The Sands of Time
|Dates||Jan. 18, 1983 -
Feb. 26, 1983
With Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton.
Written by Christopher Bailey. Script-edited by Eric Saward.
Directed by Fiona Cumming. Produced by John Nathan-Turner.
|Synopsis: In the sequel to Kinda, the Mara returns to its planet of origin, intending to use the psychic forces of a corrupt nobleman to reconstitute its being.|
A Review by Jen Kokoski 27/3/97
Ah, a followup to Kinda. The most pleasing thing about this story is the complexity of the plot. Kept me guessing up until the final explanation of what the Mara was and even more the alusion to the "dark places of the inside". The change in character of Nyssa was also fun to watch. As if fighting the Doctor's and scripters' desire to keep her character stagnant, Nyssa begins to step out on her own. The only downside of this story was perhaps its ending. Meant to be dramatic and poignant, it lacked the same surprise tragedy of Earthshock. In short, the villain was defeated exactly as the viewer expects.
A Compelling Sequel by Tom May 1/2/98
I recently viewed this story for the first time and generally was pleased with it. Unlike the slightly superior Kinda, this works on several levels-- whereas Kinda is an atypical Doctor Who tale (and all the better for it), this is more entertaining and accessible to the general viewer. I've heard much praise for Janet Fielding's performance as the possessed Tegan and it is justified. Also, the underused character of Nyssa is admirably portrayed by Sarah Sutton. I enjoyed Tegan's interplay with the excellently laconic Lon, played superbly by Martin Clunes.
Peter Davison is generally on impressive form as his unobtrusive incarnation of the Doctor. The Davison Era was an enigma. Classics such as Frontios, Kinda, Snakedance, Caves of Androzani and Enlightenment mingle uncertainly with the overrated Earthshock, travesties such as Warriors from the Deep, Time Flight and The King's Demons. Some of Davison's writers were hardly of the calibre of a Bidmead or a Holmes, and the pairing of JNT and Saward was a little inadvised. Still, at least this era does have true classics, unlike late-Pertwee or the Colin Baker Era, Snakedance is one of them, and a recommendation, if it is due, is unreservedly offered. 8.25/10
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 23/8/99
As sequels go, they don`t come much better than Snakedance - even by Doctor Who`s standards. Christopher Bailey`s scripts build and expand upon the Mara and the themes presented by it in Kinda. The scripts are also more accessible, thus lessening the risk of alienating the more casual viewer. As far as the acting goes Janet Fielding steals the show as she did in Kinda as the possessed Tegan, proving that she is indeed a versatile actress.She is ably supported by Martin Clunes (of Men Behaving Badly fame) making his mark as the laconic Lon in one of his earliest television roles. Peter Davison is also on top form as The Doctor here, spending nearly an entire episode as a prisoner, but still being very effective because of the despair and helplessness he is going through (eg nobody seems willing to believe him.)
Particularly effective are the images presented here, whether it is the destruction of the fortune tellers` crystal ball, Tegan`s transformation into evil or the manifestation of the Mara itself (something which let Kinda down in the way that it was depicted) are especially memorable.
Perhaps what is most noticeable about Snakedance is the way in which the characters are changed through their experiences, Nyssa is much more of an "adult" than ever before, obviously a sign of her leaving the TARDIS crew two stories later in Terminus, Tegan discovers what it is like to kill merely for pleasure, and The Doctor finds that battles can be fought quietly (via the still point) rather than facing the enemy head on. So in summary whilst in order to fully appreciate Snakedance you need to watch Kinda, it is still perfectly enjoyable as a story in its own right and and as one of the best of the Davison era.
A Review by Jeremy Deline 28/11/01
"When the critic finds themselves saying things such as 'Oh! Look at that marvellous....ART DIRECTION'..you know you've got a stinker on your hands" conversely, when one of the only things you can find to critique is the sets and costume design, you have a darn good Dr. Who story.
Snakedance is the best kind of sequel-one that feels like a self-contained story. Even if the events of Kinda had not taken place, the plot as presented could continue forward with minimal adjustments. It's often said that the Fifth Doctor was at his best when he was fighting not to save worlds, or altering the timeline, but when he was attempting to personal dangers. This applies to most of the 'classics' of the Davison era: Androzani, Frontios, Enlightenment, Castrovalva, and Snakedance. From the opening scene between Nyssa and the Doctor onwards, the characters are always at the center of things. (This goes without saying in Tegan's case) and not only does the Doctor need to save his friend in this story, but he has to defeat the Mara (essentially an ancient evil from the dawn of time type). A simple, effective equation. Characters we care about+a defined, meaningful conflict=compelling drama.
the other reason why Snakedance works so well, I think, is atmosphere. All of the stories this season were steeped in atmosphere, and here especially (well, here and in Enlightenment), the atmosphere is key to the story's success. Mysticism is something that Dr. Who had never seemed fully comfortable with, but in this story, aided by Beryl Cummings' direction, the drama appears to unfold in a world of dreamlike imagery-the costumes and sets, while ranging from cheap (the market-place) to plain silly-looking (Lon's ceremonial outfit), somehow add to the mood. and the Mara itself is treated with an air of surrealistic menace that feels oddly appropriate. From the dream sequence to the hall of mirrors to the shifting snake tattoos, there's something distinctly more creepy and unnerving about the baddie here than there is in most Dr. Who. The stakes feel serious, adding weight to the tension.
And for this, special mention must go to Janet Fielding and Martin Clunes. Ms. Fielding hasn't been overly kind to the show since she left, but her performance here as evidence of what she was capable of and what she was allowed to do is never less than convincing, as she moves ably from near-total panic to inhuman evil. The glowing red eyes seem a bit unnecessary and dated, but apart from that, her performance is totally unnerving. And Lon's jaded approach to the events unfolding around him proves that less is more. Instead of a cackling meglomaniac, Lon is callous, amused, intelligent and very visibly dangerous.
This is very original, very creepy, and very compelling TV. Unqualified recommendation.
Snakehandlers in space by Mike Jenkins 11/3/02
Although the Snakedancers may seem like the above description they are clearly much more. Spiritual, insightful, and the greatest feature that can be given to any Doctor Who characters, bloody peculiar. Doggen is the highlight of the entire story, and his scene with the Doctor is the best scene in the history of the program. PERIOD. The story does not live up to the original intelligence and sophistication of Kinda and is, in my opinion, much more the atypical Doctor Who story without any intelligent symbolism and hyperbolic ideas which fold in on themselves. The acting is not quite as strong although there are some good performances, most notably Martin Clunes.
If observed as a separate story, it is more effective, and deserving of a 8/10 regardless, easily being one of the strongest stories of the season. But if compared to Kinda, it will always be a disappointment. This is a mere quibble though. The atmosphere is wonderful, the Mara is well realized, even if the ideas behind it are somewhat less horrific in their delivery. I don't think Martin Clunes has Simon Rouse beat. Doggen is very much an onscreen incarnation of George Harrison. It's certainly not partonising to the viewer but not challenging. So it is a classic but not THE classic so to speak. It does live up to its reputation and is very entertaining. One should not let the brilliance of Kinda cast a dark shadow over this good story. As I am a spritual person, the themes of sprituality have what always struck a chord with me. One not to be missed, but watch Kinda first.
Long Snake Moan by Andrew Wixon 25/5/02
I'll admit from the start that the title is inaccurate. This shouldn't (fingers crossed!) take terribly long and it's not, for the most part, a moan. But snakes do feature and I could never resist an obscure musical reference. So: Snakedance. This is one of those stories I hadn't sat down to watch in an absolute age. My memories of it were of a poorly-designed, studio-bound, rather insipid tale from the season where Doctor Who really started to lose the plot. So I'd been giving it a miss.
Well, more fool me because this is a really, really good tale. It's much better than Kinda both in terms of production values and the flow of the narrative. Any nagging questions I had about the way the two stories connected were soon put to rest and I was able to sit back and enjoy a fairly simple but beautifully written adventure story, a race against time and against human failings. There's scarcely a bad performance in it, but John Carson stands out and Martin Clunes already displays the star quality that would make him a household name. They're helped by some marvellous dialogue (how it all slipped past Eric 'Tin ear for dialogue' Saward I don't know, but we should all be grateful) - I especially enjoyed Dugdale's spiel - 'See the mysteries of the human soul... children half price!' There are some great visuals and an atmospheric score, and Chela is one of the better proxy-companions of the 80s.
But, well, the story's let down by a few things. The design work is a bit of a mixed bag, the costumes and sets totally failing to create a coherent society. This isn't really helped by a script which doesn't even make it clear what the tech level of this civilisation is - the guards carry swords and it's implied they can't space travel but Lon's dad is Federator of the Three Worlds... it's a tiny niggle, but a niggle it remains.
And for all its abundant strengths, I can't help thinking that this sort of thoughtful, serious drama, without many obvious jokes or a monster, wouldn't have appealled to the great British viewing public. They'd want something a bit less demanding with an obvious monster and some ray guns. A shame, but there you go... Snakedance is a gem, but one with very little potential to break out into the mainstream. Still one of the best Davisons, though.
A Review by Terrence Keenan 4/6/02
A sequel to Kinda, Snakedance is a noble failure. Considering that up until I dusted off my copy recently and watched it as part of my plan to give the Davison era a re-evaluation, I thought of this story as a hunk of shit, Snakedance has aged a bit better in my eyes.
Methinks the biggest problem is that Snakedance tries too hard to be a standard DW story. The reason Kinda worked so well was because it wasn't standard DW. Snakedance is heavily constrained in the trad format, and suffers because of it.
Beef number two is Martin Clunes. Although it's a smart move to not have the character of Lon be a brat, Clunes's phone-it-in performance grates on the nerves over the four episodes. Whether Clunes felt the need to take the piss with the character of Lon is hard to say.
Peter Davison is up to his normal high standard, but Sarah Sutton gets very little to do. Janet Fielding's Tegan runs hot and cold throughout the story -- the scene in the house of mirrors and her schitzoid behavior with Nyssa in part 2 are brilliant, but the the climax to episode four is OTT in a hammy way. The guests, except for Chela, are annoying.
In the end, Snakedance is let down by a bad ending and an
attempt to capture the magic of a previous story. It could have been
worse, but should have been better.
Well, I first have to say that Rob Matthews inspired this return look at Snakedance. He and I went back and forth on this and Kinda, on which was better. After the discourse, I watched it a couple of times, and it all came together.
The first thing I had to do was divorce it from Kinda. Snakedance always followed Kinda on the viewing rotation. And so, in retrospect, Snakedance suffered. So, I made a conscience decision to watch it all alone, without my fave Peter Davison story.
Technically, Snakedance is a bit more conventional in terms of Who. I say technically, because it delves into consise Holmesian world building, and features an old school Who Double act in Lon and his Mum, Tanha.
However, it subverts two other Who conventions, favoring the mystical and legendary over the academic and skeptical, and -- my favorite -- by not having the Doctor's claims of wild catastrophe accepted by those in authority. (Except Chela, and he only gets it after Lon decides to use the Great Crystal in the ceremony. Chela seems more upset of the breaking of tradition than what the consequences may be, even though he does think that Dojjen might have been on the right track.)
So the Doctor bursts into rooms and like a last angry prophet, yells that the sky is falling. And those in charge -- Lon, Tanha, Ambril -- either seem amused, or annoyed. They indulge the Doctor a bit, get bored and either put him out of the way, or let him run off. The effort to catch him doesn't seem worth it. If you were to think about it, if some nice young bloke in a cream coat showed up at your apartment and claimed the end was nigh, you'd be on the phone to have the butterfly squad take the poor deluded loon away.
On top of all this subversion of Who conventions, there's a lot of meat on the bones of Snakedance. The carnival atmosphere on Manussa. The Punch and Judy show that slyly forecasts the finale. Ambril's greed for more discoveries that he can botch the history/meaning of. The Six Faces of Delusion scene. The Hall of Mirrors guy and Crystal ball reader who come out and admit their frauds to Tegan without any hesitation. There's a nod to Forbidden Planet in the story of the birth of the Mara (Monsters of the Id!) and more subtle references to Christian and Buddhist mythology.
On the performance side of things, my big hangup was with Martin Clunes's Lon. I found myself more forgiving of his slightly uneven performance. His calmer moments, especially in the last two episodes are really creepy instead of falsely charming, a very good thing. Collete O'Neil gives a strong turn as Tanha. The rest of the guest cast all hold their own.
On the regular side of things, Peter Davison is his usual excellent self. Sarah Sutton shows a little range. And Janet Fielding had a field day as the possessed Tegan. It's really obvious dear little Janet is having an illegal amount of fun as "Evil Tegan". And the final scene is quite touching.
I'm very happy to have rediscovered Snakedance. It's the strongest sequel story in Who, because it retains what made the original so special, but stands up on its own terms.
Highly confused by Tim Roll-Pickering 8/4/03
Although it came bottom in the contemporary DWM survey, Kinda was one of the most thoughtful and inventive stories of Season Nineteen and so more than many other stories it deserves a sequel to allow writer Christopher Bailey develop the concepts further. Unfortunately Snakedance is a poor sequel to Kinda in many ways and it would have been better not to proceed at all than to follow this root.
Whilst Snakedance has good production values, including some artistic use of film sequences, graphics, real snakes, lighting and sets, the story is let down by an extremely incomprehensible plot and writing. Much of the story is extremely difficult to comprehend. The TARDIS doesn't actually arrive on Manussa until well into the first episode and the intervening time is taken up with attempts to probe Tegan's mind whilst events on Manussa begin independently without a clear indication of how the two are connected. Once the TARDIS arrives there we get some rather boring running around and capturing whilst Tegan and the Mara take over Lon as well in the hope of using the Great Crystal to give the Mara a corporal existence. There has clearly been some thought behind the basis of this story but it comes across very poorly on the screen and the result is one of the hardest to follow Doctor Who stories of all. At the end the viewer is left wondering what the whole thing was about.
The acting is competent, with Janet Fielding once again giving a strong performance as the possessed Tegan. Martin Clunes appears as Lon years before he became famous for his role in the sitcom Men Behaving Badly and gives a competent performance as the bored son of the Federator, disproving the often made claim that an actor made famous by comedy cannot give a performance in Doctor Who that the viewer can suspend their disbelief for. Jonathan Morris also appears in this story as Chela but otherwise few of the cast stand out particularly well.
Fiona Cumming's direction is good and particularly effective are the filmed sequences featuring Dojjen. The use of real snakes and a snake's skull in many scenes benefits the story no end, but unfortunately it isn't enough to convey to the viewer just what is going on. Despite all these admirable efforts the result is a story that is better avoided. 2/10
Brilliant! by Joe Ford 11/7/03
After Tim Roll Pickering's slating of this story I was compelled to go back and watch it to see if I had overrated it in the past. I always thought that the saying "the diamond in the rough" was created specifically for Snakedance, a story so much better than the sheer bollocks offered up in the lamentable season 20 it is astonishing it was made by the same creative team in the same year. Perhaps I was being too fair because ANYTHING would be better than shit like Arc of Infinity, Terminus and The Kings Demons.
Snakedance is perfect as Doctor Who comes, a story that fits into the format and manages to be familiar and groundbreaking, that manages to score well in every area of its production AND have a satisfactory conclusion. Whoa all this and it's still in season 20!
I am not fond of Peter Davison's portrayal of the Doctor, in fact my spiteful words about him on this site has caused many a fan to go into cardiac arrest (yeah you know you are!). I have already gone into depth and detail as to why his softer approach to playing the Doctor didn't ring true with me so I won't dribble on here. Except to say that his portrayal in Snakedance is damn near perfect. And I mean PERFECT. There are so many standout scenes for the fifth Doctor in this story it would take me too long to recount. Some of my favourites though... the scene with him and Nyssa in the caves as they study the pictograms, he leaps about screaming and shouting, intelligent and passionate... he really seems involved in the story. What about the bit where he interrupts Tanha's dinner party and is shooed away as a pest. It is so odd that Davison should be so involved in this story (oh let's not beat around the bush... it's the best script and production of the season and he obviously sensed the talent around!!!) and so bland in the others surrounding but his efforts here are most appreciated.
It helps that he gets to spend much of the story with that foxy babe form Traken, Nyssa. How cool is she in this story? Another story where Tegan doesn't hog the limelight (companion wise) and we get to see more of Nyssa's potential. Her scenes with the Doctor uncovering the plot are breathtaking (such as the excellent crystal scene in the TARDIS). Her compassion towards Tegan is admirable and her hunt the key session is genuinely gripping. Plus she's a bit of a looker. Love the "look at my new skirt!!!" scene at the start.
This is one of those Doctor Who stories that magically manages to contour up an alien world that comes across as completely believable and even better, really interesting. Manussa and all its rituals is a wonderful creation, Chris Bailey takes the time to show is all sides of this culture from the arrogant, high and mighty Federation members to the average towns folk working in the market. It helps that the set design is quite gorgeous, from the soft light dinner party scene to the eerie cave settings, you never forget that this is all filmed in a studio but it doesn't matter because the sets do the story justice. The cave mouth is terrifying, the corridors have roofs (how rare is that?) and everything looks expensive with lots of arty farty pieces scattered about. Very nice.
Of course it might have something to do with the way director extraordinaire Fiona Cumming directs. She said in an interview that she always chose the bigger stars for her stories and she made some excellent choices here. Martin Clunes might be utterly mortified to watch his first faltering steps into his acting career but he is the perfect choice to play the rude and arrogant Lon. He is real piece of work, spoilt and pampered. But Colette O'Neal is even better as his mother, Tanha, who come across completely believably as an opinionated aristocrat. Her "frightfuls" and "disgustings" go a long way to revealing her racist character. Together they have an excellent chemistry and you never once doubt they are mother an son (they bicker in a way only mom and son can!!!). Also of note is John Carson who offers up a hysterically OTT Ambril, a man with so much personality he puts Colin Baker to shame! I just love the sixth face of delusion scene where he is shown up for the fraud that he is... brilliant!
Cumming gives the story an extremely stylish visual flair, not only are the effects subtle and kept to a minimum to get in the way of the very engaging character drama but the camerawork is also excellent. Episode three has about seven scenes set in the same cell and yet they are never dull visually. The climax to episode one is a perfect cliff-hanger, totally spooky and exciting and the shot of the exploding crystal ball will haunt me forever. Like her earlier Castrovalva she puts in a lot of detail to paint a better picture of Manussa, adding kids, birds sound effects, the hustle and bustle of the market place... it's all very atmospheric.
Comparisons to Kinda are inevitable... come on guys this story is much superior to that drivel. Kinda is an acquired taste, liked or hated, for me it just has too much going against it to make it work. Some fans can just concentrate on good writing but I question whether that story is actually well written or just annoying experimental for the sake of it. Kinda has some terrible performances (Aris is tedious and Karuna extremely amateur) whereas Snakedance has none. Kinda has a terrible forest backdrop that never convinces you for a second, Snakedance has detailed, gorgeous sets. Kinda has Matthew Waterhouse, enough said. Kinda has a big fake pink snake at the end, Snakdance has a cool snding with Tegan's face superimposed over a snake with moving eyes that really creeps me out!!!! I'm sorry but Kinda and its dull religious steals is a big bucket of crap compared to Snakedance.
Janet Fielding gives one of her best ever performances as Tegan, particularly in the first two episodes. Her scene with the fortune teller is scary beyond belief as she transforms from scared, confused Tegan to the snake-tongued Mara. Similarly her chat with the Mara in the hall of mirrors gives me the shivers. Stunning imagery helps but Fielding's frightened Tegan just creeps the hell out of me. Later episodes where she camps up the role a bit loses some effect but her big climax subduing the crowds has to be seen to be believed. I am now convinced if Tegan had been as well written as she is here she may very well be one of my favourite companions but as it is she only has touches of magic in her tenure. Magic like this story.
What about the music? Seriously creepy stuff! All the dream sequences are punctuated with spine-tingling tunes. I love how it isn't overdone like a lot of these season 20 stories, the music only turns up when the atmosphere demands it... like the scary circus music as Ambril is trapped in the caves. Great stuff.
One of the best, one that all you Davison lovers can stand up proud and say "ha! See he was as good!". For me? Well it's still pure perfection an even more special compared to what is coming. Another JNT story that holds up superbly 20 years later.
Crystal Clear by Rob Matthews 20/7/03
'And in the reign of chaos and destruction which followed, they must have forgotten one important thing: That the Mara was something they themselves had blithely brought into being.'Some time back I dashed off a review of Kinda, a story I don't much like, in an attempt to explain why I don't much like it. A pretty exhausting exercise, trying to properly discuss something you're basically indifferent to, and though I got myself a bit het-up about the 'ooh it's all Buddhisty' aspect of the production while struggling through the review itself, once I was done I returned to my fundamental indifference. In Doctor Who fandom as in life I generally try to ignore what I don't like, and concentrate on the positive. Hence I decided I'd also write a review of the story's sequel, Snakedance, which I prefer - before promptly forgetting to do so for, ooh, several months.
Well, truth be told, Snakedance doesn't in any comprehensive way float my boat either. It's not a great favourite of mine, though I do like it and I do think it's a superior Doctor Who tale. Between this and its forerunner, I find Snakedance the more enjoyable and worthwhile piece of entertainment.
'Enjoyability' is an elastic concept for me - I can understand, for example, why a recent reviewer of Jubilee, Mekel Rogers, had some objections to the level of violence in that audio tale, because for him it robbed the story of that basic nutritional element of enjoyability; of, in a way, fun. It did that for me too, inasmuch as Jubilee is not, despite a few dark chuckles here and there, a barrel of laughs. It's probably not a story I'll listen to very frequently either, but it's still IMHO one of the best Doctor Who stories there is.
This I explain thusly; it's a very intelligent, structured and at heart deeply humane examination of the nature of cruelty and power-lust. These are not fun subjects, but because it has that humanity, that seriousness, commitment and wit, it commands both admiration and respect. And because it deals with the subject of cruelty, it has a responsibility to show the effect of cruelty - namely violence - without flinching, or else it would be untrue to its own subject matter. I think a Doctor Who adventure as good as Jubilee comes pretty damn close to being a work of art in its own right (and I'm not snotty about what constitutes such a thing - anything at all can be the canvas for a work of art, including a spin-off audio from an old sci-fi show). And because it works for me on the level of art, the matter of whether it's 'enjoyable' becomes slightly less relevant. Or rather, the parameters shift, and it becomes 'enjoyable' more because of the wit and creativity it displays than because the events portrayed make it a pleasant listening experience. It's enjoyable at one remove, if you like. It still engaged my attention and interest.
Yes, yes, I'll talk about Snakedance in a minute.
I think 'difficult' Doctor Who stories - particularly in the television and audio media -, need two things to succeed; a strong organising principle (namely a highly skilled author, or in some cases an exceptional director), and good, convincing regular characters to act as entry points into the narrative, tokens of engagement. In the case of Jubilee, these for me were the Sixth Doctor, who I adore in unrestrained fashion, and Evelyn. Casting my net wider, I could equally well point out that what ultimately gives life to the mish-mash of occasionally pompous ideas that make up Curse of Fenric is the relationship between the Seventh Doctor and Ace. So I can completely understand why, say, our own Terrence Keenan, who is not a fan of that pair, would therefore not be a fan of the story either. There was no-one there he cared about to lead him into it. And I guess for him the wonderful direction wasn't enough to make the serial worthwhile.
Kinda was a story I found dull and on that basic 'entertainment' level, and for perhaps similiar reasons - I have no truck with the Fifth Doctor-Tegan-Adric TARDIS crew, and in fact quite often find them a dull and irritating bunch. Also, I think it was a mistake to produce a psychologically-centered story about a character who has thus far shown no evidence of having any psychological depth to speak of - namely, the at-this-point two-dimensional cipher that is Tegan. Not that I want to diss the character unnecessarily - the Tegan we see in Resurrection of the Daleks, two years later, does convince me as a well-rounded 3D human being - but it's my opinion that the season 19 TARDIS crew weren't given nearly enough writerly attention, either as individuals or as a group, and remained too sketchy to be thrown into a story that's aiming just a bit higher than genre-TV stuff like Four to Doomsday. Analogously, Curse of Fenric would never have worked had it came directly after the introduction of the slightly dodgy and caricatured cockerney Ace of Dragonfire. It took several Ace-centered stories and the gradual growth of her and the Seventh Doctor's characters to lead us into a story like Fenric.
So for my money, it should in fact have been Tegan rather than Nyssa who sat Kinda out - given what happened to both Nyssa'a father and her home planet just a few stories before, does no-one else think it was a shameful waste of both character and story potential for her not to be the one possessed of the Mara? There were surely a lot more obvious dramatic possibilities in bringing out the dark side of Nyssa, a meek, mild and thoroughly likeable character who nevertheless has enormous reasons to be filled with fury, than Tegan, a stroppy mare with an unconvincing slapper buried in her id. I mean, come on, just imagine a hateful, violent monstrous Nyssa - the suggestion alone gives me goosebumps!
Mike Morris (it's that man again) suggests about Kinda that 'the absence of Doctor Who staples, like corridors and running, are perhaps the reason it splits opinion as it does'. Without wanting to be cheeky (and, hey, I think I should have some leeway - he did refer to my admittedly disordered Kinda review as horseshit...), I think that's a slightly cheap remark, just as it would be cheap of me to suggest that the only people who could like Kinda are those who fancy Janet Fielding and think Peter Davison brightens every story he's in. Which of course, I wouldn't... ahum. For one thing, unconvincing studiobound forest clearings do in effect constitute 'corridors' - in the sense that they're an unexpensive place to put important scenes, they serve the very same production purpose as the many tunnels and hallways we've seen throughout the series' history. I'd say to the contrary that if there are any Doctor Who staples missing from Kinda, it's characters who I like and care about. As I say, the only person out of this insipid bunch who I do like and care about is the one who's not used in the story. That's an entirely subjective response of course, but I am only speaking for myself here.
So, moving on to the organising principle - the writer. Well, I'm sorry but it still seems to me that Kinda's story works only as a Buddhist-lore-adhering parable. I know sod all about Buddhism except what I read up on off the back of this story, and normally Mike Morris' weapons of mass eloquence annihilate all possibility of counter-argument, but in this case I can only restate: I didn't understand Kinda until I understood what the Buddhist references meant. Simple as that. Maybe that's because I wasn't involved enough with the characters to engage with it more. Maybe not. But for me, a writer or an artist has to be autonomous and original, his work has to be sufficient within itself, not inflected with look-at-me cleverness, or references that lead in another direction, or to a bigger text. Obviously there's a structuralist argument to be made that no work of fiction can be entirely autonomous, but I hope you know what I mean - it shouldn't in any case become a homework assignment for the audience. An artist should create his own world and his own rules. And Doctor Who shouldn't need recourse to religious myths of any kind because - whatever your own beliefs - Doctor Who at its best is its own mythology.
Sturdy foundations there, I hope, because I'm now going to briefly discuss Snakedance.
Snakedance isn't a work of art, it's a work of entertainment, and a professional one. Mike Morris in fact provides me with a very good argument for why I find Snakedance preferable to Kinda; a quote from his review of Time Zero:
'(Justin) Richards' books have a simple, giddy joy of storytelling, which is gloriously refreshing. If he has an interest, they're worked into the plot with modesty and discipline, as in this book's grounding in quantum theory. His books may be unpretentious slices of inconsequential entertainment, but they take their inconsequentiality very seriously.'Of Chris Bailey's two Who scripts, I'd argue that Snakedance is by far the most disciplined - because it's making an effort to engage its audience, because it's better paced, and because the Buddhist influences there are genuinely unintrusive (as they were in Planet of the Spiders - oh by the way, the phrase 'Planet of Spiders' went missing from my own Kinda review, making it look even more lunatic than it already was). And of course Snakedance also has running and corridors. Which is what I really like about it...
Seriously though, I think Snakedance in fact works better on the psycho-drama level than Kinda, because all that stuff is dealt with more in the realm of metaphor, in the setup of the plot itself. The quote with which I opened this review (possibly mis-worded; I don't always write these things with the stories to hand) exemplifies this best of all, and is my favourite part of the story - the horror that 'they themselve blithely created'. The 'Sumaran' mythology of Snakedance is interesting on its own terms, as is the suggestion of a society 'civilised' by a galactic Federation of some sort (echoes of Peladon?) - because if you're in the mood to see the story in psychological terms, you certainly can - Manussa as the uncivilised, the elemental, the id; the Federation as civilisation, rationalism but also intolerance and phallocentrism - with Ambril in particular as a unyielding superego figure.
There's Oedipal stuff in there too, with one of surprisingly few mother-son relationships portrayed in the show. But I think I'll leave that one alone, even the bit where the snake on Tegan's wrist becomes erect, since I don't want to turn into Frasier Crane all at once.
More interesting for me is that the most reasonable and adaptable male character - besides the Doctor himself - is the one who's open-minded and humble, living in Ambril's world but still respectful (if that's the right word) of the superstitious makeup of his planet's history. I'm referring of course to Chela, the character played by Jonathan Morris, whose perfectly-reconciled bipolarity of attitude extends even to an obvious feminisation of his character. Surprisingly, this genuinely interesting character has only been mentioned only once, in passing, by the nine reviewers above. Less surprising perhaps that no-one used the phrase 'perfectly-reconciled bipolarity of attitude' before... Perhaps precisely because he is so humble and mild, it's easy to miss him, but if you do feel like taking the psychological approach, looking at the story as if it were a big anatomised brain, then Chela would be the tubes linking that brain's left and right hemispheres - instinct and education, superstition and rationality, past and present, and so on. He's so well adjusted, he doesn't need to go around reconciling contradictions, doesn't need to choose a creed. A dull character in a way, because he's so fundamentally contented, a study in humility. But an interesting part of the story's psycho-tableau nonetheless.
That tableau in itself does act as a thematic extension of Snakedance - here, it's a kind of what-might-have-happened if the 'Not-We' had remained on Deva Loka, had colonised and civilised it. The more I think about the story, the more I'm reminded of Larry Miles' Christmas on a Rational Planet, and as in that book there are several flip-flops here in the argument between the wisdom of the past and the wisdom of the present - the seemingly more primal society of the past turns out to have been the more techo-sophisticated, and to have destroyed itself in the search for knowledge, self-knowledge, with the flesh-and-blood creation of a dark aspect of the mind. As with Kinda, there are shades of the Garden of Eden myth here - is ignorance bliss? (in this case, ignorance of your own dark side, though my answer would be a resounding No). And as in many of the best Doctor Who stories, questions linger but compassion and understanding do ultimately defeat the monsters of the mind.
And the genius of it is that you don't even have to think about any of this if you don't want to!
So as a matter of fact - well, opinion, actually - Snakedance is a far more disciplined, more accomplished psychological drama than Kinda. All the moreso because it doesn't include a load of incomprehensible scenes (like the 'Wheel of Time') just to demonstrate that it is one. A good, well-crafted story carries its intellectual weight gracefully and discreetly. And that's just what Snakedance does. It's superficially enjoyable for general audiences, and has iridescent depths for those who fancy looking at them. It's not special enough to be art in the fullest sense, but unlike Kinda, it's not pretending to be.
A Review by Adrian Sherlock 23/7/04
Snakedance is one of the five absolutely essential Dr. Who stories from the Fifth Doctor's era. They are Kinda and Snakedance, Earthshock and Caves of Androzani and ofcourse the 20th anniversary special, The Five Doctors. Despite the reservations a lot of fans have about the Davison era, out of just seventeen full length stories, there were five must-see stories which are as important to the series as Genesis of the Daleks, Pyramids of Mars, Robots of Death, Talons of Weng-Chiang and City of Death.
What makes Snakedance so important is that it is the sequel to the 80s landmark Kinda. Kinda was considered the first fully adult Dr. Who story and the story featured in the University text book Dr. Who: The Unfolding Text. A copy of Kinda was also purchased by the National Film Institute as an example of the series at its best. With a retelling of the garden of Eden myth in which Adam and Eve become Aris and Tegan, and the serpent is an evil force which possesses human bodies to provoke conflict and chaos, Kinda was a multi-layered story which also alluded to themes of Buddhism and satirised government, colonialism and perceptions of civilization.
Snakedance is less rewarding in the multi-layered and intellectual sense, but like its predecessor, it's built around the brilliantly scripted characters and superb acting performances which one finds only in Dr. Who at its very best. Here a more straightforward tale of the evil serpent-like force, the Mara, taking over Tegan, is used to make a more traditonal story. But the high-concept nature of the villain is as potent and as different to the normal robots and rubber monsters as it was in Kinda. And once again, its possession of Tegan allows Janet Fielding to demonstrate remarkable scope for a companion.
Peter Davison bursts onto the screen in an erruption of energy, clearly aching to inject adventure into what is essentially a theatrical character driven piece, but his potent performance works to the story's advantage. The supporting cast are all exellent, most notably Martin Clunes as an arrogant and bored young man who becomes a pawn in the Mara's game. The suspense in this story is similar to that of Pyramids of Mars as it hinges on the return of some terrible alien power which will wreak havoc if let loose.
The finale of the story is truly powerful and startling, and one cannot help but be affected by it. The Doctor's probing into Tegan's nightmares and dreams in the early parts seem like a psychiatrist trying to unravel a mystery of the mind, far removed from the usual Dr. Who running about. And when the Mara is finally gone, one feels as if the Doctor has exorcised Tegan's private demons, perhaps cured her of a mental illness represented by the serpent and the feelings of hate it generates in the mind. Snakedance is therefore serious Dr. Who and its themes are serious business. But it is also classical Dr. Who story telling, about colorful characters, suspense and a rewardingly dramatic and exciting finale. As a companion piece and sequel to Kinda, it is a superior piece of TV SF, and they both make a striking contrast to the thrilling adventure and excitement of Earthshock and Caves of Androzani. It is a low key story at times and requires a little patience, but Snakedance, like Kinda, is well worth it, because if you haven't seen these two gems, you haven't really experienced the full scope of the intellect and artistry of Dr. Who at its very best.
A Review by Brian May 1/12/04
Snakedance is a wonderful story, and one of Doctor Who's best sequels. The previous year's Kinda was one of the programme's most intelligent and thought provoking adventures; the general consensus is that Snakedance is more straightforward - more normal, if you like. I agree with this viewpoint in some ways, but the story still manages to tap interesting depths, whilst at the same time being an atmospheric, sometimes just plain scary, outing. It's still very much a psychologically gripping and at times enchanting follow-up.
In terms of plotting, Snakedance is more straightforward than its predecessor. As an adversary, the Mara is not as built up as it was in Kinda, in which its origins and explanations were far more shrouded in mystery and mysticism. How the Mara actually came into existence is given a pseudo-scientific explanation in Snakedance, but it's an account that's far more solidly footed than that in Kinda. In Snakedance, its presence is announced near the beginning of the story, so from early on it's a simple matter of the Doctor having to defeat a re-awakening entity.
In other areas, Snakedance retains the same intellectually enriching nature of its prequel. Once again it's a mix of imagery and ideas from various religions, the native American Hopi snake dancers in particular, combined with writer Christopher Bailey's Buddhist philosophy, which is the dominant influence. The climax to the story involves the Doctor finding the "still point" which, arguably, could come from any religion that practises contemplation or meditation, Christianity and Buddhism in particular. Kinda also examined colonialism and imperialism, but in a very obvious way. Bailey's second script looks at these issues a bit more subtly. Manussa is a Federation colony, formerly under the rule of the Mara. The Mara was banished and replaced by the first Federator. Lon, the current Federator's son, has a somewhat cynical view of his father's role and the upcoming ceremony to celebrate the Mara's defeat:
"...the whole thing is kept going solely to remind the people here how much better life is under the rule of the Federation."His mother, Tanha, has a less questioning outlook. Her response is:
"And so it is!"She understands the nature of power. About her son's request to break the rules, she says:
"Of course we can do it!... it is actually one of the few advantages of being a member of the Federator's family."Federation rule may be more benevolent than that of the Mara, but by the abuse of power, however mild, condescension and patronisation, attributes all exhibited by Tanha, Bailey maintains that imperialism is the same, and the presence of the Federation is simply the lesser of two evils. At the end of the day, the Manussans are not an independent, self-ruling people.
Moving away from the intellectual factors, there is much more to commend about Snakedance. First of all, it benefits from being an impressive production. The direction by Fiona Cumming is excellent, making good use of the studio bound shooting. The design is worthy of special mention, from the market stalls to the memorable snake mouth cave entrance and the main chamber within; there are also the small details, such as the hieroglyphs and designs inside the chamber. The appearance of the Mara at the end is a hundred times better than the laughable snake model that marred Kinda, and there is some great editing (the mixing of Tegan and Mara shots is exceptional). The use of real snakes in the scene between the Doctor and Dojjen is also a production plus. And the music and sound effects are terrific! There's no theme as such; the score is kept to a minimum, concentrating on dramatic stings and quiet, unsettling noises. The new age synthesiser sound for the Dojjen and still point scenes is also appropriate to the situation.
As for atmosphere, Snakedance has plenty of it! The very first shot of Tegan, asleep in her bedroom, has no sound except for the familiar humming of the TARDIS - but this virtual silence is more unsettling than any music could be. The slow possession and takeover of Tegan's mind is real psychological horror material, especially as she knows the Mara is there, and she's fighting a losing battle. Her dream at the beginning edges on the surreal, as does the crystal ball cliffhanger to part one. Some images really freaked me out: the Mara screaming "Go away!" from Tegan's mouth is a real jump from your seat moment, but the bit I remember vividly is the snake skull appearing over her head when she looks into the mirror. It's creepy - if I ever get round to listing a "Top 10 Scariest Moments", you betcha this will be included!
Janet Fielding turns in a brilliant performance. She has never been better than she has as the possessed Tegan - even more so than in Kinda - and goes to show that the character's faults lay largely in the writing; certainly from this story (and a few others, to be fair) Fielding is capable of great work - it's a pity she was written as a whingeing, bossy colonial so much of the time. Peter Davison is good as the Doctor, while the story unfortunately sidelines Sarah Sutton into the typical companion role - in fact they both play second fiddle to Tegan and the guest characters. The latter are all extraordinarily good - I can't think of a bad performance. Martin Clunes is a long way from Men Behaving Badly, but his very young appearance as the bored and arrogant Lon is nothing for him to be ashamed of today (well, except that costume he wears at the end). My favourite is John Carson as Ambril - his constant ramblings when showing off his knowledge of Sumaran artefacts - which results in him boring the pants off everyone in the vicinity, are fun to watch, as is the six faces of delusion scene. There's also Lon using Ambril's greed in order to obtain the great crystal, while Tanha's "conversation" with Chela about the impatience of youth is a scream - just watch Chela's face, as he tries to be politely attentive whilst inwardly squirming, not knowing what to say, wishing he was anywhere else but standing next to her, listening to her ramblings!
And the final episode is great! That's rare for a Doctor Who story. Even though, as usual, it's the usual running around to prevent a catastrophe, it's given some uniqueness. The Doctor's "dance" with Dojjen is fascinating - at the height of the proverbial race against time, the Doctor is told to, excuse the colloquialism, chill out and take it easy. This is very much against the grain for a Who climax, but it works because of that.
Snakedance is a remarkable, fun tale that has stood the test of time. Great performances, including Janet Fielding's finest hour; a great production, with a moody, at times terrifying, atmosphere. One of the best stories of Peter Davison's era. 9/10
It made a good story, quite made my hair stand on end! by Oliver Price 19/8/08
Snakedance. Yes, that's a very popular story isn't it. And you know what, having recently watched this story, I can see why. For a start, there is the acting. Not only are the guest stars all good, but Davison is great in this, giving a very energetic performance. Sarah Sutton's performance is very good too, and it is nice to see her get a lot more screen time then she used to. Better still, is Janet Feilding's performance as the Mara-possesed Tegan. I must admit to having not seen Kinda yet, but I can safely say she is brilliant in this. She really scares you, and is very well supported by Martin Clunes. What's more, this story actually looks great. Not ony are the sets very expensive-looking, but director Fiona Cumming give this a story a visual flair. Her camera work is wonderful, and many of the effects are superb, particularly the bit at the end with the snake.
However, Snakedance is probably one of my least favourite episodes ever, for one simple reason.
That reason: Snakedance is really, really, REALLY BORING!!! I'm sorry, but whilst this story looks nice, that can't hide the fact that it is just four straight episodes of people running, chatting, sometimes even sitting down and doing NOTHING!!! Worse still, watching this story, I have to it through a whole lot of "Oh no, the Mara is going to come back!" "Oh, no it isn't!" "Oh, yes it is!". And to add insult to injury, after four episodes of "Build-up", the Mara is defeated by Peter just LOOKING at it! AAARRRGGGHHH!!!! Not only is Snakedance unbearably dull, but the plot is also disturbingly similar to a certain story that wasn't shown that long ago. Not sure which one I'm talking about? Well then, just look at it.
The plot of Snakedance: An old enemy, who the Doctor had defeated in a previous episode, attempts to return to the real world. To do this, it gets the help of Tegan and two other men. The Doctor, with the help of Nyssa, attempts to prevent the old enemy, but they are hindered by the rulers of the planet. The old enemy finally returns in the final episode, but it gets destroyed by the Doctor, destroying it forever.
Gee, sounds familiar doesn't it? I wonder where I've heard that one before! Still can't quite put your finger on it? Here's a clue: go right up to the top of the page and click on the big button that says "Previous". Nuff said. So, I'm sorry, but as far as I'm concerned, this is just a incredibly boring re-make of a story that ended just six days before this. (Six days!!! Criticise Silver Nemesis all you want, but at least there was more than a gap of SIX days!) Looks nice, well acted, shame about the pacing and the plot. 3/10
P.S: It would've been hilarious if Nyssa had yelled out "Just liked you nailed Omega!" at the end.
A diamond in the rough by Thomas Cookson 21/12/08
Yet again I am reviewing one of the highlights of the 80's era of Doctor Who. I say highlights because I regard the 80's era as a disastrous misfire, almost from the outset. The 80's of course produced some outstanding stories but never had the show been so inconsistent and in places completely incompetent, suffering such a lack of quality control and poor judgement.
Some fans remain fond of the Davison era, and of Davison's energetic, youthful, innocent qualities that he brought to the role. I, however, find that his era and his character have too many shortcomings for me to be able to embrace the era. I think the Davison era was the 'jumped the shark' period. But, as I said, it still produced the odd excellent story that sometimes makes the era as a whole seem worth it.
I think for me the biggest bugbear with the era is its humourless self-importance. Its stuffy humourlessness made the cheaper, more embarrassing stories harder to treat as cheerful farce or 'ironic'. And its high concept approach drifted the show away from its previous 'something for everybody' appeal and at times led to some very uninviting, pretentious, lethargic, didactic stories. But this is one of the stories where the ambitious, no-nonsense and musing approach to 80's Doctor Who really paid off.
Snakedance immediately made an impression on me as possibly my favourite Davison story and one of Doctor Who's real masterpieces. The whole thing is just so sophisticated, sublime and detailed.
I was never quite convinced of the hype with Kinda, and having now seen Snakedance, which seemed to have a density that Kinda lacked, I've come to see Kinda as more of a promising first chapter of the book whilst Snakedance took the story further, really exploring further the world that Christopher Bailey had created, with more expansive and penetrating material, and the two together make an essential mini-arc. In an era obsessed with internalising itself on soap-like continuity, this for once uses that to the story's advantage, to enrich the story at hand.
Rather like Kinda, this is a story concerned with Buddhism and psychology, and the concept of consciousness and identity, as it tells a story of robbed identity through possession and how this evil entity works on our psychological weaknesses. So here we have a very rich cast of characters. In fact, this is very much a character-led story. The one thing that nagged me about Kinda was when Hindle went berserk without any influence from the Mara at all and so it seemed like a contrived coincidence. This story really improves on that and really gets the characters interacting and influencing everyone and the Mara working its will through them all.
We have the archaeologist Ambril, one of those typical despicable, sarky Doctor Who characters who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. But the scene where he's confronted with the possessed Lon is a truly magnetic scene that slaps the viewer in the face as Lon blackmails Ambril by showing him the new artefacts that he has found and is breaking them before him, taunting him "You will always know that you only saw these things, once!". It's just fantastic scripting. Often Martin Clunes has been on talk shows where clips of him in this story, where he's wearing a lot of make-up have been dug up to make fun of him, which I find laughable since he plays such a strong, awe-inspiring character here.
The look of Snakedance is also far grander than Kinda, and is, in fact, magnificent, making it more believable as a populated alien civilisation, and the Mara snake looks much improved here. It wasn't so much the rubbery look of the Mara that I wasn't keen on, I just wasn't sure that such an evil entity should be... pink. So I much prefer this yellow, striped-wasp look to the Mara. A part of me thinks that maybe this isn't better than Kinda. That Snakedance simply wears its best qualities on its sleeve and conveys its best effect in a first time viewing only, whereas Kinda actually improves on repeated viewings as new delights are there to be discovered. But still I say this is a gem.
The look of the story seems to homage ancient Rome, which really complements its hedonistic, prima-donna characters. It is exactly this kind of retro story or historical adventure that the show should have made a consistent rule of in the 80's. It often made for the best stories of the era, such as Keeper of Traken, Enlightenment and Ghost Light. It was also the kind of thing the BBC specialised in, and could do far more justice to than the often cheap, tacky-looking futuristic stories that the public was now starting to sneer at.
More importantly, this retro approach was probably what the viewing public of the 80's most wanted to see, judging from the acclaim that Back to the Future, Indiana Jones, Brideshead Revisited and Black Adder received. There was a real market for retro and historical ironic pastiches, particularly in an era where subcultures like the New Romantics, Goths and Roleplayers really gravitated to the retro and historical. Frankly, to not go down that path with the show was a real waste.
About Time Volume 5 points out rightly that Manussa actually feels like a planet with a vast and authentic history of its own that stretches beyond the period shown in the story. Something unusually vivid for a one-off alien world in Doctor Who. But then, this is a story with many rare qualities that really shook my complacency of what Doctor Who could do.
There's a scene where we watch a Punch and Judy show and a Mara puppet appears in the middle of it and tells a mini-story within a story that conveys such an authentic picture of this culture. It really defied what I'd come to expect from the show and I knew immediately that this was no ordinary episode, that there was a detail and care, and all cohesive symbolism to this episode that made this a much more authentic story and a far richer world.
And the Doctor? Well, Peter Davison is still playing the Doctor as a new-age, sensitive man in a cynical and dangerous universe. As a Doctor, he was often depressingly incompetent in the fight against evil. But this is a story that's well suited to his vulnerability. In the ideal reading of the Fifth Doctor, he was the kind of fallible hero who'd keep you on your toes with doubts as to whether he'd pull through or not, leading to a strong sense of drama and tension. But all too often he fell into a predictable, depressing role of being a neutered bystander amidst a massacre who can only make inept moralising speeches until everyone's dead. It was almost unwatchable. But here he comes off far better here because this isn't that kind of formulaic story.
The scene where he tries to warn Ambril about the threat of the Mara and the approaching apocalypse is a brilliant example. He lacks the natural authority of his predecessors and instantly comes across as just another madman prophesising doom. It allows Ambril to indulge in a sarcastic 'oh of course we believe you' in a hilarious turning of science fiction's usual po-facedness. Many say that Peter Davison was too young to play the Doctor, and just didn't have the authority and gravitas needed for the part (plus the fact that he was being neutered by Saward), but that if he was playing the Doctor now he would have made for a stronger character with his matured gravitas. Indeed, Davison has shown that in the Big Finish audios. I really do recommend the Davison audios Spare Parts and Creatures of Beauty. Both absolutely beautiful and moving stories that honestly brought tears to my eyes. Hell, they even made American Beauty seem mediocre by comparison.
But, back to the story, of course the Doctor does win the intellectual pissing contest when Ambril tries to dismiss the Mara legend and the Sumaran culture as being based on the thinkings of ignorant savages. He uses the example of the Six Faces of Disbelief artifact as an example of how numerically challenged they were, until the Doctor points out the obvious, and it's a real punch the air moment of getting one over on our arrogant, insular, mocking and knowing modern culture that never looks beneath the surface or looks beyond our society's culture and values. But of course every scene in this story is a gem. This is a story of such density and momentum, and not a single scene of it is wasted. Everything counts, and in an era marred by lethargic padding, pointless tick boxing, gratuitous violence and other publicity stunts, this is something special.
As I said, this is a very Buddhist story and, moreso than Kinda, it is a story about facing your fears. Which in many ways is the raison d'etre of Doctor Who. There are hints of the later McCoy stories in the way that the Doctor drags Tegan kicking and screaming through her worst fears. In Kinda, it seemed wrong that Tegan should simply forget about her experience with the Mara, and this story rectifies that by showing that she was simply in denial and that the mental scars of the Mara are still there. And, this time, she really goes through the trauma. Janet Fielding has improved as Tegan since Season 19 and she really performs those emotional scenes well. When she is crying at the end, telling the Doctor how she could feel all the hate ever felt in the entire world, it's a beautiful, exorcising moment. Another such scene is where Lon performs the ceremony of stepping against the mock-up Mara and throwing dust to the floor while giving an eloquent speech of how he has no fear. There's something about robust and unyielding strong characters in TV that always appeals to me and inspires me, much like in Edge of Darkness, Fortunes of War and Our Friends in the North, and this is such a story about inspiring strong characters.
We overhear the Doctor's thoughts for the first time since the 1960's and we realise that he is plagued with guilt for what he's exposed Tegan to, and his doubts about if he can save her. This is a story you can't imagine any other Doctor playing with the same vulnerable sensitivity. And the scene where he faces the Mara in a telepathic, literal battle of wills is superb. The story has a great use of haunting sound effects and really complements this quieting moment of the calm at the eye of the storm as the two forces of nature link minds. This is, alongside Enlightenment, the best story of Season 20 and a remarkable display of what the erratic and often ugly John Nathan-Turner era was capable of when it occasionally pulled it all together. There are often times when I wish the show had ended here on a high instead of going even further downhill. I often wish they'd ended Doctor Who with Season 20, with Resurrection of the Daleks closing the season instead of The King's Demons (which can of course go in the bin). That way we'd manage to avoid Warriors of the Deep, Twin Dilemma, Timelash and Time and the Rani, and ensure that the Master stays vanquished at the end of Castrovalva.
I can give two arguments of what went wrong from here. One is that a story like Snakedance, much like Enlightenment, reflected a very spiritual direction for Doctor Who. Stories in which the individual and the soul really matter. But then the program did a complete about turn, in a way that was a major betrayal in my eyes. In catering to the fans it brought along a lot of nostalgic monster parades of old favourites like the Cybermen, Sea Devils and Sontarans. The show turned, or rather regressed, from the spiritual to the superficial. And, as it became superficial, it became cold-blooded. The sanctity of life was out and in came characters who were brought in simply to die en masse, to be cannon fodder to those old monsters, in an often contrived and nasty fashion.
Another angle I suppose is that Snakedance reflects the show's direction into the introspective. A lot of long-running shows do this when they're getting quite long in the tooth. They either become seriously introspective (Buffy The Vampire Slayer) or go to the other extreme of self parody and dismantling the fourth wall (Moonlighting). Doctor Who of course had done both, and the introspection was a killjoy backlash against the frivolity of the later Tom Baker stories. Snakedance used that introspective approach and did it very well, but all too often introspective Doctor Who didn't work on TV. It worked very well in the novels and audios but in TV it tended to be quite disastrous for the show. The show became insular, pretentious and depressing and it reduced the Doctor to a moral cripple who couldn't do anything without having a crisis of conscience about it.
But the worst thing is that it made the show prone to force introspection through some quite exploitative content. Contrived, nasty violence became a means to provoke shock emotional reactions and remorses from the characters in mean-spirited, manipulative stories like Warriors of the Deep, Resurrection of the Daleks, Twin Dilemma and The Two Doctors, and it's become a trend in Torchwood, particularly in Cyberwoman and Countrycide.
To me, that insularness really hurt the program's ethos. Doctor Who had once been a real counterculture-era TV show about questioning authority and expanding your horizons and making a difference. It had very topical stories about global concerns like The Green Death and Genesis of the Daleks. But, come the 80's, the show becomes only concerned with itself, with continuity issues, superficial monster parades and the Doctor's self-involved angst. It was no longer a series about making a difference, it was telling its viewers to stay tuned rather than get out there. It became too much about appeasing the petulant, demanding voice of fandom, and the authenticity of the fictional canon, whereas in the past that wasn't important, it was clearly fiction where you could see the joins and stagecraft, but it was also daring and thought-provoking and something you could apply to real-world concerns. Not anymore; in the 80's, the show had become lost in itself, and so had its fanbase.
As Doctor Who has now come back, it's now concerned with being popular and appealing to an insular modern culture. The Doctor and Rose relationship created the same kind of young fan craze as a demographically aimed boyband. And, likewise, those fans seem to think that reuniting the Doctor and Rose would make everything right with the world again. Call me old-fashioned, but in the 70's golden age, the show was actually about teaching the viewer to come to terms with the fact that there's a LOT that's not right with the world. I'd say then that Snakedance was one of the last times that Doctor Who was actually about 'looking outside' rather than fixating on the fictional canon of the show. It was about, in the Buddhist sense, facing your fears and rising to challenges, and it was about looking at different cultures from beyond our own arrogant, mocking, 'knowing' culture. All things considered, Snakedance is an absolute triumph of its erratic and often ugly era, that wins me over in one viewing. It is well worth owning.