“You can’t mend people!”
This is an odd one. It divides opinion, I suspect.
OK, let's get the problems out of the way first - it's the one with the silly pink snake (box ticked) and lots of extras in brown tan and grass skirts (box ticked) and a final box ticking, when let's face it, with it being an all studio based story its production design doesn't hold up well in some instances. Whilst the studio bound jungle can just past muster in some scenes, you are drawn to the fact that the studio floor has just been littered with pot plants and dead leaves and no amount of those can give you the impression that you're seeing events take place in a very dense tropical jungle. The Dome is also a bit slung together with odd bits of stock scenery we've seen before, although there are some good laboratory sets and corridors, but it's horribly overlit. After the subtlety of the lighting and design in Castrovalva and the superb production design in Four To Doomsday this is a bit of a let down.
However, you should forgive it these sins because there's a stunning script, some extraordinary and symbolic themes and metaphors and several brilliant performances that make Kinda into one of the most rewarding of atypical Doctor Who stories. It's clear the Bidmead modus operandi is still in force, even though by now Eric Saward was script editing, and you could see this as a synthesis of all the changes that have occurred to the series since 1980. Despite its production limitations there's a palpable atmosphere to the story with a boiling hothouse of psychological mind games layered into the narrative.
Kinda as a script is overburdened with ideas and is really trying much too hard to be many things: a Garden Of Eden/Genesis parable; a post-colonial satire; a Buddhist inspired psycho-drama...and it clumsily flashes up all the symbolism in none too subtle a way and this is probably because director Peter Grimwade has made the decision to do as much of that with the visuals as he tries to do with the actors performances. He pulls off a bit more than he can chew here whilst some of it is really innovative (the use of early video processing effects) some of it is downright clunky (the TSS mobile armour, the snake).
The story takes the relationship between self and other, between the knowable and the unknowable, one of the series' overall obsessions, in fact, and we see it symbolised through the eyes of a major character, Tegan. This is a story about Tegan's repressed desires (the dark forces from the inside) being manifested in the outside world and what effect they have on the balance of nature and power. This is a philosophical debate between the unbridled knowledge, knowledge as power, the innate natural, ego-less power and energy of the Kinda as opposed to the technologically boxed in, repressed, anxious energy of the 'not-we' colonists. There are a lot of boxes in Kinda - the TSS mobile armour, the box of Jhana, the 'wicker' version of the TSS made by the possessed Aris, the Dome and its holding cells and indeed Tegan's mind. And they are all about holding in energy - whether destructive or healing.
The focus on Tegan's journey is very welcome as it gives Janet Fielding a particularly good opportunity to shine. She's quite superb in this story and it's only spoilt by some unnecessary bickering between her and Adric towards the end. And I'm glad that writer Christopher Bailey was commissioned to explore the after-effects of her possession in Snakedance for instance as we rarely get to see the after effects of an experience on a member of the TARDIS crew. Her lasciviousness as the Mara-possessed Tegan, the portrayal of a companion's sexualised self allowed to create anarchy amongst the Kinda, is something that the series rarely, if ever, touched upon in any depth and it's ironic that after this interesting treatment of a companion's repressed ego the series avoids any further exploration of the companion as a character and increasingly treats the female companions as window dressing ('for the dads' was the excuse that was always trundled out) or asexual children until the introduction of Ace, I suppose.
The obvious symbols - characterised by Todd (the typically repressed female boffin in white coat and specs), Sanders (unsympathetic pith helmeted colonial bully), Karuna and Panna (the wise old crone/young acolyte) - tend to lack subtlety but I do like the way that the Doctor is portrayed as the ‘fool’ here as it does dovetail with the vulnerability and innocence that Davison starts to imbue the character with. The inter-play between Davison and Nerys Hughes is flirty but full of mutual respect and Todd would have made a refreshing addition to the crew if John Nathan Turner hadn't been so determined to occupy the TARDIS with three child like companions. It’s almost as if Liz Shaw has been marooned on Deva Loka. Davison certainly cements his playing of the Doctor with this story and offers a nuanced performance.
Towering over all of this is of course Simon Rouse’s bravura appearance as Hindle. Both Rouse and Fielding are the two powerhouses running through the story – Tegan as the unshared mind, dreaming and opening herself up to ‘mind-rape’ by the Mara and thus freeing her ego, Hindle as the delusional, id-driven, broken man, repressed and repressing. Rouse truly acts his socks off here and really does manage to give you the world as seen through Hindle’s paranoid eyes. A world of invisible threats, dangerous plants, where you shoot first and ask questions later simply because you refuse to make any comprehension of the world you’ve ended up in. He is clearly the story's interpretation of the psychological dead end of colonial imperialism along with the blustering Sanders, an equally intriguing turn from film veteran Richard Todd, whose name conjures up all sorts of 'Sanders Of The River' redundant colonialist associations.
And this story owes a huge amount to our old friend the New Romantics. The then creative explosion in pop video production is reflected in Grimwade's treatment of the journey into Tegan’s mind. It is a stunningly rich visual moment as the camera zooms in on her eye, the image pixelates into darkness and we find ourselves in a 1980s Visage pop-video. It might look primitive now but then it was a true sign that the surface as depth televisual qualities of music video had been embraced fully by the series with a director pushing as hard as he can to reflect the ever-proliferating video culture of the time.
The ‘wherever’ that Tegan finds herself in seems to be a polar reflection of the TARDIS and its crew. The game of draughts as played out by the crew at the start of the story becomes a high contrast nightmare complete with a bizarre structure that must be some sort of anti-TARDIS. And everyone seems to be wearing Steve Strange’s cast-offs. I think it’s an arresting sequence, playing with our expectations, subverting the typical TARDIS arrival scene, and in a rare psychological exploration digging around in Tegan's psyche. The prophecy sequence later in the story, where the release of the Mara threatens to re-start the ‘wheel of time’ is less successful. All sorts of time-pieces end up being used to rather crudely symbolise this idea but again Grimwade pushes it visually with video trickery, a load of dry ice and plenty of Dutch angles to suggest the imminent end of everything if the Mara gets its way.
The conclusion is unfortunately rather a damp squib because the whole thing is building up to such a fever pitch that I think trying to make the darkness of the Mara a tangible thing - a huge snake - was rather doomed to failure anyway. The rather dreadful pink snake with a floppy jaw is one of those instances, similarly with the awful Skarasen puppet in Terror of The Zygons, where a poor visual effect prevents a story from attaining its true status. Grimwade and company should have left the threat as unseen, unknowable but I suspect the feeling was the show must have its monsters and monsters it indeed got!
Kinda isn’t about religion (e.g the parallels with Buddhism). It’s about you, me, us. It’s about how we face outwardly into the world, how we deal with the unknown sides of our personalities, our repressions and our fears. Our own Mara. The colonial theme is a bit obvious really (relying on Conrad's Heart Of Darkness perhaps) in the serial's positioning of Western thinking in opposition to Eastern thinking perhaps but it’s more about what makes for a healthy mind, an actualised self-hood, in a world that threatens to engulf us in chaos and darkness.
For me, this is a richly themed, highly theatrical, story with much visual inventiveness that’s capable of rewarding the viewer on repeated viewings. It’s certainly one of the best scripts to be produced under the Doctor Who banner and concludes a period of the show where exciting, complex ideas could be realised in abstract ways both dramatically and tele-visually.
Kinda (BBCV5432 - Pal VHS - Cert U - Released October 1994 - Deleted)
All four episodes now available to purchase on iTunes.