Written by John Lucarotti
Directed by Waris Hussein
Some very sad news today, as it has been reported that Ray Cusick, the production designer for Doctor Who between 1963 and 1966, has died. The news has mostly been describing him as the designer of the Daleks, and while this was indeed a fantastic achievement, it does rather overlook the brilliant job he did for the rest of his three year tenure as production designer on a show with a more or less negligible budget.
Sadly, I can’t comment on the quality of any of the sets, costumes or special effects in this story. As with a large number of early Doctor Who episodes, all seven that make up Marco Polo were wiped by the BBC for reasons best known to themselves. Television at the time was viewed as something completely disposable, and so its not that surprising that it was treated that way, just irritating. Luckily, the intrepid fans of the Doctor tapped the soundtracks to just about all the early episodes with tape recorders. The legendary Mark Ayers has taken these recordings and with some mystic audio wizardry has made them into something that is indistinguishable from, and is some cases better than, what you would expect from a surviving episode.
I have to admit, this Story is one of the few black and white ones that I hadn’t seen/heard until I started doing this, though I had seen the half hour reconstruction included as a special feature on the Edge of Destruction DVD. The half hour version, unsurprisingly, cracked along at a hell of a rate, but I was a bit dubious about whether it could sustain any sort of pace for seven episodes. I was happily surprised therefore when this episode at least filled its twenty five minute slot easily. It did, however, get through most of the plot, so I am still a bit dubious about the next 6 episodes*.
Another happy surprise, some accurate science at last! Chesterton explaining to Marco that its the altitude, not the temperature, that causes water to boil colder than at sea level is probably one of the few accurate bits of science in the show’s history. I’m not all that up on 13th century chinese or mongolian history**, but there aren’t any glaring historical inaccuracies here either. How refreshing.
After being a bit dubious about this one, I’m actually looking forward to the rest of this story.
*Its a common feature of the longer stories that the first and last episodes are great, but there is a bit of a sag in the middle.
** despite having played rather a lot of Age of Empires II