Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day Eighteen - Rider From Shang-Tu (Marco Polo, Episode Five)
I've not mentioned it, but since Episode Two, I've been watching this story as a tele-snap recon, rather than by listening to the narrated soundtrack. It's perfectly acceptable, and it's just easier to follow the story this way, rather than having to manually look through the images and try to time them up with the audio.
The downside to this, though, is that things aren't always clear. At the end of yesterday's episode, when Ian is sent to distract the guard outside their tent, I assumed he'd knocked him out. There's no dialogue, just ambient noise and soundtrack, and then a shot of the guard on the floor.
This episode confirms that, actually, the guard was already dead. Stabbed. Ian just found the body. It's a shame it's not clearer, as it means I spent a few minutes at the start of this episode thinking back over to the events of yesterday, when I really should have been enjoying this one.
It's also a shame when you have big fight sequences, as in today's installment. It means there's a few minutes of blurry images and a lot of noise while the characters all fight, but you don't actually see any of it taking place. In some ways, this isn't too much of a loss. As with the sand-storm a few days back, in means things can look far better in my mind than they perhaps did on TV, but it would be nice to be able to see something, I guess.
I'm still enjoying things on the old Silk Trail, though this is another episode which uses a set piece (the fight, on this occasion) to break up lots of scenes set in the camp. Even when we reach the end of the episode, with the group settled down for the night, it doesn't feel as though they've really moved. It's another casualty of the tele-snaps that all the locations look broadly the same.
I'd imagine this story could have looked fantastic - the first episode featuring snow-capped mountains, then moving to deserts for Episode Two, caves for Episode Three, and now in this episode we've got a bamboo forest. It's a real pity that I can't really see any of it properly.
Many people seem to list Marco Polo among the stories they'd most like to see returned to the archives, and I'm starting to see why. For all the talking among characters, it's a terribly visual story.
And then we reach the end, with the Doctor, Ian, and Barbara back safely in the TARDIS. But, hold on! Where's Susan?! It's very reminiscent of the trick pulled to stretch out The Daleks for a few more episodes - 'We've made it back to the TARDIS, but we've left something behind!'. In The Daleks, they then came back from this point by spinning the story off in a different direction, which helped to keep me interested. I hope a similar thing is going to be happening here, as if they just carry on as they have so far, there's a danger that my patience will wear thin!
Next episode: Mighty Kublai Kahn