PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


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.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.