Monday, 27 February 2012

Review: Doctor Who Classic: Snakedance

Lon (Martin Clunes) is possessed by The Mara.

Doctor Who - Season 20, Story Two - Snakedance

While Kinda was brave and experimental, its plot wasn't necessarily that action-packed. It was certainly very deep and touched upon a lot of themes that Who doesn't look at usually. But, like the Kinda of Deva Loka, Kinda feels a little primitive when compared to its sequel, Snakedance, which formed the second story of the anniversary season. Arranged much more like a regular Who story, Snakedance takes the main themes of Kinda and beefs them up into an exciting, tense piece of science fiction.

     Unusually for the Anniversary season, JNT decided that Kinda needed a sequel and so asked writer Christopher Bailey to return to the series. Now that editor Eric Saward had a much bigger grasp on the series, Bailey's abstract style was channeled into something more fitting the programme's usual setup. Snakedance follows The Doctor and Tegan as they find that The Mara still inhabits Tegan's mind, and has guided them to its home planet of Manussa, where the Federation (very Trek) believe that the Mara was destroyed 500 years prior, and celebrate its destruction decennially. While The Doctor tries to convince the head of the local Museum that the Mara has returned, it manifests fully in Tegan and plots its full return.
     A much frowned upon rumour on Manussa is The Legend of the Return, in which The Mara will re-manifest at one of the anniversary festivals. This intrigues spoiled Prince Lon (a pre-Men Behaving Badly Martin Clunes), until he too is posessed by The Mara's charms. Their efforts revolve around The Great Crystal, which The Doctor realises will focus the mind energy of all those looking at it, allowing a strong mind to conjure energy and matter from pure thought. The Doctor consults with Dojjen, an elder who escaped the city to try and prevent The Mara's return, and upon its manifestation The Doctor is able to break The Mara's hold and kill him once and for all.
The Mara shows off its powers.
     Like Kinda, this is primarily Tegan's story, and Janet Fielding gets a lot more to do as The Mara. The performance is much more toned down than it was in her erotically charged Kinda scenes, but it's still genuinely creepy and The Mara's backstory makes it much more interesting than the seemingly random apperance on Deva Loka made it out to be. Importantly, The Mara feels like it has more of a presence - like the villain's promise of false fears and mental torture, the entire culture that we address in Snakedance has this creature on his mind.
     One thing to really love in Snakedance is the humanity expressed in the characters. There are some camp archetypes, but they stem from very real personalities. Lon, played by Martin Clunes, is despite his camp demeanor, incredibly subtle in his teenage lust for excitement, to the extent that he would not mind being possessed by an evil demon. All of the characters, from the Researcher to a five-minute-wonder of the Fortune Teller.
     Plus, this story is visually awesome. It's remarkable. The lighting is perfect, moody and atmospheric instead of the bright washout of some other Eighties stories. The set design is great, as is the subtle maniulation of film and video to provide us with some great atmospheres. At times I completely forget that the marketplace, reminiscent of Morocco, was in fact a set.
The Mara is finally defeated.
     Snakedance, while maybe not as outwardly ambitious as its predecessor, is still incredibly enjoyable due to great performances and a stellar script. In my little marathon, this is my favourite Five story so far, and this is true for many others. Snakedance takes Kinda and makes it work like a regular story, and does so in a spectacular fashion befitting the anniversary season.


NEXT WEEK: We begin the Black Guardian Trilogy as we remeet The Brig in Mawdryn Undead. 

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