Marco Polo the Myth and Mystery
Behind the Doctor Who Story
By Will Barber – Taylor
50 Years ago this year, one of the most well-known missing Doctor Who stories, Marco Polo was broadcast. It is the only missing story from the first season of the show and ever since it was wiped it has held an awe of mystery. More copies of it were produced than any other story so if any serial still exists then it is likely to be Marco Polo. What led to the creation of this epic story and what is the story behind it?
Marco Polo was written by John Lucarotti, a screenwriter who would go onto pen The Aztecs, The Massacre of Saint Bartholomew’s Eve and be responsible for the story behind The Ark in Space. Lucarotti came from an Italian background his grandfather was a sculptor who immigrated to England, having been born in Borgo a Mozzano, a small town in Tuscany. Lucarotti was brought up in Aldershot near the Army barracks where his father worked. Lucarotti loved the sea and had a sense of adventure, during the Second World War he fought in the Navy. After leaving the Navy, Lucarotti moved to Canada and penned an 18 part series about Marco Polo for the Canadian Broadcasting Company. Later on, Lucarotti used the information he had gained for the series to form the basis of the more well-known Doctor Who story, Marco Polo.
Marco Polo was first broadcast on the 24th of February 1964 and generally followed the adventures of Marco Polo as written down in his book The Travels of Marco Polo (published sometime about 1300). Lucarotti kept closely to the historical reality of Polo’s adventures telling The Yorkshire Evening Post in 1964:
“For instance, one might have expected the world dominating Kublia Khan to have been an impressive figure but in fact he was a small, gout ridden man little man and we presented him as such.”
Lucarotti’s sense of realism and wanting to emphasise the benefits and disadvantages of having a wandering lifestyle bleed through into the script for Marco Polo and you can get a real sense that Lucarotti gave his first Doctor Who script a lot of thought and passion.
Though Marco Polo is gone, the spirit of adventure that lay behind it still exists to this day. You can still listen to the audio soundtrack of the story and the novelisation written by Lucarotti. Marco Polo holds a special place in every Doctor Who fan’s heart not because it is missing but because it encapsulates what Doctor Who is - a great spirit of adventure.