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Snakedance

Production Code: 6D

First Transmitted

1 - 18/01/1983 18:50

2 - 19/01/1983 18:45

3 - 25/01/1983 18:50

4 - 26/01/1983 18:45

Plot

Tegan falls once more under the influence of the Mara and directs the TARDIS to the planet Manussa. There the Federator's son Lon and his mother Tanha are preparing for a ceremony to celebrate the banishment of the Mara five hundred years earlier.

The Mara takes control of Lon and uses him and Tegan to obtain from Ambril, the Director of Historical Research, the 'great crystal' - the large blue stone that originally brought it into being by focusing energy from the minds of the planet's one-time inhabitants. The Mara now plans to use the crystal during the ceremony to bring about its return to corporeal existence.

The Doctor and Nyssa, aided by Ambril's assistant Chela, locate Ambril's aged predecessor Dojjen, who predicted the Mara's rebirth before wandering off into the wilderness. The Doctor allows himself to be bitten by a snake in order to enter a state of mental commune with Dojjen, who tells him that fear is the only true venom and that in order to defeat the Mara he must find the still point within himself.

The Doctor and his friends then return to the caves where the ceremony is being held. The Doctor, by concentrating his thoughts with the aid of a small replica of the great crystal, is able to find the still point and repel the Mara.

Episode Endings

Tegan collapses in the market square and is taken into a fortune teller's booth. The fortune teller removes from around the young woman's neck the dream inhibiting device that the Doctor earlier gave her. Tegan then succumbs to the Mara's influence and causes a snake skull to appear in the fortune teller's crystal ball. The skull gets bigger and bigger until the ball shatters.

The Mara-possessed Tegan and Lon take a carnival barker named Dugdale into a secret room behind a cave wall carved with snake images. Once inside, they link hands and order Dugdale to look at them. Although frightened, he eventually obeys and sees Tegan's eyes glowing red.

Chela rescues the Doctor and Nyssa from the cells, but they are recaptured by guards. The possessed Lon orders that they be killed. Nyssa screams.

Dojjen walks calmly away from his mountain refuge. In the caves, the Doctor assures a tearful Tegan that she is now free of the Mara forever.

Roots

Buddhism (character names, Zen jokes).

Native American culture (the Hopi Snakedance ritual, as described by 'soul catcher', the photographer who saw it as the 'still point' of his life).

Hinduism.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (the showman is like the Player).

I, Claudius (Lon's characterisation).

Evelyn Waugh's A Handful of Dust.

T.S. Eliot (especially The Wasteland and The Four Quartets).

Brideshead Revisited.

Star Wars (Lon's 'sky hero' pastiche).

1980 horror film The Awakening.

The Three Faces of Eve.

Forbidden Planet.

Dialogue Triumphs

The Doctor : "Dreams are important... never underestimate them."

Dojjen : "Fear is the only poison."

The Doctor : "What is the snakedance?"

Dojjen : "This is. Here and now. The dance goes on. It is all the dance. Everywhere and always. So. Find the still point. Only then can the Mara be defeated."

The Doctor : "The still point. The point of safety. But it's in the chamber somewhere. Where?"

Dojjen : "No. The still point is within yourself, nowhere else. To destroy the Mara you must find the still point."

"I offer you fear in a handful of dust."

Continuity

Tegan, aged six, lived in a house with a garden and a tree. The Doctor obviously doesn't have his lock picks on him, since, as in Kinda, he spends a whole episode behind bars.

Manussa is in the Scrampus system, and is a colony of a Federation formed by one of Lon's ancestors [part of a network of former Earth colonies]. The Mara was created here, and ruled, turning the former Manussan Empire into the Sumaran empire.

It was defeated by Lon's ancestor 500 years ago [and escaped to Deva Loka (see Kinda)]. [The blue crystals have very similar properties to those of Metebelis 3 (Planet of the Spiders),] but here they are manufactured in zero gravity to ensure there are no imperfections.

Location

Manussa.

Trivia

A young Martin Clunes, now better known as one of the stars of the sitcom Men Behaving Badly, appears in an early television role as Lon.

Brian Miller, whose wife Elisabeth Sladen had portrayed the Doctor's companion Sarah Jane Smith, appears as Dugdale.

Johnathon Morris, star of the BBC sitcom Bread, appears as Chela.

Fashion Victim

Ambril's pink and black fur hat.

Lon's collar.

Cast & Crew

Cast

The Doctor - Peter Davison

Nyssa - Sarah Sutton

Tegan - Janet Fielding

Ambril - John Carson

Chela - Johnathon Morris

Dojjen - Preston Lockwood

Dugdale - Brian Miller

Fortune Teller - Hilary Sesta

Hawker - George Ballentine

Lon - Martin Clunes

Megaphone Man - Brian Grellis

Puppeteer - Barry Smith

Tanha - Colette O'Neil

Crew

Director - Fiona Cumming

Assistant Floor Manager - Maggy Campbell

Costumes - Ken Trew

Designer - Jan Spoczynski

Film Cameraman - John Baker

Film Editor - Alastair Mackay

Incidental Music - Peter Howell

Make-Up - Marion Richards

Producer - John Nathan-Turner

Production Assistant - Rita Dunn

Production Associate - June Collins uncredited

Production Associate - Angela Smith

Script Editor - Eric Saward

Special Sounds - Dick Mills

Studio Lighting - Henry Barber

Studio Sound - Martin Ridout

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Peter Howell

Visual Effects - Andrew Lazell

Writer - Christopher Bailey

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

Not quite as gorgeous as Kinda, since it almost tries to be a normal Doctor Who and therefore doesn't quite have the depth, but it's still wonderful. For once, we see the Doctor as others see him, a raving idiot with no justification for his wild claims of world destruction. It's a wonder Chela believes him.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

Sequels are always difficult things to pull off successfully as they risk disappointing those viewers who liked the original story - in this case, Kinda - and alienating those who didn't. In the case of Snakedance, John Connors was initially amongst the latter group but eventually found himself won over, as he explained in TARDIS Volume 8 Number 1, dated March 1983: 'I didn't like Kinda one iota - all plastic jungles, inflatable air-beds and the like - so when I heard about Snakedance I could hardly suppress a yawn. Another waste of time, I thought - an excuse to get surreal and pseudo-intellectual at everyone's expense... [but] Snakedance turned out to be a grade one strike. A rich vein of ideas and imagination netted together by a competent enthusiastic cast and an atmosphere steeped in mysticism, mystery and intrigue... It made Arc of Infinity look like a cheap pantomime.'

Connors was spot on. Snakedance is one of the most consistently enjoyable stories of the fifth Doctor's era. This is due in large part to Christopher Bailey's excellent scripts, which differ from those for Kinda in that they not only present some sophisticated abstract ideas but also manage to combine these with a plot that is clear and easy for the viewer to understand. The major influence is once again Buddhism - which may well account for the similarities between this story and another, much earlier one that also drew heavily on that philosophy, as pointed out by Guy Clapperton in the same issue of TARDIS: 'If I were to start off a review by saying that the story involved a large blue crystal which had to be put into its rightful place in a cave, went on to say that the villain was manifested as something people have phobias about, and that the Doctor defeated it by overcoming fear, which adventure would I be talking about? In fact I am talking about Snakedance, but I could easily have been reviewing Planet of the Spiders. The basic plots are so similar, with the Doctor finding a mystical mentor (Dojjen or K'anpo, whichever you want), but even so Snakedance stands up well on its own.'

Fiona Cumming's assured direction matches the quality of the writing, and the whole thing is visually flawless. 'Ms Cumming's direction, along with a script simply crammed with superb dialogue, has managed to produce [a story] which must surely be recognised as a classic,' argued Simon Lidyard in Skaro Volume 3 Number 4 in 1983. 'Snakedance... combines brilliant televisual imagery and excitement with a powerful undercurrent of philosophy, unobtrusive to those with no interest in such things, but rich and fulfilling for those who do [appreciate it].'

Like Kinda, Snakedance is all the more enjoyable for the scope that it affords Janet Fielding to give one of the most chilling portrayals of alien possession ever seen in Doctor Who. Fielding seems so much more committed and convincing here than in her usual performance as Tegan: her withering stare, wicked grin and cajoling voice combining to convey a sense of almost demonic evil. The actress proves that she can really deliver the goods, and it is actually rather a shame to see her reverting at the end of the story to the familiar, by now somewhat fake, indignation of Tegan.

Good though Snakedance undoubtedly is, not everyone liked it. 'I must confess to finding it very boring indeed,' wrote Ian K McLachlan, again in TARDIS. '...It was all too obscure, and although religion interests me greatly, I got the impression that Snakedance was trying hard to be intellectual and failing... Nothing really had changed on the planet as a result of the adventure. Nobody had been changed to any extent by the Doctor's visit... I felt [it] was lacking... a good story.'

This raises an important aspect of storytelling: that the characters should somehow be changed by their experiences. In Snakedance, most of the change is undergone by the Doctor and Tegan. The Doctor learns that some battles must be fought with peace and quietness (using the 'still point') while Tegan discovers what it feels like to want to kill and destroy for pleasure. It could be argued however that the political situation of Manussa would also be bound to change significantly as a result of the events depicted: Ambril learning that wealth does not always come from physical artefacts; Lon growing up to be a good and compassionate Federator; and the population in general finally coming to understand the purpose of the snakedancers and to recognise Dojjen not simply as an insane hermit but as a wise man who was actually telling the truth.

All things considered, Snakedance is a very special story indeed. In marked contrast to 'blockbusters' such as Earthshock, which tend to be all action and no thought, here we have a story that relies on thought more than action. It makes a refreshing change.

< Arc of InfinityFifth DoctorMawdryn Undead >

This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.



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