Doctor Who – Snakedance. Episode One

snake 01-01.jpg

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 ….

snake 01-02

Doctor Who – Kinda. Episode Four

kinda 04-01

The Mara may be somewhat malevolent, but it’s clearly only as effective as the person it currently occupies.  So maybe Aris wasn’t possibly the right person to jump into (had it chosen Hindle, no doubt the world of the Kinda would have ended up as a smoking ruin in double-quick time).

Although the possessed Aris talks a good fight (“The Not-we must be driven out and their dome destroyed!”) it’s plain that he doesn’t have a clue how to achieve this. His solution – to build a fighting machine out of wood – makes this plain.  This is another part of the story which some have found fault with in the past, but it makes complete sense – Aris is operating strictly under his own terms of reference. The Mara may possess him, but apart from granting him the gift of voice it doesn’t seem able to furnish him with any insight or knowledge.

Meanwhile back at the Dome, Hindle hasn’t got any saner. When the Doctor returns, he’s told by Sanders that they’ve been having fun. Davison’s delivery of the line “Have you? Oh, good. There’s nothing quite like it, is there?” is immaculate.

Hindle’s madness culminates in one of Simon Rouse’s signature moments (one of many throughout the four episodes). After the Doctor inadvertently breaks one of his cardboard figures, Hindle is inconsolable. Sanders tells him that it can be repaired with a spot of glue, but Hindle thinks otherwise. “You can’t mend people, can you.”

The DVD production subtitles then help to explain why (as Hindle lunges for the destruct button) the Doctor wraps his hands around Hindle’s mouth (in the original script, Hindle was going to issue a verbal command to one of his pliant Kinda servants). Quite why they didn’t change this I’m not sure, but it doesn’t really matter as it makes the melee rather messy (as it should be – the Doctor shouldn’t be that good a fighter).

The Box of Jhana then becomes a healing device (which it hadn’t previously).  Once Hindle opens it, the balance of his mind is restored (an “everyone lives” moment of redemption which the original series didn’t often tend to in go for).  This again poses some unanswered questions though – if Hindle had been sane, would the box have driven him mad?  And since the effect on Sanders was only temporary (by the end of the story he’s quite his old self too) why didn’t the missing members of the team regain their senses?  Or maybe they did, and they’re still wandering dazedly around the forest, hopelessly lost.

This final installment is where the wheels (of life, sorry) start to come off slightly. The fact the episode was underrunning somewhat meant that several filler scenes had to be shot later and inserted into the completed material. They’re not a bad fit, but the sight of Adric and Tegan standing in a corridor talking isn’t terribly dramatic.

During S18 Christopher H. Bidmead was ruthless in cutting any flab out of the scripts, meaning that often they didn’t get much beyond twenty minutes. But possibly that was more acceptable for a Saturday timeslot (where traditionally programmes had never started on the hour or half-hour) than for weekdays (where they always tended to).

We then have the appearance of the snake. I don’t think it’s that bad, although giving Matthew Waterhouse the line of wonder (“It’s fantastic. Where does it draw its energy from? It’s incredible.”) doesn’t help. If you want someone to sell a slightly dodgy effect, then Mr Waterhouse might not have been the best choice.

Provided you can disregard some of the production missteps (and if you can’t, then Doctor Who 1963 – 1989 really isn’t the show for you), Kinda is impressive stuff.  It may have nonplussed many younger fans (and possibly the rest of the audience) back in 1982, but it’s a story that’s only got better with age.  I’d certainly take it over the whizz-bang antics of Earthshock any day.

kinda 04-02

Doctor Who – Kinda. Episode Three

kinda 03-01

Although Mary Morris was only in the studio for a single day, they certainly got their money’s worth out of her.  She briefly appeared in episode two, but all of her key scenes are in this one.

There’s something delightful about the way that Panna crosses swords with the Doctor.  Knowing that no man (save an idiot) can look into the Box of Jhana and retain their senses, she has no hesitation in tagging the Doctor as such.  It’s a little hard to imagine some of the previous Doctors being so pliant (especially Pertwee – “Madam, I am no idiot” – or something like that) but it suits Davison’s Doctor well.

He’s no idiot, but rather like the Troughton Doctor it doesn’t bother him if other people think so.  The Fifth Doctor doesn’t need to be centre-stage, commanding the action, he’s just as happy watching quietly from the fringes.  After seven years of a Doctor who was always dominant, this was a refreshing change.

So after all the toing and froing with the Box (driving numerous men out of their wits) Panna and Karuna have finally managed to reach Todd – the woman who would be able to follow the vision. It seems a bit churlish (but I’m going to do so anyway) to wonder why the pair of them didn’t simply turn up at the Dome and explain in a more straightforward way. But whilst they may not be primitive, it’s possible they’re bound – like everybody else – to operate under certain parameters.

PANNA: It is all beginning again.
DOCTOR: What is?
PANNA: What is? What is? History is, you male fool. History is. Time is. The great wheel will begin to roll down the hill gathering speed through the centuries, crushing everything in its path. Unstoppable until once again
TODD: Until?
PANNA: I must show you. That is why you have been brought here. Then perhaps when you understand, you will go away and leave us in peace. If it is not already too late.
DOCTOR: You said once again.
PANNA: Of course. Wheel turns, civilisations arise, wheel turns, civilisations fall.

Whilst the Doctor’s seeking enlightenment, Adric is stuck with Sanders and Hindle. Matthew Waterhouse doesn’t do badly here, even though he’s sharing the screen with two actors who could run rings around him at any time. But the fact that both Sanders and Hindle are now childlike (Sanders docile, Hindle petulant) means that they fit rather well with Adric, who’s tended to act like a somewhat stroppy teen for most of his time aboard the TARDIS.

Those looking for faults could no doubt wonder why Panna’s projection features Earth-type clocks (although those of a more forgiving nature might decide that the images were drawn from the minds of the Doctor and Todd). Even given the limited budget this sequence is still suitably apocalyptic, although I’ve never quite understood why the episode didn’t close on the spooky close-up of Panna’s face.

Instead it trundles on for a few seconds more, leaving us with a cliffhanger where we discover that Panna’s dead. Which doesn’t seem nearly as dramatic.

kinda 03-02

Doctor Who – Kinda. Episode Two

kinda 02-01

Panna (Mary Morris) and Karuna (Sarah Prince) encounter Sanders in the forest.  They give him a box which somewhat alters his wordview ….

This has always been a slightly odd part of the story for me.  Panna and Karuna don’t wish the interlopers ill and clearly they intend that the box should be sufficient to explain why Sanders and the others should leave the Kinda in peace.  The only problem is that the box can only be understood by a women, which is unfortunate since Todd appears to be the sole female in the survey team.

Presumably this is the reason why several members of the expedition have mysteriously disappeared (driven out of their minds by what they’ve seen within the box?).  But if this is the case, why do Panna and Karuna insist that Sanders opens the box?  If they know he won’t be able to handle what he sees, it seems a very strange way of going about things.

There’s possibly an irony at work here as the concept of female superiority is one that hadn’t really been explored in the series to date (apart from fairly unsubtle examples such as Galaxy 4 and – given what we know about it – the thankfully unmade Prison in Space).  Apart from the later Mara-possessed Aris, Panna and Karuna are the only members of the Kinda tribe who can speak.  This could also be taken as a statement of female empowerment, although Panna only says that voice is a sign of wisdom – not that it’s exclusively a female trait.

And anyway, non-speaking extras are cheaper than speaking ones ….

Hindle’s madness is explored in more detail.  He now has a loathing of all life outside the dome (“Seeds. Spores. Particles of generation. Microscopic. Everywhere”) and proposes a fairly drastic solution. “I wish to announce the strategy for the defence of the dome, implementation immediate. We will raise to the ground and sterilise an area of forest some fifty miles radius. Objective, the creation of a cordon sanitaire around the dome. Method of implementation, fire and acid. Acid and fire”.

The return of Sanders should be the moment that normality returns, but his altered state – he now has the mind of a child – simply ensures that Hindle has one more person to dominate.  In a way, Sanders and Hindle are now a perfectly matched pair as Hindle has also regressed to childhood, although he’s done so without any help from the Kinda.  This point is hammered home when he spies Sanders returning to the dome.  “Go away! Somebody make him go away! Mummy! Mummy, make him go away!”

Whilst the main action has been taking place in the dome, Tegan’s remains a prisoner of Dukkha.  She’s offered a way out – he wants to borrow her body for a short while (“you would be suitably entertained by the experience”) – and eventually Tegan reluctantly agrees.  Doctor Who is no stranger to possession, but although many companions have been taken over in the past, no examples have been as overtly sexual as the Tegan/Mara hybrid.

And given that the sexual nature of Tegan’s possession was heavily toned down from the rehearsals, it’s intriguing to speculate just what it originally looked like.  Since the the story had space for two companions there was always the option that Nyssa (or god forbid, even Adric) could have been used by the Mara, although Tegan was the logical choice.  Nyssa would have been interesting, but since she’s written as younger than Tegan (in Black Orchid, Nyssa and Adric are referred to as children, presumably meaning mid teens) this no doubt would have been somewhat problematic.  Mind you, since both are aliens we don’t really know how old they are – just how they appear to human eyes.

So whilst the Mara in the form of Tegan is tempting its next victim (Aris) we leave the Doctor, Todd and Sanders with the Box of Jhana.  Hindle wants it to be opened, but the Doctor and Todd, having seen what happened to Sanders, are less than keen.  But open it they do, which leads to an ear-splitting scream from Todd.  Hmm, so even in the future it’s the women who screams.  Some things obviously never change …..

kinda 02-02

Doctor Who – Kinda. Episode One

kinda 01-01

It does seem astonishing that Kinda ended up bottom of the 1982 DWM Season Survey poll. Although it’s easy to argue that Kinda’s theme and subtexts wouldn’t have necessary engaged the (I assume) largely teenage readership of the magazine (no surprises that the straight-ahead thrills of Earthshock were much more to their tastes) it does appear that contemporary Doctor Who fandom also regarded Christopher Bailey’s story with less than open arms.

Although Kinda did have its supporters, some fanzine reviews at the time were also fairly negative and you do get a sense that those who praised the story were well aware they were ploughing a rather lonely furrow. The puppet snake was then and will probably forever be a source of irritation and embarrassment for a section of the audience, although it’s never bothered me (and for those who still haven’t learnt to forgive, forget and love the snake, they can always use the nice CGI option on the DVD).

Initially Kinda seems to be operating on fairly normal lines. The concept of a planet where the seemingly primitive indigenous population face unwelcome and seemingly technologically superior visitors is a familiar Sci-Fi trope whilst the fact that Sanders (Richard Todd) and Hindle (Simon Rouse) are decked out in vague military uniforms (and in Sanders case, a pith helmet as well) means that the parallels to the British Empire are as obvious as they’re unsubtle.

In their early scenes, the characters of Sanders and Hindle operate as familiar archetypes. Sanders is bluff and gruff (albeit with a faint sense of humour) whilst Hindle comes across as a humourless by-the-book martinet.  The third member of the team, Todd (Nerys Hughes) possesses a questioning nature, thereby providing her with an overview that the others (especially Hindle) lack.  Given her scientific background this isn’t surprising though (especially since the hand of Christopher H. Bidmead was on the tiller – at least initially).

So it’s clear that when the Doctor enters their world he’s going to have one ally (Todd) and one adversary (Hindle) with Sanders possibly wavering in-between these two positions. Numerous Doctor Who stories feature an authority figure who complicates the Doctor’s progress, but whilst Hindle certainly fulfils this standard role it’s his highly unstable nature which is strikingly original.

The first discordant note is struck after he demolishes Todd’s laboratory in a fit of pique. It’s a very childish act which nobody in their right mind would have carried out (so serves as an early pointer that all is far from well with him).  After Sanders heads out into the jungle, leaving the Doctor, Adric and Todd at his mercy, it’s not certain precisely what will happen next …

When Bailey was originally commissioned, Nyssa wasn’t part of the TARDIS crew, hence the reason why she’s written out (bar brief topping and tailing appearances). This is a shame, as with a spot of rewriting she could have taken on many of Todd’s responsibilities (both are questing scientists after all).  But Nerys Hughes formed such a good rapport with Davison that it’s impossible to complain about the way things turned out.

Kinda is often referred to as Tegan’s story, although it’s striking how minimal her involvement is. If you added up all her scenes during the first two episodes it’s doubtful they’d reach five minutes, she spends episode three asleep and only comes to life again during the final instalment where she returns to fulfilling her more traditional companion duties (and is consequentially less interesting than previously).

In this first episode she’s trapped in a strange netherworld, menaced by the mysterious Dukkha (Jeff Stewart). And even though Tegan only features in a handful of scenes, they’re all deeply unsettling.

TEGAN: Am I dreaming you, is that it?
DUKKHA: Are you?
TEGAN: Or imagining you?
DUKKHA: Possibly.
TEGAN: Then I can abolish you, can’t I?
(Tegan closes her eyes then opens them again.)
DUKKHA: Puzzling, isn’t it? And by the way, one thing. You will agree to believe in me sooner or later. This side of madness or the other.

kinda 01-02

Howards’ Way – Series Two, Episode Thirteen

howards s02e13-01

Although Tom’s been ever-present throughout series two, he’s not exactly been front and centre of too many storylines.  The final episode of S2 somewhat makes up for this, as the fallout from the Lynnette’s break-up becomes the key theme.

Tom’s been haunting the yard every day, desperately searching for a reason “why” the catamaran broke up.  Avril believes he’s simply torturing himself (“three days of prowling around in a hair shirt”) but Tom needs to understand.  To this end he visits Mrs Travis, which is an understandably awkward encounter.    When she tells Tom that she feels sorry for him, it’s a statement that can be taken several ways – but the meaning becomes clear after she serves a two million pound writ on the Mermaid yard.

It’s fascinating to see how Avril and Jack deal with this crisis.  To begin with, Jack is convinced there was a design flaw in the catamaran – he maintains that you can’t simply become a skilled boat-designer overnight, it takes decades of hard work, not months or years.  Avril is initially more supportive, but she’s the one who decides they have to serve a writ against Tom and suspend him as the Mermaid’s designer.

She believes that she’s acting in everybody’s best interests – if the worst comes to the worst then at least they have a chance of salvaging the yard.  It’s telling at this point that she tells Tom that Jack shouldn’t have to lose his yard (he instantly picks up on the comment that it now appears to be Jack‘s yard).  And at this point Jack does something of an about turn.  Although previously he was dismissive of Tom’s design, he now supports it and is reluctant to side with Avril.

But side with her he does and the writ is served.  It’s a throwaway moment but it goes to prove that for all his bluster, Jack Rolfe isn’t quite the buccaneering individualist he often claims to be.  Although he made a half-hearted attempt to convince Avril that they needed to stand by Tom, not isolate him, in the end she got her way.

It’s easy to see the sense in Avril’s actions – at this point, with a question mark hanging over the Lynnette, it seems logical that Tom steps away from the design board, but he believes her true motives are quite different.  Charles has invited Avril to take over as managing director of Relton Marine and she’s accepted.  Oddly, we don’t see Avril tell Tom this (it’s only reported second-hand).  It’s a little hard to understand why such a key scene like this wasn’t played out.

If Howards’ Way has an unconscious theme, then it appears to be that successful career women are required to sacrifice any hopes of a successful personal relationship.  We’ve already seen this with Jan and now Avril seems to be heading the same way.  Tom is convinced that Avril accepted this new job at Relton in order to rekindle her relationship with Charles, whilst she maintains that it was the only way to safeguard the Mermaid’s future.  It’s hard to side with Tom at this point, meaning that his character flaws (jealousy as well as the previously seen desire not to heed other’s advice) are now quite pronounced.

As with the end of series one, the fate of the Mermaid hangs in the balance and we’ll have to wait until the S3 to see how things play out.

Abby’s story seems to have reached a natural conclusion.  Her time with Curtis is terminated very swiftly (again this is something important which happens off-screen).  He asks her if she’d like to go up to Birmingham with him, as he has to show the red-card to a man who kicked his dog to death.  Abby clearly didn’t realise precisely what would happen (presumably she thought he’d just give him a severe ticking-off).  Instead, Abby tells the ever-sympathetic Leo that Curtis viciously attacked the man, continuing to kick him even after he was unconscious.  It proves that Leo was right all along to be suspicious about Curtis, although he’s mature enough not to crow about it.

The Abby/Curtis relationship is of special interest because it’s the reason why Abby discovers that Charles is her real father.  This is done in a slightly contrived way though – Polly is concerned about Curtis and asks Charles to do some digging on her behalf.  That’s reasonable enough, but then she asks Charles to visit Abby and tell her what he’s uncovered.  If he does so then it seems obvious that Abby’s going to put two and two together (Charles Frere’s not the sort of person to pop around doing good turns like this for anybody).

Why didn’t Polly do it?  It’s true that her relationship with Abby is strained, but they’re at least speaking at present (Abby didn’t leave home this time because of a spat with her mother – it was more about making a bid for independence).

But she doesn’t and Charles does, leading to the inevitable conclusion.   Given that she despises Charles and all he stands for, it’s no doubt something of a shock, but that’s not the major plot-point here.  Rather, it makes Abby finally understand that she shouldn’t have given William away, since it’s exactly the same mistake that her father made with her.  So she sets off for America, to be reunited with William and a possible marriage to Orrin.

This could have served as a fairly tidy ending to Abby’s story, but as we’ll see that proved not to be the case.  Although it’ll be a little while before we see her again.

The other major event in this episode concerns the death of Claude, mown down by a speedboat (a pity the man steering it wasn’t looking in the right direction).  Although it doesn’t operate as a cliffhanger (in the way that Lynne falling into the water at the end of S1 did) it’s still highly dramatic.  Lynne sheds more than a few tears (that’ll be the last we see of Tracy Childs until the sixth and final series) and even Jan is a bit teary-eyed.

It’s interesting how Claude’s fight for life is intercut with Jan bustling around, preparing to launch Claude’s collection.  The undeniable impression given is that the fashion world seems even more trivial when matters of life and death are being decided elsewhere, but in Jan’s defence she was unaware of the accident.  It seems a little strange that nobody decided to tell her how seriously ill he was (or even that Claude was in hospital) although this does give us a moody final scene as Jan, together with Leo (who’s travelled down to London to break the news of Claude’s death), both sit alone amongst the discarded clothes and rubbish from the fashion show.

The mood, as so often this year, is broken by leading into the end credits and the warbling of “always there” but no matter.  Series two built nicely on the first, with a largely stable cast of returnees.  The third series would see a little more fluidity amongst the regulars, with several notable absentees and some heavyweight new arrivals ….

howards s02e13-02