Doctor Who #19: Mighty Kublai Khan

"Oh, what a trial old age is." "It must be borne with dignity, sir."TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 6 of Marco Polo, a story that has been entirely lost. For these reviews, I've looked at the Loose Cannon reconstruction (part 1, part 2, part 3). First aired Mar.28 1964.

IN THIS ONE... Ping-Cho runs away and Ian volunteers to go after her. While the rest meet the Khan at his summer palace, he and Ping-Cho discover the TARDIS has been stolen and track it to Kuiju where Tegana's treachery is revealed and a Mongol attack looms.

REVIEW: Kublai Khan becomes the first character in Who history to be named in an episode title (a short list) and his presence looms large as the caravan edges closer to meeting him at the summer palace. At the same time, the TARDIS crew dig their hole ever deeper even as they try to do the right thing. Ian takes the hit for Ping-Cho and says he stole the key, and since Marco Polo knows the truth, it just makes him out to be a liar. It certainly doesn't help his case when he tries to convince Marco that the TARDIS is a time machine. After Ping-Cho's run off, Susan and Barbara openly admit that they oppose the girl's loveless marriage to an old man, the Doctor refuses to kowtow to the Khan because he has back problems (and a Time Lord attitude), and there's of course Tegana, who as ever seems to know exactly what buttons to push to destroy what trust lingers between Marco and our heroes.

While Marco remains a strong leading man and the story's narrator, one can't help but admire Tegana's Iago-like skills. We're 6 episodes in and he still hasn't been exposed. He manages not only to throw doubt on the Doctor and his companions, but manages to convince Marco to be allowed to ride after Ian and Ping-Cho on the basis that THEY'RE the TARDIS thieves. As Marco finds out when he gets to the summer palace, Noghai's Mongol armies are massing at the imperial gates, so to speak, and their envoy has now left the caravan? Suspicious! He completely deserves to be given another cliffhanger to threaten Ian and Ping-Cho with a sword. The big twist of the episode - because Tegana's villainy was no secret to the audience - is that "Mighty" Kublai Khan is as old and decrepit as the Doctor. Announced by silly trumpet sounds and heavy huffing, puffing and complaining, the Khan finds an immediate kinship with the Doctor and invites him to share in some healing waters. It's a fun reversal and as with all other scenes, a well-written one.

As a fan of Shaw Brothers' era movies, I can confirm the sets look quite good. The summer palace is particularly well done, with its high walls and ornate tapestries. The costumes are beautiful as well. There's lots of local color to complete this "world", including talk of flying fish, burning stones (coal), and ceremonial greetings and introductions in the palace. The sequence of events that leads Ping-Cho back one outpost and how the TARDIS was left there to be stolen isn't too clear, but it's my only gripe with Marco Polo's penultimate episode. Has it been dragging for you? It hasn't really for me, but 7 episodes was perhaps one too long.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Gorgeously written and produced, the revelations of Mongolian treachery and the Khan's old age are well written and push us towards a climax with renewed enthusiasm.


Eric TF Bat said...

Interesting point you made about characters being named in episode titles. Looking through the list on Wikipedia, I count the following references to human or humanoid characters (ignoring semi-sentient monsters, spacial disturbances, etc):

First Doctor: Mighty Kublai Khan
Fourth Doctor: The Brain of Morbius, The Talons of Weng Chiang, Meglos
Sixth Doctor: Mark of the Rani, Time and the Rani, Delta and the Bannermen
Ninth Doctor: Rose
Tenth Doctor: Smith and Jones, The Lazarus Experiment
Eleventh Doctor: Amy's Choice, Vincent and the Doctor, Let's Kill Hitler, The Wedding of River Song

That's not many!

Siskoid said...

You're missing...
1st - Johnny Ringo
3rd - Doctor Who and the Silurians
5th - Mawdryn Undead
9th - The Doctor Dances
10th - The Shakespeare Code

Some might also count unique monsters/gods like Fenric and Kroll, or spin-off episodes like Captain Jack Harkness and the Sarah Jane eps with her name in the titles.

Eric TF Bat said...

I was ignoring the "Doctor Who and" episodes and I think Mawdryn was more a disembodied force than a person, but you got me fair to rights on John and Will.

jeanette said...

Time and the Rani was the Seventh Doctor.


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