Aired 18 – 26 January 1983
Though introduced only a year earlier in ‘Kinda,’ the concept of the Mara was impactful enough to ensure its return in Doctor Who’s reflective twentieth season filled with returning foes. Understandably, the complexity and ambiguity are not nearly as prevalent as in the original serial, focusing instead on plot and expanding upon familiar concepts to successfully craft an entirely different experience that remains true to what came before.
Part of the success of ‘Snakedance’ is, of course, due to the groundwork laid in ‘Kinda.’ Nonetheless, the concept of the wheel of repeating time briefly mentioned in ‘Kinda’ becomes wholly more satisfying and realized as the Federation records reveal that the Manussians regressed from a refined and technological society to a primitive and violent one in thrall to the Mara. ‘Snakedance’ also quite poignantly and prominently features theatrical performances, again reaching back to ‘Kinda’ and the significance of drama in exorcising demons and quite directly incorporated as the natives parade around an effigy of the Mara to symbolize their fears. As the lines and boundaries of reality blur, the truth behind the Mara is incredibly satisfying and deeply terrifying. With the Great Crystal intended to give matter to thought, the greed, hatred, and restlessness within the collective subconscious of the Manussians unintentionally gave rise to the Mara as a physical manifestation of the worst parts of the culture. This twist works perfectly within the established continuity and opens up plenty of potential avenues for future stories as well should the desire ever arise.
For one of the very few times in the history of the programme, nobody dies in this serial, marking a moment of triumph and relief for the Doctor who is so beset by guilt and unable to make headway with the general populace. ‘Snakedance’ also provides a remarkably strong outing for Sarah Sutton, Nyssa paired with the Doctor and their shared concern for Tegan bringing out the absolute best in both. The psychological aspect of the Mara as a dark horror festering in the back of Tegan’s mind and taking control when she sleeps is utterly terrifying, and the juxtaposition of Tegan at her most innocent and most frightening is truly fascinating as Janet Fielding effortlessly showcases her acting range. With all three regulars on top form when given ample opportunity to shine, the strong guest cast is brought into focus even more than usual, bolstering an already-strong tale. Martin Clunes is particularly impressive as the heir to the throne Lon, resisting the urge to go over-the-top with the material presented and wisely remaining rather subdued. Colette O’Neil as Tanha and John Carson as Ambril also deserve praise for their strong, layered performances that help their characters truly live and breathe.
Featuring some truly spectacular set designs, ‘Snakedance’ comes to life like few other stories. There is a true sense of scope to proceedings that ties into ‘Kinda’ perfectly while delving much deeper into ideas only briefly touched upon previously. ‘Snakedance’ may not be nearly as cerebral or complex as its predecessor, but it nonetheless is a wonderfully engaging Doctor Who story that makes the most of each of its leads and guest cast and succeeds on many dramatic levels.