The Doctor, Susan, and Ping-Cho go to the Cave of Five Hundred Eyes to search for Barbara The Doctor is fascinated by the bizarre paintings of the 250 Ḥashshāshīn who hid out in the cave more than twenty years ago, unaware that the bandits are mere inches away, hiding in secret chambers behind the walls. And then—Susan lets out a piercing shriek: the eyes of the painted Ḥashshāshīn are moving…
Tegana is scheming, conniving, and obviously up to no good, at least to us. But here’s the clincher, though: I like him a hell of a lot better than Marco Polo, who’s dismissive, overbearing, quick-tempered, and generally somewhat of a bully. I’m going to venture that he’ll wise up and do the right thing in the end, but right now, in my mind, Marco Polo is the real villain here—if for no other reason than for being an idiot!
That said, there seems to be some (slight) backpedaling in the Doctor’s characterization. He’s just as dismissive as Marco and as condescending as ever when Susan insists that she saw the painted eyes of the Ḥashshāshīn moving. Normally, Susan is the only one who can cut through her grandfather’s objections, but he remains unconvinced until Ian arrives and examines the wall. With Marco’s help, they locate the secret chamber behind the rock face, and rescue Barbara from the bandits in the nick of time. It’s clear that despite their initial differences and misgivings about one another, the Doctor has come to respect Ian, if not necessarily as an equal, then perhaps as something resembling a friend.
(As an aside, it’s curious to speculate on just how the Doctor and Susan view the two schoolteachers from Coal Hill School. In the Big Finish audio Here There Be Monsters, for example, it’s suggested that Ian and Barbara were more or less “pets” on board the Ship—something Susan denies immediately, but her tone of voice belies that there is, perhaps, a modicum of truth in the statement. This is more of that baggage I keep talking about, though: Here There Be Monsters and other stories written decades later for the original TARDIS crew draw upon the lore of the series as a whole, and so do we as modern viewers watching very early Doctor Who. Of course, it wasn’t clear in 1964 that the Doctor and Susan were anything more than human—is it even fair to go so far as to question whether they view Ian and Barbara anything less than people?)
At any rate, Tegana puts on quite a show in the Cave of Five Hundred Eyes, calling out to the “spirits of Ḥashshāshīn,” entreating them to depart. He’s showboating, ironically, to draw any suspicions away from him, and Ian sees through it right away. Regardless, though, Marco Polo trusts Tegana more than he trusts the time travelers—he is, ostensibly, a peace envoy—and he convinces Marco that Susan is a bad influence on Ping-Cho. This is a stretch, and I have a difficult time believing that Marco would be swayed as easily as that.
It’s here I begin to take issue with Marco’s moral character, and frankly, his intelligence. No one who has traveled as far and as wide as Marco Polo would have been
as stupid as easily taken in by Tegana as Marco is here. In all fairness, this is more to do with dramatic intrigue and conflict to keep the story moving, but it’s still irksome, especially when Ping-Cho and Susan confront him with their (albeit somewhat meager) evidence of Tegana’s duplicity, which he completely dismisses out of hand. Of course, he couldn’t have known that Tegana met with his fellow plotter Acomat in town, where they finalized their plans to kill Marco and everyone else, but honestly: does Marco really need a sign hung around Tegana’s neck reading, “I am the villain”?
The situation is deteriorating quickly, and the time travelers realize that it’s important to leave as soon as possible. Fortunately, the Doctor has completed the repairs on the TARDIS component; it only remains to be fitted into place. He uses his second key to sneak into the Ship—witnesses by Tegana, who informs Marco. Ian attempts to defuse the situation, but the Doctor exits the TARDIS in full sight of everyone, including Marco and Tegana. Marco is furious, and confiscates the Doctor’s spare key. The Doctor admonishes him not to attempt to use it to open the door; attempting to unlock the door incorrectly would destroy the Ship, which Marco threatens to do if they attempt to enter it again. The Doctor is seething with rage, shouting insults at Marco as the Mongol guards drag them away.
The time travelers have gone from guests to prisoners in Marco’s estimation, and locked away in their tent, Ian, Barbara, Susan, and the Doctor are frustrated with their situation, but regain their confidence as they devise their escape strategy. They’re determined to capture Marco himself, take the key, and leave. Ian uses a broken plate to cut through their tent, and once outside, sneaks up behind the guard, intending to disable him. To his horror, the guard slumps over, dead. He’s been stabbed through the heart…
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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.)