The fourth story of the first Doctor (Hartnell) was written by John Lucarotti, is the introduction of the historical stories that served to entertain and educate at the same time. It was a seven parter beginning on the 22nd of February. 1964 and coming to a close on April 4, 1964. The titles of the tale were The Roof of the World, The Singing Sands, Five Hundred Eyes, The Wall of Lies, Rider From Shang-Tu, Mighty Kublai Khan, and Assassin at Peking.
I was able to watch this one through a reconstruction using the recorded audio and a proliferation of photographs that were taken during the story’s filming. And while that may not be the best way to convey the story, it works well enough to get the point across, though all the nuances of the actors’ physical performances are lost.
The TARDIS, apparently blowing yet another circuit arrives at the roof of the world, the Himalayan mountains, and meet up with Marco Polo (Mark Eden) and his caravan who are on their way to Kublai Khan’s (Martin Miller) palace.
Amongst Polo’s carvan is a young 16-year old girl Ping-Cho (Zienia Merton), who is on her way to an arranged marriage in the Khan’s court, and an emissary, Tegana (Derren Nesbitt), who is supposedly a peace envoy, but with the arrival of the TARDIS, and Ian (William Russell), Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) and Susan (Carole Ann Ford), sees the chance to seize power, and plans an assassination on the Khan.
Sadly, after the briefly paternal glance of a different kind of Doctor at the end of the last story, he seems to be back to his own irascible self through the course of the episode, once again letting Ian take the lead. He worries about the TARDIS, and simply wants to get her repaired, and argues with almost everyone at each step of the way.
That is, until the final episode of the story that sees the Doctor meeting Kublai Khan, and the two actually hit it off rather well, enjoying one another’s company and stories over games of backgammon.
It is also a unique story, because for the first time there is a narration accompanying the tale, given not by any of our heroes, but in fact from Polo, as he charts their course, and chronicles their journey.
The story comes across as huge, sweeping and epic, and the costume and set design seen in the pictures make me eager to see a video version, now that films have been found and delivered to the BBC by dedicated fans.
Tegana, even without any visible motion given to his words and actions, seems incredibly menacing, and a true threat not only to the Khan but to those traveling in the TARDIS.
It’s a fun story, the Susan and Ping-Cho friendship that develops is rather nice, and gives Susan something else to do for a change instead of wailing and running about calling “Grandfather!”
The next story sees writer Terry Nation sending the TARDIS on the journey to The Key of Marinus!
I have to say, I am truly loving the fact that I’ve gone back to the beginning and watching the evolution of the series and the character that has come to mean so much to me.