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DVD Review

DVD cover

Doctor Who
The Mara Tales


Starring: Peter Davison
RRP: £30.63
Certificate: PG
Available 07 March 2011

It’s another month and another release of Doctor Who, in the increasingly popular box set format, which collects together similar stories. Doctor Who: The Mara Tales gathers together both Kinda and Snakedance.

Kinda is a four-part, season nineteen story written by Christopher Bailey and directed by Peter Grimwade. The story stars Peter Davison as the Doctor with his companions Adric (Matthew Waterhouse), Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) and Tegan (Janet Fielding). The show was originally transmitted between 01 and 09 February 1982.

The show is notable for its ambitious script which uses many religious iconography and language to explore the themes of good and evil. Although, there is a heavy borrowing from Buddhism, the show can also be examined as a straightforward retelling of Satan and the fall from grace, in the Garden of Eden.

The Doctor and his companions land on the tranquil, verdant planet of Deva Loka. Nyssa, who succumbs to a headache, remains in the Tardis whilst the others explore. Overtly, the planet appears to be primitive, until they discover a machine which would indicate a much higher level of technology. When Adric wanders off the Doctor follows him, leaving Tegan to fall into a deep sleep next to the alien device. The Doctor and Adric are captured by an empty armoured survival suit and taken to the only three survivors of a doomed Earth expedition. Tegan, meanwhile, finds herself trapped within her own mind with a malevolent entity who tortures her until she agrees that it can use her body…

There are few Who stories which were as ambitious as Kinda and it allowed Janet Fielding to really stretch her acting legs, as she transforms from her usual bolshie Australian persona to the sensuality, in all its forms, of the Mara. Sarah Sutton only appears in the first ten minutes or so, which allows Bailey to build up Tegan’s character without the need to share her lines with Nyssa.

For all its ambitious Kinda also represents some of the most unconvincing jungle sets ever to appear in Who. The lack of scope really makes the show feel as if the whole thing only existed on a single sound stage, which of course it did. In look and feel it is more like a play, but then this was not unusual.

In the two audio commentaries for the stories there is some interesting discussion about how these shows represented the tail end of this way of making television programs and how British television grew out of the theatre whereas American television grew from the movies which created such a difference, a difference in many ways we are still trying to catch up with.

To say that the story has a religious and philosophical underpinning does not detract from the fact that it also represents one of the best rounded stories, though my personal opinion is that Peter Davison stories tended to be more adventurous in their scope, even when the budget failed to realise the writers ambitions.

The surviving expedition, consisting of Richard Todd (Sanders), Nerys Hughes (Todd) and Simon Rouse (Hindle), only Todd appears to have retained her grip on reality. Sanders is pompous, blustering his way blindly through the situation, Hindle appears to be losing his grip on reality, though whether this is initially due to stress or the effects of the telepathic Kinda (the word means childlike), who seem harmless is never quite explained. It’s a strong cast and combined with the strong script and innovative directing make Kinda a contender for one of the best stories ever.

Disc one holds the complete story as well as a good full length commentary from Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Matthew Waterhouse and Nerys Hughes. For the most part, there is an easy camaraderie evident as well as some insightful musing on the show. There is the option to listen to the isolated score.

The extras on disc one kick off with Dream Time (34 min, 07 sec) which has the cast and crew reminiscing on the genesis and meaning of the show. From all concerned there is general agreement that Kinda was a difficult story to get on the screen, not only transforming the writers imagination, but also realising a jungle in a studio. Peter Grimwade - Directing with Attitude (23 min) takes a look at his work as a director and writer.

For once the Deleted and Extended Scenes (14 min, 38 sec) actually adds something to the main story as there is a major expansion of Tegan’s internal battle with the Mara, so much so that I’m not really sure why it was removed as it makes what happens much clearer. Anyone who remembers Kinda will also remember that the eventual appearance of the Mara was one of the major disappointments of the story, so the replacement of the paper snake with a full CGI effect was a welcome change. Within the extras you can choose to watch the show with the new CGI as well as have the opportunity to view the new and old visuals side by side in CGI Comparison (1 min, 37 sec).

Trails and Continuity (4 min, 16 sec) has all the linking pieces. The extras are rounded off with a self-running Photo Gallery (4 min, 45 sec) which is a collection of publicity and production shots. There is the usual info option and PDF material and lastly the Coming Soon (2 min, 21 sec) for the Revisitations 2 which includes Carnival of Monsters, The Seeds of Death and Resurrection of the Daleks.

Sequels are a problematic thing, as they very rarely best the original, so given that Kinda was difficult in conception and execution it must have seemed unlikely that it would spawn Snakedance.

The Doctor and his two companions, Nyssa and Tegan, are directed to the planet Manussa, by the Mara, working through Tegan. They find a prosperous society which is in preparation to celebrate the anniversary of the overthrow of the Maran Empire. The Mara takes control of the Federators son, Lon, meaning to use him to allow the Mara to take physical form…

Snakedance was a season twenty story and another for Peter Davison. The story was, once again, written by Christopher Bailey, incorporating many Buddhist motifs and directed by Fiona Cumming. The four-part story was originally transmitted between 18 and 26 January 1983.

Compared to Kinda, Snakedance, although steeped in myth and religion has a far more straightforward story structure, making it more accessible to many of the audience. Among other things the show is notable for the inclusion of a very young Martin Clunes (Lon). On the down side, once again, the show finds it difficult to rise to the writers imagination and the small cast makes the world of Manussa seem markedly under populated, nor does it have time it do justice, or really integrate the snake dancers themselves.

Snakedance also has something unusual going for it, not only is it well written and well directed, for once the cast are faultless in their performances. The portrayal of Lon’s relationship with his mother is touching and we have the unusual sight of the Doctor being portrayed as a madman. This staid and stagnant society cannot take seriously the Doctor's fears that the blue crystal will bring back the Mara. Why should they? Their glory is five hundred years in the past, five hundred years in which not much has happened. This is a society going through its paces; its rituals no longer have significance and the people have forgotten their meaning.

Once again there is a good natured but thoughtfully informative full length commentary from Peter Davison, Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton. There is another good set of extras which starts with Snake Charmer (24 min, 40 sec) which is another piece about making the show. Bailey is very open about the way he approached Snakedance as opposed to Kinda, and partly this grew out of his experience of the limitations of television. There is general agreement that Snakedance was one of the better Who stories.

The Deleted Scenes (3 min, 07 sec) is actually one long scene which gives a slightly different ending to episode four. In Studio (6 min, 51 sec) is a collection of studio shots, mostly dealing with the special effects, some more special than others, especially the farting Mara.

Saturday Superstore (14 min, 18 sec) has a large section with Peter Davison appearing on this once popular children’s show. The disc is finished off with the obligatory Isolated music, photo gallery, info text, PDF material and Coming Soon.

It’s a good set with a couple of stories which tried to stretch the Who format, mostly successfully.


Charles Packer

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