Tell me about the legend.
Surely a papier-mâché serpent would top the list of least-likely villains to return to Doctor Who, but after Omega’s less-than-star return in the prior story, one is hard pressed to be nonplussed at the return of the Mara in Christopher Bailey’s “Snakedance” (Story Production Code 6D), a direct sequel to the psychological slitherer’s first appearance in “Kinda” last season. If producer John Nathan-Turner and script editor Eric Saward are willing to scrounge around in the archives to find a long-lost character with no connection to the current regeneration, why not draw from the Fifth Doctor’s own, more recent past? The real shock comes in seeing how well Bailey and director Fiona Cumming, last entrusted with “Castrovalva,” handle this reptilian reprise.
Unlike other “blasts from the past” in the Fifth Doctor’s run to date, this conclusion to the Mara story stands well on its own, the prior events on the Kinda homeworld that saw Tegan posessed by this malevolent entity being efficiently alluded to without requiring either cryptic asides or elaborate explanations. In short order, the TARDIS lands on Manussa, guided there unwittingly by Tegan, who has been having nightmares about a serpent-mouthed cave entrance. Some quick exposition reveals that very cave to be the site where, precisely five hundred years earlier, the nascent Manussan Federation defeated (sort of) the Mara, under whose thrall the highly-advanced Sumaran Empire fell into degeneracy and decay. The original Federator put paid to the beast by means of the cobalt blue Great Crystal, and his descendants continue to rule Manussa to the present day, with the title soon to fall to the layabout Lon (Martin Clunes), who considers the Mara myth to be a bunch of discredited superstition that is interrupting his nap.
Aware that the Mara is both quite real and very much not destroyed, despite the best efforts of the ancient Federation—and his own swing-and-a-miss with the help of the Kinda—the Doctor whips up a device not unlike an early portable transistor radio to block out external sensations, theoretically allowing Tegan the mental concentration needed to keep control against the remnant of the creature that still lurks in her subconscious mind. But when he drags her and Nyssa out to find the cave, the resulting disorientation causes Tegan to flee. A friendly fortune teller helps her and removes the device in order to converse with her, allowing the Mara to emerge, its presence announced in a crystal ball…