Doctor Who – Snakedance. Episode Three

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After Lon is taken over by the Mara, it’s notable that his general attitude and appearance doesn’t change at all.  Compare this to Tegan, whose voice drops several octaves whilst her character also undergoes a radical adjustment (showing amusement at the distress of others).

In plain story terms it’s not hard to understand why.  Since Lon still has to interact with both his mother and Ambril, it would rather give the game away if he was cackling evilly in the corner.  But possibly Bailey missed a trick by not submerging Tegan’s possession – in a different version of the script she could have appeared to be her normal self until a suitably dramatic point of the story (a cliffhanger, no doubt).

Since Snakedance has a fairly similar story structure to Kinda – the Mara doesn’t attempt to make a full, physical manifestation until the end of episode four – this means a certain amount of running on the spot has to be done until we reach that point.  This is far from unusual in Doctor Who (unless you have a very episodic story like The Keys of Marinus) but Snakedance is still powering along with character development, so what we see here never feels like padding.

John Carson continues to impress and Martin Clunes also seems to feed off Carson’s quality playing (their two-handed scenes are something of a treat).  The Mara needs the Great Crystal in order to make a dramatic reappearance and Ambril is the one who can facilitate this.  It doesn’t take long for the Mara (presumably through the thoughts of Lon) to work out a way to tempt Ambril – a previously undiscovered cache of previous artefacts.

For Ambril, who has dedicated his life to cataloguing the treasures of the past, the prospect is a mesmerising one.  This is seen most clearly at the moment when Lon causally teases him about their value and importance.  Ambril’s face takes on a wistful expression as he wonders how many there are (“lots?”) which then switches to anger as Lon doesn’t give him a straight answer.  For the normally servile Ambril to lose his temper, it’s plain that something extraordinary has happened.

Christopher Bailey’s lyrical powers can be seen in this evocative excerpt from Dojjen’s diary. “Where the winds of restlessness blow, where the fires of greed burn, where hatred chills the blood, here in the Great Mind’s Eye, here in the depths of the human heart, here is the Mara”. Although it’s not just a piece of fancy dialogue, as it also serves as a pointer to the way the story will develop.

And where’s the Doctor been all this time? Locked up and slightly frustrated. Here, he explains to Nyssa precisely what the problem is. “The lock is extremely primitive. It’s practically a museum piece. There’s no electronic impulse matrix to decode, no sonic microcircuit to disrupt. Crude mechanical six barrel movement, key operated. Primitive but adequate. Well, it’s more than adequate, actually, because the key is what we don’t have”.

But although the Doctor is restrained, he’s still able to begin to understand how the Mara will return thanks to some vital information supplied by Chela. It’s possibly not unintentional that the Doctor is shown to be just as active behind bars as he would have been if he’d been at liberty. At this point in the story he’s operating as a Victorian/Edwardian “thinking detective” – someone who could find a solution to a seemingly imponderable mystery without having to leave the comfort of their armchair.

It appears that the locals enjoy Punch & Judy just as much as we do – albeit with a twist (their version has a snake instead of a crocodile).  The sight of the puppet snake menacing Mr Punch is no doubt a sly nod back to the less than perfect snake which made an appearance at the end of Kinda (a larger puppet, on sticks, makes an equally amusing later appearance).

Nyssa continues to be pro-active, but her attempts to help only lead her to the same cell occupied by the Doctor.  Once that happens the Doctor seems to lose his impatience to escape (which is transferred over to Nyssa).  Possibly the most telling moment occurs when Nyssa frets that the longer they’re incarcerated, the greater the possibility that the Mara will destroy Tegan.   The Doctor looks a little guilty, but doesn’t answer.

If this episode’s cliffhanger proves one thing, it’s that Sarah Sutton wasn’t one of the series’ natural born screamers …..

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