There is great danger in dreaming alone.
Given that Doctor Who has never shied away from the allegorical and mythological, it’s surprising how long it took before the show based a story so directly on the notion of Paradise, in particular the Garden of Eden myth. Newcomer Christopher Bailey’s “Kinda” (Series Production Code 5Y) doesn’t take long to stake out the specifics, with forbidden apples being tossed around and snakes slithering about the otherwise idyllic garden planet Deva Loka, home to the mute, telepathic Kinda; a dome full of pseudo-British colonial occupiers straight out of Livingston and Stanley (with a bit of Joseph Conrad added for good measure); and a malevolent entity known as a Mara, lurking in the Great Dreaming.
There’s quite a bit to unpack in this four episode story, so much that Sarah Sutton’s Nyssa is all but excised from “Kinda,” appearing in only the very first and last scenes as she recovers from the sudden malady that afflicted her at the end of “Four to Doomsday.” Between an overstuffed plot (which nevertheless contains quite a bit of filler) and a very strong guest cast, including Richard Todd and Nerys Hughes, there’s simply no room for three companions, a problem that will continue to plague the Fifth Doctor’s run for some time to come.
With the Doctor and companions starting the story already on Deva Loka, for unexplained reasons, focus shifts to the inhabitants of the dome. The colonizing team, from an unnamed homeworld (though ostensibly Earth or one of its offshoots), has been losing team members on the planet they call S14, a troubling occurrence given that the native Kinda (pronounced ken-dah) show no hostile intention, even though the colonists are holding two Kinda as hostages. The last colonist to disappear left behind his Total Survival Suit (TSS), an armed and armored exoskeleton that an inquisitive Adric manages to activate. It herds him and the Doctor back to the dome as prisoners, where strait-laced mission commander Sanders (Richard Todd), inquisitive scientist Todd (Nerys Hughes), and paranoid security officer Hindle (Simon Rouse) nervously attempt to understand their puzzling appearance on the planet.
Adric’s misadventure leads to Tegan being left behind in the Place of Great Dreaming, a clearing dominated by massive crystal wind chimes that induce a hypnotic sleep. She falls prey to the somnolent song and finds herself in a dark void, eerily lit from jarring angles and with heavy shadows over her features. After encounters with other lost souls (possibly the missing colonizers?), she confronts a trickster figure (Jeffrey Stewart) who torments her with duplicates of herself, forcing Tegan to question her identity, her uniqueness, her very existence. Janet Fielding displays a deft and wide range of emotions in these scenes, certainly far beyond anything given to Tegan in her three prior stories. Slowly being driven mad, she agrees to allow the trickster to take over her physical being in order to escape the nightmare. As they grasp hands, a snake slides from his arm to hers. Subtle? No. Effective? Surprisingly so…
When Tegan awakes, she bears the snake mark, along with red-stained teeth and deep circles under her eyes; she is no longer Tegan, but the Mara. Unsatisfied with the potential for destruction and suffering in this Australian fight attendant, the Mara spots Aris (Adrian Mills), a Kinda who is in anguish over his brothers being held prisoner by the colonizers. Lacking any natural predators, the Kinda live in an innocent world of peace and plenty, giving Aris no idea of how to rescue them. The Mara seizes upon this desire and transfers the snake symbol from Tegan into Aris, bestowing upon him the power of speech and the notion of violence—bringing the knowledge, indeed, of good and evil to a world that had no need of either concept.
Guiding the Kinda are Panna (Mary Morris), a blind wise woman, and Karuna (Sarah Prince), her young assistant. They alone, until Aris, possess the power of speech on Deva Loka, with Karuna gifted the ability to communicate with the Kinda via telepathy. Panna fears the “not-we” who have come to their paradise, and she and Karuna give a small box to Sanders, who has left the dome to look for his missing compatriots. This unassuming container, the Box of Jhana, causes Sanders to see the world through the eyes of the Kinda, changing his outlook from rapacious to kindly, a radical shift in outlook, one that pushes the high-strung Hindle past his breaking point when he realizes he has all the power now.
Hindle becomes obsessed with purity and fearful of the natural disorder beyond the dome. Previously he had forbidden Todd from eating the apple-like fruits she gathered, but now he fears everything green and growing. With assistance from the two captive Kinda, whom he has mesmerized into servitude by “capturing their souls” in a mirror, he prepares to destroy not just the dome but everything within fifty miles using massive explosives should their enclave be encroached upon. The mania calls to mind Kurtz from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, an isolated colonizer whose detachment from “civilization” led to atrocity and suffering in the name of some abstract cause. The pith helmets and highly exaggerated British-style salutes just reinforce, should anyone not quite get the message, that these colonizers are engaged in nineteenth century exploitation rather than the more sanitized, friendly science fiction colonization typically seen on Doctor Who—”The Mutants” excepted, of course.
Adric, meanwhile, has once again sided with the antagonist, agreeing with Hindle that nature is creepy and that they should defend against it. Despite Matthew Waterhouse’s best efforts to let the audience know that Adric’s seeming disloyalty is in fact a ruse intended to keep him momentarily free to act, the Doctor looks upon Adric’s efforts with ill-concealed dismay. It’s a poor bit of scripting and blocking by Bailey and director Peter Grimwade, since it’s more than obvious that Adric is just playing along with Hindle, but it does reemphasize the Fifth Doctor’s growing disdain for the junior maths prodigy. Earlier, when Adric was toying about with the TSS, the Doctor went so far as to yank his arm away from it, testily intoning, “There is a difference between serious, scientific investigation and meddling.” Mayhaps Adric should have been grounded in the TARDIS instead of Nyssa.
Hindle locks the Doctor, Todd, and Sanders into a cage with the Box of Jhana and, watching from another room, forces them to open it. The Doctor and Todd see what Sanders experienced earlier—a vision of peaceful Kinda existence, with Karuna beckoning them towards her. The power of the Box also shorts out power in the dome momentarily, allowing them to escape. They are set upon by Aris, who has convinced the gathered Kinda that he, now with the power of speech, represents the fulfillment of a prophecy in which a Kinda will gain voice upon the coming of the “not-we” to Deva Loka. Karuna leads them safely to Panna, who reveals to them the true nature of the prophecy: the coming of the Mara in conjunction with the presence of outsiders on Deva Loka will create a cycle of endless violence and the destruction of paradise. It has happened before and will happen again, unless the Doctor can prevent it.
The Doctor indicates familiarity with the legend of the Mara, creatures who “inhabit the dark places of the inside,” not just on Deva Loka but all over creation. Todd presses the Doctor for some sort of scientific rationale for the existence of such creatures, but he demurs, waving away her doubts with the insistence they do exist. One has somehow become trapped in the dreaming space created by the crystal wind chimes, but so long as the dreams are experienced in unison with other joined minds, as the Kinda possess, it has no way out into reality; alone, however, as Tegan finds to her misfortune, it almost surely gains control. It’s hard to imagine prior Doctors blithely waving away the scientific concerns about the Mara as the Fifth Doctor does, but Peter Davison’s Doctor carries a certain self-confidence that enables the audience to accept it, even if it feels like a missed opportunity.
Doctor Who has previously dealt with spiritual forces, notably during the Third Doctor’s run in “Planet of the Spiders,” “The Time Monster,” and “The Daemons,” but the Mara feel more overtly religious as opposed to supernatural or psychic in their presentation, and “Kinda” stands as the most religiously-inflected episode of the entire series, not just to date but for the whole of the original run. From the “forbidden” apples to the snake, which Aris covers over with vines like fig leaves, many of the elements of the Garden of Eden myth make an appearance. Bailey doesn’t do much with these religious allusions, though, employing them mostly for rather obvious plot trappings not unlike the use of Jason and the Argonauts in “Underworld“—though, indeed, with better outcome!
The final episode centers around the Doctor and Todd dealing with the twin dilemmas of Hindle’s mad plan to destroy everything and the Mara’s efforts to engulf Deva Loka in a cycle of violence. Along the way, they revive Tegan, who recounts how she was trapped in a dream, and then encounter Adric, who has broken free of the dome in the TSS and is wildly flailing robotic arms at the Kinda who have gathered to attack the dome at the Mara’s behest. The TSS operates via brain waves, and Adric’s fear causes its erratic behavior, culminating in Aris being zapped by a random blaster bolt. With the Kinda dispersed, the Doctor and Todd find Hindle and Sanders playing with paper dolls. The Doctor tries to wrest the detonator away from Hindle in his first efforts at fisticuffs since regenerating; no memory of Venusian Akido seems to have been retained, as Hindle knocks him cold. Todd rescues the situation by tricking the paranoid security officer into opening the Box of Jhana, which pacifies him entirely.
Having seen that the Kinda in the dome were transfixed by their images in a mirror, the Doctor recalls, quite fortuitously, that Mara cannot bear their own reflection. Indeed, more than that, he avers that evil itself cannot withstand self-confrontation, and thus a ring of mirrors should suffice to drive the Mara out of Aris. It once was quite rare for the Doctor to traffic in such cut-and-dry notions of evil—when the Second Doctor declaimed the evil in the universe, it came as a shock, and the Time Lords punished him for his insolence—but more and more, particularly since the introduction of the Black and White Guardians, there is such a concept as pure evil in the Doctor Who universe.
Using solar panels from the dome, the Doctor, Todd, Tegan, Adric, and the Kinda work together to trap Aris in a circle of reflections. The snake writhes from his arm and becomes manifest, growing in size until it’s too large for the effects team to pull it off convincingly. Eventually the Mara, now in its true form, disappears; where to, the Doctor neither knows nor really cares. It’s not on Deva Loka, and that’s his main concern. More worryingly, however, Tegan becomes transfixed by the sight of the Mara in full growth. She implores the Doctor to assure her that it’s really gone, a concern he breezily dismisses, and one which, a few stories hence, he might well wish he had addressed…
The guest cast more than earns its placement in the credits behind Peter Davison but before the companions in this story. Richard Todd’s transformation from stern taskmaster to childlike waif comes across quite believably, not an easy feat given the lines both versions of Sanders have to work with. Simon Rouse chews up the screen as Hindle, and what his characterization lacks in subtlety, a trait mostly missing from the script as a whole, he makes up for with gusto, the downwards arc of his sanity noticeable from episode to episode. And Nerys Hughes effectively takes over as lead companion in this story, calling to mind both Katy Manning’s Jo Grant and Elisabeth Sladen’s Sarah Jane Smith with her affability, competence, and assistance in both aiding the Doctor and advancing the plot independently.
Peter Davison himself continues to grow into the role of the Fifth Doctor, this being the third story produced in his run. His Doctor is cunning but not always bright, curious but not incautiously so. Quite often he lacks information about a situation and acknowledges that shortcoming, though he is quick to lose patience with people (OK, mostly Adric) who ask too many questions of him or do not act the way he expects them to in a crisis. He is agreeably self-effacing, smiling as Panna calls him an “idiot” for being able to withstand the transmutative effect of the Box of Jhana, but also less than kind in dealing with people in need of a gentle word. The Fifth Doctor is, in effect, a rather complex character, certainly with more “negative” traits than his predecessors, but also capable of far more character growth as a result.
Though mostly sidelined after the first two episodes, those two give Janet Fielding more opportunity to act, and for Tegan herself to gain definition as a character, than all her prior scenes combined. While the script itself doesn’t exactly deal with issues of existence, identity, and nothingness with the polish of Beckett or Sartre, Fielding imbues Tegan with a powerful blend of fear, self-assertion, anger, and timidity as she confronts both the trickster and herself in the dreamscape. Aided by strong visual work from director Grimwade and the effects team, Fielding’s presentation of Tegan’s journey through the harsh nightmare works wonderfully to express the conflict within her own mind. Certainly it’s some of the most daring visual work presented on the series thus far, surpassing even the washed-out void in “Warriors’ Gate.”
Matthew Waterhouse tries, he really does, to elevate the inartful dodger that is Adric, but the character concept itself works against any fondness for the impish calculator. His cause is not helped by scripts which consistently portray him as awful towards Nyssa and, here, Tegan, whom he accuses of weakness for allowing the Mara to overcome her. He then berates the Doctor for having “interfered” when he was about to get the TSS under control, an untruth that brings a withering stare from the ticked-off Time Lord. Waterhouse and Adric have three stories remaining, but one gets the feeling it will be a long three stories indeed if the character continues to be written in this manner.
As for Sarah Sutton, it does not appear that she was written out of this story in order to provide her with a break or vacation, but rather in order to trim the cast of characters. On the evidence, no plot room seems available for yet another voice in this story, an unfortunate side effect of a very crowded TARDIS, and an issue that, as noted, will affect Peter Davison’s run into the future. Still, Sutton will get a chance similar to Fielding’s for extended screen time soon.
“Kinda” works acceptably as an overall effect, as a rumination on the loss of innocence, on the deleterious effects of colonization. But the overt yoking of the plot to the Garden of Eden myth flattens out any chance for actual assessment of the meaning of paradise, of the reasons that colonization can so easily become a morally bereft undertaking, or even of questions about the role of good and evil in identity and existence. When the antagonist is effectively the Devil, there’s not a lot of room for nuance; we’re not talking Milton’s Satan here, with complex motivations, we’re talking pitchfork and forked tongue. The best Doctor Who deals with gradations of morality and the ramifcations of ambiguous or spontaneous—that is, human—decisions; this is not that. Still, “Kinda” does move the state of the art for the series forward, with bold experimentation in terms of visual effects—oversized serpent notwithstanding—and dialogue. More than any story in his run thus far, “Kinda” is a Fifth Doctor story, through and through, and the fact that Davison and producer John Nathan-Turner have managed to reach that hallmark so quickly speaks volumes for their abilities and their collaboration.
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Post 123 of the Doctor Who Project