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“Marco Polo” includes the first of many episodes, 106 to be exact, that are missing. What does that mean? In the 1960s, before the advent of convenient home viewing of movies/old television shows, many television companies, both in Britain and America, re-used their tapes. That is, they taped over old shows, because they could see no advantage in keeping them because there was no way to make them accessible for on-demand home viewing. The physical tapes were more valuable than what was on them.
All of these missing episodes fortunately exist in audio form, enabling intrepid Doctor Who fans to piece together what are called “reconstructions.” The audio of the episode is played over a mishmash of pictures taken on the set and whatever clips of the episode survive.
I personally cannot stand reconstructions; it’s too much like a slideshow for me to be interested. Like I’ve said before, I will be reading scripts instead.
So. Marco Polo. The TARDIS lands in the Himalayas, and the crew are attacked by… someone. Anyway, Marco Polo comes and rescues them! Then he sees the TARDIS and gets a “brilliant” idea. The viewer (reader?) doesn’t know it, but Marco Polo wishes to give the TARDIS to Kublai Khan to impress him. Actually I think Marco Polo might be killed or something if he doesn’t impress Kublai Khan. So that’s good.
So the Doctor and pals are dragged along as virtual prisoners. Susan makes friends with a girl who’s going to get married to a creepy old dude once they arrive in the capitol. The caravan’s being attacked by a mysterious assassin, who wants to kill Marco Polo so HE can impress Kublai Khan with the TARDIS.
The Doctor has had an extra TARDIS key this entire time (he had to surrender one to Marco Polo before), and manages to sneak everyone aboard. Except Susan, who just HAS to say goodbye to her new friend. As a result, they get caught and the Doctor has to give Marco Polo his spare key. And actually, I think he has yet ANOTHER key. I don’t know.
Anyway, they arrive in the capitol and Marco Polo presents the TARDIS to Kublai Khan, who reacts to it somehow. Kublai Khan takes a liking to the Doctor because he’s clever. They play many games of backgammon and Kublai Khan ends up losing much of his riches to the Doctor. Ian gives the Doctor the idea to offer all the riches in exchange for the TARDIS if he wins another backgammon game. Guess what? …The Doctor loses that game. So they’re right back where they started. Which is hilarious.
The guy who wanted to kill Marco Polo ends up attempting to assassinate Kublai Khan, but someone saves him. Not sure if it was Marco Polo or someone else. The Doctor gets his TARDIS back, Susan’s friend doesn’t have to marry the creepy old guy, and everyone’s happy.
Next time: The Keys of Marinus.
On the topic of missing episodes, tapes are still being found squirreled away in warehouses or peoples’ attics. Two Second Doctor serials were found very recently, and will soon be screened in Cardiff. So who knows? Maybe all of the episodes are out there somewhere…