Released September 2010
With Janet Fielding agreeing to reprise the role of Tegan alongside the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa, and Turlough, it was only a matter of time before another encounter with the Mara followed, a foe that spotlighted Tegan best. ‘The Cradle of the Snake,’ penned by Big Finish stalwart Marc Platt, revisits the iconic foe from the Davison stories ‘Kinda’ and ‘Snakedance,’ attempting to recapture the surreal and sometimes disturbing tones of its predecessors while forging a new path with a more modern pacing as well.
Wisely, Platt foregoes the obvious choice of having the Mara possess Tegan for the a third time, instead opting to have her be the one in charge of freeing her companions from its influence. This is a wonderful subversion of expectations, allowing Peter Davison to once more showcase a darker and edgier performance that truly resonates and adds a palpable sense of danger to proceedings. This setup also allows Sarah Sutton to play a much racier version of her normally proper and demure Nyssa and Mark Strickson to take on more of an enabling role until really called into prominence toward the end.
Also intriguingly, and perhaps due to his previous success with the likes of ‘Lungbarrow’ and ‘Spare Parts,’ Platt chooses to make ‘The Cradle of the Snake’ a chronologic prequel to the previous two adventures. A century before the beleaguered Manussa of ‘Snakedance,’ the Manussa here is a vibrant society much in line with modern-day Earth and brimming with fascinating but flawed characters that all make perfect targets for the Mara’s influence when introduced to a revolutionary machine that can transfer mental thought energy into reality. Unfortunately, though the Mara seems like a villain tailor-made for the audio medium, especially since the physical effects were somewhat of a letdown on screen, the inability to actually see the mental anguish and torment that the Mara can cause as exemplified by Fielding originally is an unfortunate consequence of the medium, especially since the script places a greater focus on pacing and action.
The Mara is obviously deeply rooted in religious symbology, and its effects on television drove Doctor Who into much more adult-oriented territory than it tended to explore. By streamlining the Mara into strictly a possessive force looking for a means to survive- even if doing so a hundred years earlier than it should- the more disturbing and terrifying nuances of the creature are stripped away as well. As such, although the inclusion of the Mara allows for some incredible exploration of characters given their past encounters as well as a jolt of nostalgia, the Mara here is really only the Mara in name and not necessarily in essence.
However, even if the Mara is not necessarily exploited to its fullest and there is still a lingering question about whether the Mara is native to Manussa or simply brought there by the TARDIS, ‘The Cradle of the Snake’ is still very much a worthwhile listen. The world and its inhabitants are incredibly detailed, and seeing the Mara-induced edgier sides of some of the leads is particularly delightful. And though the resolution does not have that one monumentally memorable moment, the unique battle against the Mara to keep the timelines intact is a well-paced and enjoyable one from beginning to end.