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UPDATE!! "Marco Polo" And "The Sun Makers" Visit This Weekend's Docback!! DOCTOR WHO # 4, 95, And More!!



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Merrick here…


...with a few thoughts on "Marco Polo," the fourth-ever DOCTOR WHO story, thus featuring William Hartnell. 

This seven part saga finds The Doctor (Hartnell) arriving in 14th Century China with companions Ian (William Russell), Barbara (Jacqueline Hill), and "granddaughter" Susan (Carole Ann Ford).  Our travelers are quickly embroiled in dodgy political maneuverings when Marco Polo (Mark Eden) decides to use the temporarily incapacitated TARDIS to tribute his way out of his long-standing working relationship with Kublai Khan (Martin Miller).  Marco's plans are complicated by the scheming of Tegana (Derren Nesbitt) - a supposed "emissary of peace" who has his own ideas for The Doctor's fine ship, and for the unwitting Khan. 

If it sounds like our heroes are caught in the middle of something complex here...they such an extent that they're rarely pro-active throughout much of this story.  They're often prisoners in "Marco Polo,"  and even when they aren't, they're usually hamstrung in some other way.  An interesting spin to be sure, but seeing one's protagonists essentially do nothing for multiple installments tends to wear thin quickly.  The Doctor himself is extremely marginalized for many of the opening episodes, his role remaining not-particularly-consequential until the final two or three parts of the tale (when he enters into a humorous and interesting relationship with Kublai Khan - the two relate to each other's age and decrepitness). 

The notion of The Doctor and his cohorts being forced to follow Marco Polo on a perilous journey across Asia, with their confiscated TARDIS in tow (called a "flying caravan" by Marco & Co.), is certainly a fascinating conceit...and this image is rather fantastic.

The idea that only one person they encounter is selfless (Ping-Cho, a young bride accompanying them on their journey - she's on the way to marry a much older man whom she has never met) is also filled with great potential, and serves to both frustrate our characters and create some agreeably tense moments.  Alas, there's a great deal of dead weight at the top of this episode - "Marco Polo" feels like a story that goes on for three parts too long (I've leveled this criticism at several Hartnell episodes - guess they hadn't quite found the show's pulse yet?), and it's hard not to feel a little fatigued by the time it finally kicks into gear. 

But when it finally does get going (somewhere in Episode 5 I believe)? "Marco Polo" becomes rather interesting.  Ian attempting to convince an incredulous Marco that he and his companions are actually time travelers is a genuinely fine moment from both the Science Fiction and dramatic perspective, and the burgeoning "friendship" between the weary and embittered Doctor and Khan is lovely and unexpected.  There's a nifty sword fight for good measure, and it's hard not to be swayed by the soft-spoken beauty and charm of Zenia Merton, who plays Peng-Cho (mentioned above).  Merton would play Data Analyst Sandra Benes on Gerry Anderson's SPACE: 1999 many years later.

(l-r) Zenia Merton in DOCTOR WHO (1964) and SPACE: 1999 (1975)

"Marco Polo" is the earliest DOCTOR WHO episode to be 'lost in time' -  to the best of anyone's knowledge, it does not exist in moving form anywhere.  This, along with a large number of early stories, were nuked by BBC before someone pulled their heads out of their asses and realized that archival programming might actually possess value

Fortunately, a number of reconstructions (herein "recons") exist, built from a surviving audio track and "telesnap"  photographs.  An abbreviated form of "Marco Polo" is featured on THIS DVD box set [U.K. HERE], and other non-official (and full-length) recons are also making the rounds.  These recon images of "Marco Polo" suggest surprisingly opulent production design and elaborate costume work - both more complex than anything seen previously in the Hartnell era.  'Tis heartbreaking that we can't see it the way it was meant to be seen, but we should count our blessings that any visual record of the story remains at all.  I'd like to extend a huge thanks to Docbacker Bytor for setting me up with "Marco Polo," as well as a number of other hard-to-find and recon episode that we'll be discussing in coming days.  

Missing episodes are also represented in audio form on CD collections from BBC, via boxed sets.  "Marco Polo" also includes "audio interviews, PDF files of the original camera scripts, and a map showing the original journey taken alongside Marco Polo."  The set featuring "Marco Polo" can be found HERE in the U.S. and HERE in the U.K. and looks something like this...

The collection is quite well done, and with linking narration by William Russell (Ian), "Marco Polo" works nicely as an old-style radio serial  You know, the ones where audiences weren't spoon-fed every little detail and actually had to use their...imagination?  That's a pretty cool notion for a show like DOCTOR WHO, and at some point we'll delve deeper into other DW audio adventures chronicling both "lost" episodes and original stories. 

More on both recons and audios in the not-too-distant future.






Material from the first half of S6, but recappier.  The embed below originates HERE




This was posted earlier in the week, but in case you missed it…


…per THIS piece at Entertainment Weekly

I'm not a fan of all the photoshopped artwork swirling around for this series.  For a show that's so visually rich and beautifully stylized…seems there'd be far more effective ways to convey the DW "vibe."   



Saturday August 13 = "DOCTOR WHO: Best of the Doctors"
Saturday August 20 = "DOCTOR WHO: Best of the Monsters"
Saturday August 27 = "DOCTOR WHO: Best of the Companions."  And, of yeah, "Let's kill Hitler!"  



Several people have asked about whether any of the older DOCTOR WHO related Talkbacks - i.e. DOCTOR WHO Talkbacks that accompanied articles from years and years back - are accessible visa AICN's still-being-upgraded infrastructure. Folks have had difficulty finding these older articles, which is understandable as I myself struggle with AICN's defiant and not altogether intuitive search engine.  

I called our our tech folks, who admitted that is feasible some articles may have been lost in time, or somehow dropped off the grid when AICN migrated servers and whatnot.  But, they firmly believe that an overwhelming majority of old AICN articles are still in place and accessible.

So why is it so hard to find older articles? 

Seems the search engine, for the moment at least, requires VERY specify terminology in order to find what you're looking for - which is not terribly helpful if you aren't sure what you're looking for.  I.e. simply inputting "DOCTOR WHO" will return not only articles whose titles contain the phrase "DOCTOR WHO," but Talkback entries referencing DW  - regardless of whether those Talkbacs are associate with a DW article or not.  Hence, when you type in "DOCTOR WHO" - you don't just get "DOCTOR WHO" articles in return - you may get articles about home videos, Talkbacks entries from BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, STAR TREK, or BABYLON 5 posts that happen to reference DW, etc.  In short, that's a mess - and one apparently needs to be very specific when searching for older material right now ("DOCTOR WHO ECCLESTON LEFT" for example).  Irritating.

As a test, I did successfully locate two older, non-DW articles - which I authored back in 1999.  I remembered specific details about wording in these articles, looked 'em up, and sure enough...they were there.  HERE is my ode to the men and women of Moonbase Alpha, with whom we lost contact when the moon was blasted from Earth orbit on September 13, 1999.  And HERE is my write-up regarding a rumored Jar-Jar Binks Pod Racer television show - written entirely in Gungan.  I do not know shame.   PLEASE NOTE: the contact info sited on the linked pages was long ago replaced with the contact info you'll find HERE

So, I suppose those past DOCTOR WHO/AICN pieces are still out there - somewhere. I'm currently working with our tech folks to see if we can't bring about some other means of sifting through past articles with greater precision and accuracy, without requiring such absurdly specific parameters.  Until that glorious day?  If you wanna find 'em, you're gonna have to be very, very precise. 

In the meantime, here are links to all the "Friday Docbacks/Reader Reactions" that've occurred since the debut of "The Impossible Astronaut" (S601) - which one could argue was the birth of the "Docbacks" that we know and love today.  For clarity, please note that these are links to my regular weekend articles/Talkbacks - and do not reflect not every single DW article (stuff like poster reveals or the occasional promo footage) posted on AICN in recent months.



"The Impossible Astronaut"

"Day of the Moon"

"The Curse of the Black Spot"

"The Doctor's Wife"

"The Rebel Flesh"

"The Almost People"

"A Good Man Goes To War"



"Time and the Rani"

"Merrick's Personal Journey With The Doctor / "Frontios"

"An Unearthly Child"

"The Gunfighters" / "The Edge Of Destruction"

"The Daleks," "The Awakening," "The Crash of the Elysium"

DOCTOR WHO Title Sequences & DW At Comic-Con 2011

Why Eccleston Left, Here Comes Caroline Skinner, And Season/Series Six Part 1 on Blu-Ray And DVD -

"Paradise Towers" / New WHOvian Documentary / Newsbits

New Trailer For Season/Series Six Part 2

I believe this is all of the WEEKEND Docbacks - although I can't help but feel that I've missed a few.  If you find a Docback that isn't here, please drop me the link and I'll add it in.  I suppose we should probably be keeping a chronicle of our experience as we move forward.  



I'm considering getting to London before they shut down The EXPERIENCE in November, but can't help wondering:  does anyone know what changes will be made to THE EXPERIENCE when it moves to Cardiff?  Will it be niftier? Streamlined?  Exactly the same?  

Also, if CRASH OF THE ELYSIUM is coming to London 'round Olympic time…how long will it remain in place?  For the duration of the Olympics only?  For longer?  

Any insight would be deeply appreciated, and THANK YOU in advance.  



"The Sun Makers" - Story #95 - by Robert Holmes

Available HERE in the U.S. and U.K. readers can find it HERE.

LEELA:  These taxes...they are like sacrifices to tribal gods?

THE DOCTOR:  Well, roughly speaking.  But paying taxes is more painful.

This story finds The Doctor (Tom Baker) and companions Leela (Louise Jameson) and robodog K-9 arriving on Pluto.  Instead of landing on a "lifeless rock," they materialize atop an industrialized factory "Megropolis" -  it's still Pluto, but reshaped in the far-future of our solar system.  On this re-engineered planet (yes, I'm still calling Pluto a planet damnit), things are not going particularly well. "Citizens" toil for a vast and intimidating "Company" and are oppressed by crushing taxes.  "Outlaw" tax criminals evade detection in a hidden "under city" and make trouble for the callous business-mongers above.  Endless daylight reigns due to "in-station fusion satellites" which function as never-setting suns.

Our heroes quickly become embroiled in Plutonian unrest as players on both sides work to exploit the TARDIS gang, propelling both The Doctor and Leela towards disparate, but equally horrifying, perils.  Will The Doctor escape brainwashing?  Will Leela avoid being turned into a oh-so-hot dumpling?  Above all, is the greed plaguing Pluto's power elite driven by predictable and disappointing human nature, or something altogether…different?  

"The Sun Makers," on the whole, is a remarkably strong entry.  It's hampered only by a notable inconsistency in its production design (some very impressive location work - exteriors, industrialized corridors, etc. - feels like it comes from an entirely different episode than the story's Spartan and budetarily challenged interior set work), and one of the most ineptly blocked "action" scenes ever put before a camera.  The sequence in question…its problem isn't budget, or even its core concept.  Its shortcoming is that no one thought this movement through when they were actually shooting it, thus bringing about a decided lack of ingenuity on the parts of both our protagonists and baddies.  I mean…look at this… (3:08 - 3:21)

There's so very much wrong within that sequence.  Everyone behaves stupidly in this sequence, Leela certainly doesn't act like a particularly savvy warrior woman throughout the exchange, and hinging storytelling on such lame-brained ineptitude simply can't possibly pay off satisfactorily.  This feels more like a Mel Brooks or David/Jerry Zucker gag than any kind of well considered or genuine effort.  Jeers.  

HOWEVER, such superficial and snarky gripes are easily overpowered by gloriously earnest performances from the story's four primary guest stars here - Richard Leech as the smarmy and oily Gatherer Hade, Henry Woolf as his intense and unwavering Collector (a cross between AUSTIN POWERS' Dr. Evil and Urkel from FAMILY MATTERS), William Simons as the well-intentioned but douchey Undercity resistance leader Mandrel, and Roy Macready as the hapless Cordo (whose initial misfortune sets this entire story into motion).  All nail the tone of Holmes's often biting and darkly satirical script, evolving "The Sun Makers" well beyond its occasionally cliched structure, transforming the story into an altogether memorable and meaningful DOCTOR WHO adventure.  

Which brings us to a storytelling paradox I should probably explore a bit more, if for no other reason than to avoid confusion in the Docbacks below:  how can I both exalt the writing while also calling it cliched?  It's pretty simple, actually.  In my very humble opinion, a cliche is only dangerous when a writer fails to freshen it in some way.  In this instance, we've seen the essence of this story realized in other tales across various genres (rising against the monopolistic corporate oppressors is nothing new), but scripter Holmes doesn't rest on that conceit.  He sprinkles it with fresh elements, adding dashes of unpredictability which bring about an interpretation of conceits that does indeed feel familiar, but also manages not to seem mundane.  There's much…MUCH…to be said for adopting tried and true notions and tweaking them smartly (which is what the original STAR WARS film, for example), and Holmes does that very well here.  - See the EXTRAS enumeration below for more on his inspiration and motivation. -

In the end, "The Sun Makers" is something of a brilliant self-contradiction.  It serves as both an exaltation of corporate capability and achievement (these…people…make…SUNS!?!?), but also works as a scathing condemnation of the economically-driven culture that gave rise to the very same achievements.  It's smart, fun, fast, and…despite being fueled by decidedly 70s British politics (so say the Extras)…it remains strangely relevant today.  

Extras include...



--- Insight from Louise Jameson (companion Leela), who says this is her favorite DOCTOR WHO story...

--- Insight from director Pennant Roberts...

--- Insight from writer/historian Dominic Sandbrook, who discuss how scripter Robert Holmes had recently been shaken down (about his taxes) by Inland Revenue and essentially sought his revenge against 'the system' (a vengeance which Louise Jameson says also targets the BBC, who had evidently stiffed Holmes in some way as well - hence characters repeatedly intoning "Praise The Company" throughout the episode)...

--- Insight from Michael Keating (Goudry). His casting in BLAKE'S 7 is also discussed.

--- Insight from astronomer Marek Kukula re: Pluto...

---  Discussion of locations shoots for the story...

--- Discussion of budgetary limitations and the scaling down of initial plans...

--- Discussion to time constraints sometimes being more challenging than limitations...

--- Discussion of the casting of Henry Wolf as The Collector...

--- Discussion of The Collector and Gatherer Hade's appearances resembling Chancellor Dennis Healey…

       (l - r ) Gatherer Hade (Richard Leech), The Collector (Henry Woolf), U.K. Chancellor Dennis Healey ('74-79).





Insight from Dudley Simpson, discusses the scoring of GENESIS OF THE DALEKS, PYRAMIDS OF MARS, TALONS OF WENG-CHIANG, and CITY OF DEATH. He discusses his dismissal by John Nathan Turner, and  shares an awesome story about Jon Pertwee.  Pertwee had a similar car to Simpson's - and laid in wait for Simpson to drive by on the way to work, only to race out in front of him to beat him to the car park.


Bloopers from one brief moment that defied filming…



Radio Times Listings

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coming next week
"The Keys of Marinus" (Hartnell, Story #5) and more!!
AICN's Friday DOCTOR WHO Talkbacks - aka "Docbacks"  - operate on a different set of standards than other AICN Talkbacks.  These standards developed quickly and naturally, and we intend to preserve them.  Accordingly, please take a moment to note a few guidelines which should help proceedings move along smoothly and pleasantly:  
1) a Docback should be about completely open and free discourse regarding all things WHO (with, obviously, some variation on subject matter from time to time - the real world intervenes, discussions of other shows are inevitable, etc.)... 

2) matters of SPOILAGE should be handled with thoughtful consideration and sensitivity.  Posts containing SPOILERS should clearly state that a SPOILER exists in its topic/headline and should never state the spoiler itself . "** SPOILER ** Regarding Rory" is OK, for example.  "** SPOILER ** Battle of Zarathustra" is fine as well.  "**SPOILER** Why did everyone die?"  Is NOT good.  

And, above all... 

3) converse, agree, disagree, and question as much as you want - but the freedom to do so is NOT a license to be rude, crass, disrespectful, or uncivilized in any way.  Not remaining courteous and civil, as well as TROLLING or undertaking sensational efforts to ignite controversy, will result in banning.  Lack of courtesy may receive one (1) warning before a ban is instigated.  Obvious Trolling or Spamming will result in summary banning with no warning.  
In short, it's easy.  Be excellent to each other.  Now party on...



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