Doctor Who #15: The Singing Sands

"The bones of many men who thought they had enough lie bleached in the desert sand."TECHNICAL SPECS: Part 2 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 Feb.29 1964.

IN THIS ONE... After a sandstorm that puts the lives of the teenagers in danger, Tegana destroys the caravan's water supply and poisons the nearest oasis.

REVIEW: I'm really liking this serial's evocative titles, but unfortunately, this episode is leisurely to the extreme and its pace slow even by the era's standards. In principle, I don't mind. It's a long trip, and the characters have accepted their fate as Marco Polo's travel companions. Ian plays chess with him, and Susan and Ping-Cho hang out to look at the moon. The first half of the episode has the cozy feeling of a camping trip among friends, roughing it, but not too much. Or like sitting by the fireplace during a snowstorm. There are still bits of culture woven in, and Susan is shown to feel isolated by a sulking Doctor, turning to Barbara as the mother figure who can't bare to tell her she'd rather go home to her life. Even without the video, it's a well done bit of interaction. I'm not so sure about Susan's sudden groovy 60s vocabulary however. The previous episode's "fab" is now joined by "crazy" and "dig it". Trying to make Susan more of an audience identification figure by taking her even further away from her unearthly child persona? Please don't. And where is the Doctor? This seems to be the first of many weeks off for William Hartnell, who shows up 20 minutes in for a single line before collapsing from dehydration. Maybe that's part of why the episode seems so slow and uninvolving after a short while...

The sandstorm is a strange sequence that might look better on video than it sounds, but the weird "singing sands" sound design, like voices carried on the wind from all over China, freaked my cat out (Fact*: Cats hate any laughing sound that reminds them of their natural predators, hyenas). It's about as off-putting as how the girls apparently survive it unharmed. I guess the storm came close, but didn't actually hit them full stop, so there's not much jeopardy there. Tegana - finally explained as a Mongol diplomatic envoy - teases the audience with potential villainy a couple times, perhaps irritatingly. He seems to menace the girls, but saves them from the storm, and pulls a sword on Marco only to pretend he was testing him. And it won't be until the end of the episode that he commits the crimes he told us about at the very start (or really, at the end of the previous one). The structure makes the whole episode seem like time is standing still.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Good character moments, but the slow pace and lack of Doctor makes turns this episode into unnecessary padding.

*I have no proof that this is indeed a "fact".

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