CRRRRS 494 Doctor Who: Snakedance

By Roy Mathur, on 2023-06-30, at 04:15:16--04:50:25 BST, for Captain Roy's Rusty Rocket Radio Show, Listen

Revisit Journal

And we are back!


Fifth Doctor: Peter Davison
Companion(s): Nyssa: Sarah Sutton, Tegan: Janet Fielding
Notable Cast: Martin Clunes (mentioned below)
Director: Fiona Cumming, also Castrovalva, Enlightenment, Planet of Fire
Writer: Christopher Bailey, also Kinda
Producer: John Nathan-Turner
Locations: Ealing Film Studios and BBC Television Centre, Shepherd's Bush (1982)
Broadcast: Season 20, serial 2, story 124, following Arc of Infinity covered in 490, 4 x c. 25 minute episodes, first broadcast 18--26 January 1983
Media: Target novelisation by Terrance Dicks (1984), VHS (1994), DVD with Kinda (Mara Tales) (2011), DVD Doctor Who DVD Files Issue 103 (2012)


You Can't Hurry Love by Phil Collins is number one in the UK. Actually, I can and I should because I'm still single.

What Happens

An old man sites on a structure seemingly meditating.

After Tegan fed the wrong co-ordinates to the Doctor, the TARDIS unexpectedly arrives on the primitive federation colony world of Manussa. Tegan is having nightmares about a cave, so the trio set out to find it. They are separated in market, and Tegan's dream suppressor is removed by a kindly native, releasing the Mara that possessed her on Deva Loka in (Kinda, pod 477).

The spoiled son of the leader, Lon, falls under the possessed Tegan's spell, then obtains the Great Crystal eye for her. It is the Mara's plan to return to power by placing it in the temple of the Mara during the celebration of the supposedly mythical Mara's fall.

The Doctor is captured, but finds an ally in Chela, assistant to the stubborn and arrogant Ambril the archaeologist. He give the Doctor a crystal amulet, similar but smaller than the Great Crystal. The Doctor finds that it is able to transform thought into matter, and theorises that the Mara was an artificial entity created when the Great Crystal, manufactured in the microgravity of space, became a conduit for the baser evil thoughts of it's creators and then manifested the Mara.

The Doctor seeks out Ambril's predecessor, an old hermit called Dojjen. They take part in a ritual involving snake venom and the communicate telepathically. Leaving Dojjen, they return to the temple as the Mara attains corporeality. Using the crystal amulet, the Doctor interrupts, then removes the Great Crystal. The Mara dies and it's control slips.

What I Thought

Martin Clunes (Men Behaving Badly, Doc Martin) plays petulant spoiled brat, Lon, as he does a decade later in Inspector Morse: Happy Families (1992). He's got the lips for petulance.

Ambril the archaeologist is boarish rationalist to the point of bull headed stupidity and refuses to see thr truth in front of his eyes, until greed gets the better of him. I can't help being reminded of people like Richard Dawkins.


I found the truth behind the Mara's creation very interesting and original. A device that channels evil? One cannot help seeing obnoxious chatbot experiments, like Microsoft's Tay and Meta's BlenderBot 3, as contemporary examples of this. They are powered by the loudest and most awful voices on the internet, channelled by real AI technology, to create an unpleasant gestalt being. Not a big spooky fictional crystal, evil thoughts, and a giant snake, but surely a real world analogy?

I liked the mysterious old shamanic character, Dojjen. A respected wealthy scientist, who wanders off into the wilderness, sacrificing everything to prevent the Mara's return. What a noble deed.

I thought the Mara tattoos, FX, and creature design were much less convincing than those of Kinda. The tattoos looked like stickers and when they came to life they looked like squidgy toys. Neither was the full size Mara as well formed as the one in Kinda.


A bad secondary reference from Wikipedia (secondary because there is no way I'm buying another book), mentions a work called Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text by John Tulloch and Manuel Alvarado. In it, it is apparently stated that Baily was influenced Buddhist and Jungian symbology and Ursula K. Le Guin. I can't speak to any of that, though I have read a fair bit of Le Guin.

However, I rememeber one book written by Vonda N. McIntyre, which I'm a little surprised did not influence him. That is a post-apocalyptic novel that I read decades ago called Dreamsnake (1978). In it, a peripatetic healer helps people using venom secreted by her snakes.