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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Doctor Who – Kinda. Episode Four

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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.

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Doctor Who – Kinda. Episode Three

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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.

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Doctor Who – Kinda. Episode Two

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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 …..

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Doctor Who – Kinda. Episode One

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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.

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Doctor Who – The Horns of Nimon. Episode Four

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The Nimon’s hyperspace portal has transported Romana to the Crinoth (the previous planet occupied by the Nimons) where she meets Sezom (John Bailey).  Bailey adds an instant touch of class to proceedings: after some of the exuberant performances seen during the last few episodes he essays something which was much more subtle and grounded in reality

Needless to say, after what we’ve witnessed recently it’s somewhat jarring to have a decent spot of acting but never mind, this first scene brings into sharp focus the Nimon’s planet hopping and destructive capabilities.  Sezom, like Soldeed, foolishly believed the Nimon’s promises.

SEZOM: But I have caused the deaths of so many others. The total destruction of our planet and all its people. I am to blame.
ROMANA: Why? What did you do?
SEZOM: I allowed the Nimons to come here. I worked for them, became their creature. They promised us technology, peace, prosperity. It ….
ROMANA: Go on.
SEZOM: It seemed so easy. Such a small price.
ROMANA: Did you have to provide them with some sort of tribute?
SEZOM: How did you know that?
ROMANA: I’ve seen something similar.
SEZOM: There was only one of them to start with. I never knew what was to come. I swear, I never knew what was to come. It seemed such a small price to pay.
ROMANA: It always does.

It’s something of an egregious info-dump it has to be said. Romana just happens to stumble straight into the path of someone who can put the final pieces of the plot together, but no matter – at least now we know the fate that awaits Skonnos.

Elsewhere, the Doctor has a friendly chat with the Nimons, which features one of my favourite exchanges of the story.

NIMON 2: Later you will be questioned, tortured and killed.
DOCTOR: Well I hope you get it in the right order.

The other main point of interest is Soldeed’s death scene which has to be seen to be believed. And even then, I don’t quite believe it …

To be fair to Crowden, it does appear that he believed they were only rehearsing rather than going for a take, but as the clock was probably ticking round to 10 pm (when the plugs would be pulled) it presumably was felt to be “good enough”. Which rather sums up the end of season feel of the story (even if Nimon was never intended to finish S17). By this point it seems that time, money and inspiration had rather run dry.

The Horns of Nimon is certainly fun if you’re in the right mood – Tom Baker, Lalla Ward and Graham Crowden are always worth watching – but it also has a definite end of an era feeling.  Change was coming and for many it wasn’t a moment too soon.

Doctor Who – The Horns of Nimon. Episode Three

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Anthony Read once admitted that The Horns of Nimon was written as a somewhat tongue in cheek story, but he’d hoped it would have been played in a slightly more serious manner.  Although if you script scenes like the opening one of this episode – the Doctor uses a red handkerchief to indulge in a spot of impromptu bull-fighting with the Nimon – then you can’t really be surprised if things turn out the way they did.

After being absent from the main action for the last episode or so, the Doctor is back in the thick of things after meeting up with Romana, Seth, Teka and the remainder of the Anethans (who remain – as befits non-speaking extras – mute).  He starts to wonder exactly what the Nimon are up to, whilst also highlighting Soldeed’s clueless nature (whatever the Nimon are planning, Soldeed seems to be kept in total ignorance).

Sorak has begun to question why the Nimon has decided to aid them in their quest to once again become the dominant force in the galaxy.  “Soldeed, it sometimes occurs to me to wonder exactly why the Nimon is doing this for us. I mean, to be blunt, what’s in it for him?”  It’s a reasonable question, which you’d have assumed someone would have asked before.  Possibly Skonnos is a totalitarian state which brooks no free will from any of its subjects or maybe Read’s script was just rather ill-defined on this point.  Skonnos is pretty much represented by two individuals only – Soldeed and Sorak – which means that it never comes alive as a real, functioning society.

This isn’t a problem isolated to just this one story, since Doctor Who often struggled to create well-rounded civilisations.  Some writers – such as Robert Holmes – were skilled at using dialogue to put meat onto the bones (think of The Ribos Operation which builds up a fairly vivid portrait of its planet – complete with changing seasons and a strong air of religious dogma) but this isn’t something that Read attempts here.

The major revelation in this instalment is that the Nimon isn’t a single creature as Soldeed thinks.  There are many, many others and they all plan to use their newly built hyperspace tunnel to travel to Skonnos and take over the planet.  As far as invasion plans go it’s rather long-winded – couldn’t they have found a planet closer to home to colonise?

This leads into a rather nice piece of dialogue, with Teka declaring that the Nimon’s invasion is going to take quite a while, considering they’ve only got the one transmat machine.

DOCTOR: Yes, it happens all the time. When a race runs out of space or destroys its home, it has to find somewhere else to live.
SETH: Skonnos?
DOCTOR: Yes.
SETH: But it’s already inhabited.
DOCTOR: Yes.
TEKA: Then how many more are coming?
DOCTOR: Well
ROMANA: To make all this worthwhile, there must be thousands.
DOCTOR: Millions.
TEKA: What, two at a time?

As Romana is accidentally transported in the hyperspace capsule to who knows where, Soldeed once again pops up to menace the Doctor ….