Doctor Who #595: Snakedance Part 3

"The lock is extremely primitive. It's practically a museum piece. There's no electronic impulse matrix to decode, no sonic microcircuit to disrupt. Proved mechanical six barrel movement, key operated. Primitive but adequate. Well, it's more than adequate, actually, because the key is what we don't have."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jan.25 1983.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor spends all his time in a jail cell while Lon (and the Mara) preys on Ambril's greed.

REVIEW: Part 3 suffers from third episode syndrome, that is to say, it's pretty stagnant and the weaker for it. The Doctor spends all his time in a cell, and Nyssa's rescue attempts fail so she's a prisoner too. And when they do escape, it's to immediately be recaptured. No movement on that front. The Mara-possessed Tegan starts out in a cave and is still in that cave at the end. The Doctor's understanding of the situation does progress, however, and Lon-Mara makes himself the star of the upcoming ceremony by bribing/threatening Ambril with archaeological treasure, but pisses off Tegan by not bringing the Great Crystal. That's not a lot of plot, but the episode adequately makes up for it with interesting design and characterization.

The new set, a simple jail cell, is just as interesting on its own terms as the rest of the Manussan locales. The gold lighting exudes atmosphere and the angle of the bars gives the cell a specificity. Out on the street, we're shown a Punch & Judy & Mara show that underscores the theme of puppetry, also represented in a creepy moment where Dugdale is repeating his slogans as if an animatronic dummy. The Mara means to turn the whole of Manussa into such puppets. I was surprised Ambril didn't get "snaked" because he's driven by exactly the kind of impulses his predecessor Dojjen wrote were responsible for the Mara.

A few words on the story's ladies... I'm still a big fan of Tanha and the way she only feigns disapproval of her son's behavior, though his Mara-self is putting a strain on that relationship. Dialog in this episode does clarify that this Federation isn't the one from the Peladon stories, rather a local political entity and a kind of monarchy. They have big tiaras. Nyssa appears to be much more impatient and prone to screaming than in her younger days. The latter is a bit over-the-top, but I don't dislike the former. She was level-headed to the point of dullness in the previous season. The new Nyssa is more impulsive, but also more resourceful and ultimately, more interesting. And Tegan isn't herself, of course, but the Mara performance does make it obvious those shorts of hers are slightly ridiculous, especially for a bad girl.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Of a piece with the rest of Snakedance, but taken separately, it's the episode you can almost lift right out of the serial without affecting its structural integrity.

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