Faith Keeps them Safe in 'Doctor Who: Snakedance'

“It is all the dance,” Dojjen tells the Doctor. “To destroy the Mara you must find the still point.”

Doctor Who: Snakedance

Distributor: BBC Warner
Cast: Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Martin Clunes, Preston Lockwood
Network: BBC
Release date: 2011-04-12

“Snakedance” concerns a culture which celebrates its history but is oblivious to its meaning. On the surface the story is simply a rehash of the previous year’s “Kinda”, as it was written by the same writer, Christopher Bailey, and again features Tegan (Janet Fielding) possessed by the evil entity called the Mara. “Snakedance” succeeds where “Kinda” failed, however, by tying its various plot lines together and creating a thoughtful, exciting story with a devastating ending.

The Doctor (Peter Davison) and his companions Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) and Tegan arrive on the planet Manussa where a festival is about to begin celebrating the 500th anniversary of the vanquishing of the Mara. Tegan suffers a series of nightmares as the Mara reasserts itself in her mind, and she soon enlists a bored young aristocrat named Lon (Martin Clunes) to help bring about the Mara’s return. The people of Manussa tell stories of the Mara’s return, but they’re believed only to be myths. The Doctor knows better of course, but he’s locked away for being a madman as the Mara’s plans begin to take shape.

In “Kinda” Davison was often on the sidelines, but here he’s wonderful, running around warning the Manussans of impending doom like a time-traveling Glenn Beck. Fielding, too, is put to much better use here, with the Mara actually possessing Tegan for more than just a few short scenes. There are several callbacks to the earlier Mara story, including the paper mache snake of “Kinda”’s disappointing climax. Street performers in the Manussan market parade around with a snake puppet that recalls the dragons of Chinese festivals.

Tegan, as possessed by the Mara, is the story’s ultimate villain, but her bidding is done by Lon. His boredom and disinterest in his heritage is cured by the idea of destroying it. Clunes’ Lon is a mixture of snobbery and smug indifference, the kind of perfect performance that makes you want to jump through the screen and smack the guy.

The earlier episodes are punctuated by strange scenes of a withered old man sitting between two stones in the middle of a vast desert. These scenes hang over the whole story, repeating throughout like a mantra. We later learn this is Dojjen (Preston Lockwood), former chief archaeologist of the Manussan government and expert on the time of the Mara. He’s a believer in the stories of the Mara’s return, and has gone into self-imposed exile to prepare his mind to face the creature. Dojjen becomes the Doctor’s "Yoda", if you will, and teaches him how to stop the Mara’s return.

The snakedance of the title was inspired, according to writer Christopher Bailey, by the snake handlers of certain Christian denominations in the United States. According to their beliefs, faith keeps them safe from the snake’s bite, and so it is on Manussa. Dojjen’s exile provides him clarity of mind to drive the Mara out. “It is all the dance,” he tells the Doctor. “To destroy the Mara you must find the still point.”

“Snakedance” end as a negative reflection of its precursor. In “Kinda” the Mara is undone by its own reflection, but here the creature draws strength from the fear brought on as the Manussans see it. The Doctor doesn’t look, and it’s his refusal that causes the Mara’s permanent demise. The story closes with Tegan sobbing in the Doctor’s arms, a powerful, devastating ending.

Bonus features include a Peter Davison interview from the British kid’s show Saturday Morning Superstore that features awkward phone questions from viewers and prizes like autographed Musical Youth records. Davison is very charming throughout, and even plays a little cricket with host Mike Reid.

Also included is “Snakecharmer”, a making-of that details writer Christopher Bailey’s frustration with the result of “Kinda” and his determination to improve upon it. Also, current Doctor Who writer and superfan Robert Shearman discusses his love for the story, saying that “Kinda” was bolder, but “Snakedance” is better, more human.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.