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Gems, but minor ones...,
This review is from: Doctor Who - Mara Tales (Kinda/Snakedance) [DVD] (DVD)
These are two interesting stories. I actually prefer Snakedance to Kinda, because the story seems better organised. Christopher Bailey, who wrote both stories, believed that the `action hero' was the lowest sort of hero, and the greatest hero was the `wise old man', who was mostly a contemplative observer. This resulted in Kinda, which was originally written for Tom Baker, an actor who could more convincingly fill the role of possessor of wise omniscience than Peter Davison, who ended up playing the Doctor in it. Producer John Nathan-Turner disliked the tendency in Tom Baker's later stories for the Doctor to be the cause of things happening. This was the premise of Kinda, where the companion the Doctor brings, Tegan, revives the destructive energies of the Mara, but the production attempted to play that aspect of the story down, I think to the detriment of the story, as it meant the Doctor became even more marginal to the narrative. JNT's rule that Doctor and companions must bicker was always perverse and in both stories is pointless and mildly irritating.
I don't think the design helps the script, and Bailey in an interview on the disk says he was disappointed by the B&Q garden-centre look of the forest, and with the clichéd South Sea Island look of the Kinda natives. The forest is so unthreatening (compare it with the legendarily well-designed alien jungle of Planet of Evil) that it undercuts and renders confusing the fears of the colonists to leave the survival dome unless they're inside the total protection suit thing (another unsuccessful effect, tho they tried their best): it simply isn't alien enough. Nor are the Kinda.
It does have atmosphere, nonetheless, and some good performances, and some intriguing ideas. The original giant snake was lame. The new cgi one is, while being done in a similar style, very effective - tho I had the same problem with the roaming signal appearing on-screen throughout the sequence.
Snakedance seems to me a better story. I'm afraid I have to agree with Janet Fielding's critique of her own performance: `I can see myself acting too much, instead of just being the thing.' But she is gutsy, and it's nice seeing her having more to do. Not having Adric in the story is also an improvement. Some odd editorial choices were made in the last episode - a concluding sequence (included as an extra on the dvd) being chopped for length, while long boring sequences featuring a Punch & Judy show and a panto snake (I mean, intentionally panto) play out at considerable length. The story is made by a louche performance by Martin Clunes, and again has atmosphere and interesting ideas in the script.
Seeing these stories again I was struck by how small-scale they are; almost plays for television using modest painted backdrops (the trees cast shadows on the sky in Kinda) and panto costume props. In the end I think they're very much minor stories. Yet they have a certain charm & magic & I enjoyed watching them again.