Confession #111: I Want More Globetrotting

One of—perhaps even The—most sought-after missing serial in Doctor Who is the early Hartnell adventure Marco Polo. It's the fourth-ever story, the earliest missing serial, and—with the exception of two of the six episodes of The Reign of Terror—the only gap in the first season of the show. It is also believed to have been a truly beautiful piece of television.

Although the audio still exists, the only visual record we have of Marco Polo is set photos. These images give us a tempting glimpse at the opulent sets and costumes that no doubt fuel the fan ardor for the serial. But is there something besides its status as the Who-footage version of a unicorn or the Fountain of Youth—or perhaps more accurately, a Tasmanian tiger—that gets fans worked up every time a rumor of its discovery resurfaces?

I would argue that one of the reasons Marco Polo ranks so highly in the minds of those pining for the return of lost episodes is its setting. Even nearly eight hundred years after the travels of the real Marco Polo, China continues to be considered fairly exotic by the standards of Eurocentric cultures like the UK and US. While setting a story in a location unfamiliar to a broad swath of your fanbase has the potential to further exoticize that location, it also has the potential both to pique audience interest and to familiarize that audience with different cultural perspectives.

Obviously, the trick is to write such a story well (I certainly don't trust the current production team with a task of this nature, but as they're on their way out the door, perhaps I needn't even make that caveat). As a SFF writer myself, I can attest to the fact that writing outside one's own experience can be tricky at best. If the TARDIS team were to visit, for example, Heian era Japan, the script would best be handled by a Japanese writer (or at least one of Japanese descent) who is familiar with both the history and the cultural sensibilities of Japanese people (preferably both historical and modern).

Charitably, I could presume that the reason nothing like that has been done recently is because a writer with the chops to do a good job with that kind of narrative hasn't pitched anything to the production team. However, given how difficult it has been for even white women to get into the writing/directing/producing side of the organization, I suspect that's not really the case. (This same conversation comes up again and again in the publishing field, as well.)

But while I'm dreaming pie-in-the-sky anyway, I may as well go big. So I'd not only like to see the Doctor and his friends traipsing about history more without so many monsters and aliens influencing Earth's past (more "pure historicals" like Marco Polo), I'd like to see them do so outside of western Europe. Give us some eastern Asia, some central Africa, some South America or Aboriginal Australia. Find writers from those cultures to spin yarns unique to their people.

After all, that's what is best about Doctor Who when it's "on": the Doctor and his Companions experience life far outside their (particularly the Companions') usual experience and discover that there are completely different yet equally valid ways of interpreting the world(s) around them. One of my earliest exposures to this radical perspective shift was the moment in The Unquiet Dead when the Doctor challenges Rose's assumption that allowing the Gelth to use deceased human bodies for their own ambulatory purposes was indecent. "It's a different morality," he tells her. "Get used to it or go home."

While that love-it-or-lump-it attitude may be a bit extreme (Rose wasn't entirely wrong that having a donor card is different; in a culture that values bodily autonomy, it certainly is), it was a shock that Rose needed in that moment. Our life experiences shape how we view the world. If we are only ever exposed to a narrow range of experiences and viewpoints, we begin to think that's all that exists. Getting stories based in new-to-us cultural traditions can really help us to expand our own perspectives and increase our empathy with people unlike ourselves.

And I think that's something we need more than ever right now.

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Comments

I'd like to see The Doctor go to ancient Egypt, Ancient India, visit Native American tribes, Japan, Atlantis (because why not?), go on safari, go on the Titanic (the historical one), help escaping slaves on the underground railroad, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louis and Clark, just for a start.

By Kara S (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

Those are all fabulous suggestions! I'd watch any of those. :D

By mrfranklin

Here's one. What about an undersea base devoted to aquaculture staffed by a mixed human and Silurian crew?

Or, the TARDIS lands on the Serengeti with Mt Kilimanjaro in the background. Biologists are releasing rhinoceroses (or elephants or lions or whatever), extinct in the wild, back into the wild for the first time. Aliens of some kind crash the party.

The Doctor makes an appearance during the Revolutionary War and meets George Washington. Or during the Civil War and meets Abraham Lincoln.

He appears on a South Pacific island during a nuclear bomb test.

He turns up at Woodstock.

He meets cyborg soldiers who are the GOOD guys in the story.

By Kara S (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

I want to read your scripts! :D

By mrfranklin

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