Italian trader and explorer (c. 1254 to 1323). While Marco was a teenager in Venice, his father and uncle returned from a journey to China where they had become servants of Kublai Khan. The Khan had sent them back to Europe to bring Christian missionaries, but the recent death of the Pope meant the brothers had to wait before official papal legates could be dispatched. Two years later, the brothers set off for the East again, accompanied by Marco and papers explaining their long absence. Two other priests were sent with them, but they soon became frightened and returned to Italy.

After over three years of travel, the Polos arrived at Shang Tu, the Khan's summer residence. They were received with honor, and the Khan was impressed with Marco, adding him to his personal staff. Over the next 17 years, Marco traveled all over the empire on errands, as far as Vietnam, Java, India, Ethiopia, and Persia, and he gained Kublai's favor by taking notes and telling stories about his travels. He may also have been made the administrator of Yangchow, one of the Khan's provinces.

When the Polos finally returned to Venice in 1295, no one believed they were who they claimed -- everyone believed they had died long ago. The family had to put on a lavish banquet and show off all the wealth they had acquired in the East before they were accepted as the Polos returned.

Venice was at war with Genoa, and Marco was captured at sea and thrown into a Genoese prison. There, his wild stories made him popular with the other prisoners and the guards. Someone suggested he write his stories down, so he collaborated with another prisoner, Rustichello, a professional writer. "The Description of the World" was completed in 1298, one year before the war ended and Marco was released. He returned to Venice as a trader, and when his father and uncle died, he inherited most of the family's wealth. He continued trading and telling stories about his time in the East for the rest of his life, though he eventually lost most of his wealth.

When he was alive, Marco's stories were not actually believed, but people liked him anyway, partly because of his great charisma and partly because everyone appreciated his storytelling skill. After his death and after other explorers traveled to China, his stories were believed more. However, some modern scholars believe that he never ventured any further east than the Black Sea -- really, no one knows for sure...

Research from GURPS Who's Who 2, compiled by Phil Masters, "Marco Polo" by Brian C. Smithson, pp. 36-37.

Marco Polo is also a great game that can be played in a swimming pool! This game is also sometimes known as Blind Man's Bluff

Here's how to play:

  1. Gather the players. This game can be played with anywhere from 2 to 100 players. However, the best games have less than 15 players.
  2. Set the boundaries. This area should include some landmarks, such as ladders, be large enough to give everyone room to maneuver, and small enough that the "IT" does not have to swim far to get from one side to another. The games is best played in the deep end so that you can swim under or over each other, but If there are less-talented swimmers playing, do this in the shallow end. Also, if you play where adults are trying to swim laps, you'll annoy them and they'll make you move. In our pool the game zone is the square fromed by the diving board - drain - ladder-corner.
  3. Define the useful landmarks. It is necessary to be in contact with the water at all times. However, some landmarks can be defined as "virtual water". We use the ladder, a drain cover and the board as "virtual water".
  4. Determine who is IT. We do this by racing to the drain. The contest for IT should be fair for all participants. Another method to choose the IT is to all yell "NOT IT" at the same time. The last person to say NOT IT is IT!
  5. Start play! IT puts his or her head under water, closes his/her eyes and counts to 10 on his fingers which he/she is holding over his/her head. IT will not open his/her eyes until he or she has tagged another player. During this count the other players position themselves strategically. The starting point can be anywhere; we use the corner of the pool.
  6. During play, IT's goal is to tag another player. Once a player is touched, he or she becomes IT and starts from step 5.
  7. IT may call "MARCO" at any time, and all other players (at least those who are above water at the time) must respond with "POLO".
  8. IT may call "OUT" at any time. If a player is not touching the water or a "virutal water", they are considered tagged and become IT. (So if you were running from the ladder to the board, you're caught!)
  9. IT may call "IN 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8!," at any time. All players must be IN the water by the time that IT reaches 10. Virutual water does not count. (So if you were running from the ladder to the board, you have to change course and get in the water!)
  10. If IT is caught opening his or her eyes, he/she must go back to the starting poin and count to 10 over again. If IT has his/her eyes when he/she tags a player, the tag does not count.
  11. The game is over when everyone gets tired of playing, decides to play a different game such as PomPom, or a rest period is called.


I realize safety rules may be boring, but I've seen people nearly drown in these games. I have friends who are missing teeth, and a sister who has a permanent tooth-shaped scar on her head. This game can be dangerous.

NEVER PUSH ANYONE! While it's easy to jump in a pool without hitting anyone, it's impossible to avoid hitting the person below you if you are pushed in unexpectedly. This is where most of the injuries occur.

NO RUNNING! OK - you'll get a stubbed toe. It'll hurt.

NO HOLDING ANYONE UNDER WATER. Naturally - this is always true, even when you're not playing a game.


Previous Story....Doctor Who....Next Story

Doctor Who story number 4

This is the first purely historical story. Marco Polo is one of the six stories that have never had any portion recovered (Of course five or six seconds of other stories doesn't really count either). It's said to be one of the best stories, the best historical and so on. It's hard to judge without the benefit of episodes to watch, but the script is available online, and if you've seen any of the other episodes featuring the main cast then you can get a good idea of how the story went (The backgammon scene is hilarious, especially if you know Hartnell's style).

Script available at

John Lucarotii

This story has 7 episodes with individual titles:

  • The Roof of the World
  • The Singing Sands
  • Five Hundred Eyes
  • The Wall of Lies
  • Rider From Shang-Tu
  • Mighty Kublai Khan
  • Assassin at Peking

Plot Overview
The TARDIS has yet another fault: The entire electrical system is blown. This in itself would be nothing, but they have materialised above the snow line in a mountain range. While searching for shelter they meet a caravan led by Marco Polo who offers them shelter and tells them they are on the plain of Pamir, known as the Roof of the World. When he learns of their "caravan" and it's mode of travel (flying, simplified to explain to the people in the past) he decides to give it to Kublai Khan in exchange for the freedom to leave his service and return to Venice.

Travelling with Marco Polo is the warlord Tegana, who is coming to Cathay to negotiate with the Khan on behalf of his master, Noghai. He decides to try and kill the travellers and steal the TARDIS to return to his lord. He first tries to poison the caravan's water supply in the Gobi Desert, and then attempts a raid on the caravan later. As they travel The Doctor works on the TARDIS, but his second key is taken from him by Marco after completing the repairs.

On arrival in Shang-Tu The Doctor befriends Kublai Khan, and when they move to the imperial palace in Peking The Doctor wins exorbitant ammounts at backgammon. He then promptly loses it again, when trying to win the TARDIS. Tegana attempts to assassinate Kublai Khan, and the travellers prevent this. The keys to the TARDIS are retuned and they travel on.

Main Cast

  • Mark Eden - Marco Polo
  • Derren Nesbitt - Tegana
  • Zienia Merton - Ping-Cho
  • Leslie Bates - Man at Lop
  • Jimmy Gardner - Chenchu
  • Charles Wade - Malik
  • Philip Voss - Acomat
  • Philip Crest - Bandit
  • Paul Carson - Ling-Tau
  • Gabor Baraker - Wang-Lo
  • Tutte Lemkow - Kuiju
  • Peter Lawrence - Vizier
  • Martin Miller - Kublai Khan
  • Basil Tang - Foreman
  • Claire Davenport - Empress
  • O. Ikeda - Yeng
  • Notes

    • This story covers the longest time scale, estimates I've seen run to six months and up
    • The working title was A Journey to Cathay
    • John Lucarotii had worked with the creator of Doctor Who, Sydney Newman, at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, where he wrote a fifteen part radio serial about Marco Polo. He used his notes for this story.
    • The Doctor wins the following at backgammon: Thirty-five elephants with ceremonial bridles, trappings, brocades and pavillions; four thousand white stallions, and twenty-five tigers, "the sacred tooth of Buddha which Polo brought over from India", and all the commerce from Burma for one year. The Khan then offers the Island of Sumatra instead of the TARDIS.

    ....We owe half of Asia to our friend at backgammon. - Kublai Khan

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