Doctor Who – Snakedance. Episode One

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Christopher Bailey didn’t find Kinda to be a very satisfying experience.  Mainly this was because his theatre background had made him accustomed to working in a collaborative environment – whereas television (particularly series like Doctor Who) were much more compartmentalised.  So once his scripts were finished the production pretty much carried on without him (something which he regretted).

But the fact that Kinda passed through the hands of three script-editors – Christopher H. Bidmead, Anthony Root and Eric Saward – probably didn’t help either.  In contrast, Bailey only had to deal with one script-editor during the creation of Snakedance – Saward – although it’s hard to imagine it was a great meeting of minds.

Saward favoured accessible and straightforward action adventure tales and Bailey …. didn’t.   Snakdance is therefore something of a hybrid – with the voices of both Bailey and Saward on show.  This wasn’t unusual for Doctor Who (the script-editor often had a considerable input into the stories commissioned) but it’s possibly more marked in Snakedance, given Bailey’s unusual style.

Saward’s influence can be seen right from the start.  He disliked the fact that Bailey had written lengthy scenes and so elected to cut them up – chopping and changing from one to another.  This didn’t work at all, since it spoilt the dramatic flow from scene to scene.  Too often we leave one location at an inopportune time in order to witness an equally brief and unsatisfying moment elsewhere before returning to our original point.

This is Snakedance‘s main drawback, but as the story progresses it becomes less of a problem.  This is either because the story becomes more engrossing, and therefore the narrative jumps are more tolerable, or simply because they decreased.

After a brief shot of a man we later learn is called Dojjen (Preston Lockwood) the action switches to the TARDIS.  When Nyssa enters the console room, wearing a new dress which the Doctor totally fails to notice, there’s a definite sense of change and development.  This was rare for Doctor Who companions during the 1960’s – 1980’s.  They tended to arrive fully-formed (or at least as formed as they’d ever be) and would remain largely in a state of stasis until they left.

There are exceptions.  Jo becomes slightly less dizzy and more capable during the later part of season ten (although this may simply have been a case of Letts and Dicks laying the ground for her imminent departure) whilst Ace would have even more of a pronounced story arc as she travelled from girl to woman.

Nyssa’s development is less substantial, but it’s there all the same.  With longer hair and new clothes (even if they’re not very flattering) she seems to be more confident and able to confront the Doctor head-on.  It’s only annoying that after spending most of S19 not doing much at all, Nyssa becomes a more interesting character just at the point in which she’s almost on her way out.

The TARDIS is usually a place of sanctuary.  Occasionally (The Mind Robber, for instance) this is reversed, but more often than not it’s the place where the monsters can’t reach.  So this makes Tegan’s trauma – menaced by the Mara in her dreams – all the more unsettling.  Also slightly perturbing is the way that the Doctor roughly questions her (or at least as rough as Davison’s Doctor tended to be).  As with his inability to praise Nyssa’s new look, this could just be a cause that he’s preoccupied, or you may wish to believe that he’s still a little upset at the way Tegan barged back into the TARDIS at the end of Arc of Infinity!

When watching the first episode of Kinda, it was possible to guess which of the characters would support the Doctor and which would oppose him.  In Snakedance it’s not so clear cut.  Tanha (Colette O’Neil) and Lon (Martin Clunes) are both powerful people – the wife and the son of the Federator respectively – but the reason for their presence isn’t obvious to begin with.   Tanha operates like a senior member of the Royal Family – she has ceremonial duties to perform and will always carry them out to the best of her ability (even if she sometimes has trouble in maintaining interest) whilst Lon is a junior Royal.  He doesn’t appreciate his privileged position, finding it to be restrictive, and therefore amuses himself by being less than diplomatic.

Flitting between the two is Ambril (John Carson).  As a noted archaeologist and a learned researcher into ancient Mannusan history, he should be the Doctor’s ally.  With the Doctor concerned that the Mara plans to make a return to this universe via Tegan, Ambril could supply vital information.  But Ambril is close-minded, pompous and disinclined to listen to anybody else.

So as episode one ends, the Doctor and Nyssa are separated from Tegan and somewhat lacking in allies. Meanwhile, there are definite signs that the Mara has returned ….

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