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 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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There is no return. This is Terminus. Doctor Who – Terminus

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Terminus is a story where every main creative element (writing, acting, music, direction, etc) is just slightly off.  None of the elements are particularly bad in themselves, but the cumulative effect produces a curiously static story that fails to impress.

I want to love it, because I love Stephen Gallagher’s previous script, Warriors’ Gate, but Terminus is a very different story.  Whereas Warriors’ Gate was an impressionistic tale with several different levels of meaning, Terminus has a very clear narrative drive.

It could be that Gallagher was attempting to make a satirical point concerning the private company, Terminus Inc., who have a contract to process and cure people with Lazar’s disease.  In the early 1980’s, the debate about private healthcare versus the NHS was rumbling on.  Is Terminus Inc. a sideswipe at private healthcare providers?  It’s possible, although it’s not particularly clear.

What does seem clear is that Terminus is an incredibly inefficiently run company.  If nobody is ever cured, surely people would eventually realise this and not continue to pay them and send their infected relatives?  If they exist to make a profit then surely it would be in their interest to cure as many people as possible, but they don’t seem to have much success with this.

Into this setup, come the Doctor and his companions.  Just as the script is a little off, so none of the regulars is particularly well served by the story.  It does start brightly though, with a well acted scene between Tegan and Turlough,  Tegan is very suspicious about Turlough, rightly so as it turns out.  They remain together for the remainder of the story, but once they’re on Terminus they do little of consequence and their importance to the narrative fades.

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Tegan doesn’t trust him an inch

Terminus is Nyssa’s final story and Sarah Sutton is moved a little more centre stage, but she’s much less effective when not partnered with Davison’s Doctor.  Several stories this year saw Davison and Sutton teamed up, and they worked together very well, but Nyssa fades somewhat when she’s working with the drippy Olvir or the cuddly Garm.

If you mention Olvir (Dominic Guard) then you have to mention fellow pirate Kari (Liza Goddard).  Their appearance in episode one is memorable, but for all the wrong reasons.  They’re supposed to be hardened space pirates, but the capes and boots somewhat negate this.  Olvir’s lashings of mascara don’t help either.  It’s tempting to suppose that they were two of the worst pirates ever, so their boss took the step of marooning them on the first spaceship he saw.

Olvir, most useless space pirate ever (apart from Kari, of course)
Olvir, most useless space pirate ever (apart from Kari, of course)

With Tegan and Turlough crawling around the infrastructure, achieving very little, and Nyssa waiting for a cure, that leaves the Doctor, who also has very little to do in the story.  He spends a large part of it working on the mystery of the creation of the universe – but this is presented so baldly that there’s no particular interest generated.  For example, when Davison announces (at the end of episode three) that the universe is in danger, it’s difficult to really care – it’s just a rather limp cliffhanger.

The Garm looks rather silly.  Gallagher had intended that it should never be seen in full – only its silhouette and his glowing eyes – but he’s here, in all his shaggy-dog glory.

if you tickle him under his chin, then he's very agreeable
if you tickle him under his chin, then he’s very agreeable

And Roger Limb’s music is fairly horrific.  I love the majority of the Radiophonic Workshop’s contributions during S18 – S23, but Terminus is the exception that proves the rule.  Sounding rather like a series of random notes, it doesn’t create atmosphere, it merely irritates.

There were numerous production problems with this story, which are fairly well documented and all these helped to contribute to the end result.  But there are some highlights, like Peter Benson as Bor, who seems to be acting in a different story from everybody else.

Terminus is a story that it’s difficult to imagine anybody ever reaches down from the shelf on impulse to watch.  It’s one of those (like Underworld) that you struggle manfully through whilst engaged on a sequential rewatch and breathe a sigh of relief when it’s over and happier times (Enlightenment) are ahead.