Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 613: Snakedance, Episode Two
The thing I’m enjoying the most about Snakedance so far is the way that the Doctor is treated as though he were simply a nutter. I’ve never really questioned before the way that he shows up and takes charge (sometimes there’s wrongful accusations an imprisonment involved before he can take control of the situation), but this story is really painting an image of how the man must look to the people he meets in these adventures. He’s turned up here, proclaiming the end of the world, with lots of shouting and gesturing. I doubt that I’d take him all that seriously, to be honest. I think my favourite exchange has to be this one;
The Doctor arrives in the Director’s office, to warn him of the imminent danger this world is in
I know exactly what you want.
Yes, you've come to pester me with some extravagant theory you've dreamed up concerning the Mara, and should I, the Director, fail to take sufficient notice of your colourful improbabilities, it will be the end of civilisation as we know it at least. How am I doing so far, hmm?
I think it’s the look that Davison gives in reaction to that which really sells it all for me. To be fair, though, it’s not a bad interpretation of what happens in lots of stories. The fun is that we know the Doctor is right, and yet you can’t help but feel for the Director throughout the whole story. I also love the way that the Doctor tries to explain the ‘Six Faces of Delusions’ mask to the man later on, managing to subvert the Director’s earlier tone with his own sarcastic line:
That was probably the idea, don't you think?
This is the kind of attitude that I enjoy from the Fifth Doctor, and it’s the one that I hope to see more and more of as the rest of his tenure plays out - the man who knows he’s cleverer than everyone else in the room, but is too polite to say so, and simply gets exasperated waiting for everyone else to catch up. Tom Baker’s Doctor would have huffed and puffed and made a big scene of that moment, but this incarnation is smaller, quieter. I like that.
While I’m discussing people’s performances, I have to draw attention again to Janet Fielding. She really does deliver her best performances when doing a Christopher Bailey script (probably because they give her the most to do, and a greater range of character than she’s had for the last few stories), and today may be a new high for her. The early scene in which she sneaks up to surprise Nyssa in the crowded market place, before laughing her head off about the way the fortune teller screamed and screamed is genuinely scary… as is the follow up a few moments later, in which the real Tegan manages to break back through and beg her friend for help. Wonderful stuff.
It continues to be quite unsettling throughout the rest of the episode too, when she’s fully under Mara control. Staring into the mirrors and seeing the skull of a snake talking back to her is wonderful - and better than I’d expected. I thought I’d seen Snakedance before, but all of this seems completely new to me. I knew of the snake skull from the Episode One cliffhanger, staring out of the crystal ball, but had no idea that it actually moved and spoke later on. It’s provided quite a moment of surprise for me, and I’ve loved that. I also need to give some praise for the fact that they explain the mirror situation from Kinda: as soon as Tegan started to wander around in the hall of mirrors, I made a note that it seemed to contradict the ending of the earlier story, so having it explained (and explained well!) in the same scene was a great thing.
Though I do find myself slightly confused by something else do do with the circle of mirrors from Kinda. Possessed Tegan here proclaims that she needs the great crystal in order to let the Mara manifest in physical form, and get out of her head… but isn’t that more-or-less what happened when Aris was trapped by the mirrors? The snake certainly appeared in that situation…? I think there’s probably something that I’m missing (or, rather, it’s not been explained yet), but I’m guessing it’s a simple case of the great crystal serving to stabilise the creature, perhaps? Or strengthen its power? I’ll be keeping an ear out in the second half of the story in the hope that this gets cleared up...