Doctor Who #593: Snakedance Part 1

"I invite you to take the most exciting journey of all. The voyage inside. The journey to meet yourself. I address you in the silence of your own hearts. I offer my personal challenge. Dare you bare witness to what the Mara shows? Will you gaze upon the unspeakable? Dare you come face to face with the finally unfaceable? Children half price."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Jan.18 1983.

IN THIS ONE... The Mara still has its fangs in Tegan and not even the Doctor's walkman can stop it.

REVIEW: Seeing as Kinda was the previous season's best story by a mile, I'm quite excited about the follow-up. The Mara's been lurking inside Tegan's mind for a while now and it's started influencing her actions, "misread" coordinates sending the TARDIS to Menussa, where the Mara once ruled. Anyone else notice a rather insensitive streak in the fifth Doctor? If Nyssa didn't keep him in check, he'd go off on Tegan something fierce for something that really isn't her fault. And she really doesn't deserve any abuse because she's not whining about things for once. She's scared, but also resolved, and the hypnosis scene that reverts her to childhood is quite sweet. I don't want the Doctor to shout at her, not at all. He's also a bit of a jerk to Nyssa by refusing to give her some attention for changing her clothes (one story too late, seems the premiere, taking place "some time" after Time-Flight, would have been more appropriate). Could be worse; he could have mentioned how horrible that skirt is. What is it with badly-coordinated colors in 80s Who? Overall, I AM glad to see the burgundy felt outfit go, and Nyssa stands out as a young woman rather than a girl now.

Something Fiona Cumming's directorial efforts have in common is the lavish production design. She seems to bring out the best in the design and costume teams on that count. Menussa features a large bazaar that reminds me of DS9's Promenade. Lon's room is golden and modern with a touch of the exotic. Snakemouth Cave has various pictograms and carvings (including the mouth) that are quite lovely. And the opening shot of the snakedancer in the desert looks like something out of a Jodorowski film. All the sets include a second story, and the costumes are varied and sumptuous, from dashing pirate to Roman queen noble to dirty beggar. We get a sense of a vibrant mix of cultures brought together by this Federation.

As in Kinda, Christopher Bailey creates some wonderful characters to inhabit those sets. Lon the Federator's son is an indolent youth who craves amusement, which makes him a brief ally to the Doctor when stuffy, boring Ambril would have the lunatic removed. Colette O'Neil as Lon's mother Tanha is my favorite character because she seems perpetually amused by her son's insolence. The way they talk about his father, Lon no doubt takes from HER, and they have a casual, easy bond. Dugdale, who runs the hall of mirrors, is a fun carnival barker who loses all his charm when faced with VIPs and is quick to debunk his own hype lest they think it less amusing than the proles. Even a small part like that of the fortune teller is made endearing as she, too, gives up her tricks, admitting to Tegan she makes it all up, though the things she makes up often surprise her. She's a more honest version of Organon the astrologer from The Creature from the Pit. Will she survive her terrifying encounter with a snake skull in her crystal ball?

REWATCHABILITY: High
- A lavish production featuring a diverse and well-written cast of characters. The Mara left us waiting too long.

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