Doctor Who – The Massacre. Part Four – Bell of Doom

History continues to proceed in an inexorable fashion, with Steven and the Doctor caught in its flow. To begin with though, Steven is convinced that the Doctor is dead – so his sudden reappearance comes as something of a shock.

He doesn’t explain where he’s been, only mentioning that he was unavoidably delayed. This is something of a plot-flaw – bad enough that the Doctor decided to head off on his own, but it’s even worse that he now swans back without a care in the world.

It’s only when he realises the date and the year that it suddenly becomes clear to him just how much trouble they’re in (and also for those at home with a decent knowledge of French history). Was it assumed that the audience watching in 1966 would have been easily able to put two and two together? If so it implies that the (largely) child viewership must have been very historically literate.

The Doctor is keen to pack Anne off as soon as possible, but the girl has nowhere to go.

DOCTOR:  Now, my dear, there must be somewhere you can stay in Paris.
ANNE:  No, there’s only my aunt’s place, and they’ll kill me there.
DOCTOR:  Oh, nonsense. Tonight, you will be quite safe. Now you go carefully through the streets, hmm?

And that’s the last we see of her. When Steven later learns that thousands of Hugenots were massacred that day he’s convinced that she too must have died and that the Doctor was culpable. “You just sent her back to her aunt’s house where the guards were waiting to catch her. I tell you this much, Doctor, wherever this machine of yours lands next I’m getting off. If your researches have so little regard for human life then I want no part.”

Could the Doctor have saved her? Of course and they could all have left in the TARDIS together. We’ve seen the Doctor pluck people from many different periods of history, so it’s hard to see why Anne would have been any different. Indeed, it’s possible to believe earlier in the story that she was being groomed as possible companion material, but the events of The Daleks Master Plan should have taught us to take nothing for granted ….

If Hartnell’s been taking it easy for the last few weeks, then this episode gives him one of his signature moments. After Steven storms out of the TARDIS, the Doctor is left all alone. “Even after all this time he cannot understand. I dare not change the course of history. Well, at least I taught him to take some precautions. He did remember to look at the scanner before he opened the doors. Now they’re all gone. All gone. None of them could understand. Not even my little Susan, or Vicki. Yes. And there’s Barbara and Chatterton… Chesterton! They were all too impatient to get back to their own time. And now Steven. Perhaps I should go home, back to my own planet. But I can’t. I can’t”

It’s a lovely moment, although given Hartnell’s reluctance to learn lengthy speeches it can’t have been easy for him. Interesting that the Doctor here still seems wedded to the S1 concept of not interfering in history. This ties in with Lucarotti’s previous stories (notably The Aztecs) but the series, notably under the influence of Dennis Spooner, had somewhat moved on since then.

What’s disappointing is the way that the power of this scene is negated by what happens next. A young girl, Dodo Chaplet (Jackie Lane) bursts into the TARDIS, followed by Steven, and the Doctor is forced to take off immediately. This therefore not only cancels out Steven’s anger with the Doctor, it also provides us with the most perfunctory introduction possible for Dodo, the new companion.

That the Doctor tries to pour oil on troubled waters by pointing out that Dodo’s surname is similar to Anne’s, which maybe suggests than Anne survived after all, feels like little more than an exercise in straw-clutching.

This whole section seems rather bolted on (and was surely contributed by Donald Tosh, rather than John Lucarotti). But even allowing for the way that The Massacre rather dribbles to a halt, the bulk of the story is so strong that this isn’t really an issue.

It might not always feel like Doctor Who, but it’s still excellent drama. Let’s close with a line from Tavannes, a chilling proclamation that sums up the serial perfectly. “Tomorrow this city will weep tears of blood.”

Doctor Who – The Massacre. Part Three – Priest of Death

As has often been observed, The Massacre doesn’t really feel like a Doctor Who story. The sidelining of the Doctor is one reason – but it could also have something to do with the way that Lucarotti’s script harks back to the style of earlier stories (like The Crusade). In The Crusade, the Doctor was content to be an impartial observer, unable (or unwilling) to influence events.

And even allowing for Hartnell’s turn as the Abbot and Purves’ increasingly frantic efforts to prove that the Abbot is the Doctor, all the real drama in Priest of Death comes from the interaction of the guest cast.

de Coligny and Tavannes continue to cross swords, but now they do so in the presence of the King (Barry Justice) and his mother, Catherine de Medici (Joan Young). These scenes crackle with a theatrical intensity, thanks to the fine playing, but you can’t help but feel they’d work equally well in a one-off non-Doctor Who drama.

Justice’s Charles IX is a capricious, easily distracted ruler. At one point he tells de Coligny that “war is so tedious” and shows a desire to move onto other, more frivolous matters. His love and respect for de Coligny is honest and unforced though, a far cry from both his mother and Tavannes, who are plotting to kill him.

Quick to rise to anger, Charles is shown to be easily manipulated (especially by his mother). He does attempt to emphasise his dominance, but the Queen Mother (a calm, restrained performance by Young) remains uncowed.

QUEEN MOTHER:  You summoned the council?
CHARLES IX:  I gave orders I was to be left alone.
QUEEN MOTHER:  Without my knowledge or consent?
CHARLES IX:  I asked to be left alone, mother.
QUEEN MOTHER:  The threat over your friend, the Admiral? You are the King.
CHARLES IX:  Yes, I am the King – and to be obeyed! Now keep out of my sight unless you care to end your days in a convent.
QUEEN MOTHER:  I would wish you have the courage, my son.
CHARLES IX:  I have but to give the order.
QUEEN MOTHER:  Summon your guards, have me arrested. But you had better have a good reason for the council- and for the people.
CHARLES IX:  The attempted assassination of my Admiral, by you and Tavannes. Do you deny it, Madame?
CHARLES IX:  Have a care. I mean what I say. I shall send Tavannes to the block!
QUEEN MOTHER:  You would execute the Marshall of France for doing his duty?
CHARLES IX:  Duty? He’s an assassin!
QUEEN MOTHER:  He tried to rid you of a dangerous enemy.
CHARLES IX:  de Coligny is my friend. You, Madame, are my enemy.

And so we come to Hartnell’s appearance as the Abbot. Apart from a few words at the end of the first episode, it’s little more than a cameo (two scenes lasting only a few minutes). Hartnell doesn’t change his speech patterns (despite some fan claims to the contrary) which makes it easier for Steven to believe that it’s just the Doctor pretending.

The reluctance by Lucarotti to confirm or deny the true state of affairs leads us into a classic cliff-hanger. Steven finds the Abbot’s dead body (murdered on the orders of Tavannes) in the street and is still convinced that it’s the Doctor. Logic tells us that it can’t be him, but (if we could be see it) I’m sure it would be a striking image.

Doctor Who – The Massacre. Part Two – The Sea Beggar

The Sea Beggar offers Peter Purves further chances to flex his acting muscles as Steven –  and of course the audience – puzzles over the mystery of the Abbot of Amboise.  When Steven spies him out of a window, he immediately believes the man he can see is the Doctor (which isn’t a surprise as they look identical).

But his innocent exclamation raises Nicholas’ suspicions, who decides that Steven must serve the Abbot and is therefore his enemy.  Steven later suggests that the Doctor is impersonating the Abbot, although Lucarotti is content to take his time before revealing the truth. But Steven’s theory seems have some weight after it’s revealed that Colbert only met the Abbot the day before (and nobody else in Paris knows him by sight).

Why would the Doctor be masquerading as the Abbot?  Who knows, but it’s exactly the sort of thing he would do and it would also explains his disappearance.  Everything seems to be chugging along to the conclusion that the Abbot is the Doctor, but we’ll have to wait for quite a while before Lucarotti reveals the truth ….

Popular fan-lore maintains that Hartnell’s performance as the Abbot was something of a tour-de-force, allowing the actor to show his versatility in a role that was poles apart from the Doctor.  The reality is a little different – the Abbot is a surprisingly minor character with only a handful of lines (and none of them in this episode). If the recon is to be believed then Hartnell was briefly glimpsed as the Abbot in this episode. Of course it’s always possible that he was absent during this recording and Steven only pretended to see him. That seems likely, as it would be odd to have Hartnell around just to act as a walk-on (unless his appearance was a pre-filmed insert).

The Sea Beggar sees the introduction of two heavyweight performers, André Morell as Marshal Gaspard de Saux-Tavannes and Leonard Sachs as Admiral de Coligny.  It’s very aggravating that the only Doctor Who story to feature Morell (a favourite actor of mine – if you haven’t seen it then you should certainly check out Quatermass and the Pit) was wiped, but it’s still possible to get a feel for the quality of his performance from the audio.  Sachs would later return in Arc of Infinity, but we can’t blame him for that.

These Catholics are terrible at keeping secrets. Steven learns that their target is code-named the Sea Beggar. Nobody knows who this might be, until de Coligny reveals that the King has given him this very nickname. Needless to say he’s totally unaware that this signifies he’s been marked for death ….

Doctor Who – The Massacre. Part One – War of God

John Wiles never made any secret of the fact that The Daleks Master Plan was rather imposed on him, which means that The Massacre offers us a much better chance to understand what his vision of Doctor Who was.  Bleak and uncompromising would seem to be the answer.

This serial presents the viewer with the first “straight” historical since The Crusade.  Following that story, lighter fare such as The Time Meddler had been the order of the day, but John Lucarotti’s third and final script for the series (albeit heavily rewritten by Donald Tosh) returns firmly to the themes of season one.

Most notably, the Doctor’s insistence that he’s unable to change history (also a key part of Lucarotti’s The Aztecs).  This was later blithely ignored on numerous occasions, so it’s tempting to wonder whether Lucarotti, who hadn’t contributed to the series for several years, was simply unaware of this.

Paris, 1572.  The Doctor is keen to meet Charles Preslin (Erik Chitty) and discuss the latest scientific developments.  For a story that’ll turn very dark, it’s a little odd that Hartnell’s in his default setting of hyperactive at the start of the episode, bumbling around with a very casual air.  Given that he must have been aware that this period in time was rather dangerous, it slightly beggars belief that he decides to go and meet Preslin alone, leaving Steven to kick his heels until his return.

In story terms it makes perfect sense, as Hartnell doesn’t return as the Doctor until episode four (in episodes two and three he plays the Abbot) so they had to be split up somehow – it’s just a pity it couldn’t have been done in a more subtle way.  But no matter – as it allows Peter Purves to play the leading man for the majority of the serial.  Purves remains something of an unsung hero of this era, probably because of the paucity of existing episodes, but he’s rock solid in whatever he’s given to do.

Here, he plays the innocent aboard.  Steven doesn’t arouse suspicion in those he meets because his story – an Englishman who’s only recently arrived in Paris – is the truth.  He also mentions he’s recently been to Egypt, but he wisely doesn’t add when!

Given the obscurity of this period of history, there’s an awful lot of info-dumping which has to take place – but it’s scripted well enough to not make this terribly obvious.  We’re introduced to Nicholas Muss (David Weston) and Gaston (Eric Thompson).  Both are Protestants (Huguenots) and are seen to clash with the ruling Catholics, represented by Simon Duval (John Tillinger).

Nicholas and Gaston are quickly defined as very different characters.  Nicholas refuses to rise to Duval’s bait and attempts to keep the peace, whilst Gaston delights in taunting his Catholic opponent at every opportunity.  At this early point it’s difficult to know which side is “good” or “bad” (both Gaston and Duval are as arrogant as each other) but Nicholas’ friendly manner (he spies that Steven is a stranger and is welcoming and hospitable) suggests that our sympathies should lie with the Huguenots.

The sudden arrival of a serving wench from the Abbot of Amboise’s kitchen with a strange tale throws Gaston and Nicholas into consternation.  She tells them that the Catholics are planning to crack down on the Huguenot problem – which leads Nicholas to believe that they intend to murder Henri of Navarre, the Protestant prince.   The girl, Anne Chaplet (Annette Robinson), immediately catches Steven’s sympathy, although Gaston – as befits his class and status – treats her with barely disguised contempt.  It’s a pity that Anne has a West County accent (did France have a West Country?!) but there you go.

So within the space of twenty five minutes Lucarotti has deftly established that the Huguenot minority are in danger from the Catholic majority.  The Doctor has, not for the first time, disappeared – but the major shock is reserved for the cliffhanger.  One of the Abbot’s staff, Roger Colbert (Christopher Tranchell) is nervously making his report to him.  Admitting that they have been unable to recapture Anne, the camera tracks up to reveal that the Abbot of Amboise is played by William Hartnell …..

Doctor Who – The Aztecs. Episode Four – Day of Darkness

After Ian successfully manages to re-enter the tomb (via a hazardous journey from a tunnel which starts in the garden) it seems that escape should now be a formality. But as this happens right at the beginning of the episode it’s obvious there will be complications.

Pulling the tomb door open from the outside doesn’t work, so Ian elects to go back through the tunnel and open it from inside again. But when Ian and Susan find Autloc senseless in the garden, attacked with Ian’s club, he finds himself once again the victim of a frame-up (this happened to him in the previous story, so he should be getting used to it by now).

It was Ixta, on Tlotoxl’s instructions, who attacked Autloc. This benefits Tlotoxl in several ways – it drives a wedge between Autloc and Barbara and also discredits Ian. With Susan due to be punished for her refusal to agree to an arranged marriage (her tongue and ears will be pierced with thorns) this final episode has skillfully drawn several different jeopardy threads together.

After Cameca frees Susan, it’s not clear why Ian doesn’t follow them. Instead, he disguises himself as a guard – presumably in order that he can fight Ixta to the death. Thankfully, this climatic fight was shot on film at Ealing and therefore is much more convincing than the others seen earlier in the story. Although it’s hard not to distracted by the wrinkly backdrop (a pity it couldn’t have been smoothed out a little better).

With Autloc having renounced his position and possessions in order to wander the wilderness it appears that all Barbara has achieved is to destroy one man. The Doctor offers a more encouraging spin on events, but it’s left to the viewers to decide whether he’s correct or simply trying to comfort her.

BARBARA: What’s the point of travelling through time and space if we can’t change anything? Nothing. Tlotoxl had to win.
BARBARA: And the one man I had respect for, I deceived. Poor Autloc. I gave him false hope and in the end he lost his faith.
DOCTOR: He found another faith, a better, and that’s the good you’ve done. You failed to save a civilisation, but at least you helped one man.

The Aztecs is undeniably a quality production – it’s well acted, well written and impressively directed by John Crockett (even allowing for the limitations of the studio).

Although I have to put my hand on my heart and admit that I do find it somewhat uninvolving (the comic-strip antics of The Keys of Marinus are much more entertaining). But it’s an excellent vehicle for Jacqueline Hill and William Hartnell, with William Russell also enjoying some decent material (Carole Ann-Ford is less involved, mainly because she was largely absent from the middle episodes).

Doctor Who – The Aztecs. Episode Three – The Bride of Sacrifice


Whilst it would be unfair to regard The Aztecs as worthy but dull, it’s undeniable that it’s always been a story that I’ve found it easier to admire than love. It’s certainly a less engaging experience than Marco Polo – possibly because Polo had three extra episodes to play with (allowing for more character development) but maybe it also has something to do with the fact that it’s harder to get involved with the sympathetic characters we meet in The Aztecs.

Polo and Ping-Cho both had interesting motivations which explained their actions (Polo wished to go home, Ping-Cho became increasingly anxious about being trapped in an arranged marriage). But neither Autloc’s crisis of faith or Cameca’s love for the Doctor has quite the same impact.

Both Autloc and Cameca find themselves manipulated (by Barbara and the Doctor). In Barbara’s case, it happens because of her desire to fundamentally change the course of Aztec society. Even when Autloc spells out to her that he will be ruined if she proves to be a false goddess, she appears to be unmoved.

BARBARA: Am I not a god? Support me. Tlotoxl won’t dare defy us both.
AUTLOC: If I take that course, there is no way back for me. In all humility, I beg you, do not deceive me or prove false to me.

Although the Doctor strikes up a friendship with Cameca in order to find out more about the tomb, it’s his misunderstanding of Aztec customs (especially what is signified when a man offers to make cocoa for a woman) which proves to be his downfall. It’s a lovely comic scene which Hartnell plays to perfection – his expression when he realises he’s become engaged is priceless, as is Ian’s reaction when the Doctor calmly tells him his happy news!

DOCTOR: Happy days, my dear.
CAMECA: The happiest of my life, dear heart. Was ever such a potion brewed? In bliss is quenched my thirsty heart.
DOCTOR: Very prettily put, my dear.
CAMECA: Oh, sweet-favoured man, you have declared your love for me, and I acknowledge and accept your gentle proposal.

It’s a light moment in an otherwise dark and dramatic episode.

The Doctor has attempted to persuade Barbara that interfering with Aztec society is doomed to failure (although he doesn’t specify why). She doesn’t accept this and it takes Ian to finally make her see the impossibility of her actions.

BARBARA: Tlotoxl’s evil and he’ll make everyone else the same.
IAN: They are the same, Barbara. That’s the whole point. You keep on insisting that Tlotoxl’s the odd man out, but he isn’t.
BARBARA: I don’t believe it.
IAN: Well, you must. If only you could stand away from this thing, you’d see it clearly. Autloc’s the extraordinary man here. He’s the reasonable one, the civilised one, the one that’s prepared to listen to advice. But he’s one man, Barbara. One man.

This is maybe a little unfair on Ian’s part. We don’t meet that many members of Aztec society throughout the story, but it’s probable that Cameca wouldn’t be opposed to the abolition of human sacrifice. Or maybe she would. One way that Ian’s point could have been proved beyond beyond all doubt would have been for the humane and gentle Cameca to mention her support for sacrifice – thereby showing us that the Aztecs’ beliefs were simply too far ingrained in every member of their society for Barbara to ever hope they could be changed.

Doctor Who – The Aztecs. Episode Two – The Warriors of Death


The Doctor is furious with Barbara for halting the sacrifice. We’ve seen an angry Doctor before, but not like this and it’s clear that Hartnell relishes the opportunity to really go for it. Hill is excellent as well and it’s one of those scenes that crackles with energy, although it’s notable that the Doctor doesn’t remain angry for very long (another sign of the general softening of his character).

TLOTOXL: I would ask you, how shall a man know his gods?
BARBARA: By the signs of their divinity.
TLOTOXL: And what if thieves walk among the gods?
BARBARA: Then indeed, how shall a man know?

This short exchange, beautifully delivered by Ringham and Hill, tells us everything we need to know. Tlotoxl is convinced that Barbara isn’t the spirit of Yetaxa, but lacks any proof. This means he’ll spend the remainder of the story using whatever means are at his disposal (in this episode it’s Ian) to chip away at the composure of the false goddess.

Having won a victory over Ixta with his magic thumb, Ian then faces a rematch – but Ixta will have a secret weapon (the unwitting help of the Doctor). It’s a slight contrivance that Ixta is the son of the man who built the temple, which means the Doctor (in exchange for non-existent temple plans) hands over a plant that will disable his opponent (who turns out to be Ian). Two coincidences, that’s rather a lot!

I like the way the Doctor describes himself to Cameca. “I am a scientist, an engineer. I’m a builder of things.” There may be the hint of pretence here, as he’s attempting to explain his interest in the temple, but there’s an essential truth to this statement. Much, much later he’ll become the defender of the universe (whose name alone makes monsters tremble in fear) and part of the charm of the series will be lost forever.

Carole Ann Ford’s off on holiday, so only appears in a single pre-filmed scene. It’s another nod back to Lucarotti’s previous story, as Susan reacts in horror to the thought of an arranged marriage (much as she did when she learnt of Ping-Cho’s intended fate).

The Doctor, realising that Tlotoxl means them great harm, asks Barbara to play up to Autloc. The more she can convince Autloc that she is Yetaxa, the more it will help them. Barbara’s happy to do this, no doubt because she still clings to the hope that she can bring about a fundamental change in their society, but it already poses the uncomfortable question about what Autloc’s fate will be once he realises his faith in Barbara was misplaced.

AUTLOC: If your words are denied, shall we not be living in defiance of the gods?
BARBARA: Famine, drought and disaster will come, and more and more sacrifices will be made. I see a time when ten thousand will die in one day.
AUTLOC: Where will it end, Yetaxa?
BARBARA: In total destruction. Your civilisation will pass forever from the land.
AUTLOC: You prophesy our doom.

Even this early on, we’ve been primed that there won’t be a happy ending. In this era of the programme, the Doctor’s main focus is survival – fighting injustice is something he does rather as an afterthought. But whilst later stories might see him toppling entire civilisations with a few words, you do get the sense that this isn’t going to happen here.

The fight between Ian and Ixta goes on a little too long (and like Ixta’s fight in the previous episode suffers from being shot on VT) but it does leave us with an excellent cliffhanger. As Ian faces death, Tlotoxl taunts Barbara to use divine intervention to save him ….

Doctor Who – The Aztecs. Episode One – The Temple of Evil


It’s apt that the episode opens with a scene between Barbara and Susan (we don’t see the Doctor and Ian until we’re a few minutes in). Barbara is very much the focus of the story, as might be guessed when we learn that she knows something about the Aztec civilisation.

As a history teacher, with a special interest in the Aztecs, she regards her surroundings with the eye of an expert. But if the story is designed to teach us anything, it seems to suggest that her book knowledge leaves her woefully unprepared to deal with the realities that she finds.

Susan operates as Barbara’s line-feeder here, helpfully informing the viewers that they’re in Mexico (sometime before 1430) as well as giving us the nugget of information that the Aztecs favoured human sacrifice.  But Barbara is quick to point out that they had their cultured and civilised side as well and it’s this duality which will form the dramatic centre of the story.

It’s possible to see parallels between this and Lucarotti’s previous story, Marco Polo. Both feature two central guest characters – one who tends to side with the Doctor and his friends (Marco/Autloc) with the other standing in opposition to them (Tegana/Tlotoxl). What’s different about The Aztecs is how the four time-travellers are on shaky ground from their first appearance – Barbara is masquerading as the reincarnation of the goddess Yetaxa and so risks being unmasked at any moment. This gives the story a different feeling from Marco Polo, where Marco’s patronage ensured the Doctor and his friends had a sense of stability and security.

Autloc (Keith Pyott) and Tlotoxl (John Ringham) are two sides of the same coin. As High Priests of Knowledge and Sacrifice they both wield enormous power – although there’s the sense, from their first scene onwards, that they aren’t in harmony. Even before Barbara attempts to stop the practice of human sacrifice, Autloc is uneasy – maintaining that the rains will come with or without sacrifice.

Autloc is restrained and dignified whilst Tlotoxl gives the impression of a cut-price Richard III.  Ringham made no secret of the fact that he modeled his performance on Olivier’s 1955 film of Richard III – the shuffling gait, the hunched back and the looks direct to camera are all dead giveaways. But whilst it’s not subtle, it’s certainly effective – meaning that Tlotoxl is a character whom your eye is always drawn towards (even when he’s not speaking).

Is Tlotoxl evil? His prime concern is to protect his people (since he’s correct that Barbara is a false goddess it’s not an easy question to answer).  However reprehensible Barbara might find the notion of human sacrifice, her wish to mould the Aztecs in a twentieth century image is doomed to failure (and is it really any different from the Monk’s desire to accelerate human learning in The Time Meddler?).

At this point in the series’ history, messing about with time was strictly off limits.  David Whitaker made his philosophy for the series quite clear. “The basis of time traveling is that all things are fixed and unalterable. Doctor Who is an observer.” This is odd – and does seem to refer more to the historical stories (after all, the Doctor is the prime-mover in organising the attack on the Daleks in the second story. Had he not been there it’s doubtful whether the Thals would have done anything by themselves).

The next script-editor, Dennis Spooner, would gleefully overturn this rule (such as in The Romans, where we learn that the Doctor inadvertently gave Nero the idea for burning Rome).  The debate about changing history is a key part of The Aztecs, but when the Doctor says that you can’t rewrite history, does he mean that you shouldn’t or – like Whitaker – that it’s impossible?  It’s hard to believe that he really meant the latter ….

DOCTOR: There’s to be a human sacrifice today at the Rain Ceremony.
BARBARA: Oh, no.
DOCTOR: And you must not interfere, do you understand?
BARBARA: I can’t just sit by and watch.
DOCTOR: No, Barbara! Ian agrees with me. He’s got to escort the victim to the altar.
BARBARA: He has to what?
DOCTOR: Yes, they’ve made him a warrior, and he’s promised me not to interfere with the sacrifice.
BARBARA: Well, they’ve made me a goddess, and I forbid it.
DOCTOR: Barbara, no!
BARBARA: There will be no sacrifice this afternoon, Doctor. Or ever again. The reincarnation of Yetaxa will prove to the people that you don’t need to sacrifice a human being in order to make it rain.
DOCTOR: Barbara, no.
BARBARA: It’s no good, Doctor, my mind’s made up. This is the beginning of the end of the Sun God.
DOCTOR: What are you talking about?
BARBARA: Don’t you see? If I could start the destruction of everything that’s evil here, then everything that is good would survive when Cortez lands.
DOCTOR: But you can’t rewrite history! Not one line!

John Crockett’s direction is rather good, helping to disguise the limitations of the small sets. The camera work is fluid and the movement of Tlotoxl helps to draw the eye (such as in the closing moments of the scene where Ian meets Ixta for the first time – Tlotoxl is a striking presence in the centre of the frame). The painted backdrops may look a little wrinkled, but they help to give several sets a sense of depth. This works especially well in the garden scenes (the Aztec pyramids in the background look rather impressive.)

If Barbara spends most of her time with Autloc and Tlotoxl, the the Doctor and Ian are also paired off with supporting characters. The Doctor makes the acquaintance of the charming Cameca (Margot Van der Burgh) whilst Ian meets the less charming Ixta (Ian Cullen). Ixta is a warrior and keen to ensure that Ian proves not to be a threat to his supremacy. There’s an early chance for Ixta to demonstrate his prowess – although this falls a little flat, due to the difficulties in staging fights in the studio. It ends up as less than convincing and it’s a pity it couldn’t have been shot on film.

The episode ends with Tlotoxl declaring that he will destroy the false goddess (and looking straight down the camera lens as he does). After just one episode all of the pieces of the story are firmly in place.


Doctor Who – Marco Polo. Episode Seven – Assassin at Peking


We left the previous episode with Tegana seemingly triumphant. But, alas, it’s “curses, foiled again” as the Khan’s emissary, Ling-Tau, turns up just as his moment of victory beckons. Considering that the TARDIS had been taken off the main road it’s never explained what Ling-Tau and his men are doing there – we just have to accept that Tegana is a singularly unlucky War Lord.

The Doctor and the Khan have been playing backgammon –

KHAN: What do we owe?
DOCTOR: Er, thirty-five elephants with ceremonial bridles, trappings, brocades and pavilions. Four thousand white stallions, and twenty-five tigers.
KHAN: That’s not too bad, so far.
DOCTOR: And the sacred tooth of Buddha which Polo brought over from India.
KHAN: Oh, that? What else? What more?
DOCTOR: I’m very much afraid all the commerce from Burma for one year, sire.

This is lovely. Hartnell’s not really had the chance to play many comic scenes up to this point, so there’s the sense (even though we can’t see him) that he’s relishing this opportunity. There’s no doubt that later comic stories (like The Romans, The Myth Makers and The Gunfighters) really plays to his strengths. The Khan’s desire to prevent his wife (played by Clare Davenport) from learning that he’s been gambling is another nice touch. The Empress, although she has very few lines, certainly seems to be an imposing presence.

The Doctor’s skill at backgammon is another new fact we learn about him (he must be good, since it seems the Khan rarely loses). When the Doctor suggests one more game – with the prize being the TARDIS, the Khan reluctantly agrees. It seems clear that, given all he’s already won, it’s a foregone conclusion. Alas, the Doctor may be good, but he’s not unbeatable, and the Khan wins the game – meaning that the TARDIS seems lost forever.

It’s around now that Marco suddenly has a change of heart and decides that it was wrong of him to take the TARDIS. Since it’s already the Khan’s property it’s a pity he couldn’t have had this crisis of confidence beforehand!

Another plot-thread neatly tied up relates to Ping-Cho’s marriage. She’s informed by the Khan that “your beloved husband-to-be, so anxious to be worthy of your love, drank a potion of quicksilver and sulphur, the elixir of life and eternal youth, and expired.” Another delightful comic moment, delivered deadpan by Martin Miller.

This just leaves Tegana to be dealt with. The Doctor realises, rather belatedly, that his meeting with the Khan is for one reason only. “Kill the leader, and where are you? What happens? The whole army dissipates itself into chaos and utter confusion. It’s happened throughout your history time and time again!” If Tegana kills the Khan, then Noghai seems certain to succeed.

You do have to suspend disbelief a little that the Khan would meet Tegana without armed guards (only the poor Vizier seems to have been present – he sacrifices his life to prevent Tegana’s first attack). The lack of visuals means that it’s impossible to judge how effective the swordfight between Tegana and Marco was. But it was choreographed by Derek Ware, a key stunt-arranger during Doctor Who‘s first decade, so that’s a sign of quality. I’d also be fascinated to know just how graphic the moment was when the defeated Tegana committed suicide by throwing himself on a sword. Maybe one day the story will come back and we’ll find out ….

After all his intransigence during the story, it’s Marco who hands the key of the TARDIS back. The Khan, witnessing the departure of the ship, doesn’t seem particularly put-out that Marco’s just given away his flying caravan – although we never discover exactly what Marco’s fate will be. It could be that this action means he’ll never see his home again – but he obviously decided that the needs of the Doctor and his friends were more important than his own goals. Mark Eden was a solid presence throughout all the seven episodes. Although Marco was, at times, fairly unlikeable, Eden still managed to give him a sense of honour and nobility. And this final sacrifice speaks volumes about his character.

Even with just the soundtrack and a generous selection of photographs, this is a highly entertaining story. Yes, the fact that Tegana’s plans to kill Marco and steal the TARDIS are constantly scuppered do get a little annoying, but the scope of the journey allows all the cast plenty of time for character development. With just seven main characters (the four regulars, plus Marco, Tegana and Ping-Cho) and seven episodes to play with, there’s ample time to breathe and reflect.

Will the next story be of a similar standard, I wonder?

Doctor Who – Marco Polo. Episode Six – Mighty Kublai Khan


Ian pleads with Tegana. “Let us all go, I appeal to you. What possible difference could it make to you? You hate Marco.” This is another indication that the emphasis in these early stories is very much centered around the TARDIS crew as they seem to care little about what Tegana might do to Marco and Ping-Cho once they leave. This is a hallmark of the early historical stories script-edited by David Whitaker (and is also a feature of his own serial The Crusade).

At times during these early historical stories (especially in Lucarotti’s next script, The Aztecs) the Doctor is a very passive character who is unwilling to get involved in local difficulties. This is possibly not because he shouldn’t, but because he can’t (the famous line in The Aztecs – “you can’t rewrite history, not one line!” – is something we’ll touch upon when we reach that story). Here, it might be more disinterest than a fear that he’ll somehow damage the delicate thread of space-time history.

Ian protects Ping-Cho by telling Marco that he stole the TARDIS key. We then have another scene where Ian pleads with Marco to hand back the TARDIS – and this time Ian tells him the truth (that the TARDIS can fly through time and space). Marco responds that he’s heard of many strange things, including a stone that burns (coal). “In Cathay, we call it the burning stone. And if a stone burns, why not a caravan that flies? Birds fly. I have even seen fish that fly. You are asking me to believe that your caravan can defy the passage of the sun? Move not merely from one place to another, but from today into tomorrow, today into yesterday? No, Ian. That I cannot accept.”

Although he can believe in a burning stone, a flying caravan and even flying fish, it seems that the concept of time-travel is a step too far. Marco then tells Ian that he knows he didn’t take the key and he only said it to shield Ping-Cho. It’s a clever piece of scripting as it demonstrates to Marco that Ian is capable of lying, which means that he can’t believe his tales of time-travel. If he did, then he would have handed the TARDIS key over (although given all he’s done so far, that seems a little improbable).

Ping-Cho, unwilling to marry a man old enough to be her grandfather, runs away – back to the Cheng-Ting Way Station. It’s a slight plot contrivance that of all the people she could meet, it’s Kuiju (the man commissioned by Tegana to steal the TARDIS). You’d have thought that the eyepatch and the monkey would have been strong indications that he was a wrong-‘un, but Ping-Cho, innocent girl that she is, mistakenly believes he’s an honest man and hands over all her money to pay for her passage back home.

That she should be robbed by the man who’s stolen the TARDIS is a bit of a coincidence – especially since it doesn’t really impact the plot. Ian has received Marco’s blessing to search for Ping-Cho and once he finds her and discovers that the TARDIS has been stolen the pair of them set off to find it.

The others finally get to meet the mighty Khan, who certainly receives an impressive buildup –

Silence! Those who dare to come before the sight of the great Kublai Khan, kow-tow. Kow-tow before the War Lord of War Lords. Mighty and fearful in his strength. Kow-tow before the Ruler of Asia, India, Cathay and other territories. Kow-tow before the Master of the World.

The eventual reveal that Kublai Khan (Martin Miller) is a little old man suffering from gout is amusing – but Marco is quick to tell the others that whilst the Khan is not the mightiest War Lord ever, he’s definitely a skilled administrator. And its his organisational skill, rather than his military might, that has seen his Empire grow – so it would be wise not to underestimate him.

His meeting with the Doctor has a nice touch of comedy – with both men suffering numerous aches and pains, plus the Doctor demonstrating his singular lack of respect for authority (a trait we’ll see time and time again over the years). The Khan, rather than expressing annoyance at the Doctor’s testiness, instead embraces him as a brother. Slightly implausible maybe, but it sets us up nicely for their interaction in the next episode.

Ian and Ping-Cho have found Kuiju and the TARDIS, but so has Tegana (who was given leave by Marco to track Ian down). At last it seems that Tegana has the upper hand – he can take the Doctor’s caravan and then dispatch Ian and Ping-Cho. What could possibly go wrong?

Doctor Who – Marco Polo. Episode Five – Rider from Shang-Tu


The murder of the guard causes the four time-travellers to momentarily stop and reflect. It’s fascinating (and slightly disconcerting) that the Doctor asks Ian quite seriously whether he killed him – if Ian said he had it’s probable that the Doctor wouldn’t have been terribly put out. Another interesting character wrinkle is that although the camp seems to be under attack, the Doctor is still keen to escape (clearly the fates of Marco and Ping-Cho are of little interest to him).

Tegana’s appearance puts paid to their plans, so Ian decides to wake Marco and warn him. I’ve previously touched upon how Tegana’s numerous attempts to kill Marco end up being scuppered (sometimes in a slightly contrived way) and this sequence is one of the less convincing ones. Acromat (Philip Voss) and the other Mongols are waiting for Tegana’s signal to attack. After Ian’s warning, Marco asks Tegana to rouse the guard – but why didn’t he tackle Marco in single combat there and then? It’s difficult to believe that Tegana seriously considered the TARDIS crew to be a threat to his ambitions.

Instead, he obeys Marco and the small group organise themselves into a fighting force. Marco gives the Doctor a sword, commenting that “if you’re half as aggressive with this as you are with your tongue, Doctor, we can’t lose.” Although the Doctor is sometimes painted as a pacifist who abhors weapons of any type, that’s not really borne out by the evidence of the series – although it’s still unusual to seem him bear arms quite so keenly. The loss of the episode means that we’ve no way of telling how active he was in the brief skirmish – however, just before the fighting begins he delightfully tells Marco that “we’re not going to get very far with this overgrown bread knife!” which indicates he was keen for a scrap!

Eventually Acromat and the others grow tired of waiting for Tegana’s signal and attack anyway. This presented Tegana with another golden opportunity to kill Marco (as the Mongols were keeping the others busy). Instead, he kills Acromat before he had a chance to reveal his connection to Tegana. Again, it’s another moment that feels a little false – just how many chances does Tegana need?

The arrival of the caravans at the Cheng-Ting Way Station introduces us to Wang-Lo (Gábor Baraker). From the soundtrack and the photographs it sounds like a larger-than-life performance, this is another of those times when I’d love to see the visuals in order to complete the picture. Also lurking about is Kuiju (Tutte Lemkow). Lemkow had a lengthy career (popping up in films like Raiders of the Lost Ark) and an interesting private life (at one time he was married to Mai Zetterling). Lemkow’s Doctor Who career is rather unlucky – he appeared in three different stories (but all his episodes no longer exist). It seems that anything with an appearance by Tutte Lemkow was earmarked for destruction …

When Ping-Cho realises that Susan will never see her home again without the TARDIS, she takes the key from Marco’s room. This is when the never-ending feel of the early seasons works well – back then, unless you had a copy of next week’s Radio Times it wouldn’t always be obvious whether a story was concluding or not. But this one now seems to have run its course, as the Doctor, Ian and Barbara are all in the TARDIS – but somewhat belatedly they realise that Susan isn’t there.

She’s gone back to say goodbye to Ping-Cho, something which the Doctor finds inexplicable. Despite the months they’ve been journeying together, he’s clearly failed to notice the growing friendship between his granddaughter and Ping-Cho. It’s another character moment which highlights that recently the Doctor has been, at best, totally absorbed with repairing the TARDIS and, at worst, totally self-centered. His irritation with Susan sees him utter an oath (“Great Olympus”!) which is a little unusual.

No real surprise that the Doctor’s plan of escape is scuppered again – this time it’s because Tegana has caught Susan …..

Doctor Who – Marco Polo. Episode Four – The Wall of Lies


Barbara is rescued from the clutches of the Mongols after Ian realises that Susan was right – the eyes in the cave did move (behind the wall was a secret room where Barbara was being held). Once again, the Doctor is shown not to posses all the answers – he was dismissive of Susan’s claim, seemingly treating it as nothing more than a hysterical outburst – so it fell to Ian and Marco to put two and two together.

Tegana continues to chip away at Marco’s trust in the Doctor and his friends. “Only a fool defends his enemies. Be warned, Marco. They will set us at each others throats by lies and deceit, and then, when they have divided us, then they will destroy us one by one.”

Barbara insists that she followed Tegana to the cave – something he strongly denies. As Marco tells Ian. “Tegana is a special emissary of Noghai, on his way to talk peace with Kublai Khan. He’s a very important man. You are mysterious travellers from some far off land I know nothing about. Now, if you were in my position, a servant of Kublai Khan, whose word would you take?”

A slight weakness of the story is that since Tegana has been presented as such a powerful presence it slightly diminishes him every time his plans to kill Marco and the others are scuppered. But there’s a sense in this episode that we’re now entering the endgame. I particularly like the way he displays his true feeling for Marco (telling his associate Acromat that Marco should be killed like an old woman in her bed). And the Doctor’s death holds no fear for him, a stake through the heart should deal with the magician.

The relationship between Marco and the others comes to a head when he realises that the Doctor has been working on the TARDIS in secret.

POLO: I’m sorry I doubted your word, Tegana. Give me the key, Doctor.
POLO: You’re an old man and I do not wish to use force.
DOCTOR: That is what you’ll precisely have to do, Polo.
(Tegana wrenches the key from the Doctor)
TEGANA: Did I not say he had another key?
DOCTOR: Put that key in the lock, Polo, and you will destroy the ship. Then where will your precious Khan be, hmmm? You need more than a key to enter my ship. You need knowledge. Knowledge you will never possess.
POLO: Tell me.
DOCTOR: No, understand? No! I’d let you wreck it first!

This results in the Doctor and the others being kept as virtual prisoners. Ian chafes against this and decides that they need to take action. They resolve to capture Marco and force him to hand over the TARDIS key. The Doctor’s statement that “I think by the time I’ve finished with that gentleman, he’ll only be too glad to let us go” is intriguing. Exactly what does the Doctor plan to do to?

Sadly, we never learn what the Doctor’s special brand of persuasion might be, as Ian discovers that the guard outside is dead. With Marco’s encampment under attack they have the perfect cover to escape, but can they really just cut and run?

Doctor Who – Marco Polo. Episode Three – Five Hundred Eyes


With Marco and the others lacking enough water to make the journey to the oasis, it falls to the Doctor to save the day. He notices that moisture has formed on the inside of the TARDIS overnight and saves every last drop. We then have another quick science lesson as the concept is explained to Marco (and the viewers at home).

IAN: Marco, you remember, last night it was cold. Bitterly cold, Marco. The outside of the caravan cooled, but the inside stayed warm, and so moisture formed on the inside. It’s condensation, we just call it that. It’s just a name.
SUSAN: That’s true, Messer Marco. It was running down the walls, and from the ceiling. We, we took it in this, look, we squeezed it in here. You see?

These precious drops of water are enough to aid their journey to the oasis, where they find Tegana. He tells them he was unable to travel back with water as the oasis was surrounded by bandits during the night. As so often in the early stories it’s not the Doctor who exposes the fallacies in his statement (if bandits were there, why didn’t they light a fire since it was a cold night?) but one of the others – in this case Barbara. Her suspicions against Tegana only harden as the episode continues, culminating in her capture when she ventures into the Cave of Five Hundred Eyes.

One noteworthy aspect of these early scenes is that Tristram Cary’s music has an electronic feel (similar to his score for The Daleks). This fits the mood well as Marco and the others face death under the unforgiving sun. Once they are rescued, it changes back to traditional instruments (as it is for the majority of the story). It’s a pity that Marco Polo is the only of his Doctor Who scores not to exist, although we should be grateful that his other music does.

Having reached the Tun-Huang Way Station, Marco mentions the nearby Cave of Five Hundred Eyes, a place once frequented by the Hashashins. Although Ping-Cho has never heard of the cave, she does know a story about Hulagu and the Hashashins and promises to tell it to them later. This is an extraordinary sequence – the story stops for several minutes for a spot of local colour. Like the chat about condensation, it’s probable to view its insertion as another educational box-ticking exercise. But it’s charmingly performed by Zienia Merton, who delivers the lengthy monologue with aplomb. It’s easy to imagine that the air would have turned blue had it been given to William Hartnell!

Gracious maidens, gentle lords, pray attend me while I tell my tale of Alaeddin, the Old Man of the Mountains, who by devious schemes, evil designs and foul murders ruled the land.

No host of arms, no vast array of banners served this wicked lord. They were but few, ruthless, reckless men who obeyed his cruel commands.

Thus did he persuade them. Promising paradise, he gave his followers a potent draught and whilst they slept transported them to a vale where streams of milk and honey, wine and water, flowed.

Here were gardens and flowers of every hue and essence. Here, too Golden pavilions outshone the sun and even the stars of heaven envied the bejewelled interiors strewn with incomparable silks, tapestries, and treasures.

Hand-maidens, dulcet-voiced, soft of face, attended them, and thus bemused did they dwell in this man-made paradise until Alaeddin intent upon some evil deed, proffered again the hashish draught and brought them sleeping to his castle.

“What lord, are we cast out of paradise?” awakening, they cried.

“Not so. Go abroad, seek out my enemies and strike them down. But care not for your lives. Paradise is eternal.”

So terror stalked the land for many years. Then one day, came mighty Hulagu to stand before Alaeddin’s lair for three long years in siege. Thus fell Alaeddin and his men.

Now honest hands reap harvests of life from the soil where death and evil reigned. And those who journey through the vale are heard to say ’tis truly paradise today.

When Barbara notices Tegana leave the room after Ping-Cho’s tale, she follows him as he heads up to the Cave of Five Hundred Eyes. She doesn’t hear Tegana plot Marco’s destruction and the theft of the TARDIS, but finds herself captured by a group of Mongols who hold her in the cave whilst they play dice. In the next episode she tells Ian that they were playing dice to decide which of them would kill her, but it’s no stretch to imagine that they were also keeping her alive so that they could take turns to rape her. Otherwise it would have made more sense to quickly kill her and leave. Barbara becomes the object of male interest several times – in the very next story The Keys of Marinus and also during season two. Sometimes played for comic effect (The Romans) and other times played dead straight (The Crusade).

An intriguing part of the episode revolves around Tegana’s attempts to sow discord between Marco and the TARDIS crew. Why is Tegana doing this? He clearly doesn’t have Marco’s interests at heart, since he plans to kill him very soon, so is it possible that he fears the Doctor’s magic? Or it could be that he simply enjoys stirring up trouble amongst his enemies?

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


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.

Doctor Who – Marco Polo. Episode One – The Roof of the World


With Marco Polo we’ve reached the first of the missing stories, although back in 2013 it seemed very possible that it had been recovered and we’d be enjoying it on DVD within a matter of months. The MEW rumour had been bouncing around various Doctor Who forums for a while (basically stating that three stories – Marco Polo, Enemy of the World & Web of Fear had been found). And when all of Enemy and most of Web did resurface shortly afterwards you could have laid a guinea to a gooseberry that Marco wouldn’t be far behind them.

Four and a bit years later there’s still no sign of it, so it seems that this rumour was only 66% right (although there are still some who cling to the belief that Marco Polo is out there somewhere). I’ve love to think that it was and that some day I’d be able to watch it on DVD (no download for me, thank you!) but if it isn’t, and no other missing episodes are ever found, then we should really just count our blessings.

All ninety seven missing episodes exist as good quality audio recordings (which have been further improved by the work of Mark Ayres during the last decade or so). We may sometimes take the audios for granted, and grumble about how annoying it is that we can’t see the pictures, but it’s worth taking a moment to stop and consider how some other popular series of the time have fared.

There’s reputed to be one poor quality audio of an Avengers episode existing in private hands, some muffled audios of Public Eye exist (several found their way onto the early DVD releases) whilst a handful of audios from Out of the Unknown were made (and are included on the BFI’s DVD release. Not bought it yet? You really should, it’s an excellent package! If you need further convincing I’ve written about it at length here).

These fairly slim pickings demonstrate just how fortunate Doctor Who is. This is particularly noteworthy when it comes to Marco Polo. The show had only been running for three months, so it’s a little surprising (but very welcome) that there were people who even this early on were dedicated enough to record every episode.

Although The Roof of the World is generally held to be the point where the Doctor starts to act more like the Doctor we come to know, he’s still remarkably bad-tempered at the start. This may be because he’s concerned for their safety (the TARDIS has broken down in the Alps and with no heat their prospect of survival looks slim) but he’s still incredibly dismissive when Ian offers to look for fuel. “Oh well, I wish you luck.”

The telesnaps offer us an insight into how these early scenes look. It’s no surprise that the Roof of the World looks rather stagey and there also appears to be a wrinkled backdrop behind the time-travellers (always a hazzard in these early stories – see The Aztecs for another example). The subtle wind effect helps to sell the illusion of cold though.

Our heroes run into the warlord Tegana (Derren Nesbitt). From his first words his character is made clear. “Hear me, Mongols. In these parts live evil spirits, who take our likeness to deceive us and then lead us to our deaths. Let us therefore destroy these evil spirits before they destroy us.” Whilst we can’t see him, it seems clear that Nesbitt relishes the dialogue he’s been given and he’s wonderfully entertaining throughout the story.

Their execution is stopped by Marco Polo (Mark Eden). If Tegana is presented as superstitious and menacing then Marco appears to be enlightened and affable. But both have their own agendas and Marco, whilst he’s friendly, quickly demonstrates that he’s equally as ruthless as Tegana. He appropriates the TARDIS and tells the Doctor that he wishes to present it to Kublai Khan as a gift – he then hopes that the Khan will then grant him leave to travel home to Venice.

This is the plot device that ensures that the Doctor remains – otherwise he would have left at the first available opportunity. Variations to make the TARDIS inaccessible are used throughout the first season (the missing fluid link in The Daleks, a forcefield in The Keys of Marinus, etc) as the Doctor is not yet written as a character who’ll stay and help people simply because it’s the right thing to do.

There are a few examples of Doctor Who‘s early educational remit. Early on, Susan finds a giant footprint – although Ian ponders that it may be just a normal sized print which looks bigger because the snow around it has melted. And later on, the science teacher in him can’t help but give Marco a quick lesson.

POLO: I’m afraid the liquid is not too warm, but the cold here is so intense, it even robs a flame of its heat.
IAN: The cold can’t affect the heat of the flame, sir. The liquid boils at a lower temperature, because there’s so little air up here.
POLO: You mean the air is responsible?
IAN: Well, the lack of it. Just as the lack of it is responsible for the Doctor’s mountain sickness.

Susan makes friends with Ping-Cho (Zienia Merton). Having someone in the cast around Susan’s age allows her to have some decent character moments and she opens up to Ping-Cho in a way we haven’t seen before.

Treasure Island (BBC, 1977) – Part Four


Once again, the Squire is forced to count the human cost of his quest for gold, since all three of his servants now lie dead. “Old Redruth. Joyce. And now Hunter. Loyal souls, all of them, who served and trusted me. I have much to account for, Livesey.”

The Doctor offers a brief word of comfort, but maybe Livesey’s gesture here is just an automatic one. It’s certainly debatable that Trelawney’s escapade can be judged to be an honourable one – as his intention was to keep the plundered gold for himself (after, presumably, sharing out a small portion to the others) he can hardly claim the moral high ground over Silver and his men.

Jim decides to take Ben Gunn’s boat and return to the Hispaniola. It’s a brave, if foolhardy venture, since it brings him into contact with the murderous Israel Hands. Patrick Troughton once again is on good form as Israel, reacting calmly to Jim’s statement that he’s returned to take possession of the ship.

Exactly why Jim decided that the pirates onboard would be happy to receive him is a slight mystery. True, Israel seems harmless enough to begin with (he’s incapacitated after a fight to the death with another pirate) but Jim wasn’to know this. You’d have assumed that after the horror of the stockade battle, with death all around him, Jim would have been a little more cautious. But if Trelawney has begun to learn the true cost of adventure, maybe Jim hasn’t.

All that we’ve seen of Israel has primed the audience to expect that he’ll turn on Jim when the moment is right, and so it proves. Israel’s pursuit of Jim is a nicely shot sequence from Michael E. Briant, especially as the pair climb the rigging to face their final reckoning.

The ever resourceful Jim returns to the island, only to find that Silver and the others have taken possession of the stockade. Alfred Burke is at his most affable, as Silver appears delighted to see the boy and offers him a chance to join them. Jim refuses and furthermore tells them all that they’ll never see the Hispaniola again.

This is something of a turning point – Jim’s life should now be forfeit, but Silver won’t kill the lad, which displeases the others intensely. Silver has been tipped the black spot, but even with his back to the wall he’s still able to run rings around the rest of his crew.

Silver, with his keen sense of self preservation, is looking to change sides and Jim is an important part of this. Ashley Knight is never better than In the scene where Livesey attempts to forcibly remove Jim from the stockade. Jim refuses, biting the Doctor’s hand at one point, because he gave Silver his word he wouldn’t attempt to escape. This action bounds Silver and Jim even tighter together.

The sting in the tail – the treasure is gone from its resting place – is the prelude for the final (albiet brief) bloody battle. Ben Gunn, of course, found the treasure nine months ago and brought it back to his cave. The reveal is done in a highly theatrical manner – a seemingly never-ending stream of coins gush out onto the cave floor as the faces of Silver, Livesey, Ben, Trelawney and Jim are overlaid. It was surely intentional that Livesey’s face was impassive whilst both Trelawney and Jim showed great pleasure.

As I said earlier, it doesn’t get much better than this. It’s something of a mystery why this excellent version of Treasure Island hasn’t appeared on DVD before, but it’s something that any devotee of this era of British television should have in their collection.


Treasure Island (BBC, 1977) – Part Three


Most of the crew have decided to throw their hand in with Silver.  Most, but not all.  One whose loyalty remains undecided is Tom (Derrick Slater).  He knows and respects Silver of old, but will he elect to join the others in mutiny?

The question of Tom’s allegiance brings the character of Silver into sharp focus.  Silver is fond of Tom and seeks to win him over – to this end, along with some of the others they make for the island (leaving Smollett, Livesey and the others aboard the Hispaniola, guarded by a small number of pirates).  Silver believes that away from the ship he’ll be able to talk Tom round.

Given all the quality character actors seen throughout the serial, it’s slightly surprising that the relatively undistinguished Slater was given this role.  True, Tom’s screentime is very limited, but since the confrontation between Silver and Tom allows us – and Jim – a chance to witness Silver’s ruthless side, it’s therefore a pity that Slater’s performance is on the lifeless side.

Tom tells Silver that “you’re old and honest too, or has the name for it. And you’ve money, which many a poor sailor hasn’t. Brave too, or I’m mistook. You tell me why you let yourself be led away by that kind of mess of swabs.”  During this monologue Silver has lain a friendly arm on him, but pulls away once he realises that Tom won’t be won over.  With a horrified Jim watching from his hiding place close by, Silver stabs Tom to death.  Given that the battle seen later in the episode is fairly bloody, it’s interesting that Tom’s murder occurs off camera.  We see Silver stabbing something, but we never see what it is.

Captain Smollett and the others make their way ashore.  Smollett really begins to take charge (Richard Beale is first class during these scenes) and they elect to use Flint’s old stockade as their base.  But even before they’ve secured it there’s a brief battle and Squire Trelawney’s loyal servant, Tom Redruth (Royston Tickner), lies dying.

Tom’s barely had a handful of lines, but he does get a good death scene.  Up until now it seems as if the Squire hasn’t really grasped the reality of the situation – it’s been little more than a game to him (finding a ship, employing a tailor to make him the grandest uniform, etc).  It takes the death of a loyal family retainer, someone uprooted from his settled life in Britain and fated to die a lonely death on a distant island far away from his family, to bring him back to reality.  He asks Tom to forgive him (and is insistent that he does so).  Tom, loyal to the last, insists there’s nothing to forgive and, as Trelawney recites the Lord’s Prayer, Tom gently slips away.  Beautifully played by both Tickner and Thorley Walters.

We meet Ben Gunn (Paul Copley).  He’s Irish and speaks in a remarkably high pitched voice, which is a little odd.  But then Ben Gunn’s supposed to be odd (what with his cheese fixation) and after a while his voice lowers a little, so a little bit of normality is restored.  His cave – a studio set – looks very good (another design triumph for Graham Oakley).

John Dearth was one of those utility actors who was always worth watching, even in the smallest of roles.  He was a regular during the first series of the ITC Richard Greene Robin Hood’s, playing a different role each week (and sometimes two in the same episode!)  Various personal problems meant that he later sometimes found work hard to come by, but he was lucky to have several loyal supporters – one of whom was Barry Letts.  Both Briant and Letts had directed him in Doctor Who, so like many of the cast it’s not unexpected that he turns up here.  Dearth’s character (Jeb) mainly seems to exist in order to stress how dangerous Silver is – Jeb states that the only man the vicious Captain Flint ever feared was Long John Silver.

I’ve already touched upon how good Richard Beale has been and he’s never better than in the scene where Smollett and Silver face off.  Both have their own set of demands and neither is prepared to give the other any quarter.  Alfred Burke switches from smiling affability to snarling disdain in a heartbeat.  This then leads into the sequence where the pirates attempt to storm the stockade.  It’s slightly jarring that the outside is on film whilst the stockade interior is on videotape – the rapid switching between the two is a slight problem.

But no matter, Michael E. Briant still manages to choreograph a decent action sequence with a liberal dose of blood (nothing explicit, but it still manages to create the impression that a short – and brutal – battle has taken place).  The pirates are beaten back, which infuriates Silver – so he elects to send for reinforcements from the ship ….


Treasure Island (BBC, 1977) – Part Two


Since Treasure Island is packed with character actors of distinction, it’s easy to overlook the young actor who played Jim Hawkins.  But Ashley Knight more than holds his own amongst such august company, possessing just the right amount of youthful spirit and innocence.

That he’s deceived by Silver shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, since Long John also managed to fool Squire Trelawney (Thorley Walters).  But, to be fair, fooling the Squire probably wasn’t too tricky for Silver, as Trelawney (as per Stevenson’s novel) is portrayed as the sort of trusting, loose-mouthed individual you really wouldn’t want to entrust with the delicate matter of finding a ship and crew to sail to the Spanish Main in search of buried treasure.  Walters is a delight as the Squire, he may be pompous and vain but he’s also curiously lovable.

The way that Silver manipulates Trelawney into engaging him as the ship’s cook and then agrees that he can handpick the crew provides us with another opportunity to witness the apparently charming and helpful side of Silver (although he’s only serving his own interests of course).  His charm is seen again when the wily Long John takes Jim under his wing.  There’s no reason why Silver should seek to deceive Jim, which leads us to assume that his friendly stories have no ulterior motive.  But there’s a sting in the tail – at the same time he’s regaling Jim with yarns about the sea, Silver is planning to murder Trelawney, Livesey and Captain Smollett (Richard Beale) and anyone else who stands in his way.

Would he also do the same to Jim?  It’s not explicitly stated, but he does confide to Israel (the ever-watchable Patrick Troughton) that he doesn’t intend to leave any witnesses, so we can pretty much take it as read.  This dichotomy in Long John’s character is what makes him so fascinating – the other pirates make little or no attempt to hide their evil intent, but it’s the way that Silver can wear different masks at different times that makes him such an enduringly appealing creation.  And of course, in the hands of an actor as good as Alfred Burke it’s just a pleasure to watch.

Not all of the crew are content, like Silver, to wait for the right time to make their move, some want action now.  Prime amongst the malcontents is Merry (Roy Boyd) who paces the ship with a murderous look on his face, but you get the feeling that he’s never going to be any sort of match for Long John.

During this era of television, directors tended to have a “rep” of actors who they employed on a regular basis.  If you’re familiar with some of Michael E. Briant’s previous productions then names such as Roy Evans, Richard Beale, Royston Tickner and Alec Wallis will be familiar ones.  Alec Wallis has a nice little cameo as Patmore, a corrupt tailor who Silver deliberately sends along to Trelawney, just so he can denounce him before the Squire and therefore gain his trust.  Beale is suitably upright as the incorruptible Smollett, a man who sets to sea with the gravest misgivings about the crew (a pity nobody listened to him).

Before the ship sets sail there are several scenes which take place within the Squire’s cabin.  Thanks to a very simple CSO effect (bobbing waves outside the cabin window) the illusion at being on the water is created very effectively.  But there’s no substitute for the real thing and it’s the later filmwork aboard the Hispaniola, as it makes it way towards Treasure Island, which really opens up the production.


Treasure Island (BBC, 1977) – Part One


Treasure Island, an evergreen classic of children’s literature for more than a century, has generated more film, television and radio adaptations than you could shake a cutlass at.  But even though there’s many versions to chose from, this one (broadcast in four episodes on BBC1 in 1977) has to rank amongst the very best.

Like the majority of the BBC Classic Serials from the sixties, seventies and eighties, the adaptation (this one from John Lucarotti) displays considerable fidelity to the original source material, although Lucarotti is unafraid to build upon the original narrative.  In a way this isn’t surprising, since the book was told from Jim’s perspective it’s inevitable that it has a somewhat restricted viewpoint.

Lucarotti’s additions begin right from the start, as Jim’s father, Daniel (Terry Scully), someone who merited only a handful of mentions in Stevenson’s original, is fleshed out into a substantial character.  Scully excelled at playing people who suffered – he had one of those faces which could express a world of pain – and Daniel is no exception.  Daniel is clearly far from well and concern that he’s unable to provide for his family is uppermost in his mind.  So the arrival of Billy Bones (Jack Watson) seems to offer a chance to extricate himself from his financial problems.

Watson’s excellent as Bones.  With his weather-beaten face and the addition of a wicked-looking scar, he’s perfect as the rough, tough, seaman with a secret.  Bones’ decision to recruit Daniel (an invention of Lucarotti’s) is quite a neat idea, since it explains how Long John Silver and the others came to learn where Bones was (Daniel heads off to secure passage for himself and Bones to the Caribbean, not realising that Silver is monitoring the port for any unusual activity).

Lucarotti also elects to bring Silver and his confederates into the story very early, making it plain that Bones has absconded with something of great value that they’d all like back.  If you love British archive television of this era then the sight of Silver’s gang will no doubt warm the cockles of your heart (step forward David Collings, Patrick Troughton, Stephen Greif and Talfryn Thomas amongst others).

Alfred Burke’s Long John Silver impresses right from the off.  He doesn’t have Robert Newton’s eye-rolling intensity, nor does he have Brian Blessed’s physical presence – but what Burke’s Silver does possess is great charm and a rare skill at manipulating others to do his will.  But although he seems pleasant enough to begin with, it doesn’t take long before he demonstrates his true colours.

Bones’ run-in with Doctor Livesey (Anthony Bate) is kept intact from the original.  Bate is yet another wonderful addition to the cast and Livesey’s stand-off with Bones is a highlight of the episode.  Lucarotti’s subplot of Daniel’s doomed night-time misadventure slots into the original story very well, as it explains why his health suddenly took a turn for the worse, which then resulted in his death shortly afterwards.

A member of Silver’s gang, Black Dog (Christopher Burgess), arrives to confront Bones.  Burgess was a favourite actor of the producer, Barry Letts, so it’s maybe not too much of a surprise that he turns up.  He and Watson step outside (and therefore onto film) for a duel, which leads to Bones’ stroke.  Watson’s particularly fine as the bedridden Bones, suffering nightmares accrued from the horrors of a life spent on the high seas and dreading the arrival of the black spot.

David Collings’ nicely judged cameo as the malevolent Blind Pew is yet another highlight from a consistently strong opening episode.

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