Monday, 13 April 2015

Story 124 - Snakedance

In which Tegan is having nightmares about the time she was possessed by the Mara. The Doctor is perturbed to discover that the co-ordinates have been changed - causing them to go to the planet Manussa. The TARDIS materialises in a quiet corner of the local bazaar. Exploring, the Doctor learns that this world was once part of the Sumaran Empire - the home of the Mara. He realises that Tegan was never totally dispossessed, and the evil entity has lain dormant within her mind. He gives her a device which helps to deaden the senses, which should keep the malign influence at bay. Unable to hear, and bewildered by her surroundings, Tegan wanders into one of the fair booths - that of a fortune teller. The woman who runs the booth removes the Doctor's device - and the Mara takes full control over Tegan. Elsewhere in the city, Director Ambril is playing host to Lon - son of the Federator - and his mother, Tanha. The Federator rules the Manussan Federation, which supplanted the Sumaran Empire. His ancestor is reputed to have destroyed the Mara centuries ago. Lon is a bored teenager, with no interest in his heritage. A festival celebrating the expulsion of the Mara is due to take place, but this fails to arouse his interest. Ambril's young assistant, Chela, is one of the few who believes in the old legends. He meets the Doctor and Nyssa, and tells them of Ambril's predecessor - Dojjen - who became a Snakedancer and left the city to become a hermit in the wilderness nearby. The Snakedancers believe the Mara still exists and will one day return. The Doctor agrees with this, and tries to warn Ambril.

Tegan has taken shelter in another fair booth - that of a Hall of Mirrors, run by a man named Dugdale. He falls under her evil influence, and is sent to the palace to fetch Lon. Lon goes to the Hall of Mirrors and he too falls under the Mara's spell - a snake tattoo appearing on his arm. Tegan instructs him to ensure that Ambril is brought to a nearby cave system. This is where the forthcoming ceremony which marks the height of the festival is to take place. Wall carvings there tell of the legend of the Federator, and there is a slot in the wall where a great crystal is supposed to be set. In the ceremony, a fake crystal is always used, but Tegan wants the real one to be used this time - and this rests in the care of the Director. Tegan knows of a secret chamber full of early Sumaran antiquities - which should excite the interest and greed of the history-loving Ambril. In exchange for them, Ambril must agree to let the real great crystal be used. The Doctor's continual efforts to get Ambril to listen to him and to halt the ceremony land him instead in jail. Chela visits him there and gives him Dojjen's notebook. From this, the Doctor starts to comprehend how the Mara came into being - and how he can stop them.

Nyssa and the Doctor convince the young man to help them, and Chela steals the key to the Doctor's cell from Ambril's office. Lon witnesses this, and orders the guards to kill them all - claiming they are trying to assassinate him. Tanha, disturbed by her son's recent behaviour, intercedes and they are able to escape. The Doctor decides to go into the wilderness to find Dojjen. The old man appears and the Doctor communes with him. He now knows that the Mara were created by accident, when the Sumarans perfected the great crystal. So perfect was it that they attuned their minds to it, and all of their negative emotion manifested itself as the Mara, and so it took on a life of its own. Should the great crystal be used in the ceremony, the Mara will be able to manifest itself once more and take over all the minds of the inhabitants. The festival begins, with Lon playing the part of the original Federator. At the moment in the cave ceremony when the fake crystal is revealed, he produces the real one - to the horror of the watching citizens. It is inserted into the slot in the wall carving as Tegan appears. The festival-goers all begin to fall under the Mara's sway. The Snakedancers all wear a smaller crystal - representative of the great one - but it is also shares similar properties. The Doctor focuses his mind through it just as Dojjen had instructed him, and so uses it to block the Mara from manifesting itself through Tegan. The great crystal is smashed, and the Mara are expelled, this time forever. Lon and Tegan are freed of its influence.

This four part story was written by Christopher Bailey, and was broadcast between the 18th and the 26th of January, 1983. It is a sequel to the previous Season's Kinda, which producer JNT and story editor Eric Saward had admired. Bailey had experienced a difficult time bringing his first story to the screen, but now he felt a little more in tune with what Saward wanted, and the writing came much easier.
Once again we have Buddhist references, as well as Hindu ones. Many of the names are significant. Dojjen derives from the monk Dogen, Duggan comes from Duggati - a sense of dissatisfaction with the path chosen, Chela means "apprentice", and so forth. There are some noticeable parallels to be found with Planet of the Spiders.
Snakedance is entirely studio based - though the scenes in the wilderness with Dojjen were filmed at Ealing. The designer, Jan Spoczynski, and director Fiona Cumming manage to make Manussa seem like a real place, with a proper culture and history.
One significant improvement since Kinda is the prop for the giant snake which appears in the final episode. This one just about gets away with it.
Even if not everyone watched Snakedance on transmission, or bought the VHS / DVD, just about the entire population of the UK has watched a clip from it - namely the early appearance of the now ubiquitous (on ITV at least) Martin Clunes, playing Lon. Those "before they were famous" clip shows about film and TV personalities always dig out a clip of Clunes with his (very 80's / New Romantic) lipstick and mascara - preferably a clip from the final episode where he also wears the rather fetching smock and headdress combo.
The cast also features the wonderful John Carson as Ambril, Jonathon Morris (famous for Liverpool-based sitcom Bread) as Chela, Collette O'Neil as Tanha, and Lis Sladen's husband Brian Miller as Dugdale.
Episode endings are:
  1. In the fortune teller's booth, Tegan has become totally possessed by the Mara. A snake skull appears in the crystal ball before it shatters, and Tegan laughs as the fortune teller screams...
  2. A terrified Dugdale is ordered to look at Tegan. He sees her eyes glowing red...
  3. As they attempt to flee from the palace, the Doctor, Nyssa and Chela are trapped by guards, and Lon orders they be killed...
  4. On the steps outside the cavern, the Doctor reassures Tegan that this time she is really free of the Mara.

Overall, an enjoyable story which makes for a good sequel to Kinda - giving Janet Fielding a better role than usual. Good cast and visuals, and as mentioned above a real sense of this being an actual place. The plot does leave Peter Davison stuck in a cell for pretty much the whole of episode three, however.
Things you might like to know:
  • Chris Bailey did not write for Doctor Who again, though he did have other ideas that never proceeded to commissioning. He did have an idea for a third Mara story.
  • The Mara were chosen for one of the first Big Finish audios after they finally secured the services of Janet Fielding - but it isn't Bailey's third story idea. They were also name-checked by Captain Jack in the Torchwood episode Small Worlds, but have yet to return to the parent programme. Bizarrely, the Mara turned up at Trenzalore - according to BBC books.
  • Personally, this is my favourite of the two Mara tales, but polls disagree. In the DWM 50th Anniversary poll, Kinda is in 63rd position, whilst Snakedance is 112th.
  • Was the designer a fan of Star Trek? The snake-head shaped cave mouth is reminiscent of the cave mouth seen in the episode "The Apple". Like Kinda, that also features strong Garden of Eden influences - as well as a young David Soul.
  • Tegan and Nyssa appear to be sharing a bedroom, as both of their fancy dress costumes from Black Orchid can be seen hanging in the background in the opening scenes.
  • Dojjen is played by Preston Lockwood (died 1996, aged 84). In 1994 he featured in a fly-on-the-wall documentary about his local golf club (Northwood in Middlesex). This resulted in the club members becoming a bit of a national laughing stock for a while, which Lockwood warned might happen if they let the cameras in.

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