TV Every now and then an actor or director, journalist or academic says that one of the "missing" Doctor Who episodes, especially Marco Polo, “doesn’t exist” as though it’s entirely lost to history.
Sometimes in the extras on a dvd release. Sometimes in Doctor Who Magazine. Sometimes in the wider media.
Which is always disappointing, because they do exist, at least in some form, thanks to the tireless obsession of early fans making off-air recordings by cello-taping a microphone onto the speaker of a television during the original broadcast.
These multiple recordings have since been restored by Mark Ayres of the Doctor Who Restoration Team and released on cd with added narration by related cast member. For Marco Polo, that’s William Russell.
That also to an extent means that these episodes have transcended television, afforded the benefits of radio and audio drama.
The version of Marco Polo which exists for me is in wide-screen with its director Waris Hussein afforded all the budget and technical innovation of a David Lean film, this despite the splinter which appears at the end of The Edge of Destruction, of Susan revealing the footprint in the snow, the photographic Plain of Pamir and the fake snow.
The title of the first episode “The Roof of the World” always gives me tingles and even some vertigo, especially with sense of wonder Russell gives it in his narration.
As Polo’s caravan ekes its way across the Gobi Desert (sic), it’s the golden wasteland, desolately glowing in Lawrence of Arabia I think of rather than the cramped silhouettes of the telesnaps photographed from the screen during broadcast.
When the TARDIS crew meet the mighty Kublai Khan, it’s in the technicolour high definition of the set photographs, Barry Newbury’s gorgeous sets reproduced with far greater clarity than the contemporary 405-line broadcasts would allow.
Perhaps it’s this version which I rank in my top five favourite Who stories of all time, though that’s also to do with Marco Polo’s epic scope, so atypical of the television series since, it’s atmosphere of strolling through deep time.
Disney were the first company to approach the BBC about adapting Doctor Who for the cinema. But it wasn’t the Daleks which sparked their interest. It was Marco Polo.
None of which is to suggest I wouldn’t be overjoyed if all seven episodes weren’t found next week in a Surrey basement or as is most likely the case given that the serial was sold to more countries in the 60s than any other, a Rangoon basement.
There’s a gap on the shelf where the dvd should be.
But to suggest it “doesn’t exist”, denies the efforts of our own imaginations.