Saturday, 6 June 2009

Doctor Who: Marco Polo. Or Journey to Cathay. Gah!

Phew! Seven episodes in one day...!

The Roof of the World

"I command you in the name of Kublai Khan!"

First up, I love Loose Cannon and I want to have their babies. Damn the physical impossibilities! There's no denying that the lack of footage, especially from this of all stories, detracts hugely from the experience. But the recon is quite magnificent. I particularly love the groovy colour title sequence, which rocks.

Hmm, shortly after the Fast Return Switch debacle it doesn't take much time for another serious problem to arise with the Ship. But this is top stuff. Mark Eden, and especially Derren Nesbitt, are immediately compelling. Right from the start the writing and acting are top-notch.

I love Susan's use of the word "fab". Clearly she went native somewhat during her time in the 60s.

Marco immediately comes across as an interesting and layered individual. He blatantly steals the caravan yet remains likeable to a degree, a credit to both Eden and Lucarotti, as this is going to have to be sustained for quite a while...

The Doctor's hysterical laughter is... most extraordinary! But it's most reassuring to see that the rift between him and the two schoolteachers appears to have gone.

Incidentally, anybody know exactly know exactly where the Plain of Pamir is? Somewhere in Central Asia near Samarkand? I don't recognise many of the geographical references in this story.

The Singing Sands

"The bones of many many men who thought they had enough [water] lie bleached in the desert sands..."

The dialogue in this story is wonderful. I love the double edged comments made by Tegana while Marco and Ian play chess: "It means 'The king is dead'"; "Marco, can you save your king?". Also wonderful is a line of Susan's: "One day, we'll know all the mysteries of the stars and stop our wanderings". This harks back to her desire to stay on Earth in An Unearthly Child- fundamentally Susan doesn't share the Doctor's wanderlust and eventually will opt for stability. Mind you, that still picture we constantly see of Susan gurning is a sauce of great amusement.

Blimey, the Doctor makes only a token (pre-filmed?) appearance in this episode. Marco is the central character for the moment, and an interesting one. He's the one with authority, but is fundamentally quite weak and credulous. The dynamics of this small, claustrophobic group of people, thrust together by chance, is compelling, especially as they're all so well written.

Oh, "Our fate rests with Tegana."- oh dear! A truly terrifying cliffhanger, the prospect of death by thirst. Something very real and horrific.

Five Hundred Eyes

"With such a caravan, Noghai would be invincible!"

The resolution to the cliffhanger, with the condensation, is very impressive indeed. The TARDIS crew now all suspect Tegana but Marco, for reasons essential to sustaining the plot, does not.

Nice that the slow pace allows us the digression on the hashashin (who of course foreshadow Tegana's behaviour in the final episode). Ping-Cho's performance is quite wonderful.

Nice cliffhanger- the threat to Barbara is again grounded in the very real, with nothing of the fantastic about it. Strong stuff for Saturday teatime.

The Wall of Lies

"The old magician. How can you kill him?

"With a stake through the heart."

Interesting how Marco's authority over the travellers is undercut by his obvious guilt; we instinctively know that he will never carry out his threats to the travellers. A format of losing the TARDIS seems to be established, following on from Susan's comments about nearly losing the Ship on Quinnis in The Brink of Disaster. Incidentally, Susan is at no point annoying in this story, which is largely down to the writing. When given a script that can be played well, Carole Ann Ford puts in a good performance.

Marco proves easily swayed by Tegana's persuasiveness, but once again behind his bluster he knows he's in the wrong. His desperate "Obey me!" to Ping-Cho is very revealing. It has to be said though, the constant mistrust between Marco and the TARDIS crew, although well-executed, is also quite annoying.

This story seems to be taking a long time in terms of days- I wonder how long it takes chronologically?

Rider From Shang-Tu

"What does he think it is, a potting shed or something?"

Ian's plan with the bamboo is very clever indeed. As is the storytelling and characterisations- during the situation with the bandits it becomes clear that Marco makes no independent decisions aside from stealing the TARDIS, being buffeted this way and that by Ian and Tegana. Of course, Tegana is the more persuasive of the two...

Oh, a swordfight involving the Doctor! If only we had footage...

Great line by Tegana: "Work your magic against him if you will. But make no move against me." Derren Nesbitt is fantastic as Tegana, with a real silky menace in his delivery.

I love the minor characters introduced here, the wonderfully camp Wang-Lo and Kuiju with his eyepatch and the monkey on his shoulder! The incidental details in this story are wonderful. I'm sure there's a huge amount of visual texture we're missing- the sets seem magnificent, and this was directed by Waris Hussein...

The TARDIS crew attempting to escape is becoming boringly repetitive by now. We know perfectly well that Marco is too weak to follow through with his threats.

Mighty Kublai Khan

"And you don't believe me when I say I come from another time?"

"If I did, Ian, I would give you the key."

Ironic that the TARDIS is almost nicked by someone allied to neither Marco nor the Doctor. We get more of Wang-Lo's campness here, which come to think of it is quite interesting; gay sex would remain illegal in Britain for another three years after this story's broadcast, but there is still Julian and Sandy style campness in popular culture.

Very nice ending, with the frail Kublai Khan. Also, by a later definition, a somewhat Doctorish moment. Once again, an excellent cliffhanger.

Assassin at Peking

""What of I that the Khan should fear?"

"The power of persuasion."

Once again the dialogue sparkles- the Doctor's winnings at backgammon are hilarious, and the lines perfectly delivered by Hartnell. "All the commerce from Burma for one year" indeed...

Nice touch, that; as the Doctor loses his gamble with Kublai Khan for the TARDIS, he once again bursts into laughter. The Doctor has noticeably mellowed in this story. He's still far from the active hero, primarily being motivated by escape to the TARDIS with no thought for Tegana's designs, but nevertheless the real nastiness has gone.

Great scene as Kublai Khan effectively calls Marco on his weakness. It's also clear that he sees through Tegana's rhetoric; in spite of his physical frailties and genuine comical qualities he's no fool.

The greatest line in all of Doctor Who so far: Your beloved husband to be, so anxious to be worthy of your love, drank a potion of quicksilver and sulphur, the elixir of life and eternal youth... and expired."

Once again, a swordfight makes the lack of footage very apparent indeed. The conclusion satisfies, and Marco gets the last word: "No, my Lord, they will not believe half the things I have seen in Cathay."

Overall, then? Admittedly there are certain... challenges to watching a recon, and I won't pretend there weren't points where the photos inevitably became repetitive, or times where the lack of footage became especially frustrating. But the script and acting were magnificent. The dialogue, the acting, the characterisation- all were magnificent. Admittedly there were times where the dynamic between Marco and the crew vis-à-vis the TARDIS became repetitive and annoying, but then I did watch the whole thing in one go. It would have been churlish not to give this a much-deserved 5/5. The best yet.

No comments:

Post a Comment