Doctor Doctor Who Guide

'Snakedance' is in many ways highly similar to 'Kinda'. For one thing, it is a sequel to that story, also written by 'Kinda' scribe Christopher Bailey, and featuring the return of the Mara. Like 'Kinda', it suffers from cheap and stagy looking sets and horrible costumes, but is also well directed. And like 'Kinda', it has a superb script, great characterisation, and a superb acting. 

To address those minor negative quibbles first and get them out of the way, I actually much prefer the sets here to those in 'Kinda', with only the rocky exteriors and the cave bothering me. The rocky exteriors look better than they might have done due to the fact that they are recorded on film, but they are still obviously fake sets with a painted backdrop and some sand scattered about; in short, they always look as though they are indoors. The cave looks OK, but suffers from the same problem as those in 'Earthshock', in that it looks very little like a real cave at all. On the other hand, it has been sculpted in the past, so I suppose its shiny walls and unnatural rock shapes could be explained thus. But it still looks a bit silly when the veins in walls light up at the end. Ken Trew's costumes represent my only other criticism of 'Snakedance'; most of them look a bit silly, but are passable, for example those worn by Dugdale and Chela, but Ambril's pink and black costume is hideous and the ludicrous costume that Lon dons in Episode Four has to be seen to be believed. I should perhaps also point out that the curse of the Mara once more means the curse of the rubber snake, whether it be the one wrapped around Tegan's arm, the one that bites Dojjen and the Doctor during the snakedance, or the big Mara prop at the end. However, the snake effects used here have moved up a step since 'Kinda' and bonus points are awarded for the use of real snakes. 

So having got my rather shallow criticisms of 'Snakedance' out of the way, I'll start by praising the regulars. Janet Fielding again proves she can act, as the Mara once more possesses Tegan. She proves especially good when Tegan wakes up terrified from a nightmare, or wanders around in fearful confusion under the influence of the Doctor's dream inhibiting device. She's even better however when Tegan is fully under the Mara's control and she gets to play the villain; her tormenting of the fortuneteller at the end of Episode One, her callous treatment of Dugdale, even her power crazed ranting, all of these aspects are portrayed very well, and this is emphasized by the first two cliffhangers, superbly directed by Fiona Cumming. The real test of Fielding's acting skills is that she manages to seem menacing even with a rubber snake coiled around her arm, which is pretty impressive when all said and done. Actually, the Mara is realized very well throughout 'Snakedance' and is more prominent from the start than it was in 'Kinda', since the Doctor realises what his enemy is very early on. Cumming's use of snake skulls and distorting mirrors are both examples of how she achieves surrealism on a limited budget and shows Tegan alternately fighting or giving in to the Mara in her mind. Cumming's direction is impressive here, but Fielding is crucial to the success of these scenes. 

Sarah Sutton's Nyssa gets very little to do here, basically following the Doctor or Tegan around to allow plot exposition, but Davison is very well used as the Doctor. His frantic rushing around in an attempt to stop the Mara's rebirth is well ahdnled, and it's interesting to see how he looks to the supporting characters, with everyone except Chela assuming that he is a harmless crank. Ambril's reaction to him is very realistic, as he tries to convince everyone that on this occasion a celebration that has been performed once a decade for five centuries will on this occasion have dire consequences. His scenes with Dojjen in Episode Four are particularly good as the Doctor exhibits first fear and then finally understanding as Dojjen teaches him how to defeat the Mara. 

The supporting cast is excellent. Over the past ten years I've often seen clips from 'Snakedance' being used to embarrass both Martin Clunes and Jonathon Morris, but neither have cause for embarrassment (except perhaps for Clunes' costumes). Clunes is superb as the arrogant and bored Lon, whose transformation from obnoxious to manipulative and ruthless demonstrates that Lon is not a particularly nice person to begin with but is far worse under the Mara's control. Incredible, the famously big-eared Clunes, a man famous for portraying loutish behaviour in Men Behaving Badly, manages to appear both imperious and even dashing at times. Morris is also great as the erstwhile Chela, the one person other than Dojjen prepared to listen to the Doctor's warnings about the Mara, and his character is very likeable. Every character is well written, including Lon's snooty but well-meaning mother Tanha (Colette O'Neill), and the money grubbing but also likeable Dugdale (Brian Miller, husband of Elizabeth Sladen) whose fascination with what he thinks of as Tegan's skills at ventriloquism and the financial benefits this might bring him leads him into terror and slavery. Preston Lockwood's Dojjen is played with quiet dignity and although he barely speaks he brings a tremendous air of wisdom to the role. Perhaps most notable is John Carson's Ambril, a great character whose obsession with his work causes him to betray his sacred trust and hand over the great crystal to Lon. Ambril's motivation is always understandable, his greed for knowledge and artifacts nicely contrasting with Dugdale's greed for money and equally demonstrating how the Mara is capable of praying on people's weaknesses. Carson superbly portrays Ambril's barely suppressed excitement at the artifacts Lon shows him, as he handles them with trembling hands, and his defeated submission to the Mara's will as Lon smashes them is very well acted. In addition, Ambril's enraged reaction to the Doctor's solving of the riddle of the Six Faces of Delusion is almost worth watching the story for by itself. 

Bailey's plot is deceptively simple, carried along by the characterisation and more subtext picked up on from 'Kinda'. Buddhism apparently plays its part once more, in the origins of the Mara and the means by which the Doctor defeats it. Also as in 'Kinda' there are subtle criticisms of colonialism (or rather imperialism) as Tanha patronizes the natives and laughs at their quaint customs, whilst nevertheless fascinated by them. 'Snakedance' is perhaps less memorable than 'Kinda', affected to an extent by the law of diminishing returns, but it is a worthy sequel and after the disappointing 'Arc of Infinity' it bodes well for the remainder of Season Twenty.

Filters: Television Fifth Doctor Series 20