Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day Seventeen - The Wall of Lies (Marco Polo, Episode Four)
Do you remember, back in An Unearthly Child (The story, not the episode!), Ian told the tribe that the TARDIS travellers had no leader. At that stage, it was true. As the fabulous Wife in Space blog once said, 'They should have called the show Ian'.
Here, though, Tegana and Marco discuss the travellers;
Marco, which one leads them?
And leaders are obeyed?
It's clear, to our guest characters in this story that the Doctor is the leader of the group, and actually, it's becoming clear to us as viewers, too. The show at this stage is still very much an ensemble piece - all four of our regulars are given their own chance to shine at one stage or another, be it Barbara sneaking out to follow Tegana in the last episode, or Ian distracting the guard here.
Still, though, the Doctor has emerged as the leader of the group. He is the only one with the power to fly the TARDIS, as we're reminded earlier this story. Ian, Barbara, and Susan's lives are all in his hands. It's nice that this has become so prominent after the events of the last story, which I noted as a turning point in his character.
He still has the ability to be crotchety, and to be manipulative, but he's a far warmer soul in this story that we've seen him before, and now that his companions are becoming his friends, he's much nicer toward them. What I'm particularly enjoying is the way that he's a short with those he distrusts as he was with the schoolteachers, once. I really love the way that the Doctor barks at Marco - “You poor, pathetic, stupid savage!”.
Our guest cast is interesting in this story. They're far more rounded as characters than we're sometimes treated to. Marco Polo seems to walk a fine line between being an ally of the group and an enemy. This is most noticeable here for the first time since The Roof of the World, when he initially took the TARDIS away.
The way that he barks orders, listening to the corrupting words of Tegana is totally believable. He wants desperately to trust the travellers, to make friends with them, but from his point of view, it's a no-go. They've betrayed him by sneaking into the TARDIS while no one is looking, and so he has to swap sides again.
It's nice, following on from the pantomime villainy of the first few episodes here, to have a character with a distinct grey area. Marco isn't evil, but he is an obstacle to the TARDIS crew.
I do have to wonder, though, why Tegana - and by extension, Marco - believe out far more likely that the Doctor uses magic to access the 'caravan', above the possibility that he may have a second key. While I could argue that Tegana simply uses magic to reinforce the idea of the Doctor as an evil spirit, Marco does seem surprised to find another key…
On the whole, I'm still really enjoying the story, and I'm actively looking forward to continuing on the journey. The only thing that troubles me is that we spend so much time in the 'camp'. I was really enjoying bits at the start of this story, with the travellers exploring the Cave of Five Hundred Eyes. Ian studies the face to realise the eyes do move, finds signs of a hidden door and…
Well, and then it's all over, and they're sent back to camp. Much as I'm enjoying the Doctor sneaking around, and our heroes trying to avoid detection as the ship gets repaired, it would have been nice to have some more time spent in the cave - it's a different setting and a chance to see something new with the story.
While I'm finding plenty to like in Marco Polo so far, I worry that over time, I'll grow weary of the story is it just carries on revolving around the camp. Interesting characters are only half the battle…
Next Episode: Rider from Shang-Tu