Doctor Who Project: Snakedance

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.

The ritual representation of the Mara

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.

Martin Clunes as Lon

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…

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Doctor Who Project: Kinda

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.

The Mara (Jeffrey Stewart) confronts Tegan (Janet Fielding)

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.

Sanders (Richard Todd), Todd (Nerys Hughes), andHindle (Simon Rouse)

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.

Tegan adrift in the Place of Great Dreaming

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…

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