first broadcast - 29th February, 1964


(In a dark and lonely passageway in Lop, TEGANA is handed a phial of poison by his ally.)

TEGANA: I will use it well, on all but the first of Marco Polo's water gourds. For tomorrow, the caravan sets out to cross the Gobi Desert. Now, you will follow us, and on the third night, I will walk back to you. Then, we're gonna' ride back here to Lop. Wait for two days, and then return to the caravan to collect the thing of magic that will bring the mighty Kublai Khan to his knees!


(POLO's voice narrates as he writes in his journal.)

POLO: I have taken charge of the travellers' unusual caravan, and set out into the Gobi Desert. The journey across this vast ocean of sand is slow and hazardous. To make matters worse, the old Doctor continually shows his disapproval of my action by being both difficult and bad-tempered. For three days now, during which time we have covered no more than thirty miles, I have had to endure his insults.


(It is night, and the caravan is at a halt. Inside the main tent, IAN and BARBARA are talking with POLO and TEGANA. SUSAN sits quietly nearby.)

IAN: How much water does a caravan like this use crossing the Gobi Desert, Marco?

POLO: We will use one barrel every five days, Ian. I have allowed for eight gourds to carry us across to the other side.

TEGANA: The bones of many men who thought they had enough lie bleached in the desert sand.

POLO: I think we should exercise some restraint, Tegana. (to SUSAN) I'm sorry the Doctor wouldn't eat with us this evening.

SUSAN: Yes, so am I, Messr Marco. I've given him food...

(POLO brings out a chess board from one of his travel bags.)

POLO: A game of chess, Ian?

IAN: Oh, well I'm not very good, but I'll give you a game.

POLO: I gladly accept your challenge.

(POLO sets up the chess board. BARBARA is intrigued by the intricately carved wooden pieces.)

BARBARA: What magnificent pieces!

POLO: Yes, I purchased them in Mamutz, on my first journey to Cathay. Now, they go with me everywhere.

TEGANA: Do you, ah...

(At that moment, SUSAN, who is clearly upset that the DOCTOR is not eating, suddenly rushes from the tent.)

SUSAN: I'm sorry... Marco...

TEGANA: (to BARBARA) Do you play chess, lady?

BARBARA: Not very well, Tegana.

(BARBARA, concerned with SUSAN's sudden departure, decides to follow the girl.)

Excuse me.

(She walks from the tent. IAN and POLO prepare for their game of chess. TEGANA watches them with interest.)

TEGANA: I find it a fascinating game of strategy of war. Two equally balanced armies deployed upon a field of battle, and each commander determined to be the one who cries 'shah mat'.

IAN: Shah mat? Check mate?

TEGANA: It means the king is dead.


(BARBARA finds SUSAN sitting outside the main tent. SUSAN is clearly upset.)

BARBARA: We'll get the TARDIS back, Susan.

SUSAN: Yes, at Kublai Khan's Court, when it's too late.

(She stares sadly up into the stars.)

We should be up there - another time, another galaxy.

BARBARA: Oh, we'll think of something.

SUSAN: How? Ian's playing chess with Marco. Grandfather's being rude and sulking by himself.

BARBARA: Oh, I don't think he's sulking, is he?

SUSAN: Well, he won't eat. He won't even talk to me.

BARBARA: Well, you know him better than I do. I'd have said he was just feeling defenceless. He has a wonderful machine, capable of all sorts of miracles, and it is taken away from him by a man he calls a primitive. Look, TARDIS is the only home we have at the moment. When we're in it, we feel safe and secure. When we're out of it...

SUSAN: Will he talk to me? Confide in me?

BARBARA: Oh, he's like a rubber ball. He'll come bouncing out of there soon full of ideas.

(SUSAN stares back at the sky.)

SUSAN: One day, we'll know all the mysteries of the skies... and we'll stop our wandering...

BARBARA: Then you and I will say good-bye.

SUSAN: (surprised) Ummm? Oh, not yet. Not for a long time!

BARBARA: Well, I think we should say goodnight anyway.

SUSAN: Are you coming?

BARBARA: No, not for the moment.

SUSAN: Goodnight.

(They walk back towards the main tent.)


(SUSAN appears in the entrance to the tent.)

SUSAN: Ping-Cho?

POLO: Shhh! She's gone to bed.

SUSAN: Oh, well... I'll go too then. Goodnight.

POLO: Goodnight, Susan. Sleep well.

(As SUSAN leaves, POLO turns back to the chess board.)

POLO: Now, what was I about to do? Ah yes...

(He moves a piece.)

IAN: Ouch!


(SUSAN enters the tent she shares with PING-CHO and lies down next to her.)

SUSAN: Not asleep yet?

PING-CHO: No, I was thinking.

SUSAN: What about?

PING-CHO: How peaceful it is in the desert.

(She glances outside the tent.)

Oh, it's a lovely night! The moon will rise later. That is the time to see the desert. It is like a great silver sea.

SUSAN: The metal seas of Venus...

PING-CHO: Where?

SUSAN: Oh, a long way from here. I've never seen a moonlit night. How long before the moon rises?

PING-CHO: Two or three hours. I'll call you then.


(In the main tent, BARBARA is also captivated by the sight of the Gobi Desert at night.)

BARBARA: Night in the desert is very beautiful.

POLO: Don't be deceived by it, Miss Wright, the desert is always dangerous.

(IAN is concentrating on the chess game.)

IAN: Like my Queen!

(He moves a piece, still watched intently by TEGANA.)


TEGANA: Oh, Marco, can you save your King?

POLO: I think so, Tegana.

(POLO studies the board carefully before making a move.)

POLO: Check.


(Later on that night, when the rest of the camp is silent, SUSAN and PING-CHO emerge from their tent. The moon has risen, and the two girls view the moonlit desert in amazement.)

SUSAN: Oh crazy... hey Ping-cho.

PING-CHO: Sssh! The guard will hear you. Crazy?

SUSAN: Hmm, we like dig it. You know - like it.

PING-CHO: This language of yours is very strange.

(At that moment, TEGANA emerges from the main tent. He has a brief conversation with the GUARD, and then moves off into the desert.)

SUSAN: Tegana!   Let's follow him.

PING-CHO: He'll be angry!

SUSAN: You're not afraid?

PING-CHO: No. I am not. Come.

(They follow TEGANA into the desert.)


(IAN and POLO are sleeping in the main area of the tent. Outside, the sounds of the horses becoming restless can be heard. IAN and POLO are eventually woken by the whinnying of the horses.)

IAN: What is it, Marco?

POLO: The horses are very restless.

(The two of them look outside the tent.)

POLO: There's a sandstorm coming, Ian.

IAN: How do you know?

POLO: Notice how still it is. As if everything were waiting.

(POLO indicates the horses.)

They sense it too.

IAN: Will it be a bad one?

POLO: Bad enough. I must attend to the horses.


(SUSAN and PING-CHO continue following TEGANA through the desert. They are finding it difficult to keep up with the pace TEGANA is setting, and are beginning to lose the warrior.)

SUSAN: He walks so quickly. Can you still see him?

PING-CHO: Yes. There he is, over there.

(PING-CHO points out into the desert. Suddenly, she collapses onto the ground. SUSAN sits down next to her.)

SUSAN: Oh, let's give up.

PING-CHO: Who is afraid now?

SUSAN: No, I'm not afraid. It... Isn't is so hot? I can hardly breathe.

PING-CHO: Yet it was most pleasant when we left the caravan.

SUSAN: Oh, come on, let's go back.

PING-CHO: Alright.

(As they stand up and are about to walk off, PING-CHO indicates to SUSAN to stop.)

PING-CHO: Susan, listen!

(SUSAN does so, and manages to hear the faint sounds of swirling wind.)

SUSAN: What's that?

PING-CHO: Where?

(SUSAN points towards a hazy mist on the horizon.)

SUSAN: That cloud on the horizon.

PING-CHO: Susan, it's a sandstorm!

SUSAN: What! It's coming this way! Ping-Cho, we must get back before it reaches us!

PING-CHO: No, the caravan's too far away!

SUSAN: No, come on! We must get back. We can't stay here!

PING-CHO: No, we'll get caught in it - and we'll never find our way!

SUSAN: Ping-Cho, come on!

PING-CHO: No, we must shelter here.

SUSAN: No...

(The wind begins to fiercely swirl around them. The two girls scream and hold on to each other as they are caught in the sandstorm. Their screaming mingles with the noise of the 'singing' sands.)


(Back at the main tent, BARBARA is woken by the sounds of the approaching sand-storm, and appears from her section of the tent.)

BARBARA: Ian, what is it? What's happened?

IAN: Don't be afraid, Barbara. It's a sandstorm. It sounds as if all the devils in hell were laughing.

POLO: It's the wind shifting the sand.

BARBARA: It's terrifying!

POLO: Not always, Barbara. Sometimes, it sounds like musical instruments being played - the clashing of drums and cymbals. I've heard it sound like a great many people talking as they trekked across the desert. It can also be like... like a familiar voice calling your name. You're not the only one to be afraid. Travellers of the Gobi Desert have good reason to fear the singing sands, Barbara.

IAN: It's fantastic that the doctor's still asleep!

(Ian looks towards the DOCTOR, who is still sleeping in his room despite the noise from outside.)

POLO: Tegana's not here! His bed's empty!

IAN: What?

POLO: Has anyone seen him?

IAN: Well, he can't be out in this!

POLO: He must be!

BARBARA: Well, what will happen to him?

POLO: If he finds shelter, he'll be alright!

BARBARA: Well, can't we do anything?

POLO: Nothing.

(IAN and POLO watch helplessly as the sand swirls outside. BARBARA decides to check SUSAN and PING-CHO's tent, and quickly leaves.)

BARBARA: I think I'll see if the girls are alright... Ping-Cho?

POLO: Tegana's no fool. He can look after himself. Don't worry...

(BARBARA re-enters the main tent, in a hysterical condition. She has discovered that SUSAN and PING-CHO are not in their tent. She screams out in anguish, pleading with IAN and POLO that they must do something. IAN tries to restrain BARBARA from rushing outside.)

BARBARA: They're gone... they're not there!

IAN: Gone?

POLO: Barbara, you can't go out there!

BARBARA: Let go!

POLO: Barbara, you'll be lost in seconds!

IAN: Calm down, Barbara! Marco's right - there's nothing we can do!

BARBARA: The girls...

POLO: We must wait. There's nothing we can do now!

BARBARA: Oh, it's all your fault anyway! If you hadn't kept us prisoner here, none of this would have happened!

(BARBARA starts screaming SUSAN's name, while IAN tries to calm her down.)


(SUSAN and PING-CHO huddle closer to one another as the sandstorm passes over them. SUSAN thinks she can hear her name being called.)

SUSAN: Ping-Cho, what's that? There it is again... It's Ian... I can hear him! Ian!... Ian!... Ian!...We're here

(She looks up in the direction of the voice, and sees a shadow looming over her from out of the sand. She screams...)


(IAN waits impatiently for the storm to pass.)

IAN: Let me go look for them.

POLO: Not until it's light.

IAN: Let me go as soon as the storm is over!

POLO: Ian, you'd miss them in the dark. You must wait until it's light!


(SUSAN's screams are cut off as she recognises the figure as TEGANA. The warlord looks down at the two cowering girls.)


(The storm has passed. IAN, BARBARA and POLO wait in the main tent. BARBARA is frantic with worry and impatience.)

BARBARA: We can't just go on sitting here!

(IAN looks towards the DOCTOR's room.)

IAN: Shh! The Doctor's still asleep. We don't want him to know about the girls.

POLO: Barbara, I give you my word that until we find the girls, we will not leave this place.

(The group look up startled when TEGANA, SUSAN and PING-CHO enter the tent. BARBARA jumps up and rushes to SUSAN.)

BARBARA: Susan! Do you know you had us half worried to death. Where have you been?

SUSAN: We went for a walk.

BARBARA: A walk!

(POLO is furious.)

POLO: Without asking me?! Don't you dare do that again! Do you understand? That also applies for you, Ping-Cho.

SUSAN: I'm sorry, Messr Marco. Has Grandfather been very worried?

IAN: Luckily for you, he's been asleep the whole time.

POLO: And we don't want him to know anything about this. I'm surprised that you'd encourage such a venture, Tegana.

TEGANA: (surprised) Ahhh... they weren't with me! I found them - crouched behind a sand dune.

POLO: You were alone?

TEGANA: Well, it was a pleasant night. I decided for a walk. I told the guard - he knew all about it.

POLO: In future, the guards will be told to notify me immediately if any of you wish to leave the camp. Now go and change, we have to break camp soon.

SUSAN: Yes, Messr Marco.

(TEGANA, SUSAN and PING-CHO walk off to their tents. BARBARA approaches POLO.)

BARBARA: This has been a terrible experience for us all, Marco. Couldn't we spend one more night here?

POLO: I'm sorry, Miss Wright.

BARBARA: But surely one day can't make all that much difference?

POLO: One day without progress is one day's water wasted. And in the Gobi Desert, that could mean the difference between life and death.


(Outside the main tent, TEGANA removes the phial of poison from his pocket. He studies the poison carefully, thinking what to do next.)


(POLO writes in his journal.)

POLO: Progress today has been good, although we were all very tired after a sleepless night. How can I ever repay Tegana for saving Ping-Cho and Susan? We covered fifteen miles before I gave the order to set up camp for the night.


(The next evening, PING-CHO and SUSAN are still recovering from the previous night's ordeal. SUSAN is frantically brushing her hair.)

PING-CHO: Susan! Susan!

SUSAN: I still can't get this sand out of my hair.

PING-CHO: Last night there were moments when I was sure I would never be here again.

SUSAN: Ping-Cho, did you believe Tegana last night, when he told Messr Marco about going for a walk?

PING-CHO: Why not?

SUSAN: Well, I don't think Tegana's the kind of man who goes for a walk just because it's a nice night. I think he goes because he has a reason to go.

PING-CHO: Susan, why would he lie to Messr Marco?

SUSAN: I don't know.

PING-CHO: He's an important man. He's a special emissary of the great Mongol leader who has been at war with Kublai Khan. Tegana is to arrange a peaceful settlement between them. Would a man like that lie about walking in the desert?

SUSAN: No, no he wouldn't. That's what's so strange...


SUSAN: The fact that he did.


(In the main tent, TEGANA is polishing his sword, while POLO writes in his journal.)

TEGANA: What is that you do?

POLO: I keep a journal.


POLO: Because it interests me.

(POLO continues to write. Suddenly, TEGANA yells out POLO's name, and lunges at POLO with his sword. POLO reacts quickly to parry the blow.)

TEGANA: Marco! That's excellent, excellent. But it's better a man keeps the blade of his sword clean, and it's edge sharp. You continue your writing, Marco. I'll see to the horses tonight. I'll... I'll give the guard his instructions.

POLO: No, send him to me.

(TEGANA is uncertain.)

POLO: Please.


(Once outside the main tent, TEGANA walks towards the wagon containing the water gourds. He glances around to check that he is unseen, and slashes open one of the gourds. The precious water splashes all over the ground.)


(The next morning, IAN, POLO and BARBARA survey the damage caused to their water supply.)

IAN: All of them, Marco?

POLO: Yes, except for the one we're using.

IAN: How much is there left?

POLO: Without rationing, enough for today.

IAN: And with rationing, how long will it last?

POLO: Three... four days.

BARBARA: Is there enough to get us back to Lop?

POLO: If we're very careful with it, yes.

(IAN indicates the split gourds.)

IAN: But who would have done it?

POLO: Bandits, Ian.

BARBARA: Bandits? In the desert?

POLO: Yes, it has happened before, but not to me. The bandits follow a caravan out into the desert. Then one night, this happens. The caravan is forced to turn back. Then, when everyone is weak through lack of water, the bandits attack.

IAN: So if we turn back, we're bound to be attacked.

POLO: Yes.

(TEGANA silently joins the group.)

TEGANA: Then we shall fight.

IAN: There must be somewhere else we can go to.

POLO: The nearest is a small oasis, but that's one weeks journey north from here.

IAN: Marco, if we pressed really hard, walked day and night, how long would it take us?

POLO: Five, possibly six days.

IAN: As long as that?

POLO: Yes, and with the water rationed we'll be growing weaker all the time. There is another danger, Ian - bandits always camp near an oasis.

BARBARA: Then we must go back to Lop.

IAN: But they're bound to be waiting for us there. No, we must go north, and take a chance.

POLO: Yes, what Ian says makes sense. We go to the oasis.

TEGANA: We shall all die of thirst. I will not go.

POLO: Then what will you do?

TEGANA: Return to Lop. I'm not afraid of any bandits. Just give me my share of the water...

POLO: No, Tegana.

TEGANA: You refuse the War-Lord Tegana?

POLO: I am commander of this caravan, and I am responsible to Kublai Khan for your safety. We go north, together.


POLO: Have I made the right decision? Each day, our progress towards the oasis becomes less. On the first day, we covered twenty miles. On the second, fifteen. The third, ten. The fourth day's total was eight. Now on the fifth day we have travelled only two miles before the heat of the sun has forced us to stop. We are nearly exhausted, and our situation is perilous.


(The sun continues to beat down relentlessly on the caravan. The weary travellers lie motionless in the shade of the wagons. POLO shares out the last last few drops of water.)

POLO: The worst of the sun is nearly over. We must move on again as soon we've had this.

(Everyone drinks their water in silence. They are all seriously affected by heat exhaustion.)

IAN: The bearers have their rations?

POLO: (offering IAN water) No...

IAN: You take it.

POLO: We will share.

DOCTOR: Marco, is this all we're going to get until tonight, hmm?

POLO: Until we reach the oasis, Doctor, yes.

BARBARA: There's no more?

TEGANA: How much further?

POLO: I cannot say.

TEGANA: I will go to the oasis and bring back water.

POLO: Do you think you could reach the oasis?

TEGANA: Yes. My... my horse is still the strongest.

POLO: Very well, Tegana.

(TEGANA prepares to leave.)

TEGANA: You wait for me here.

POLO: No. While we can, we'll push on towards the oasis.

(TEGANA mounts his horse, and heads off into the desert. IAN calls out weakly after him.)

IAN: Good luck, Tegana!

POLO: We must go.

(The group prepares to leave. Suddenly, the DOCTOR collapses unconscious.)

SUSAN: Oh, Grandfather! What's the matter with him?

IAN: He's exhausted!

POLO: We'll fix up a cot for him in the wagon.

BARBARA: To be jostled and bumped about? He needs to rest in comfort, Marco. What about the TARDIS?

IAN: He'd be more comfortable, Marco.

SUSAN: Please, Messr Marco!

(POLO thinks about the suggestion.)

POLO: Very well. The Doctor can travel in his own caravan. Susan, you can go with him. But you, Barbara, and you, Ian, must remain with me.

IAN: Thank you, Marco. Without water, the Doctor isn't going to last twenty-four hours.

POLO: None of us are, Ian, without water. Our fate rests with Tegana.


(TEGANA arrives towards the oasis, and greedily drinks the water. He fills a water gourd, and triumphantly holds it to the sky.)

TEGANA: Here's water, Marco Polo. Come for it!


Doctor Who

Ian Chesterton

Barbara Wright

Susan Foreman

Marco Polo



Title music composed by
and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop

Incidental Music

Story Editor


Associate Producer


Directed by

Transcribed by

Corrections by