, Marco Polo, because of its vastness in terms of the story and the amount of time that passes within the story (weeks?  months?), it feels much more relaxed.  Despite everything, the time travelers are able to get some rest, and it’s good to finally hear them laughing together.

Ian and Ping-Cho corner Kuiji whom Tegana paid to take the TARDIS to Karakorum rather than to the Khan’s summer palace in Shang-Tu (also known as, incidentally, as Xanadu).  They take back Ping-Cho’s money, and when pressed by Ian, Kuiji admits that Tegana paid him to ensure the TARDIS is sent somewhere else.  Then without warning, Tegana arrives, brandishing his sword, and moving toward Ian and Ping-Cho…

Don’t forget to “Like” us on Facebook, please!

Daniel Lestarjette

Daniel is the owner and Managing Editor of Time and The – !. He's been a fan of Doctor Who since watching Tom Baker regenerate into Peter Davison on his local PBS station as a kid. He launched Time and The – ! in 2011 after having the bright (?) idea to watch every Doctor Who story from the beginning and blog about it. (Yeah, he's way behind.)

What do you think? Please join the discussion!