The #missingepisodes reviews: Marco Polo

Doctor Who fans are hugely fortunate. Thanks to the intervention of Ian Levine, the series first three serials were rescued hours before they would have been lost forever. While fans can get caught up in The Beginning DVD boxset, a jarring note hits the viewer as The Edge of Destruction fades to a close, and viewers are forced to the horrified realisation that we cannot see what happens next.

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14 – The Daleks

Universally recognised as the story that transformed Doctor Who into a nationwide hit, The Daleks is much, much more than a mere introduction story to the alien race that would go on to become the Doctor’s deadliest enemies. The series’ second story is a fantastic sci-fi adventure that stands up well more than 50 years after its initial broadcast, and is superb television, nevermind superb Doctor Who.

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44 – The Dalek Invasion of Earth

I have to confess to two heresies – that the first version I saw of this adventure was the movie version featuring Peter Cushing as the Doctor; and that I didn’t really enjoy this adventure when I first saw it on UK Gold. I think I expected more, having enjoyed The Daleks very very much indeed when I had first watched it. In time however, I have only come to enjoy and appreciate this story more and more.

This story is striking for two significant events – the return of the Daleks, and the departure of Susan. Until this point Doctor Who had seen the TARDIS crew go from one adventure to the next, not returning to any previous adversary. Given the mass popularity of the Daleks after their first adventure, it could only be a matter of time before the deadly mutants would make their return to viewers’ TV screens. While it seems an inevitability with the clarity of 50 years’ hindsight, we must not forget how much of a delighted shock it must have been when the Dalek emerged from the Thames at the end of episode one. (Don’t ask why the Dalek thought taking a swim in the Thames was a good idea, it just did!)

The story itself is strongly influenced by the legacy of Nazi occupied Europe, not least in the Daleks’ continued radio broadcasts to the hidden human rebels. Watched with this legacy in mind, the story becomes even more powerful, and not just a straightforward adventure, exploring the deep concept of having one’s liberty taken away and having to fight against the odds. The show is made all the more powerful for being filmed in contemporary London – while nothing will persuade me to enjoy the two minutes of bongo music that accompanies the set piece, the sight of Daleks crossing Westminster Bridge or swarming around Trafalgar Square is truly astounding, and would have been even more so at the time it was first shown.

Of course the story sees the Doctor and his human allies defeat the Dalek menace – in a theme that is later revisited in the new series episode The Stolen Earth the Daleks are attempting to mine the core of the planet and turn it into a battle station. But while the story is simply enjoyed for what it is, I think the more significant moment comes as Susan falls in love with earth resistance fighter David Campbell (amusingly given the surname Cameron in the book adaptation!) and elects to remain behind on earth. Hartnell’s farewell speech is truly moving, and in many ways this would set the tone for Ian and Barbara’s departure in The Chase and indeed for Hartnell’s own departure in The Tenth Planet.

This makes The Dalek Invasion of Earth not just a very good story, but a very important story. The precedent was set to bring back previous foes, and even to bring them to our own planet. And it was acknowledged that the show did not have to die when the main cast changed, paving the way for the most radical change two years later. It may not be as good a story as the first Dalek adventure, but it is certainly a story that I am glad has survived fully intact to be enjoyed today!

Thinking about TARDIS crews …

The TARDIS hasn’t had a crew for a long time. It has usually had the Doctor plus one companion, but very rarely has it had a crew – by which I mean the Doctor plus at least two companions. Of course, there are two people we can blame for this:

Jon Pertwee, who insisted that he wanted his doctor to be an ‘action’ hero (thus negating the need for an active male companion) and …
Adric, who made the Davison era ‘crowded TARDIS’ experience so miserable that JNT became convinced that Peri was a good step forward (er …)

And yet, I found myself reflecting that some of the episodes I have enjoyed best have been enjoyable principally because of the interaction between the members of the TARDIS crew. And so (tomorrow) I will be facing off the two TARDIS crews that I think are the prime contenders for ‘best TARDIS crew’ – but first I wished to pay tribute to those crews who didn’t make the cut …

We simply cannot know …
Steven and Vicki
Steven and Dodo
Ben and Polly (and Jamie)
Sadly, we just do not know how good these TARDIS crews where (although with Dodo we can begin to make an educated and despairing guess …) I have enjoyed Steven’s performances in every story that has survived featuring him as a main companion (sadly, that’s just The Time Meddler; The Ark and The Gunfighters) and would really enjoy the opportunity to see how he got on with Vicki and Dodo over a longer period. I have a slight suspicion that his three stories with Vicki would far surpass his four stories alongside Dodo.
As I remarked previously in my review of The War Machines, I wish more material of Ben and Polly survived, as they seemed to make for a good team – in the very least alongside William Hartnell’s Doctor. Having now watched The Moonbase DVD release, the jury is out as to whether they made such a good team with Patrick Troughton, especially after Jamie joined the TARDIS crew.
As it is … for these TARDIS crews we simply don’t know …

Please. In the name of Heaven. Stop.
Adric, Nyssa, and Tegan
As the extras feature ‘Crowded TARDIS’ on the Castrovalva DVD points out – this crew was too heavy by one member. In Arc of Infinity we see that Nyssa would have made a great solo companion to the Fifth Doctor. Adric arguably aquits himself quite well in Keeper of Traken, and Tegan was exceptional in Kinda. Which one should have gone? I wouldn’t like to choose, but suffice to say three of them was too many.

Close … but no cigar
Jamie and Zoe
Ian, Barbara and Susan/Vicki
Tegan and Turlough
Firstly (as you have noticed) I am counting Ian and Barbara’s time as one, since Susan and Vicki effectively played the same role in the TARDIS crew. Vicki was probably a more fun companion than Susan, but Susan certainly had more mystery – making them both an even match. Ian and Barbara certainly made for an excellent crew alongside Hartnell’s Doctor – but again there is a sense that they didn’t need a pretty young companion just to get into trouble.
Tegan and Turlough meanwhile are an interesting proposition – right numbers (finally) for the Fifth Doctor, but the chemistry doesn’t quite work. One suspects this is partially because one never quite learns to trust (or love) Turlough, and Tegan’s character was perhaps too abrasive alongside that ambiguous character. Could have worked … not sure it did.
Meanwhile, I have made Jamie and Zoe distinct from Jamie and Victoria. I was struck watching Seasons 5 and 6 that Zoe does make a big difference to the crew – as the Doctor says in The Krotons – “That’s the trouble with Zoe – she’s too smart for her own good.” It made for a jolly crew under Captain Pat … but not quite a happy ship. This is a theme I will revisit in due course …

Which leaves … the contenders

As you have by now deduced, that leaves two contenders – the Season 5 crew of Jamie and Victoria, and the Season 12 crew of Sarah-Jane and Harry. Which one wins? Tune in tomorrow to find out …

(The eagle-eyed will have observed that some ‘crews’ didn’t make the cut. These include Steven and Katarina/Sara; The U.N.I.T family; Romana and Adric; Tegan and Nyssa; Tegan, Nyssa and Turlough; and counting K9 as a crew member. This is principally because the ‘crew’ existed for so short a time that it is hard to count them with the crews above)

Why the BBC should animate … Marco Polo

In my second of three proposals for Doctor Who missing episodes the BBC ought to animate, I am completely changing tack to my previous proposal – which as you may recall involved taking a simple four-part story with the capacity to reuse the characters in other stories.

As with The Smugglers, I suggest that we should animate an entirely missing story from scratch – but instead of the careful investment proposed for that serial, I am proposing that the BBC could make a grand gesture, really push the boat out, and release not simply an animation, but a recreation – a re-animation if you will! And for that, there can be no better opportunity than that most eagerly desired and sought after of stories, Marco Polo.

Since I started drafting this post, another similar idea has cropped up on the web – which I think demonstrates that there is enthusiasm not simply to use animation to plug the missing episodes gaps, but to breathe new life into the Classic Series range. I think Marco Polo would be an excellent launchpad to demonstrate that this could be done really well, and to a fantastically high standard.

What then would the animation look like? Well, if The Smugglers is meant to be relatively cheap and cheerful, I propose exactly the opposite for Marco Polo. One of the biggest trends in video game production is the use of actors to map expressions on video game characters – which has especially come to my attention through Kiefer Sutherland playing Snake in the latest installment of the Metal Gear Solid series. Marco Polo would be a continuation of that theme – employing a Hartnell-esque lookalike to provide reference points for the animators.

Naturally this is a much bigger budget than anything done until this point – but in this scenario we are purposefully choosing to ignore the issue of cost, and instead embracing two ideas:

1. As the episodes are completely missing anyway, and need to be replaced, there is absolutely no harm in producing a high-quality reimagination that might appeal outside the ‘core’ audience.
2. If successful, the format would potentially serve as the prelude to animate other stories that (until now) have been non-canon – not least Big FInish productions such as Colin Baker’s originally intended Season 23.

The technology definitely exists – and I am pretty confident that the demand exists as well. And as technology becomes faster and more powerful, the capacity to take on such a massive project is quickly becoming more and more feasible. As I said for The Smugglers – the only good reason not to animate Marco Polo is if there’s a reasonable chance we might get the real thing …

76 – The Five Doctors

I really don’t know where to begin in describing this simply extraordinary story. Back in the days of yore the BBC would include other videos for sale on the inside of their VHS covers. From this I learned there was a story with all five doctors (I think in my vibrant youth Six and Seven didn’t count …), the Daleks, the Cybermen, and the Master! I had to get my hands on it! In fact, so desperate was I for the serial that I had a proper huff with my dad when he joked that he hadn’t bought it, when in actual fact he had.

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80 – Planet of Giants

Rather unusually for the Hartnell era, this story is a three parter – although it was not originally intended to be so! Instead, the producers decided to re-edit episodes 3 and 4 into one, much faster paced episode, feeling that the original cut was too pedestrian. Does it work? Well, I must confess that at some stage I need to watch the reconstructed four part version to compare it properly – but I was pleasantly surprised and entertained by this three part adventure!

Filmed during Season 1 and shown as the first story in Season 2, this was originally planned to be the first ever story of Doctor Who, until it was wisely pointed out that the technical challenges of miniaturising the TARDIS crew would be somewhat ambitious for a new television programme. By this stage it is more than evident that the crew are completely confident and relaxed around each other – each plays their part, and Hartnell has very much settled into the paternal figure TV audiences had grown to love, whilst still remaining an irrascible old rascal!

The plot, as I have already alluded to, sees the TARDIS crew shrunk to a tiny size after the TARDIS doors accidently open during materialisation. But the adventure is not simply to return to normal size – they find themselves in a laboratory where a corrupt scientist is attempting to manufacture and licence a very lethal form of insect killer – one which in turn begins to impact Barbara, whose resistance is made much lower due to her reduced size. The story plays out with the crew having to foil the scientist despite their size, while somehow surviving, getting back to the TARDIS, and returning to their full size.

In three parts, I found the DVD highly watchable and a great addition to my collection. When I have the time, I will have to see if the original episodes 3 and 4 are worthy of as much lament for their loss as other missing episodes – while appreciating the reconstruction the BBC have kindly provided us with!