January 9: "The Wall of Lies" / "Rider from Shang-Tu"

(Marco Polo episodes 4 & 5)

"The Wall of Lies" was directed by John Crockett instead of Waris Hussein.  Why does this matter?  Because as a result Waris Hussein had no reason to have the telesnaps for this episode: thus this is the earliest episode for which no visual record exists (unless that rumored recovery announcement of the entire story for its 50th anniversary next month is true; the words "yeah" and "right" spring to mind...).  But as noted before, we still have an off-air audio recording to enjoy.

The Radio Times cover for "The Roof of the
World" (from Partners in Time: 50 years of Doctor
Who Radio Times covers
©Immediate Media
Company Limited)
This seems to be a turning point for this particular story: before the travellers were free to accompany Marco Polo, and only his possession of the TARDIS prevented them from leaving.  But now Tegana has managed to turn Polo against them.  It's dramatic, yet still with the same relaxed confidence that permeates this serial.  The central problem has evolved from simply "how to get the TARDIS back" to "how to convince Marco that Tegana is plotting against him and Kublai Khan".

(Incidentally, do you suppose Tegana always intended to betray Kublai Khan, or that it was when he saw the TARDIS that the possibility of claiming it for Noghai came to mind, and that's when he set his plan into motion?)

In any event, "The Wall of Lies" sees the TARDIS crew at their lowest.  It's particularly interesting how, when they decide to kidnap Marco and force him to give the TARDIS key back, how black the Doctor's intentions seem: "I think by the time I've finished with that gentleman, he'll only be too glad to let us go."  It's a surprisingly dark comment, especially as it's about a man that the story has so far encouraged us to view in sympathetic light.

Fortunately for Marco, "Rider from Shang-Tu" (hooray! the telesnaps are back!) opens with a far different situation that results in a change of plans, as the caravan is attacked by bandits.  Continuing the educational theme, here we learn that bamboo explodes when thrown on a fire.  It's difficult to tell from the telesnaps how well the bamboo forest was realized, but the battle itself sounds exciting.  It also leads to an improvement in Polo's estimation of the travellers: he's not as trusting as he was initially, but he's relented somewhat from the treatment given last episode.

Other than the initial fight, this episode is more about treading water than advancing the plot much: there's no new treachery from Tegana and the titular rider only appears for maybe five minutes.  This episode then is actually set up to look like an escape for the Doctor and company, a chance to finally get to the TARDIS.  (Or just "TARDIS", as it's referred to again this episode -- I wonder if this happens in any other story?)  But like the last time they did this ("The Ambush", episode 4 of The Daleks), there's a sense of unfinished business -- Marco Polo hasn't arrived in Peking yet, and Tegana has yet to be unmasked.  Which is why it's not a total surprise when, just as it looks like they're all about to escape (with a scene inside the TARDIS, even!), Susan is grabbed by Tegana, just in time for the end of the episode.