Doctor Who: The Long Way Round: Marco Polo – Part 5

Marco Polo: The Rider From Shang-Tu

Rider From Shang-Tu

I am going to argue the most important scene in this episode is Susan and Ping-Cho at the fish pond. With this being so far largely told through the visual medium we rarely get a proper insight into the characters1. Via the use of the fish we get to see how they see each other and those around them. Ignoring the broad performance of Wang-Lo2, it is interesting to go through them in order:

…look at this one here. He’s very solemn. He’s just like Marco Polo

We have definitely seen Polo’s grimness throughout this story, yet this helps cast his actions in a slightly different light. His actions seem oblivious, selfish, even desperate as he puts it himself. But his solemnity being the real driving force behind his action is quite different. This whole story has been filled with people who are home sick. It is in An Unearthly Child that the Doctor and Susan declare that one day they will go back to their home planet. Ian and Barbara have been constantly pestering The Doctor to get them back to London in 1963. Ping-Cho has revealed her homesickness too. Yet, possibly because he is somewhat of an antagonist, it is not always obvious to view Marco in this way. But that is indeed all he wants.

And I think in Susan’s use of the term solemn we see that she has a degree of empathy and insight. This could easily have made use of more loaded terms: Stern, Austere, Moody, Sulking. But I think in doing so she recognizes a fellow wanderer and can appreciate why is he is doing it even if she doesn’t agree.

And look at this one dashing around all over the place. He’s got Ian’s energy

Now Ian is obviously the action man of the series so far, that goes without saying. But as I mentioned back in The Survivors, it has a negative side too. That he is not willing to rest and heal. He is full of pent up energy a lot of the time in this story and constantly wants to do things. When in reality what is required is patience.

Ah, look, that one’s all by itself. It’s independent, like Barbara

As I have noted a number of times before, Barbara is one of the best communicators and most empathetic people in the ship (as well as a very close relationship with Ian). Yet her standing alone is the thing that Susan most sees in her. Because of the choice of words I do not think this is a negative but rather an admiration. She chooses to forge her own path no matter what others think of her. She decides to follow one of her pupils home just because she finds her strange. She saves Za’s life in spite of the obvious danger to the party. She gets Ian to convince the Thals to fight against their instincts. She pushes on to find the mystery of the TARDIS in Edge of Destruction in spite of everyone else. Susan herself, however, is so linked to her grandfather. Whilst she will argue with him it is generally his lead she tends to follow. It will be interesting to see if she decides on a new direction in future stories to come.

There’s you, Susan. A wicked goldfish

Once again, this is not said with any venom, but with great love, so the question becomes why is this what Ping-Cho most identifies without about Susan?3 Now I do not believe this is the ironic slang, as its use would be a bit too out of keeping with her knowledge of 20th Century terminology. Whilst it is true Susan has been teaching her words like “Fab” she seems so sure in her usage that it’s not something largely unfamiliar.

It seems to me, therefore, we are left with two options. The first is the more archaic use of the word to associate with magic. For The Doctor is indeed seen as a wizard of a kind by the Mongol travellers and Susan is certainly mysterious enough. Whilst that does fit, how would one see a fish as being a magician? Therefore it seems only one obvious choice, which is her playfulness. For whilst Susan may have wisdom beyond her years at her heart she is still very much a child in some ways, enjoying the little things and knows how to have fun. Ping-Cho has been brought up destined to be married to someone she has not met and had to spend some time learning the manners of Kublai Kahn’s to get ready.

Whilst I have already said how in many ways Susan is like a mirror to Ping-Cho as a kind of space princess, she is one who has given up her title and rank. When they landed on Earth she learnt about ordinary people and lived among them, not pretending to be foreign royalty. She listens to pop music just as easily as solving 5 dimensional mathematics. There must be something of a liberation to Ping-Cho and, I think it is fair to say, part of why their relationship has blossomed.

Now, where are you Ping-Cho? Oh, look there. That little pretty one down there, with the wedding veil. Oh, Ping-Cho, I’m sorry

Now for the most part what this does is confirm the nature of the relationship between them and shows it to be bittersweet. Susan is clearly attracted to her and seeks out the “little pretty one” but she knows automatically that Ping-Cho will be getting married. Whilst she may want more she inherently sees the relationship as fleeting. Whilst I may scream at the TV for Susan to invite her along, I think she knows that it will not last forever.

I gave him my word, Susan. I promised not to tell anyone where he put the key

And I promise you that no-one will ask you

I wanted to end by highlighting this final section which I think shows how close they have truly become. In order to get Susan home Ping-Cho works a way around the promise she has made. In order that Ping-Cho doesn’t get betrayed Susan is willing to give up the chance at getting home if it will risk getting her in to trouble.

It is a strong bond they have but they are preparing to depart at the end (once again pulling the trick from The Ambush) but it is that last goodbye that betrays them and allows Susan to be captured. Whilst once again they are foiled but at least for a little while longer Susan and Ping-Cho have each other.

1 Time and Relative was obviously a rather wonderful exception.

2 One of the most disappointing elements of this story is the use of these “comedy” Chinese characters, largely played by white people. Really not a fan.

3 I have no desire to inquire about what goes on in their sleeping arrangements, so I will eliminate that as a potential explanation. If you wish to do so in your own head, feel free.

GS Blogger: Kris Vyas-Myall

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