Friday, 15 April 2011
I am the Mara!
I do feel a certain irritation when the last season of Doctor Who is described as having a 'fairytale' influence. I don't dispute that there are a number of visual references to fairy tales, nevertheless I don't think any use was made in the BBC Wales' fifth season of the structure or themes of fairy tales. I can't help thinking that Steven Moffat's notion of fairy tales is a mixture of Walt Disney and modern children's literature. I think it is also fair to say that the BBC Wales series has not been bold in departing from the science fiction format. It seems to me that no matter how wobbly the concepts in the new series, both RT Davies and Steven Moffat see Doctor Who as essentially science fiction. No matter how bonkers a get-out-of-jail card like the 'Paradox Machine' might be, the suggestion is that if this was real physicists would be able to explain it given sufficent information.
The BBC Wales series has never done a story like Kinda. Kinda demonstrates the shallowness of Moffat's borrowing of 'fairy tales' by genuinely incorporating elements from folk tales, mythology and religion. Kinda really does transcend the limitations of science fiction and enters the realms of the spiritual. There are other Doctor Who stories that have delved into this territory before, but I can't ever imagine a story like this in the new series.
It is almost an understatement to say that Kinda is an intelligent story. It has such a depth of ideas and themes that it is impossible to fully appreciate in one viewing. Unlike, Ghost Light, however, it can be fully enjoyed the first time. Ghost Light is a right pain to watch the first time, because one is frantically trying to make sense of a complex plot through a mass of dialogue. Kinda on the other hand, is a beautiful and exquisite work of art. Each scene can be enjoyed even if one is still a little in the dark as to exactly what it is all about. One could have enormous fun discussing the significance of the jack-in-the-box. Even if one is not entirely comfortable with the Buddhist worldview that is conveyed in this story, one can appreciate the elegance with which it is conveyed.
The Mara is not like any other Doctor Who monster or villain. It has no obvious motivation; and even more interestingly, it does not interact with the Doctor. It seems to be as much a concept or idea as an actual being. The way it brings out hidden lusts and cravings is fascinating; it brings out Tegan's sexual prowess and Aris' desire for power. It represents the hidden and darker parts of minds. Like Fenric in Curse of Fenric, the Mara succeeds because it is a background presence in the story. The Fendahl did not quite work as an abstract entity because it was too much like a monster and Sutekh failed as a godlike being because he was essentially a villain in a mask. Of course, the rubber snake that the Mara manifests itself as in the end is hilarious, but the Kinda is such a strong serial that we can easily forget about it.
The dream sequence in which Tegan is tormented is quite scary. What is quite clever is the way this dreamworld parallels the real one, with the characters she meets echoing the Doctor, Nyssa, Adric and the metal structure mirroring the TARDIS.
Simon Rouse gives an absolutely brilliant portrayal of a man driven out of his mind. Richard Todd also gives a great and subtle performance, sharing in the madness. There seems to be a suggestion in Kinda that the military rituals with which the colonists surround themselves are a kind of childish play-acting. Unsurprisingly, Todd (Nerys Hughes), the female scientist is untouched by this, being outside the circle of boyish ritualism.
It is a little unfortunate that Nyssa is left out of this story almost entirely, her place being taken by Todd. Still, Nerys Highes does much better in her role than Sarah Sutton usually did. Full marks also have to go to Mary Morris as the wise woman and Sarah Price, an exceptionally strong performance from a child actress. Peter Davison is still in his slightly-bland phase, but he throws in some very subtle moments. His acceptance of the designation of idiot is delightful. One of the strengths of his understatement is in allowing other characters to shine. Janet Fielding does a marvellous job of portraying possession by the Mara. There is a really edgy, sexual energy to her performance in that state. I could listen to her saying 'I am the Mara!' all day. It is unfortunate that the Mara leaves her so quickly. Nevertheless, thankfully she gives us some more Mara action in Snakedance. Adric is incredibly annoying in this story. I am not one of the Adric-haters, he just did not work in a TARDIS crew with Tegan and the Fifth Doctor.
Kinda is quite daring in allowing a permanent change to a character. In this it is strikingly similar to the later story Survival. It stands in striking contrast to Star Trek stories where the most incredible, mind-shattering events would occur to the main characters, then everything would be back to normal the next week.
Todd looks a little overdressed for working on a tropical planet. She is not one of the military personnel, so you might think she could wear a more summery dress and dispense with the black stockings, especially surrounded by all those more lightly outfitted Kinda.
Kinda is the best story of Season 19 and one of the great Doctor Who classics.