Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Doctor Who: 004 Marco Polo

The first stop on our tour to fill in the gaps in William Hartnell's tenure as the Doctor is the serial Marco Polo (aka A Journey to Cathay). This is one of only three stories with absolutely zero broadcast footage. Fortunately, this story was also the most photographed of any of the early stories as well.

The BBC mastered the art of period costume drama, so the sets and costumes in this semi-historical story were very extravagant for what was essentially a low-budget childrens' show. This extravagance is one thing that makes it that much sadder that this story is completely lost. I'm sure it's very high on the list of stories that fans would like to see returned to the archive.

I watched the Loose Cannon reconstruction of this story. Loose Cannon went all out for this reconstruction. Mark Eden, the actor who played Marco Polo filmed opening and closing scenes where many years after this adventure Marco Polo is recalling these events and writing in his journal (as he does during the episodes). Many of the production stills used for this story were in color, so Loose Cannon decided to make this reconstruction in color by colorising the remaining telesnaps. The finished result is quite amazing for what is essentially a slideshow set to the original audio recording. This was the first Loose Cannon reconstruction I've watched. Look on their site for a good explanation of how they do these and how they source the material. It's quite interesting.

Apparently additional telesnaps were found after this reconstruction was completed and those telesnaps were published in Doctor Who Magazine. Loose Cannon has stated that they have no current plans to redo this reconstruction using the new telesnaps (primarily due to the work required to colorise the additional telesnaps). For those of you who may not know, telesnaps are still pictures taken at intervals of a TV screen as the program airs. They are very similar to kinescopes, which are where a film camera was aimed at a TV screen to capture a TV program, usually a live broadcast.

My only real complaint about this story is its length. Seven episodes is much longer than needed to tell the story. Four or Five episodes would have been sufficient and would have made the story tighter. If you're not a purist and want to get an idea of what this story would have been like without watching the full 3 hours of it, try the reconstruction/condensation on The Edge of Destruction DVD in "The Beginning" box set. It's done by Derek Handley, one of the Loose Cannon team members and in 30 minutes, it manages to convey the story with only a slight loss of character development. I think the length is a common complaint during the earlier stories. In all, a good story and I'd love to see it in its entirety if it's ever recovered.

A site I find very useful when watching these reconstructions is the Doctor Who Scripts Project. Since the audio for missing episodes was captured off-air, it can at times be muddy, so these transcriptions and stage notes can be helpful understanding what's happening.

As a side note, I have a few of these queued up to post over the next several days to catch up with what I'm watching right now, then the posts will probably slow down a little as I actually watch them.

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