Doctor Who: The Long Way Round: Marco Polo – Part 3

Marco Polo: The Five Hundred Eyes

Marco Polo Five Hundred Eyes

I am going to start out talking Ping-Cho and Susan again, because 1) they are definitely still central to this episode and 2) this is my journey and I will write about what I like most. And honestly it is just such a joy to finally see Susan really have a friendship that doesn’t look like it will be pulled from under her. Jill was stuck inside the dreamscape, John and Gillian were not able to truly accept her once they knew the truth, Cedric was really using Susan, whilst her Grandfather and teachers are often patronising to her. Even in this episode The Doctor dismisses their search for Barbara as a fool’s errand.

Ping-Cho is not like this at all. Her trust for Susan and vice-versa seems to be something so strong they would not even question confiding in each other. Ping-Cho is willing to tell Susan exactly where Barbara has been and Susan is willing to bring her straight to the TARDIS. Now we have seen Susan be betrayed by those closest to her and we know how she is still afriad of being caught. And whilst she is not as mistrustful as The Doctor she is hardly naive either. It just goes to show the strength of this growing bond between them.

The other key aspect that has to be mentioned with Ping-Cho, of course, is the story she tells. This is interesting as it is both right in the centre of the story but also serves very little narrative purpose1. As such I think it is worth unpacking a little bit.

The story is structured in three parts:

Gracious maidens, gentle lords, pray attend me while I tell my tale of Ala-eddin, the Old Man of the Mountains, who by devious schemes, evil designs and foul murders ruled the land.
No host of arms, no vast array of banners served this wicked lord. They were but few, ruthless, reckless men who obeyed his cruel commands.2

This opening is giving us (an obviously very biased) introduction to Rashid ad-Din Sinan, the 12th Century leader of the assassins. I don’t think the historical elements of this section are as important as once again what parallels it sets up. On the one hand, given what we see in the story Tegana’s kidnapping of Barbara makes him seem the obvious suspect. However, one would argue that this may be our questioning of The Doctor taking place here. When we first meet him back on Iwa his name is given as Old Man. Further from what we have seen of his schemes he does not do so by leading an army (unless you count the Thals) but he puts his trust in a few people and they work together often under his plans. This is not to say The Doctor is actually a vicious tyrant but I think it is worth wondering if others see him this way.

Thus did he persuade them.

Promising paradise, he gave his followers a potent draught and whilst they slept transported them to a vale where streams of milk and honey, wine and water, flowed.

Here were gardens and flowers of every hue and essence. Here, too Golden pavilions outshone the sun and even the stars of heaven envied the bejewelled interiors strewn with incomparable silks, tapestries, and treasures.

Hand-maidens, dulcet-voiced, soft of face, attended them, and thus bemused did they dwell in this man-made paradise until Ala-eddin intent upon some evil deed, proffered again the hashish draught and brought them sleeping to his castle.

What lord, are we cast out of paradise? Awakening, they cried.

Not so. Go abroad, seek out my enemies and strike them down. But care not for your lives. Paradise is eternal.

What is being described here is a drug trip3 which is being used to convince his followers of their purpose. Now whilst I am not suggesting Ian and Barbara are actually just hallucinating everything, there was an instant belief when they walked into the TARDIS that this was some fantastic illusion. It is also a place filled with light and there is a machine can create food and water in an instant.

So terror stalked the land for many years. Then one day, came mighty Hulagu to stand before Ala-eddin’s lair for three long years in siege. Thus fell Ala-eddin and his men.

Now honest hands reap harvests of life From the soil where death and evil reigned. And those who journey through the vale are heard to say ’tis truly paradise today.

If we are to draw this comparison with The Doctor to it’s conclusion then it calls on us to question what he has done in his adventures. Now we may not see the Daleks or The Cold as heroes but if they saw themselves as such (and if any of them survived in the former case) would what The Doctor did to them make him a figure of terror?

Also the last line calls into question the whole of the Doctor’s journeying. We see his machine as marvellous and a thing of wonder. But is that really paradise or is it something you create by staying stiil? Ian and Barbara are trying to get home so for them is paradise in London 1963?

In all these parallels I do not necessarily want to call him any more villainous than what we have actually seen so far. As he himself has observed he is learning about himself in all these experiences, and perhaps will be a better person for it.

1It could be argued its purpose is to lead in to the Cave of Five Hundred Eyes but it could have been done in a much more direct and shorter fashion.

2Thanks to Chrissie’s invaluable Doctor Who transcripts site as I don’t think I would have been able to get down the whole of the text myself.

3As an aside it might seem odd today that the word Ian feels the key word that has passed down to us from the Hasashshim is “Assassin” and not “Hash”. That does however seem to reflect the time Ian and Barbara left London. According to Wikipedia there were 235 Cannabis arrests in 1960. By 1973 there were 11,111 convictions. How quickly things change

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