Friday, 24 February 2017

Inspirations - Marco Polo

AKA... Well, this one has always just been called Marco Polo.
First of four adventures by writer John Lucarotti, though one script will keep his name but be heavily rewritten by the Story Editor, and the final one won't even credit him - being totally rewritten by another Story Editor. Two of his stories will be inspired by countries he lived in. He moved around quite a bit.
He lived in Mexico for a time, hence his next story after this one - The Aztecs. Marco Polo comes from a geographically massive country beginning with C. That's right - Canada.
These days, the travels of Marco Polo are best known by kids from the countless TV series / movies about him. I think there's one on Netflix at the moment.
Back in 1964, Marco Polo would have been read about by every child, and studied in school.
Lucarotti no doubt saw the 1938 MGM movie The Adventures of Marco Polo, starring Gary Cooper in the title role, and with Basil Rathbone as the villain of the piece. It was MGM's most expensive film to date. An English translation of Polo's "autobiography" came out in the same year.
Whilst living in Canada, Lucarotti wrote a 15 part radio adaptation based on Polo's The Book of the Marvels of the World. Presumably Sydney Newman was aware of this.

Marco Polo is the series' first proper historical story - in that it is set at a specific point in history in a known geographical location, and there is some documentary evidence. It also becomes the first "Celebrity Historical" in that it features a real person (or persons in this case).
There was a real Marco Polo, and a real Kublai Khan, to be found together in late 13th Century China. Marco Polo's book fails to mention his meeting with the Doctor or his companions, or his temporary possession of a mysterious flying caravan shaped like a big blue box - but then there is a lot that his book omits. Of course, the inclusion of the Doctor & Co in every historical story renders all of them merely pseudo-historical. When we get to the end of the Hartnell era, real historical personages will be dropped in favour of historical genres, before being ditched altogether.
A big influence on this story is something Lucarotti will have been very familiar with - the big budget, filmed TV series made by companies such as ITC with an eye to overseas sales (i.e. America). He wrote for many of them after all. Before they got heavily into spy / crime fighter genres, these series featured historical characters such as Francis Drake, Ivanhoe, Robin Hood or William Tell. (As you can see, not always real historical characters). Known exploits would be embellished with numerous made up ones, usually with an entirely made up villain added to the mix (probably played by Roger Delgado, or indeed Darren Nesbitt).
Marco Polo had lots of real adventures, but the specifics of the caravan journey plagued by Tegana's treachery is totally invented just for Doctor Who viewers.

"Stop trying to kill us at the end of every episode, and I promise I'll put you in my book".
Over the centuries, it has been claimed that Marco's own story has been ever so slightly invented.
The basic facts of his life are that he was born in Venice in 1254. He, his father and his uncle were merchants and went to live in Constantinople for a time. (One school of thought has Marco born here, rather than Venice).They travelled to the Far East and worked for Kublai Khan, and did not return home until 24 years later. Venice went to war with Genoa. Polo used the wealth he had accumulated from his travels to pay for a new Venetian warship. He was captured by the Genoese, and spent some time in prison. This is where he encountered one Rustichello da Pisa, and he was the person who wrote the account of Polo's travels - not Marco himself.
Rustichello was not terribly reliable. We know that he took some of what Polo had told him, added some other things that he had heard about China from other sources, and embellished further with stuff he simply made up - often lifted verbatim from some of his own earlier romances. There's no record that Polo ever objected, or tried to have the book suppressed, or came up with his own definitive account. He seems to have been quite happy to let the account stand. He died in 1324, and is buried in the church of San Lorenzo in Venice.
The book as it has come down to us today is based on a number of different versions which were circulated over the centuries (about 150 of them, in various languages).
It has some mistakes and omissions - things he really should have mentioned. There is no mention of the Great Wall, for instance. He claimed to be best buddies with Kublai Khan, and governed a Chinese city for three years, but he is never mentioned once in the official documentation of the period - and the Chinese were renowned for their admin. He writes of the bridge that would later be renamed after him as having twice as many arches as it really had.
Other travellers who we know definitely went to China also failed to mention some of the things that Polo omitted, so he can't be dismissed out of hand, though some scholars think he never got further than Persia and got his information second hand from others.

"If you don't like backgammon, we could play Cluedo..."
Back to Marco Polo, the Doctor Who story. Lucarotti fits in a few things that he has read in the book. The name Tegana does feature in the book, though he's hardly a figure of significance. Polo's father and uncle do not feature. Sydney Newman has had a word with Lucarotti about the educational remit, so we get Ian knowing what happens to bamboo when you set fire to it, the pre-pantomimic version of the Alladin story, how condensation works, and a description of how assassins got their name. The last item has been questioned. It is thought that the words "assassin" and "hashish" have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Paid killers did not necessarily get stoned out of their eyeballs. Might not have been terribly good at their jobs if they did - what with all that giggling whilst they were trying to sneak up on their victims.
Ian's handiness with his fists, his knowledge about the bamboo, and his later claim to have seen ants eat their way through a house all suggest some military service in the Far East - presumably National Service.
Susan tells Ping-Cho about her home. This might be David Whitaker reminding the viewers that she and the Doctor are aliens. There will be little reminders throughout this first season.
Next time - the Quest is the Quest...

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