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Doctor Who: The Journey #3: Edge of Destruction & Marco Polo

William Hartnell as Doctor Who, with head bandage
This is an incredibly futuristic auto-disinfecting bandage The Doctor is wearing. It's most certainly not a scrap of poncho fabric around his head. It's just not.

The Story So Far: Intrepid pop culture adventurers PhantomV48 and Fleshvine have decided to make the long trek through the history of Doctor Who, starting all the way back at jump. So they just met the Daleks and now they hit the next two adventures…

So, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t mention this outright. The Whoniverse lost a rather important figure this past month, Elisabeth Sladen, better known to fans as Sarah Jane Smith. Though it’ll be quite sometime before we meet her in these travels, we certainly know her character and her impact on the show. She’s without a doubt the most famous of The Doctor’s companions; for many the first–and for many still, the favorite. Far better words have been said about this, some on this very website, so we’ll just direct you to those and continue on our mission.

Edge of Destruction

(Told in two incredibly over-named parts: “Edge of Destruction” and “The Brink of Disaster”)

[ad#rightpost]PhantomV48: Okay, this one is easy. Everyone wakes up and no one knows what’s going on. The TARDIS is effectively, to use a technical term here: “tripping balls.” The doors open and close by themselves, clock faces melt and start blaring John Zorn records, the “fault locator” is saying that everything everywhere is broken.

Fleshvine: In my family, we call the fault locator “Mom.”

PV48: Susan and Ian go into a trance and try to kill The Doctor, and everyone blames everyone else.

FV: Queue the hilarious hysterical woman scenes from both Barbara and Susan.

PV48: Tension mounts as the Doctor figures out that the TARDIS is just warning everyone that it’s about to blow up. So, what’s the cause of all the trouble that brings the TARDIS and crew to the “Edge of Destruction”??? Oh, the Doctor hit the “Fast Return” button, intending to bring them back to present (1963) Britain…and the button got stuck. That’s all. We overshot and ended up going back to the the Big Bang. A little WD40, a lesson for Susan on how switches work, and we’re back on our way. No biggie.


Importance to the Overall Who Experience: 3. We find out a bit about the ship–most importantly that it has at least a little bit of artificial intelligence, which seems to be a surprise to The Doctor. That’s about it.

Watchability: 6. This episode was meant as filler and story-wise it clearly shows. The effects and acting make it worth watching, though it’s a bit over the top in parts. Not to mention a two-episode arch is welcome after the drag-out seven-parter that The Daleks was.

FV: I was curious about this whole “everyone wakes up from some unknown event suffering memory loss” storyline that seems to be recycled in most sci-fi shows. So I did some research. For more of this fascinating type of thing, see:

I know that there are several more, but I’ll be buggered if I can find them.

Marco Polo

(Told in seven parts: “The Roof of The World,” “The Singing Sands,” “Five Hundred Eyes,” “The Wall of Lies,” “Rider from Shang-Tu,” “Might Kublai-Khan,” and “Assassin at Peking”)

Doctor Who: Marco Polo
The Doctor must avert temporal disaster and prevent Marco Polo from following his dream of starting a Roxy Music tribute band.

PV48: Okay, there’s something you need to understand about Doctor Who in the 60s. The BBC didn’t really care too much about it. It was a kid’s show and there was no such a thing as home video, let alone DVD box sets. Also the BBC didn’t have any money, or space in its archives for every show it recorded. So, some episodes of some shows were either taped over, or simply trashed.


PV48: No known film of the Marco Polo adventure exists anywhere. It only exists now in fan-made reconstructions: using photographs, audio recordings, and whatever else they could find. Thankfully, Marco Polo had the most spectacular sets so far in the series; and as a result, tons of photographs and telesnaps (basically screenshots) do exist. So it’s pretty much a badly done radio play with pictures. Be glad you don’t have to watch this one.

FV: Honestly, I can appreciate all the work they put into the reproductions…but these really were tough to watch.

PV48: So, The Crew lands itself in the Pamir Mountains in the 13th century, and surprise surprise, the TARDIS is broken. This time the power is out and the heating is off. While searching for fuel (I guess they have a Mr. Fusion or something, I dunno) they come across some Mongol soldiers and eventually (Gilderoy Lockhart as) Marco Polo. The crew is suffering from altitude sickness and the Mongols think The Doctor is a sorcerer; so they “decide” to tag along with Polo and The Mongols on his way along the Silk Road.

Along the way Tegana, a mongol warlord, buys some poison; there’s a sandstorm with a quick Wonkatania-style freak-out; there are some bandits that we don’t actually meet; the Mongols find an oasis, and don’t share the water; The Gang scrapes condensation off the TARDIS and drinks it; we learn the tale of Aladdin; and eventually (finally!) the Mongols take Barbara hostage in the Cave of Five Hundred Eyes.

The Cave of Five Hundred Eyes from Doctor Who: Marco Polo
The BBC would like to thank Mrs. Genofski and the students at her PS109 Drama Club for helping out with The Cave's set construction.

FV: First: “Wonkatania” = the boat scene in Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory. I had to ask. Second, has anyone noticed that like 5% of these Asian folk are actually Asian? Third, Susan’s freak-out in the eye cave is hilarious. I can’t help it: I just enjoy seeing her in hysterics.

PV48: Refueled by TARDIS sweat, Ian, Susan, and The Doctor go off to find Barbara, and get all up in Tegana’s business.

FV: I’d like to get up in Tegana’s… Nevermind.

PV48: We find out that the Cave of Five Hundred Eyes is set up more like any set from Scooby-Doo, complete with false walls and paintings with eye-holes cut out.

FV: Made from these new things we’ve just discovered: called CARDBOARD and POSTER PAINT! Weeeeee!!!

Doctor Who: Marco Polo: The bamboo starts to explode.
You know you've cut way back on the sci-fi portion of proceedings when exploding bamboo enters the picture.

PV48: Now that the Scooby Gang is back together and Tegana is, curses, foiled again, the caravan continues along the Great Wall. At this point everyone but Marco Polo knows Tegana is up to something. Polo locks up Our Gang in a guarded tent, which lasts all of about three hours. Upon escaping they find that the guard, who they were going to take out, has already been taken way out. Somehow, this is the evidence they needed to blame Tegana for everything. Now they just need to convince Polo of this. Tegana is at a rate of about three bungled capers per episode by the time they finally reach Kublai Khan, and running out of friends he can hire and later kill.

FV: Bungled capers sounds like a questionable appetizer.

PV48: The Doctor, stodgy as ever, meets The Mighty Kublai Khan, and not only refuses to kow-tow to him, but challenges him to a weird card game version of backgammon. At one point The Doctor is up 35 elephants, 4000 white stallions, 25 tigers, the sacred tooth of the Buddha, and the gross national product of Burma for a year; and immediately loses it all, plus the TARDIS. The Gang breaks out of the Khan’s prison, meets up with Polo, and finally manages to convince him that Tegana might not be such a great guy after all. Polo finds Tegana and some epic swashbuckling sword fight action proceeds…that we don’t get to see any of. Going by their usual MO, the Crew then sneaks away to the TARDIS and off for their next adventure.

FV: Thank GAWD that one’s over. Again, I respect the reconstruction work that they did, but this was about as exciting to watch as my dogs shedding.

Importance to the Overall Who Experience: 3. We find out that the Doctor can make TARDIS keys when he needs to after the first is confiscated by Marco Polo. Marco Polo appears much later in the series when he brings another magical flying box, the Pandorica, to the Vatican. This is also the first of the history-based arcs, which contain many educational–and very few sci-fi–elements.

Watchability: 2. To be clear, they do the best they can with these reconstructions. They even colorized the black-and-white photos. But the fact remains that you’re watching a slideshow and hearing a radio play in a combination that isn’t written, acted, or meant to be like a radio play. Also, add to that this isn’t the most riveting arc ever. It’s basically just a dull history lesson with a thin betrayal story melted on top of it. For completests (or idiots that plan to watch all of Doctor Who in order–and write about it) only.

Next Episode: The Keys of Marinus! Stay tuned!

Previous episode here.

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