Doctor Who: Snakedance
(4 episodes, s20e05-e08, 1983)
Someone felt a need to revisit Kinda?
The adventure opens with a mysterious man and his necklace as they sit on a barren planet. Creepy and kooky, but not particularly ooky.
On board the TARDIS, Nysssa tries on a new outfit while the Doctor puzzles over some strange readings. Tegan had set the coordinates for the next destination, inadvertently choosing Manussa, and now she’s having strange snake-related dreams. On the target planet, ruling family members Tanha and Lon debate the merits of celebrating the eradication of the Mara, the snake creature that the Doctor believes still possesses part of Tegan’s mind. The Doctor hypnotizes Tegan to explore this possibility and discovers that it is true. He recalibrates the machine so Tegan is protected from all outside sounds and the group sets out to find the snake cave in Tegan’s dream.
Tanha and Lon have already entered the cave as part of the ritual celebration with a researcher named Ambril. They are examining wall paintings that detail a legend of the Mara’s return. When the travelers arrive, Tegan’s fear prevents her from entering, so Nyssa waits while the Doctor explores within. A salesman scares Tegan with snake toys, causing her to run into the crowd and disappear. The Doctor finds the ruling family and convinces them to meet Tegan, but with her disappearance, they dismiss him.
Nyssa and the Doctor return to the TARDIS, expecting Tegan will try to find her way back, but Tegan has collapsed and was rescued by a local fortune teller who removes the hypnosis device. As a result, the Mara exerts control over Tegan.
The Doctor and Nyssa go back out to search for Tegan, and when Nyssa finds her, Tegan is erratic and runs away, hiding in a hall of mirrors where she confronts the Mara succumbs further to its control. The Doctor returns to Ambril and accurately matches current events to the legend of the return, which is detailed to him by Ambril’s assistant Chela. The Doctor reunites with Nyssa and explores the snake cave, while the Mara sends the operator of the mirror chamber to retrieve Lon. When he arrives at the booth, the Mara takes control of him.
The Doctor and Nyssa return to the TARDIS to analyze a blue crystal, which they presume may be the Great Crystal linked to the Mara. They discover that it is the key to the Mara’s full return. Meanwhile, Mara-Tegan and Mara-Lon have taken the carnival worker to the cave and opened the inner door, exposing the remnants of the ancient civilization within. Coming to the same conclusions, the Mara and the Doctor discover that Ambril knows where the crystal is located. The Doctor tries to retrieve it, but he is arrested. The Mara, on the other hand, entrances the carnival worker and sends Lon to fetch the crystal. Lon persuades Ambril, who has just shared the diary of his predecessor Dojjen with Chela, to return to the cave to see the chamber interior. The Mara convinces Ambril to return the Great Crystal to the cave during the ceremony.
Nyssa sneaks into the palace dungeon and tries to free the Doctor. As Chela shares the diary with the Doctor, Nyssa searches for the key to the cell. Nyssa is caught by Tanha and the Doctor discovers that Dojjen left his post to study the forbidden teachings of the Snakedancers. Nyssa is reunited with the Doctor inside his cell, and they spend their time researching the crystal and the diary. The ancient Manussans were able to create the crystals, which transformed their negative emotions and thoughts into the Mara. They later forgot that they had created it, and the only memory of the Mara’s origins was maintained by the Snakedancers.
When Lon and Ambril announce their intention to bring the Great Crystal to the ceremony, Chela frees the Doctor and Nyssa. They are soon cornered by the palace guards, where Lon orders their immediate execution. Tanha intercedes, allowing the Doctor to tell his side of the story, and the Time Lord presumes that Lon has been marked by the Mara. Ambril offers to show them the Great Crystal, and while everyone is distracted, the Doctor, Nyssa, and Chela escape.
The Doctor uses his crystal to summon Dojjen, the mysterious man from the beginning of the serial. Together, they enact the Snakedance ritual, which requires a snakebite on their wrists so they can communicate telepathically. Dojjen counsels the Doctor to find his “still point” and destroy the Mara forever. As they commune, the community around them commences the celebration ritual.
As the celebration continues, Lon plays his customary part before breaking character and announcing the return of the Mara. The Doctor and company burst into the chamber as Lon places the Great Crystal and reveals the Mara, which feeds on the assembled crowd’s fear and grows stronger. The Doctor focuses his will through his “still point” and battles the Mara. The Mara tries to break the Doctor’s concentration by channeling a panicked Tegan, but Dojjen reinforces the Doctor’s center. The Doctor pulls the Great Crystal from the wall and the Mara’s influence is broken, causing the snake to fall to the ground and die.
Tegan is embarrassed and horrified at her actions, but the Doctor comforts her. He reassures her that the Mara is gone for good.
The good news is that the writers didn’t put Nyssa in a coma again. Additionally, she seems to have been well-briefed on Kinda‘s details before this adventure. The Doctor continues his fatherly development, and Nyssa got a chance to shine as she unwrapped the mystery. As Tegan, Janet Fielding sold the possession aspect quite nicely, leaving no part of the set unchewed.
But the story was only average. At least we’re free of the Mara now, right? Right?
Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Mawdryn Undead
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.