Doctor Who #594: Snakedance Part 2

"The sixth Face of Delusion is the wearer's own."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jan.19 1983.

IN THIS ONE... The Mara spreads to Lon as the Doctor and Nyssa put the pieces of the puzzle of its return together.

REVIEW: I don't think it's too early in my pilgrimage to single out Fiona Cumming as one of Who's best directors. Keeping the pace up the same way she did in Part 1, she intercuts scenes to avoid any longueurs. Something like the Doctor and Nyssa deciphering the pictograms, or Lon's boredom, could have been dull indeed had they been left to breathe, but by going back and forth between these and Mara/Tegan, everything has rhythm and energy. She also seems to bring out the best in the production team. There are just as many props in the background as there would be in a Victorian production, and Andrill's museum-like home is another large set Cumming lights in different ways depending on the occasion. The effects are better thought-out than in Kinda too. Red eyes are preferable to pink teeth as a "tell", for example, and the transfer of the snake tattoo is done as an abstraction, much more effective than the terrible rubber snake superimposition of the previous serial. The bit in the hall of mirrors is simple, but very creepy.

All three strands of the story have something to offer. The Doctor and Nyssa's plays as a fine archaeological puzzle, excitingly presented, and in which the two of them are equal partners. None of this cabbage-head stuff for Nyssa! The bits with the guest players provide character-based comedy, like Tanha yawning at an oblivious Andrill's tedious lessons. And the Tegan stuff is all creeps and tension as a battle for her soul takes place. Instead of rejecting her again when a more "useful" host appears, the Mara rather spreads to Lon, keeping Tegan in its thrall. Presumably, it's become stronger since Kinda, and it rules by corrupting whole civilizations. Though it can be trapped in a circle of mirrors, mirrors themselves aren't particularly harmful to it. Rather, it uses them to manifest itself, the distorted image divorcing Tegan from her self enough for the snake to take over. It's a great image of a companion becoming a monster, first through imagery, then in actuality.

The seeming change in the Mara's weaknesses and abilities is justified by the episode's theme. Did you catch it? The funky 6-faced helmet with only 5 faces (plus your own) reveals it. Snakedance is at least in part about interpretation - of prophecies, of what we THINK we know, of who we really ARE underneath. Was evil Tegan under good Tegan all along? Is the Mara an actual personality, or does it only unlock your darker self? Are the events of Kinda definitive, or is there more to the creature's power? (Compare to the evolution of the Weeping Angels in the new series.) Is the supernatural real, or do these carnival barkers have it right that it's all a trick (the meta-text we were talking about in Kinda)? The Kinda/Snakedance diptych gets increasingly more interesting.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Everything works, from themes to characters to production values to effects to editing. No rubber snakes in sight... yet.

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