January 8: "The Singing Sands" / "Five Hundred Eyes"

(Marco Polo episodes 2 & 3)

An Unearthly Child is in a bit of an odd position: in some ways it's a journey back in time, but it's to a place that virtually nothing is known about, and the people we encounter there seem more alien than like us.  This means that Marco Polo is the series' first real journey into history.  And so far it's a very entertaining tale: although "The Roof of the World" played with expectations a bit, "The Singing Sands" is filled with suspense, first with the sandstorm whirling through the camp (memorably brought alive, even on audio), and then with the sabotage of the caravan's water supply.  Meanwhile, the characterization of Susan is interesting, as she seems resolutely in teenage-girl-of-the-60s mode, with slang like "fab" and "dig it", yet the script has her reminiscing about metal seas on Venus and describing her language as how people talk "on Earth", as if she's used to being somewhere else. The chess game that Ian and Marco play is also good fun, with what seems to be foreshadowing from Tegana: "Marco, can you save your king?"  Oh! and an occurrence of the word "TARDIS" as a bare noun, when Barbara talks about how "TARDIS is the only home we have".  And it ends on a good cliffhanger, with Tegana taunting Marco Polo from the oasis.

"Five Hundred Eyes" is a curious episode: there's always been a remit for the show to be educational along the way, and this feels like the first real flexing of those muscles.  We learn about condensation, the Hashashins from the point-of-view of the Mongols (with a brief etymological detour about the word "assassin"), and even a little bit about quartz.  That part about the Hashashins is told by Ping-Cho, who spends a sizable portion of the episode in the telling, yet it remains engaging the whole way -- one can only imagine how it would be with the pictures intact.  It's interesting: there's a relaxed pace about the way John Lucarotti allows his tale to unfold, yet it never feels slow or dull.  Even when there's danger afoot, as with Barbara in the cave, it still seems quite content.  It's a sign of the confidence the production team has in the script, without a need to spice things up unduly.  The word is "self-assured".