Doctor Who – Marco Polo. Episode Two – The Singing Sands

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Ian and Marco enjoy a game of chess. Tegana is a keen student of the game, as he explains –

TEGANA: I find it a fascinating game of strategy of war. Two equally balanced armies deployed upon a field of battle, and each commander determined to be the one who cries shah mat.
IAN: Shah mat? Check mate?
TEGANA: It means the king is dead.

It’s a lovely character beat that illuminates his personality a little more. Indeed, since the level of threat in this episode is fairly low (apart from the Singing Sands) several other characters also benefit from Lucorotti’s dialogue. Susan is one, as she poetically tells Barbara that “one day we’ll know all the mysteries of the skies, and we’ll stop our wandering.” Although it’s rather strange that he also elected to put various 1960’s slang words (“I dig it”, “crazy”) into her mouth since she didn’t adopt this mode of speech in any other story.

The Doctor is absent until the end of the episode – either this was a last minute rewrite to cover a bout of ill-health from Hartnell or it was just decided to give him an easy week – but the rest of the cast are so strong that he’s not really missed.

Susan and Ping-Cho’s adventure, adrift in the Singing Sands, is one of the most intriguing parts of the episode. Just how good did it look? We’ll never know the answer, unless the story ever turns up, but it certainly sounds impressive.

In terms of creating dramatic tension it’s a bit of a damp squib though – Barbara is hysterical with the thought that the girls are out in the desert unprotected, but then they turn up unharmed shortly afterwards.

Last time Tegana had a very decent scheme – poison the water gourds and then return to Lop. But for some unknown reason he’s changed his mind and elects to slash all but one of the water gourds and wait for the others to die from lack of water. Was this change of plan down to the misadventures in the Singing Sands? Afterwards, Marco tightened security and that might explain why Tegana decided he wasn’t able to leave the camp. Although it’s difficult to believe that he couldn’t have snuck away if he really wanted to.

With only a small amount of water left, they have to strictly ration it as they make their way to the nearest oasis. Will they get there in time? Mmm, I think it’s possible they just might.

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