Ah, finally. I’ve spent years wondering whether it’s pronounced “kinda”, as in “kind of”, or “Kinder”, as in the surprising chocolate egg. It’s the latter, and I can confirm that Kinda is bueno.
Tegan’s nightmare was just superbly realised on every level; terrific directing, early Quantel wizardry, and a brilliant performance by Janet Fielding, combining to produce sequences that are truly dream-like. I had no idea what the hell I was watching at times, but I enjoyed it all because it was done so well. There was a surreal edge to the whole serial, and you’re never quite sure what’s real and what’s not.
I particularly liked that there’s no real, scientific explanation for any of it. Normally, I like everything to be rationalised, but here I was more than happy to accept that the Kinda are magic, giant wind-chimes will send you to sleep, and that while you’re dreaming, you can accidentally unleash a mind-controlling snake. Everything just seemed to fit. I’d never even heard of The Mara as a recurring villain until I started ordering the DVDs, and I’m already looking forward to the sequel.
There was a fantastic guest cast too. Mary Morris has a face that’s endlessly fascinating, and Lee Cornes did a great job of being Lee-Cornes-but-with-a-costume-on. But the humans stole the show, with their strange mix of nineteenth century colonialism and actual insanity. Todd could have been a companion, or even a romantic interest for a slightly older Doctor. But Hindle was the absolute best. He was all over the shop, but fascinating as he slid further into insanity, to the point where he forgot all about blowing everyone up in favour of hiding in a cardboard box in the pretend city he’d built.
Sadly, the actual companions suffered a bit, and once again there was a sense that there wasn’t enough for them to do. After Adric’s performance last time, I was completely unsurprised when he appeared to side with the baddy again, and had little faith that it would turn out to be a double bluff. Tegan got all that amazing material at the start, then promptly slept through Part Three.
But that was nothing compared to Nyssa, who had a good long rest for the whole serial. It was like the old days when the regulars would miss episodes just so the actors could take their annual leave. Or as if she was K-9 in a story with a lot of tricky location filming. On the plus side, Peter Davison no longer feels like “the new Doctor”; he’s just The Doctor now. Only took three stories, which is even more impressive when you consider the guy he replaced.
It’s a little bit of a shame about the giant snake puppet at the end. Aside from the aesthetics, it would have worked better had it not grown big enough to see over the mirrors that were supposedly trapping it, considering you already have to ignore the big gap in the circle for the camera to move in and out. This aside, it was a serial that alternated between the low-key and the fantastically ambitious with great aplomb, and it’s the Fifth Doctor’s first true classic.