Big Finish Productions
The Cradle of the Snake

Written by Marc Platt Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2010

Starring Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton and Mark Strickson

Synopsis: "The Mara is in all of us, deep in our minds. In our darkest thoughts, that's where it started. Some people call it a demon, but that's too simple. It's about temptation." Tegan's nightmares have returned. Seeking to banish the snake-like Mara from his companion's psyche, the Doctor sets course for Manussa, the creature's point of origin. But the TARDIS arrives instead in the heyday of the Manussan Empire, where infotainment impresario Rick ausGarten is preparing to turn dreams into reality. The sun is setting on the Manussan Empire - and it's all the Doctor's fault.


The Return of the Mara by Adam Balaban 15/9/14

"You don't belong here."
"Neither do you. Go and talk to the other sheep."
In David A. McIntee's introduction to The Shadow of Weng-Chiang he writes that "the best sequels are those that take different paths from their predecessors." Marc Platt's The Cradle of the Snake follows this only slightly. The fact that Platt is the writer is exciting because of the high quality of some of his other work (Time's Crucible, the novelization of Downtime), but this is not the case with Cradle.

The best part of this audio is the first twelve minutes. It's a microcosm, so to speak. Following on from The Whispering Forest, the Mara (by whatever logic it operates on) has made its presence in Tegan's mind known. The Doctor and Nyssa are worried and all Turlough knows is that Tegan might be dangerous. Nyssa comforts Tegan until she begins to mock her consideration of others and shows Nyssa the snake mark on her arm. The Doctor bursts in with the Little Mind's Eye and confronts the Mara but Tegan faints. Telling the others not to wake him, the Doctor "finds the still point" (it's not really explained) and enters Tegan's dream. There he tries to drive the Mara out but it tells him it has to go somewhere, to which the Doctor warns it away from Nyssa and Turlough. Struggling in his sleep, Nyssa decides to wake the Doctor and they find that the crystal is broken. Tegan awakes feeling great, and the snake is no longer on her arm. Uncertain of where the Mara has gone, the Doctor states they can't stay nowhere forever and have to land the TARDIS, taking the risk of releasing the Mara on an unsuspecting world.

Twelve minutes, contained within the TARDIS, really great. Afterwards, it's not terrible, but I don't want to say that about any story. Even Timelash had good things about it. It's just that Cradle, for being as anticipated as it must have been, isn't as good as it should be. And maybe that should be an indication to stop writing for the Mara. The Weeping Angels were great in their debut story, but, now that they seem to make regular appearances, they're no longer interesting. Besides all the mysteries left unanswered about the Mara (or perhaps it's all there and you have to have the right perspective to understand), it's probably best that the Mara not appear that much no matter how cool a villain it is and how much we want to see it again.

But remember that a good sequel will take a different path from its predecessor. We're back on Manussa, described as a paradise like Deva Loka was, and the Mara gets trapped in a circle of cameras and monitors akin to mirrors. I understand there's continuity; really, the only problem is being on Manussa again, when there are other unsuspecting worlds. The Mara wants to start its empire over a century before it's supposed to, which will upset the Web of Time. As far as plans go... I don't know, for some reason that's not that great. Even Nyssa wonders how the Mara (a spirit of chaos) could have an empire (which implies order). But this is where I come up with a joke about the Black Guardian, the Mara, and Fenric walking into a bar. How many embodiments of evil can you have?

The Doctor is possessed for the most part of the story, and towards the end Nyssa and Turlough are also possessed. Everyone gets possessed. But I think one of the key aspects of the Mara is its link with Tegan, which is why the first twelve minutes are the best. Tegan and the Mara go together, and the Mara speaking through anyone else isn't as awesome.

TEGAN: "Nyssa, you're always helping others when you could be helping yourself. Wouldn't that be better?"
NYSSA: "That's not what I believe in."
TEGAN: "Stick with me and you can start to enjoy yourself."
It's that playfulness. The Mara isn't about evil, but about temptation, although the two often seem connected. Because of that, the best part about the Mara in the Doctor's body is when he and Turlough are at the carnival and the Doctor wins a stuffed animal but still accuses the game of being rigged, so he causes the tent to collapse.

Real snakes don't like the Mara, which is a fantastic idea, like they know it's not a real snake. They're sent to find it by Dada Desaka and I know Vernon Dorff who plays him is white, but I can't help picturing Chef from South Park. The Mara can apparently be detected by brain scans, too, but is usually depicted as more of a metaphysical monster, apart from the tattoo.

The snake absorbs belief and keeps growing until it actually swallows the TARDIS, which is a really powerful image, reminiscent of the Snakedance novelization cover: a giant snake baring its fangs at a planet. If that image could be put on screen, it would be incredible, and the Mara swallowing the TARDIS is a step towards that. It makes up for the snake just roaring when it finally manifests. I suppose it's meant to be menacing, but hissing would be better.

The Cradle of the Snake is an okay story. In an attempt to understand the nature of the Mara, I've studied Kinda and Snakedance, perhaps too much, and this is why Cradle doesn't feel like it's on the same level of story and depth as Christopher Bailey's serials. But unless he spoke with Bailey, Platt only had the two serials to work with, and how the snake works is more metaphysical than understandable. So Cradle is still good if only as an adventure by itself. The new perspective is that the Mara is an infection, and again this doesn't fit with Bailey's nature, more biological rather than spiritual. So while the Doctor mentions that the Mara is in everyone in terms of evil, the physical Mara is still defeated. The snake comes into contact with another manifestation of the Great Crystal, its opposite, and is destroyed, which seems an appropriate and final end.

But this is a sequel and there's always room for another.