“You can’t mend people!”
"There's always something to look at if you open your eyes!"
Back in 1982 Christopher Bailey's Kinda left a great many confused Doctor Who fans trailing in its wake. Not only that, but much negative opinion about the story centred on one particularly bad special effect in the final episode. That was enough for a number of viewers to dismiss it outright even though many excellent Doctor Who stories have, before and since Kinda, been at the mercy of an unconvincing Skarasen puppet, an oversized prop rat or badly realised magma monsters and Abzorbaloffs. Even the CGI dominated world of the latest series doesn't always get away with it.
Another aspect to this which may have raised the ire of fans, or just bored the pants off them, back in 1982 was that Kinda was regarded as intelligent and literary enough to have Manuel Alvarado and John Tulloch wax lyrical, in a structuralist and semiological bent, about Bailey's story in 1983's Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text. In the book, Alvarado and Tulloch position the story in relation to the fiction of Ursula K. LeGuin, a science fiction writer noted for the multicultural, feminist, sociological and anthropological themes of her work, to Buddhist and Christian religious mythology and parables and Jungian theory.
Bailey's own influences are a mix of these and, as the production text on this DVD edition highlights, Conrad's Heart of Darkness with its post-colonialist, post-modernist narrative exploring the psychological and physical transformation of Europeans as their culture and sensibilities are tested by the Congo wilderness and its indigenous races.
... a boiling mass of psychological mind gamesThe rich themes in Bailey's story are presented in a determinedly non-realistic fashion, relying on symbolism, allusion, dream imagery and non-linear narrative to tell the story.
Kinda is also as much about the struggle between Bailey, as a writer keen to introduce high concepts into the series, the original commissioning script editor Christopher Bidmead and his temporary successor Antony Root, who both clearly welcomed Bailey's desire to deal with, as The Unfolding Text explains, "very, very advanced ideas" that supersede what Bailey called "the gadgetry school of science fiction", and incoming script editor Eric Saward who demanded a more rigorous rationale be applied to Bailey's concepts. You'll see much of this is covered in the Dream Time documentary on this disc.
As the script and Bailey's ideas became shaped within the discipline of a Doctor Who narrative, many other influences then came to bear on how those ideas were translated to the screen. Firstly you have director Peter Grimwade, perhaps one of the most talented young directors to have briefly worked on the series, who brings his own vigour and energy, and a visual dynamism, to the production. As the tribute to him Directing with Attitude notes, like Graeme Harper, he directed from the floor rather than the gallery. You can tell in the way the performances and images interlock throughout Kinda where he manages to get some astonishing work from certain actors and pushes television technology to its limits to create startling visuals. In this instance, Kinda is not that far away from the equally potent work of Paul Joyce and an uncredited Harper on Warriors' Gate in the previous season.
The biggest problem here is that Bailey and Grimwade are operating within the strict budgets and time constraints of a typical BBC multi-camera studio production. Therefore the paradise planet of Deva Loka, realised in BBC Television Centre, is at the mercy of specific studio conditions. Compare the pot plants, leaf strewn studio floors and fake trees of Kinda to the stunning jungle sets built at Ealing film studios for Planet of Evil and Creature from the Pit where the depth of multi-level sets, control of lighting and the use of film rather than video contribute to the success of both stories. Jungle sets are very hard to do in the harsh light of TC3. Planet of the Daleks just about got away with it back in 1973. Certainly it is clear that at some point Grimwade was made aware of these shortcomings in a production meeting and attempted to improve some of the studio work with his choice of camera angles.
However, despite some unflattering moments, he and the actors do convince us that this is a jungle planet. Another issue is of course the depiction of the indigenous species on Deva Loka. As Bailey remarks, many of the actors playing the Kinda did look as if they were filming a Timotei shampoo commercial. Wigs, grass skirts and fake tan are just more of the standard television accretions, a unfulfilled attempt to capture the essence of Gaugin's Tahitian inspired paintings, that Bailey and Grimwade had to accept as a compromise. It's certainly clear that Grimwade desperately wanted to make sense of Bailey's script visually as a piece of Doctor Who while Saward was rather keen to give characters pause for explanations and rationalisations where he felt the story was unclear.
... disinterring of the effects of British colonialismHowever, you should forgive it these particular sins because these three gentlemen attempt to realise, what is at heart, a stunning script with some extraordinary and symbolic themes and metaphors. There are also several brilliant performances that make Kinda into one of the most rewarding of atypical Doctor Who stories. Despite the various authors pulling in several directions at once and some unconvincing production design there's a palpable atmosphere to the story with a boiling mass of psychological mind games layered into the narrative.
Kinda attempts to be many things and while Bailey wanted to suggest that the Mara is actually the darkness within Tegan, or within any human, that runs rampant, Grimwade switched that focus during the making of the story and made the Mara an independent force of evil desiring to cross over and possess anyone. This is tied into Bailey's Buddhist themes about the end of time in which a demonic figure controls the rise and fall of civilisations. He also mixes in the Christian Garden of Eden and Genesis parable, a post colonial satire (although the pith helmet and explorer costumes are way too literal as is the Sanders character as an allusion to the Edgar Wallace Sanders of the River stories) and the cargo cults of the Pacific region.
The depiction of the Kinda people is compromised further where casting appeared to default to what was in essence the 'blacking up' of Caucasian actors. The story's earnest, if somewhat naive, acknowledgment of themes of cultural assimilation see Kinda caught uneasily within a disinterring and reappropriation of the effects of British colonialism and the unpacking of multiculturalism by academics and cultural producers that took place in the 1980s.
It therefore emerges during a period where depictions of Britishness and race were key elements of debate. On the one hand we had the penchant for applying a certain nostalgia to British colonial rule that heavily influenced the television and cinema of the 1980s in Staying On (1980), The Jewel in the Crown (1984), Heat and Dust (1982) and Gandhi (1982) wherein the values of Empire are commercialised in line with the rise of Thatcherite conservative ideology. Equally, on the other there was also the emerging identity politics of transnational diasporas that had settled in Britain and that were articulated socially and culturally through protest and debate where as Sarita Malik explains in Representing Black Britain: a History of Black and Asian images on British Television there was frustration "at the rise of the neo-conservative hegemony in the form of Thatcherism" and "with the limitations of a liberal multicultural consensus."
This consideration accepted, the story more fully explores the relationship between self and other, between the knowable and the unknowable, in itself perhaps one of Doctor Who's major obsessions. We see this duality symbolised through the eyes of a major character, Tegan. Tegan's repressed desires (the dark forces from the inside) become manifested on Deva Loka and threaten to transform the balance of nature and power. This is a contest between the unbridled knowledge and power as represented by the Mara and the innate natural, ego-less power and energy of the Kinda. They have learned to live in harmony with the wheel of time and use their most subtle physical and mental energies to walk the path to enlightenment. Bailey's story then compares them to the technologically boxed in, repressed, anxious energy of the 'not-we' colonists in the Dome.
... a brave, and at the time unique, portrayal of a companion's sexualised selfAs 1995's The Discontinuity Guide explained: "It's 'about' boxes (the healing device that cures colonialism, the tank that the colonists wander about in, the pigeonholes where they want to put the Kinda) and male/female relationships, with the Doctor the only man wise enough to know he's foolish". There are indeed a lot of boxes in Kinda to which you can add the wicker cargo cult version of the TSS made by the possessed Aris, the Dome and its holding cells and indeed Tegan's own mind. And they are all about holding in energy - whether destructive or healing.
This also provides the contrast between the masculine and feminine principles at work in the narrative - those of the Doctor with Todd, Tegan with Aris particularly. Cassandra May, in Doctor Who - The Television Companion, notes that "the terror and temptations that the Mara draws on are based around classic Freudian theories and phobias: the Oedipus complex, the intuitive feminine unconscious, the logical masculine conscious, rape and castration fantasies/phobias and the dangers of unleashed individuality." The intuitive is also embodied in the figures of Karuna and Panna, aided by the casting of the superb Mary Morris as the wise woman of the Kinda, familiar to telefantasy fans from her equally effective role as Number Two in The Prisoner.
The focus on Tegan is very welcome as it gives Janet Fielding a particularly good opportunity to shine and elevates the character from the gobby air-steward stereotype into a complex woman full of insecurities. She's quite superb in this story and it's only spoilt by some unnecessary bickering between her and Adric towards the end as Hindle threatens to blow up the Dome. This was added in by Saward to pad out an under-running final episode. Her lasciviousness as the Mara-possessed Tegan, a brave, and at the time unique, portrayal of a companion's sexualised self that is allowed to create anarchy amongst the Kinda, is something that the series rarely, if ever, touched upon in any depth.
It's ironic that after this interesting treatment of a companion's repressed ego the series tends to avoid 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 as asexual children until the introduction of Ace, I suppose. To that end, I'm glad that writer Christopher Bailey was commissioned to explore the after-effects of Tegan's possession in Snakedance as we rarely got to see the lasting trauma of such an experience on a member of the TARDIS crew.
The obvious symbols - 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 some 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. Davison certainly cements his playing of the Doctor with this story and offers a nuanced performance.
... smack bang at the start of the music video boomTowering over all of this is of course Simon Rouse’s bravura appearance as Hindle. Both Rouse and Fielding are the two acting 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.
Peter Grimwade certainly pushes the envelope of what can be done on video in Television Centre, using Quantel to take us into Tegan's mind's eye, pixelating his images almost as a deliberate nod to the 1980s obsession with the surface of things where its modus vivendi was 'look at me' when it came to exploring identity. Let's also not forget that this was smack bang at the start of the music video boom where image compositing and video effects were becoming highly innovative and embraced non-representational styles.
If you look at Visage's Fade to Grey video and the moments where we see Tegan visit the surreal representations of the TARDIS crew or where the Mara snake tattoo travels from host to host there are some very obvious visual parallels. You can also see this experimentation in the attempt to realise the dream states and visions that litter the story. The prophecy sequence showing how the release of the Mara threatens to re-start the ‘wheel of time’ is again rather too literal with its assortment of time pieces all counting down to some imaginary Armageddon but again Grimwade manipulates it into something strange and unsettling using a blaze of 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.
... our personalities, our repressions and our fears. Our own MaraIt 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 could to reflect the ever-proliferating video culture of the time. However, Grimwade certainly comes a cropper with the more practical effects of the TSS mobile armour and the infamous snake. The inverse of these apparent failures is that some have have noted that as the Mara is depicted as an illusory concept then an unconvincing giant snake might well be an apt form to take.
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. Grimwade and company should have left the threat as unseen and unknowable but I suspect the feeling was the show must have its monsters and monsters it indeed got. However, this DVD version offers us new CGI effects for the climactic scene where the Mara is trapped in the circle of mirrors and provide an alternative, less underwhelming vision and are cleverly and skillfully matched with the studio footage.
Kinda is neither wholly about religion (e.g the parallels with Buddhism) nor the repressions of colonialism. 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. Kinda is what makes for a healthy mind, an actualised self-hood, in a world that threatens to engulf us in chaos and darkness.
• Commentary - With Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Matthew Waterhouse and Nerys Hughes. Don't expect any great insights here. I'd refer to the documentaries and production text for that. Essentially, an irreverent, often funny, load of gossiping with intermittent attempts to refer to what they are watching.
• Dream Time (dur. 34' 05") - cast and crew look back at the making of the story. With actors Janet Fielding, Nerys Hughes, Simon Rouse and Adrian Mills, director Peter Grimwade, writer Christopher Bailey, script editors Christopher H. Bidmead, Eric Saward and Antony Root, designer Malcolm Thornton, new series writer Robert Shearman. Feel the love for Kinda from Rob Shearman in this short documentary that examines the scripting and production of the story.
• Peter Grimwade - Directing with Attitude (dur. 22' 57") - a look at the Doctor Who career of writer and director Peter Grimwade. With Peter Grimwade, actors Janet Fielding and Nerys Hughes, writer Christopher Bailey, script editor Eric Saward, production assistant Margot Hayhoe, designer Malcolm Thornton, production secretary Jane Judge, script consultant Ian Levine, and Target Books editor Nigel Robinson. A rather poignant reminder of Grimwade's talents as a director and presented by Mark Strickson.
• Deleted and Extended Scenes (dur. 14' 36") - a fascinating collection of deleted sequences taken from timecoded domestic videotape copies of the story's early edits.
• Optional CGI Effects Sequence - option to view episode four with the original giant puppet snake replaced by a CGI snake.
• CGI Effects Comparison (dur. 1' 34") - a side by side comparison of the original puppet and new CGI snake shots.
• Trails & Continuity (dur. 4' 13") - BBC trails and continuity announcements from the story's original transmission.
• Photo Gallery (dur. 4' 42") - production, design and publicity photos from the story.
• Isolated Music - option to watch the story with the isolated music score by Peter Howell.
Released 7 March 2011 / BBCDVD2871 / 4 x 25 mins approx colour episodes with mono audio /Cert PG
"What is the snakedance?"
"This is. Here and now. The dance goes on. It is all the dance. Everywhere and always. So. Find the still point. Only then can the Mara be defeated."
The story that emerges is certainly more comfortable within its own skin and works better as a Doctor Who serial than Kinda itself. Kinda might have the intellectual ideas and Grimwade's energetic direction at its disposal but Snakedance is a much subtler, character driven piece that further explores a number of Bailey's concepts for Kinda.
The world building, as crucial to the success of science fiction drama as the creation of fully rounded characters to inhabit that world, is achieved superbly here. There are no disappointing attempts to convey a jungle planet and the culture and history of Manussa is palpably realised. Instead of a paradise world of the enlightened who manage the flux of time and the cyclic resurgence of evil here we get a developed society that has lost touch with its own history and culture, cynically exploiting it through their own decadent attitudes to the myths and stories about the Mara that once dominated the planet.
... the wisdom of the past must eventually be remythologisedBailey once again parallels the British in India and the themes often have some affinity to those presented in either The Jewel in the Crown or A Passage to India. In Snakedance, Manussa is a culture created after an uncivilised society has been civilised by a galactic Federation. The savage, unpredictable nature of the id has been tamed by intolerant rationalism. This is the Deva Loka of Kinda colonised by a self-satisfied imperialist phallocracy. That self-satisfaction is, however, based on a search for knowledge and a greed that threatens to re-create the Mara, those monsters from the inside, and where the wisdom of the past must eventually be remythologised within the present. Like Forbidden Planet (1956) a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and before long you’ve found "fear in a handful of dust" and released the id, the Mara.
This reflects a particular time in British culture of the 1980s where 'heritage' was key to its definition and many television programmes and films were concerned with re-enacting past British glories, including colonialist and imperialist history, to present an idealised image of Britain. Manussa's past is seen as culturally homegenous and fundamentally false whether it involves the showman Dugdale, the fortuneteller, the idle, bored Lon and his mother Tanha or Ambril and the upper-class, rather decadent non-entities that he socialises with. Ambril, in particular, sees the past as something to be ransacked without attaching any real meaning to it,
Into this mix appear the Doctor and his companions and they know the true power of the Mara and the danger it poses to Manussa. Part of the delight of Snakedance is seeing the Doctor's frustrated attempts to convince Ambril that his excavations of the past are about to be given real purpose. The artifacts over which he pores and to which he grants interpretation go on to fulfill their role as instruments of the Mara's power and its prophecy of return.
... a babbling outsider shooed away from the dinner parties of the Manussan chattering classesThis story once again goes to great lengths to build an environment that becomes readily accepted by the audience. Bailey layers the script with a history and mythology pertaining to the Manussan society that adds greatly to the atmosphere of the narrative and the motivations of the characters. This leaner script still has the telltale Buddhist parallels that permeated Kinda. There director Peter Grimwade was aggressive in his determination to downplay the Buddhist symbolism and yet here director Fiona Cumming allows them to naturally inform the narrative without them being too obvious. The Buddhist themes are there if you choose to let them influence your reading of the story. Like Grimwade, she imbues the story with surreal and nightmarish images and her attention to the lighting of particular scenes gives them the quality of a vivid dream.
Again, the design (many of Jan Spoczynski's sets have a very theatrical, German Expressionist feel to them) and use of sound are crucial to giving the story's symbolism a tangibility that many other stories of this era lack. It boasts a superb soundtrack that merges Peter Howell's music and the Radiophonic Workshop's effects together in the tradition of much earlier periods of Doctor Who. All this is fed through the surrounding details too – the Punch and Judy sideshow, the snake dancers and Howell's 'Janissary Band' musical motifs.
Puppets are dotted all around the story and provide a cathartic effect on both the audiences in the story and those watching television. They offer traditional dramatic mechanisms that allow the release of our unconscious selves. In the end the snakedance, the Punch and Judy show, and the hall of mirrors, are all about the abdication of the will, allowing expression of the darkness from the inside.
It’s also a story about foolishness too. The tables are completely turned on the Doctor and it is very interesting to see the Doctor as a babbling outsider shooed away from the dinner parties of the Manussan chattering classes. Bailey is reflecting back to Karuna's classification of him as a fool in Kinda. We see him as the Manussans see him - a deluded fool who believes in children's fairytales. Davison is given a great script and he grabs it, recognising it as a way of playing the Doctor from a different perspective. He’s such a fool that for at least two episodes he ends up behind bars.
... the balance between past and present, superstition and rationalismBut Davison’s performance is riveting and it neatly parallels the Buddhist folk-take of Planet of the Spiders with the fool understanding that too much knowledge is a dangerous thing and that you should face your own fears. Snakedance even uses the motif of the blue crystals that manifest everyone’s inner demons. The other key image that visually summarises this theme here is the moment when Ambril demonstrates the use of the Six Faces of Delusion, observing that there only five faces on the object. When the Doctor points out that the object is to be worn on the head, and as Ambril demonstrates its use, he concludes that "The sixth face of delusion is the wearer's own. That was the whole idea, don't you think?" This and John Carson's great performance helps convey the narrow minded, self satisfaction of the man and his lack of in any spiritual understanding of the artifacts he covets.
Chela is humble and passive and has enough intelligence to reconcile the two contradictory spheres of science and mythology. Lon is feminised through his relationship with his mother. This Oedipal ‘mummy’s boy’ reflects visually and culturally, whether intentionally or not, 1980s pop-culture's obsession with gender-bending and the fluidity of sexuality. Dressed as an approximation of the New Romantic male, Lon sets out to prove he isn’t just a lazy, bored and effete sidekick to his ignorant, social climbing mother. So you have Chela, a man capable of integrating the masculine and feminine, the rational and the mystical and Lon, a boy out to prove himself to the dominating figure of his mother by unleashing the dark forces from the inside.
Both actors, Martin Clunes and Jonathon Morris in their earliest television appearances, are very good in this. It’s always irritated me that Clunes’ appearance is regularly trotted out on vapid TV shows in an attempt to embarrass him and us. At the end of the day Ken Trew's costumes are highly stylised and, as ridiculous as some of them are, they do feel appropriate to the way this society has gaudily embroidered what it sees as empty ritual. His designs aren't completely successful but they capture the sense that surface is more important than depth on Manussa.
In discussing the male and female roles of the story then we also have to look to both Tegan and Nyssa. Both have had a make-over. Tegan is all boob tube and coulottes now, her décolletage perhaps a suitable indication of the Mara’s possession turning her into the more lascivious, sexualised version of herself in the story. Nyssa unfortunately looks like she's dressed in a deck chair throughout most of this and this particular costume was deemed unsuccessful and does not reappear in the series. However, both characters are well used here, being symbolic of female passivity and aggression – Nyssa perhaps the yin to Chela’s yang and Tegan the aggressive female antithesis of Lon’s passive masculinity. Again, Janet Fielding gets the lion's share of the script and turns in another effective performance.
The last thing I need to mention is that Snakedance is that rare story where meditation, stillness, reconciliation and humility are preferable solutions to violent conflict in defeating evil. It’s non-violent, Zen like approach to diminishing the effect of the Mara makes a lovely change from what would become a series more interested in cynical body counts, aggression and a penchant for things blowing up, melting, rotting and being disfigured. It’s perhaps indicative of the differences between Eastern and Western philosophies that Bailey discusses throughout Snakedance and Kinda.
• Commentary - With Peter Davison, Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton. Very little of this irreverent banter actually relates to what is on screen. It's funny but after a while the joke wears thin. The production text and documentaries shed better light on the themes if that's what you're after.
• Snake Charmer (dur. 24' 37") - cast and crew look back at the making of the story. With actors Peter Davison and Janet Fielding, director Fiona Cumming, writer Christopher Bailey, script editor Eric Saward, designer Jan Spoczynski, and new series writer Robert Shearman.
• Deleted Scenes (dur. 3' 05") - scenes from the original ending of episode four, courtesy of a timecoded recording kept by producer John Nathan-Turner.
• In Studio (dur. 6' 12") - a rare glimpse inside the studio during recording of effects sequences for the story, including the infamous 'farting Mara'!
• Saturday Superstore (dur. 14' 16") - Peter Davison guests on the Saturday morning children's show, plays cricket with Mike Read and John Craven and takes questions from callers.
• Photo Gallery (dur. 5' 21") - production, design and publicity photos from the story.
• Isolated Music - option to watch the story with the isolated music score by Peter Howell.
Released 7 March 2011 / BBCDVD2871 / 4 x 25 mins approx colour episodes with mono audio /Cert PG