Doctor Who #596: Snakedance Part 4

"Fear is the only poison."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jan.26 1983.

IN THIS ONE... Lon subverts the ceremony to bring back the Mara, but it is destroyed by the Doctor.

REVIEW: Back when we were discussing Kinda, I talked about how Christopher Bailey's script played with the idea of representation. Were the events of Kinda real, or were they a ritual that had to be played out? Both? What seemed ambiguous in Kinda, seems clearer in Snakedance. The festival that celebrates the defeat of the Mara, a precursor to the rituals of Kinda (as the story occurs earlier in history), is beautifully realized - full of color, symbolic acts and festive details - and uses a snake only marginally more fake than the one in Kinda! Like Kinda's ritual, it has one foot in (fantastical) reality and can be used to awaken or defeat the Mara. Lon, trading pirate clothes for Inca king's, in fact tries to change history during the reenactment of the Mara's defeat. Since the Mara is the darkness within ourselves, it is up to us to confirm its defeat or else release it. In the end, it's the Doctor's refusal to give the darkness any power that destroys the snake.

And the clash of the representational and the actual also filters into the direction and effects. There's a lovely bit when the Great Crystal is put in the stone snake's mouth and the lines coming from it etched into the wall light up, a much more interesting effect than some video blarg doing something similar in "actuality". The superimposition of Tegan and the Mara is so obviously abstract that we accept it for what it means, not for what it shows. And what of the scenes with Dojjen in the desert? We're still in the studio, but the treatment is film, usually an indicator that we're on location. It's a strange and very televisual conceit, but did Cumming do it on purpose to further toy with our understand of what is real or merely representational? It's a scene that features the Doctor hallucinating after a voluntary snake bite, questioning his senses and his perception of what the Mara is and how it can be beaten. Bailey and Cumming ask us to do the same, and consciously or not, comment on the irrelevant irreality of television techniques used throughout the program's history.

If Nyssa' impatience with the Doctor since the season started wasn't a sure sign that she was soon going, here it becomes more obvious. He lifts her up over a ridge and she lets him know his help wasn't necessary. Few teen companions keep traveling with the Doctor once they reach womanhood. Susan, Vicki, Jo and Leela, young or naive each in their way, all left to get married. Love it or hate it, Moffat's initial idea of the Doctor as imaginary friend to a young girl taps into this idea. Girls outgrow their fairy tale prince, replace him, see him for what he is. The more adult companions already see the Doctor for what he is, and their story is different. Just look at Tegan in this episode. She's absent for most of it, but once released from the Mara's thrall forever, it doesn't feel like a victory. She's in tears and the episode ends on a daring down note. The Doctor Who girl's trajectory is one of empowerment and autonomy. What is the grown woman's? Tegan's story is about seeing the world for what it is, ugly as well as beautiful. The girl leaves the Doctor because she doesn't need him anymore, but she embraces the values he exposed her to. The woman rejects him because she can see his faults and those of his world, wounded though wiser.

VERSIONS: The Target novelization adds a few details here and there. For example, the Sumaran Empire directly translates as the Empire of the Mara, and the fortune teller is given a name (Madame Zara).

REWATCHABILITY: High - A thought-provoking finale that's of a piece with Kinda's.

- The two Mara stories are real stand-outs in each of their seasons. Kinda is perhaps more profound, but Snakedance makes Fiona Cumming a Who director to watch out for.



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