Doctor Who: The Long Way Round: Marco Polo – Part 7

Marco Polo: Assassin at Peking

Marco Polo Assassin At Peking

So we reach the end of this journey. And we actually get a nice wrap up of all the different themes and ideas I have been talking about in the past six weeks. Let us go through them all one by one.

Even before the start of the serial we had the question of Doctor and Barbara’s relationship. They had both been through a lot and, as such, were combative with each other. Disagreeing over their logic vs. feeling approaches to solutions. We definitely see demonstrated here that they are reconciled and working together again. The Doctor is working it out like a chess game, trying to see the moves. However it requires Barbara’s noticing of the Kahn’s and Marco’s reactions that allow them to work it out and foil Tegana and Noghai’s plans.

Next we have the question of how should we treat this narrative. As history or story? The answer from Marco is an interesting one.

“No, my lord. They would not believe half the things that I have seen in Cathay. But what is the truth?”

As well as linking in to his actual statements, I choose to read his response in the same way as Alan Moore’s famous quote from Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?:

This is an imaginary story… aren’t they all?

Whether the TARDIS has landed in the pages of a storybook or the reality of history or some altered timeline does not matter here. Do any of these conceits make it any less thrilling or real for those involved? Whilst I said it could matter for the internal purposes of the tale, this does not in any way limit the power of this as a work of imagination.

In Ian and Polo’s mirroring we have the restoration of both their honour. Ian and the travellers do not escape Peking by threat or force but by helping those around them. Marco himself finally comes to realise that what he did was wrong and he can restore to them their freedom and still keep his own.

Ping-Cho’s arc is a bit more of a surprising finish than most. I was assuming that it would either end with her return to Karokorum or her travelling in the TARDIS. However, it is instead that she no longer has a husband but will live just as a woman of the court. It is interesting in that she finally gets to make that choice and live in a way she chooses. Even if it is not one I expected, I appreciate that she gets to finally be herself in someway and her departure from Susan is sweet1.

The third of the caravan travellers, Tegana, also reaches a brutal end. Although he came very close to succeeding. As Kublai Kahn himself notes, what he has to fear from Tegana is the power of persuasion. And indeed he is able to continue to use his powers to drive wedges between all those he encounters. What lets him down is, firstly that he is not able to fool Ling-Tau, who is willing to simply report what he sees with his own eyes. Nothing more or less. Then that he decides to try to resort to the sword against Kublai Kahn. Whilst it is true that he is skilled, he is clearly not as much as he thinks he is, losing the battle to Marco.2

Finally, we finish our exploration of The Doctor and Kublai Kahn, in them sharing one delightful scene over backgammon that says so much. Firstly, The Doctor is essentially offered the option to be a ruler in his own right. He wins 35 elephants, 4000 stallions, 25 tigers, the sacred tooth of The Buddha and all the commerce from Burma for one year, then is offered to play for the Island of Sumatra. This is easily enough to set up his own kingdom, he could then hire an army and become a conqueror. But it does not interest him. He says either he will hand it all back. Kublai Kahn, on the other hand, clearly thinks The Doctor is foolish. He wishes himself to be ferocious like his grandfather Genghis Kahn and clearly enjoys this wagering for high stakes.

We have to conclude they may be similar but are certainly very different in their outlooks on the world and it is unlikely that, whilst The Doctor will do questionable deeds, he would not likely become a Kublai Kahn or an Ala-eddin. He will continue to travel and gain knowledge for its sake, not for a nefarious purpose.

And now they go on, either to the past or future as Marco says. For the first time since leaving Iwa we do not have an indication of where they will be going on to next. But they seem to be all doing so as friends and good people, having the kind of adventures we adore.

1It is hard to tell on the audio but to me it sounds like Susan even gives her a kiss goodbye, albeit more likely on the cheek than the lips.

2 I have to say, I for once found the action sequence rather thrilling. I don’t think this is just the lack of visuals (although that may have helped). Rather it is an earned conclusion to all the tension built up and doesn’t feel like an add-on as it did in The Firemaker.

GS Blogger: Kris Vyas-Myall

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