Doctor Who – Snakedance. Episode Four

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The Doctor’s meeting with Dojjen is this episode’s key scene.  Dojjen explains exactly how the Mara can be vanquished – the Doctor needs to find the still point.  “The still point is within yourself, nowhere else. To destroy the Mara you must find the still point”.

Earlier we were told that Dojjen had set off for the hills some ten years earlier to prepare for the day that the Mara would return. Given this, why didn’t he go back with the Doctor? Presumably he was confident that the Doctor was the right man for the job (and it also saved having to pay Preston Lockwood to appear in the studio scenes).

Although this episode was subject to some considerable editing, particularly at the end, the ceremonial section drags somewhat (even though it was originally much longer too). This is not necessarily a criticism though – the ceremony should be somewhat tedious and formal and the longer it’s dragged out, the more tension is created.

Eventually we get some acknowledgement from the Doctor that he’s concerned about Tegan. When mentally conversing with Dojjen, his priorities are saving Tegan first and destroying the Mara second.

Janet Fielding sits out a portion of this episode, as she did in the previous one. With Lon acting as the main conduit for the Mara’s plotting since the start of episode three, Tegan was left with little to do except pop up occasionally to menace the unfortunate showman Dugdale (Brian Miller). But she does get a nice scene at the end of this episode, pleading with the Doctor to help her. “Help me, Doctor. What’s happening to me? Please, look at me, Doctor. I need your help”.

But the Doctor know this isn’t Tegan – it’s still the Mara speaking through her – so continues to press until (apparently) the Mara is destroyed once and for all. The story ends with a distraught Tegan being comforted by the Doctor (a rare example of Davison’s Doctor having a brief moment of physical contact with one of his companions). Sadly, this moment is rather curtailed due to the overrunning issues – which is why it was decided to carry the discussion about the demise of the Mara into the first few minutes of the following story, Mawdryn Undead.

Snakedance is a slightly more conventional and a little less compelling story than Kinda, but it’s still full of interest. It has a stagey and unreal feel at times – for example, both the cave interior and exterior don’t look at all convincing – but it’s the story concepts (the notion that evil is contained within us all) and the performances which matter the most.  Unlike the Great Crystal, Snakedance has a somewhat flawed beauty, but a beauty nonetheless.

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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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Doctor Who – Snakedance. Episode Two

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In Kinda, it seemed like the Mara could only possess one person at a time – moving from Tegan to Aris, for example.  Snakedance is able to improve on that, as Tegan/Mara is able to corrupt Lon.

This makes sense – since Tegan spends the story possessed by the Mara she requires a confederate to talk to (she could spend it soliloquising but that would probably get somewhat tiresome rather quickly).  The fact that Lon is a man of status doesn’t hurt though – this means he would be able to open doors that are closed to others.

Martin Clunes’ performance is often seen as something of an embarrassment, but there’s no reason why it should be regarded as so.  Lon isn’t as deep a character as, say, Hindle, but Clunes doesn’t disgrace himself.

But it’s John Carson who really impresses.  This episode has one of my favourite Snakedance moments – the six faces of delusion – in which the Doctor manages to demolish Ambril’s superiority with almost indifferent ease.  True, it’s hard to believe that Ambril would never have considered the possibility that the ceremonial headdress which features five carved faces would only display six when worn, but given Ambril’s intractability, maybe it’s not too unreasonable after all.

The Doctor continues to be a thorn in Ambril’s side, but since the Doctor is babbling on about death and destruction it’s possibly not surprising that nobody (except young Chela) takes him seriously.  But it is rather refreshing that we’re halfway through the story and still the Doctor is positioned as an outsider.  This isn’t unique (it’s very late in the day during Frontier in Space before anybody listens to him) but usually by now he’s managed to convince someone of his bona-fides.  The early run of the new series, with its psychic paper, made this even less of a problem, but Snakdance takes us back to a time when the Doctor couldn’t simply stroll into any situation and simply take control.

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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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