Timestamp #125: Snakedance

Doctor Who: Snakedance
(4 episodes, s20e05-e08, 1983)

 

Someone felt a need to revisit Kinda?

The adventure opens with a mysterious man and his necklace as they sit on a barren planet. Creepy and kooky, but not particularly ooky.

On board the TARDIS, Nysssa tries on a new outfit while the Doctor puzzles over some strange readings. Tegan had set the coordinates for the next destination, inadvertently choosing Manussa, and now she’s having strange snake-related dreams. On the target planet, ruling family members Tanha and Lon debate the merits of celebrating the eradication of the Mara, the snake creature that the Doctor believes still possesses part of Tegan’s mind. The Doctor hypnotizes Tegan to explore this possibility and discovers that it is true. He recalibrates the machine so Tegan is protected from all outside sounds and the group sets out to find the snake cave in Tegan’s dream.

Tanha and Lon have already entered the cave as part of the ritual celebration with a researcher named Ambril. They are examining wall paintings that detail a legend of the Mara’s return. When the travelers arrive, Tegan’s fear prevents her from entering, so Nyssa waits while the Doctor explores within. A salesman scares Tegan with snake toys, causing her to run into the crowd and disappear. The Doctor finds the ruling family and convinces them to meet Tegan, but with her disappearance, they dismiss him.

Nyssa and the Doctor return to the TARDIS, expecting Tegan will try to find her way back, but Tegan has collapsed and was rescued by a local fortune teller who removes the hypnosis device. As a result, the Mara exerts control over Tegan.

The Doctor and Nyssa go back out to search for Tegan, and when Nyssa finds her, Tegan is erratic and runs away, hiding in a hall of mirrors where she confronts the Mara succumbs further to its control. The Doctor returns to Ambril and accurately matches current events to the legend of the return, which is detailed to him by Ambril’s assistant Chela. The Doctor reunites with Nyssa and explores the snake cave, while the Mara sends the operator of the mirror chamber to retrieve Lon. When he arrives at the booth, the Mara takes control of him.

The Doctor and Nyssa return to the TARDIS to analyze a blue crystal, which they presume may be the Great Crystal linked to the Mara. They discover that it is the key to the Mara’s full return. Meanwhile, Mara-Tegan and Mara-Lon have taken the carnival worker to the cave and opened the inner door, exposing the remnants of the ancient civilization within. Coming to the same conclusions, the Mara and the Doctor discover that Ambril knows where the crystal is located. The Doctor tries to retrieve it, but he is arrested. The Mara, on the other hand, entrances the carnival worker and sends Lon to fetch the crystal. Lon persuades Ambril, who has just shared the diary of his predecessor Dojjen with Chela, to return to the cave to see the chamber interior. The Mara convinces Ambril to return the Great Crystal to the cave during the ceremony.

Nyssa sneaks into the palace dungeon and tries to free the Doctor. As Chela shares the diary with the Doctor, Nyssa searches for the key to the cell. Nyssa is caught by Tanha and the Doctor discovers that Dojjen left his post to study the forbidden teachings of the Snakedancers.  Nyssa is reunited with the Doctor inside his cell, and they spend their time researching the crystal and the diary. The ancient Manussans were able to create the crystals, which transformed their negative emotions and thoughts into the Mara. They later forgot that they had created it, and the only memory of the Mara’s origins was maintained by the Snakedancers.

When Lon and Ambril announce their intention to bring the Great Crystal to the ceremony, Chela frees the Doctor and Nyssa. They are soon cornered by the palace guards, where Lon orders their immediate execution. Tanha intercedes, allowing the Doctor to tell his side of the story, and the Time Lord presumes that Lon has been marked by the Mara. Ambril offers to show them the Great Crystal, and while everyone is distracted, the Doctor, Nyssa, and Chela escape.

The Doctor uses his crystal to summon Dojjen, the mysterious man from the beginning of the serial. Together, they enact the Snakedance ritual, which requires a snakebite on their wrists so they can communicate telepathically. Dojjen counsels the Doctor to find his “still point” and destroy the Mara forever. As they commune, the community around them commences the celebration ritual.

As the celebration continues, Lon plays his customary part before breaking character and announcing the return of the Mara. The Doctor and company burst into the chamber as Lon places the Great Crystal and reveals the Mara, which feeds on the assembled crowd’s fear and grows stronger. The Doctor focuses his will through his “still point” and battles the Mara. The Mara tries to break the Doctor’s concentration by channeling a panicked Tegan, but Dojjen reinforces the Doctor’s center. The Doctor pulls the Great Crystal from the wall and the Mara’s influence is broken, causing the snake to fall to the ground and die.

Tegan is embarrassed and horrified at her actions, but the Doctor comforts her. He reassures her that the Mara is gone for good.

The good news is that the writers didn’t put Nyssa in a coma again. Additionally, she seems to have been well-briefed on Kinda‘s details before this adventure. The Doctor continues his fatherly development, and Nyssa got a chance to shine as she unwrapped the mystery. As Tegan, Janet Fielding sold the possession aspect quite nicely, leaving no part of the set unchewed.

But the story was only average. At least we’re free of the Mara now, right? Right?

Please?

 

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

 

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Mawdryn Undead

 

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

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Timestamp #119: Kinda

Doctor Who: Kinda
(4 episodes, s19e09-e12, 1982)

Timestamp 119 Kinda

After the last story, this was probably not the best time to shelve my favorite companion of these three.

At the outset, Nyssa’s not feeling well, so the TARDIS has settled on a jungle planet to evaluate her. Based on the results, the Doctor puts her into a coma to recover from not being included in the script. The planet is currently home to a team of explorers. They’ve taken captives and several of their own are missing. They are the perfect model of military tropes in fiction.

The Doctor, Tegan, and Adric explore the planet and come across a set of well-designed wind chimes, prompting the Doctor to consider intelligent life and civilization in the area. The chimes place Tegan into a hypnotic trance, and the Doctor is pulled away by Adric who stumbles into an armored suit. After Adric fiddles with device – and, thankfully, the Doctor chastises the impulsive boy – it takes them hostage and leads them to the explorer camp.

The Kinda – pronounced like the German for child, not the slang short-form for kind of – decorate Tegan with flowers while she sleeps, and her trance leads her to two figures playing chess. She fearfully explores the black void, noting that all of the inhabitants have the same snake tattoo on their arms. Meanwhile, the Doctor gets the backstory from the explorers and examines the hostages. The expedition scientist, Todd, believes them to be primitive but telepathic, and she explains their plans for the paradise world. They are interrupted by Hindle, current second in command, who tears apart the lab in a temper tantrum before playing Narcissus in the mirror.

The expedition commander, Sanders, makes plans to look for the missing team members. In the lab, Hindle has somehow taken leadership over the two Kinda, and as Sanders departs, Hindle and his new friends take over the outpost by force. Sanders takes the powered armor to the Kinda village, where a blind shaman named Panna and her acolyte Karuna plan to give a box to the approaching colonial soldier. They are visited by a Kinda male named Aris, the brother of one of the captives, and we learn that the males are mute and the women are not. The Kinda male leaves as Sanders approaches, and the gift of the box overcomes the commander with psychic force.

In the outpost control room, Hindle has dressed the Kinda captives in colonial uniforms. The captives release the Doctor, Adric, and Todd, who then have a ridiculous discussion with an unhinged Hindle. Hindle wants to sterilize a fifty-mile radius around their camp, using acid and fire to protect themselves from hostile plants. Adric has some sort of epiphany and volunteers to help Hindle, but since the Doctor and Todd won’t join him, they are sent back to their cell. To his benefit, Adric begins a plan to double-cross Hindle, but he is caught.

Are we in the throes of another story about the evils of colonialism? Looks like. I’m also picking up shades of Apocalypse Now.

On the other side of the looking glass, Tegan continues her mental breakdown in the void. She argues with duplicates of herself, then with the mysterious taunting figure, before agreeing to give the figure material form to be released from captivity. She awakens in the real world with the snake tattoo on her arm, a mischievous grin on her face, and about 10,000 more skill points in Charisma.

Hindle deliberates how to punish Adric for the boy’s treachery, but is interrupted by Sanders, who has returned with a completely different, almost childlike character. Sanders offers the box to Hindle, but Hindle refuses to open it. Out in the forest, Aris encounters Tegan. Tegan introduces herself as Mara, and in a moment of Star Trek V Sybok psychology, she transfers the snake and consciousness to Aris.

Hindle puts the Doctor and Todd back in the cell, this time with Sanders and the box. Hindle orders the Doctor to open the box, and when he does, Todd screams. It’s an overly-dramatic gesture as the box only contains a spring loaded puppet. Well, that and a psychic encounter for the captive group, in which the Doctor and Todd commune with the Kinda. The Doctor and Todd leave the compound and head for the source of the summons. They are met by the Kinda and develop a rapport with the easy-going people, but are soon interrupted by Mara-Aris who proclaims that the “Not-We” must be taken captive. Karuna attempts to read his mind and is convinced by an ancient prophecy that Mara-Aris is their new leader. Karuna defies the prophecy and takes the Doctor and Todd to Panna.

In the compound, Hindle plots to destroy the dome and surrounding jungle to protect themselves through death. Adric bides his time by playing along, but finds it difficult due to Hindle’s increasing instability. He eventually defies Hindle and takes the armor for a walk. At her cave, Panna examines Todd, but is surprised by the Doctor’s presence. Apparently, a male cannot open the box without being driven insane unless he is an idiot. Thus, the Doctor is an idiot (with a box, and a screwdriver).

Mara-Aris arrives with his enthralled gaggle of Kinda, and after taking control of Karuna, he takes the group to destroy the dome and the Not-We. Panna and the Doctor discuss the snake tattoo and the Mara, and they join with Todd in a psychic link. After their vision of the destruction of the Kinda and everything, they awaken to find Panna dead. Karuna senses this and breaks from the rushing Kinda to return to the cave. Once there, she reveals that Panna’s spirit has been transferred to Karuna. Together, the trio sets out to stop Mara-Aris. En route, they find Tegan and discover what she did to free the Mara.

Everyone converges at the entrance to the dome. The Kinda gaggle attack Adric in the armor, but Adric inadvertently drives them away with a panicked operation of the machine. The Doctor frees Adric from the machine, and Mara-Aris takes the opportunity to run away. The protagonists enter the dome and confront Hindle, who has constructed a city out of cardboard boxes. The madman reveals that he controls the Kinda with mirrors, which they believe steal their souls. The Doctor takes a wrong step and Hindle snaps, nearly destroying the dome, but in the fracas, the mirror is broken, Todd gains control of the explosive trigger, and Hindle gets the box and an awakening.

Of course, Adric takes the opportunity to blame Tegan for all of this. One step forward with his attempt to stop Hindle, and now one step back again. I mean, this was a “Shut up, Wesley” moment, and I actually liked Wesley Crusher.

With Hindle’s threat disarmed, the Doctor sets a trap for Mara-Aris using large mirrors, forcing the Mara free the Kinda. The snake grows in size and nearly takes control of Tegan before finally dissipates, dispelled back to its prison. Hindle and Sanders are returned to their former states, and Todd submits a recommendation that the planet is unsuitable for colonization. The travelers (including Nyssa, who has recovered from her bout of being forgotten in the script) bid farewell to a too-green paradise.

On its face, this was a story of the evils of imperial colonization mixed with a strong pinch of the supernatural, which would have been just about average given how often Doctor Who dips into that particular well. The dragging anchor on this boat is the character issues. Adric got somewhat better, save for his need to touch everything and chastise Tegan. Tegan spent the majority of the story spinning her wheels in character impotence. And Nyssa? Poor Nyssa got caught between a poorly timed script and the character problems of the Nineteenth Series so far.

This story even has a large dose of mythology, ranging from Buddhist and Old Testament Biblical to superstitions shared by tribal cultures around the world, and science fiction that opens audiences to the myths that shaped humanity usually wins me over. I’m just so irritated with how the writer’s room is wronging the companions in these opening salvos of the Fifth Doctor’s run.

The thing that helps buoy it back up is the Doctor. He’s selflessly compassionate and innocent like a couple of incarnations before him, but he’s not as duplicitous as past lives. Instead of trying to pass off the failed sleight-of-hand with Adric and the computer card, which the Third and Fourth Doctors would have used to lure Hindle into a trap, the Fifth Doctor realizes that he cannot win and abandons the effort, saving himself for a better chance.

The Fifth is also far more patient and fatherly. It’s taken a few serials to see that, but now that he’s mostly baked, it’s easy to see a paternal hand guiding Tegan’s temper and Adric’s impulsiveness.

The Doctor himself may be what saves his fifth incarnation’s run for me.

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Visitation

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.