Doctor Who: The Long Way Round: Marco Polo – Part 6

Marco Polo: Mighty Kublai Khan

Mighty Kublai Khan

In what seems to largely be a blocking episode for a big showdown to come, I want to focus on the big introduction we get. The titular, Mighty Kublai Khan.

Whilst it may also be historically accurate, I think it is an important choice that they did not choose to show him as vigorous figure still riding out hunting, nor simply a broken man over-indulging in food and drink. Whilst he has his infirmities he is shown to be as sharp as ever and to be aware of what Tegana and Noghai are up to. In fact Marco calls out Susan’s laughing at Kublai Khan1, declaring him the greatest administrator in the world.

In a story where there seems to be so much mirroring of our main cast going on, it is hard not to see this as intentionally looking at The Doctor. In fact they even call out the similarity with their back pains and make them ride together. So if we are to continue to draw these lines we have to ask, what does this tell us about both the historical ruler and our mysterious time traveller?

First of all, we see they both seem to understand the importance of image but in opposite ways. Kublai Khan arranges everything so that those in his presence see him as, indeed, the most powerful man in the world. He has his huge estate decorated in the Chinese style and everyone must Kow-tow before him, no matter their condition. The Doctor is all about camouflage and his desire to remain hidden. His ship may be stuck in a police box now, but we know that it should be able to disguise itself. Also we know that he is on the run and generally determined to do everything he can to keep himself and Susan from being found, even if it means abducting a pair of school teachers from England in the 1960s.

Secondly, is the nature of their minds. They both seem to be great strategists who want to learn and understand everything. The Doctor’s is for new scientific discovery and is determined to catalogue the new places they visit, even at the risk of his own life. Kublai Khan we have seen has his system of riders providing messages and information faster than anyone else in the world.

Finally, they are both people of great power. Barbara earlier described Kublai Khan as the ruler of all Asia2 and we know that Marco believes that “for a man who possesses a flying caravan, all things are possible”. At this point these are, arguably, the two most powerful people on the planet at this moment.

But then, it does raise the question, could The Doctor ever become a conqueror like Kublai Khan. On a technical level we can see that this is indeed the case. He is able to plan the war with the Thals to bring victory over the Daleks. And indeed has the technical skill to take down any enemy he has encountered. True he cannot quite control the TARDIS but I think it would be easy to see him able to ally himself with Noghai, give him weapons of unimaginable power to take over the world. Then depose him and establish himself as the new warlord.

And yet, it seems that he simply would not. And I don’t think this is just his general desire not to interfere but something more in his nature. For The Doctor I get a sense that somewhat being a ruler like Kublai Khan would be more a burden to him than a privilege. He could probably work out an efficient administration if he chose but it would give him no joy. All he wants to do is travel on his own steam, to do what he wants and learn all he can. He is angry enough when Ian and Barbara don’t want him to explore the dalek city. Five minutes of trying to run an Empire would be enough to make him run away in the night.

As such I think this goes someway to answering a question raised earlier in the story. Are the actions we have seen of Ian and The Doctor villainous? From some perspectives they could indeed be seen as such and they may indeed stray into grey territory. However, the impulse they come from is often good and in the end they really do not want to impinge on someone else’s freedom. When they take authority it is fleeting and not something they crave.

Does this necessarily make them completely blameless or unselfish? Of course not. However, they are not intending to do any harm. Instead they will help those they care for, like Ping-Cho, and learn about the world around them. And, perhaps, that is enough.

1 Although, as I have noted before, it seems like Susan may often be using laughter as a defence mechanism when she is scared or in uncomfortable situations, so it is possible that was what was taking place here.

2 Whilst I feel Barbara is exaggerating for dramatic effect here (his empire was largely modern China, Mongolia, North and South Korea and parts of Russia and Myanmar) it gets the point across of how powerful he was.

GS Blogger: Kris Vyas-Myall

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