Doctor Who: The Long Way Round: Marco Polo – Part 4

Marco Polo: The Wall of Lies

Marco Polo Wall of Lies

This episode’s title is perhaps the most curious so far. Generally I have talked about them too much as they are generally rather matter of fact (whether the dramatics of Whitaker’s TARDIS centric two-parter or the matter-of-fact plot elements of Nation’s Dalek serial). Instead this is an episode filled with both walls and lies, enough to make me query which one is truly being referred to.

Let us begin with the obvious one, the false wall in the Cave of Five Hundred Eyes where this part opens. Inside the cave we have Barbara trapped and Tegana denying his knowledge that she is being held captive by his men1. It is Tegana’s lies that put her behind the wall and his denying the knowledge of it that would have kept her there if not for the handkerchief and Susan seeing the eyes2. Now whilst this is the obvious explanation it is also possibly the least interesting.

The most conspicuous wall in the story is The Great Wall. This has an interesting place in Polo’s Travels, that it is not mentioned at all. As such it is one of the causes for debate on the veracity of his account. Others however point out that the wall as we know it did not largely exist until the Ming Dynasty and was not of primary importance during Kublai Kahn’s reign. So here we have a wall that could represent the idea I referred to in previous episodes, on what type of story we are in. The lie could be that Polo indeed never travelled to China and this wall is a representation that our characters are much more interacting with a fictionalisation than a real person. Alternatively, it could represent that this is a reason for it being missing, that the idea of the Great Wall was closely tied up with this most fantastic idea of the flying caravan so his not mentioning it was an intentional lie of omission.

Then of course we come to the metaphorical wall of lies, that is the key driver of this episode. The lies Tegana spreads to ensure Marco distrusts the travellers. However, the interesting thing is much of what he says are not lies in their content but the conclusion he leads Marco to draw from them. Take one key example. Tegana asks who is their leader, which Marco correctly responds is The Doctor. Tegana then asks if leaders are always to be obeyed, to Marco that is also a yes. However, as we know from observing the dynamic The Doctor is not obeyed without question, any more than he acts responsibly as a leader. Much like the eponymous firemaker several episodes back, him being the leader is the least important element of him. His skill at fixing the ship and his planning is essential but then we also gain much benefit in this story from Barbara’s historical knowledge, Ian’s bravery and Susan’s connection. As such a wall is built between the travellers (with whom I would now happily include Ping-Cho) and Marco Polo who with every moment trusts Tegana more and more.

However, that is not to say Tegana is wrong in that they are planning to escape and The Doctor is indeed tricking them with his second key. In fact as we have seen before The Doctor is a great liar which has got the travellers into trouble before. It is that Polo in his arrogance cannot see why they would not accept his taking of the caravan and ends up feeling like he must take it by force.

One final wall we see, not so much of untruth but of distrust, is that of Polo and The Doctor have for the burgeoning relationship between Susan and Ping-Cho3. Neither of them like how the young woman in their charge now is so willing to trust someone they see as a stranger. Following Tegana’s prodding:

Has not that cunning Susan taken Ping-Cho from your side?

Polo becomes outraged that Ping-Cho would ever take the side of another, just because she is in a relationship with her. At the same time The Doctor’s reaction is one of the overly protective grandfather not willing to see someone else come into the dynamic, where it has previously been him and her against the universe.

I feel it is in the latter two where they are most invested and where they most need to come down. It may not be as simple as the slicing open of the tent by Ian but if they are all to be happy once more there needs to be no more walls and no more lies.

1 Including them gambling for Barbara. I am finding it a shame that they keep putting Barbara into these horrible situations. Whilst it may be interesting on one level for Barbara to learn the reality of the horrors of history, I feel as a repeated theme it gets old and cheap quickly.

2Talking of repetition, I do wish The Doctor would learn to listen to Susan. I can pass this away within the story as the family dynamic between them, but I still want him to grow more and learn to listen.

3 I feel it is safe to say it is definitely becoming something more than friendship at this point given both Ping-Cho’s reaction to not being able to share a room with her and Barbara’s comment:
“The only regret I have will be for Susan… [they] are very fond of each other.”

GS Blogger: Kris Vyas-Myall

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