Snakedance

Due to work commitments, I had to pretty much switch to watching every other day this week, which was annoying. I don’t feel like I’ve given this one a fair crack of the whip as a result – I’ve also been rather drained whenever I’ve found time to sit and watch, so the serial never had a chance to flow smoothly.

Despite this, it’s clearly pretty decent, although not quite what I expected as a sequel to Kinda, which featured some of the most surreal sequences in the show’s history. Instead, this one was firmly set in the real world, with Tegan’s surroundings being less nightmare and moreĀ Knightmare. They also added pseudo-scientific explanations for The Mara that had been left deliberately vague the first time round.

That was one of the things I felt worked well with Kinda, but actually, this is good too. Why not have your cake and eat it? The two stories back-to-back would almost feel like a modern two-parter: the first full of intrigue and mystery, the second clarifies everything before setting about tackling the problem. Every now and then in the modern series, the second part will be the lesser of the two due to the lack of mystery – that’s the case here too, but not by much.

It was an interesting choice to provide a sequel so close to the original – there’s only five stories in between. Happened all the time in the 60s, but not for ages. Considering the plan for the twentieth series to have returning enemies for every story, it might have been better to wait until later in the run. It’s also a stark contrast to the previous adventure bringing back a character who appeared once ten years ago. I guess you want a carefully-controlled ramping up towards The Five Doctors, which I’m hoping we’ll get. But then again, with Tegan having only just returned to the TARDIS, it did feel odd that she was separated from The Doctor again so quickly.

But anyway, these four episodes as a collective are pretty much your archetypal Classic Who formula: the first part is exploration, the second escalation, a slight slowing down to explain everything during part three, then action and drama in the fourth. The first two parts did their jobs perfectly adequately, if not spectacularly.

Then the third was a particularly bad example of the archetype. It was really noticeably slow – Tegan/The Mara was barely in it, when she’d been the best bit thus far. It’s understandable, given the amount of exposition that needed to be done, but if it had been more evenly spread, it could have been done without resorting to locking The Doctor up and explaining the plot to him. Then the story pauses for a Punch and Judy show. It’s odd.

But then the fourth part is particularly strong, with a return to some of Kinda‘s surrealism but with a more convincing-looking finale. Plus, of course, snake venom being used as a blatant substitute for LSD. As with the rest of the serial, Janet Fielding was great as both the goody and the baddy, and maybe even slightly better as the latter. It was a strong showing for the companions in general, with Nyssa continuing to be much more of a grown-up now Adric’s gone, and them both finally getting new costumes that make them look like actual people, rather than fancy dress caricatures.

The main thing I’ll remember from this episode, though, is obviously Martin Clunes. After the initial shock, his performance really stands out. He looks bloody ridiculous throughout, of course, but you can totally tell that he’s destined for great things. He bulks out the character to such an extent that you’re never sure how much of his portrayal is The Mara’s influence, and how much of it is Lon himself being a petulant little bastard.

As a bonus, I now know what that Six Faces of Delusion thing on the back page of DWM is in reference to. Slowly but surely, I’m filling in all the blanks.

RATING: 7

Kinda

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.

RATING: 9