Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Serial 118: Kinda

Doctor: Peter Davison (5th Doctor)
Companion: Nyssa, Tegan Jovanka, Adric

Written by: Christopher Bailey
Directed by: Peter Grimwade

Background & Significance: "Kinda" is one of those stories that gets a lot of talk in Doctor Who circles. Those who see it either hate it or love it with little to no in between. To a lot of people, it's "The one with that silly-looking snake" or "the one that has the forest that looks like a television studio". But my god. That's like saying "City of Death" is the one with that green dude with the tentacle face. Or "The Deadly Assassin" is the one with the dermatologically-challenged Master.

"Kinda", as with many others, is a rare story that is an excellent sum of its excellent parts and more.

It helps that the story is written by Christopher Bailey, who came to Doctor Who with a background in play writing, Buddhism, and academia. As such, the dialogue sparkles and the story is layered with peel-backable meanings that make it ripe for analysis.

The best part about all that is, of course, that you can just watch it and not have to give a damn about what any of the crazy thematics and allegory Bailey's working with actually means. You can take it as a straight story and be none the wiser as to the significance of certain elements or why certain things play out as they do. Sure, it's a little bizarre and (I'll warrant) a mite confusing as to the dynamics of the piece if you don't actively engage the text on some level, but it does at least make sense on its own insane internal logic. But it's rare for a Doctor Who story to work on so many levels at once, or to have a story that can so clearly convey the message while bringing up and discussing so much more. And yet, despite the layers of subtext and metaphor, the story is remarkably simple and easy enough to get at one go. It's just that the more you watch it, the more you think about it, the more you discuss it, the more you'll get out of it.

This story's also significant for being early early Davison and (by proxy) early early JNT. Having spent his previous year concerned with "science" and cleaning the slate of Tom Baker, it was with Davison's run that you really started to get Nathan-Turner's vision for the show, and "Kinda" is one of the benefits of that. It was commissioned by outgoing script editor Christopher H. Bidmead, overseen for a time by Antony Root, and then completed by Eric Saward. Because of such turmoil behind the scenes in the writing phase, the thing ended up not feeling like anything else, even a traditional Doctor Who story. But it's here that you can see just how versatile Nathan-Turner was (or perhaps could have been), and it's astounding how it does fall into line with what I consider the "high adventure" of the Nathan-Turner era (which is why I tend to love The Davison era so) while still being something more, something truly truly special and impossibly unique amongst all the Doctor Who stories that have ever been told.

So let's get to it!


Part 1:

Before I begin, I should make a disclaimer that going into this I’ve read a metric fuck ton of material about this story, looking into interpretations and analysis wherever I can find them on the internet. I’m keeping myself away from them for the purposes of this discussion, but if those ever sort of seep in, know that they can come from John Bensalhia’s reviews over at Shadowlocked, Radio Free Skaro’s Steven's Chronic Hysteresis, The Discontinuity Guide, or any other Doctor Who review outlet on the web. All I can say is thank goodness the Running Through Corridors on “Kinda” isn’t out yet (and that I only really know that Rob Shearman loves this story, doesn’t mind the effects, and thinks that Simon Rouse’s playing the part as Hindle is absolutely one of the most inspired portrayals of madness on the show) and that Phillip Sandifer’s Eruditorum hasn’t gotten that far yet, because honestly if those were out I don’t even know what else there’d be to say about this story.

But enough disclaimer. Let’s dig in.

One of the things about “Kinda” that got to me in my watching it this time (and this is only my second time watching it) is how utterly bizarre and abstract it is. I’ve been saying since I first watched it that Kinda is a rather abstract story, but it’s one thing to say that in retrospect and another thing to have that thought sorta drift in like “yeah… it’s abstract, but not noticeably abstract. Honestly it’s quite linear but there is some abstraction to it.” Watching it now though… Yeesh this is some completely off the wall shit and I can see why in the Doctor Who Magazine “Best Story of the year” poll conducted after this season initially aired people outright rejected it (it came dead last in said poll; after "Time-Flight" no less). It’s not an easy story, nor is it exactly traditional.

And yet, I think in a lot of ways it is.

In a lot of ways this story does follow a very traditional Doctor Who structure (at least initially). What makes it difficult to digest is the way that Bailey tweaks the Doctor Who form and plays with expectations on what does happen in a Doctor Who story. I mean, in the traditional sense, all Doctor Who stories are “The Doctor arrives at a place, there’s a problem, The Doctor fixes it, the day is saved, The Doctor leaves". To break it down by episode, in the first episode The Doctor starts to learn about his surroundings, meeting the principal other characters and learning about the mythology and rules of the game. Optional tangents include The Doctor meeting a de facto companion to whom he relates (in this case Todd) and The Doctor getting separated from his companions (a famously Terry Nation thing to do) and his companions falling into a bit of peril, perhaps coming face to face with an evil entity of some form.

What makes it interesting is in how Bailey sets up these elements and completely subverts them. Tegan is separated from The Doctor early on, but falls asleep and drifts into a dreamscape in which she is tortured and tormented by her own thoughts (or are they?) and the evil malicious Dukkha.

This is the notably abstract bit, I think, and famously so. The dreamscape (and I’m in no way the first to say this, nor the last) is visually remarkable and extremely off-putting. The lighting by Mike Jeffries is stark and extremely visceral, providing a stark contrast between light and dark and the composition by Grimwade is (quite frankly) off the charts. Everything about it is bizarre, cast in stark whites on black (not even blacks and whites, which is peculiar) with only Tegan providing any sort of hint at color as we go through her dreams. It’s visually arresting and tremendously well done.

And yet what’s happening on a purely “What is going on” level is quite simple: Tegan’s mind is under attack and no one is there to help her.

Those complaining that this didn’t make sense or never made sense should note that Grimwade makes this extremely clear. The snakes on the arms of Dukkha and The Chess Players are clearly designed to be sinister symbols, and Tegan’s fear tells us all is not well. But going deeper there’s even more to dissect. The fact that the two Chess Players are set up exactly as Adric and Nyssa are in the opening of the story clearly links the two. The Dukkah, then, falls in the third position of The TARDIS team: The Doctor himself (even the evil force’s name sounds like a perversion of our hero’s in my head). It’s interesting (and this is all Steven from RFS) that this character is the main one who is assaulting Tegan, suggesting an interesting insight into Tegan's psychology, specifically the way Tegan sees the relationship between herself and The Doctor. Also interesting to note is the abstract, gritty, cold metal structure on display: perhaps how Tegan sees The TARDIS? As a cage and a prison from which there is no escape?

And then there’s Sanders, Hindle, and Todd, the scientist colonists on Deva Loka. It's a very traditional setup (colonists vs. indigenous natives), but Bailey makes each of these characters specific and memorable in ways that make them even more engaging.

Sanders, I think, is a fascinating character. His pompous “bully bully” spirit classifies him as an old timey colonialist in the vein of Kipling or some other imperialist bullshitter from the 19th Century. Everything about him is defined within two scenes. The first is the abusive, I-don't-take-you-very-seriously way he treats Hindle in the opening sequence when he uses the Kinda mask to scare Hindle out of his wits. It’s a strange relationship for a commanding officer to have with his staff. He is both jokey and “tight ship”, and because of these two things it's clear that he is not fit for this command. He's completely oblivious to the plights of his crew, specifically Hindle. It's most telling when he puts Hindle in charge at the end of the episode, saying it's “something that will make a man out of him” despite The Doctor’s insistence that Hindle is on the verge of a complete mental breakdown.

So in a way, Sanders puts himself in a very paternal role with regards to Hindle.

Hindle himself is, of course, probably the strongest thing about this episode or possibly even this whole story. It’s clear right off the bat that he is in no way handling any of this situation very well. He’s a loose cannon, he’s on edge, and he’s (as The Doctor aptly surmises) one bad moment away from completely snapping. As Shearman points out on the “Making Of” special on the DVD, it’s a remarkably well executed performance of madness by Simon Rouse and one that (not so much in my initial viewing but in every subsequent viewing and retrospective thought) absolutely dominates this episode as the standout moment: “I have the power of life and death over all of you!”

Now, that moment is not exactly chilling the first time because we have absolutely no idea where this story is going or what Hindle is capable of moving forward, but retrospectively knowing that this guy has snapped enhances this final moment, in which we now have lunatic guy in the leadership position.

It’s scary because we don’t ever know what’s going on in his head because his madness is not the sort of thing that is understandable. It’s Shakespearean to the very core, reminding me of the sort King Lear or Macbeth or Hamlet go through. We don’t understand these people. We can’t. Their minds are deteriorating. Hindle's mind is deteriorating so completely, in fact, that Sanders explains his remedy for Hindle's madness (putting Hindle in charge) as the sorta thing that will make a man out of him. In other words, this is Hindle's opportunity to grow up. Hindle's madness regresses him back into childhood. Nay. He is a child. And at the end of this story the child is running around with a gun and some positively off-putting Kinda who, quite frankly, we don’t know anything about. Are they dangerous? Are they controlling him (they are psychic, after all) or is he controlling them? They have guns and kneel before him as he sits in his desk chair throne, but is this some elaborate plot to allow them control over the colonization that they might sabotage it from the inside?

I mean, look at the scene in which Hindle shows them the mirror and he makes that connection with the Kinda hostages. When Hindle (or anyone) looks into a mirror, the implication is that they will see their own reflection, and yet it’s framed in such a way that when he looks into the mirror he sees the Kinda hostage. You could take that to mean he’s seeing The Kinda in the mirror (which he is) OR you could take it to mean that when Hindle looks inside himself all he sees is a seemingly barbarian unknowable entity, one that speaks without speaking and communicates in a far more sophisticated way than he can even imagine. He scares himself. Do the Kinda take advantage of that? Or do they bend to his will? It’s even more chilling that what follows is done in silence without any form of explanation, leaving it up to the audience to decide. The Kinda's kneeling is one thing, but a Kinda giving its helix symbol (a symbol of knowledge and sophistication) to Hindle only helps to proclaim Hindle's supposed sanity. Don't they understand he's losing his mind? WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE KINDA?

Even the Kinda are something of a subversive concept. Clearly they are labeled as "primitives" and "savages" by the colonists in the dome (by Sanders in particular) and in a lot of ways that's the role they play. But the DNA double helix necklace thing labels them as clearly something more than meets the eye. We get a lot more of this development later (what with Panna and Karuna), but it's telling that the Kinda have evolved past the need for conventional speech. Were this any other story, labeling a character as "mute" is the same as labeling them as "dumb", but we're clued in early on to the fact that there's more to them than meets the eye, and that they are, perhaps, even more superior than we could imagine them being. Sanders argues that what I'm saying right here is nowhere near true, but he's not exactly someone I would align on the side of "he's the rightest person of all the persons". Hell, if that's not a commentary on British imperialism and colonialism, I don't know what is.

And all of this is what makes this script so strong. The script opens itself to interpretation, and not in a bad way. If you watch the scene and make an interpretation of it, you are not wrong. Is it necessarily Bailey’s view? No. But Bailey’s view is not canon. What’s canon is how you interpret what you see.

In the middle of this is The Doctor, learning about what’s going on and trying to figure out how to deal with it or even if it’s worth dealing with. Sure, he’s not one for colonization, but he’s aware that this base is dysfunctional and that Deva Loka is more than what they think it is. There’s something in the trees, in the Kinda, in the makeshift colony and he’s going to investigate it and fix the problem. Davison is on miraculous form here, squeaking and analyzing, thinking and estimating. His energy is top notch and it dials in brilliantly to his interpretation of The Doctor.

Through the Doctor, this becomes standard, classic, knowable Doctor Who. Look at the moment when Todd gives The Doctor an apple (the Edenic symbol of knowledge and corruption) while she explains the colony and what their purpose is. It’s telling that The Doctor does not eat it, choosing instead to contemplate it and eventually turn it over to Hindle. Hindle, of course, discards it entirely, afraid and violent towards any opportunity to gain any sort of knowledge (he is, after all, incapable of it; the madness and childlike nature of his character prohibit it).

But you know The Doctor knows what’s up, or at least that something is. Why else would he say “An apple a day keeps the uhh… no, nevermind” when Hindle forces him to hand the apple over? Hindle's taking back the apple will only keep The Doctor coming back for more (i.e. it will not keep him away; YOU GET WHAT I MEAN) and to take that to an even more metaphorical level, Hindle's attempt to stop the flow of knowledge (it is, of course, the biggest threat to those in power, especially an unrighteous power) only makes The Doctor more perseverant in his pursuit of the truth. It's Hindle who puts The Doctor on his course and it will keep The Doctor coming back until the day is solved.

Brilliant, brilliant stuff. And we’re already 1,900 words in and we’re just wrapping the first part. Strap yourselves in, guys. We're just getting started.

Part 2:

On a purely structural level, this story is genius.

In the first part, we talked about how the vast majority of said part unfolded like a very traditional Doctor Who story, albeit with twists and subversions to “trip you up”. As with other traditional four part structures in Doctor Who (goodness it feels like an age since we last talked about structure or such like), part two is the part where the writer gets to have all the fun, play with the premise and fulfill its promises. That which was established in the first part here “goes bonkers” and we get the development of the themes and characters introduced in episode one.

So is it too early for me to call episode two a triumph?

It’s in this part that we see the complete psychological breakdown of Hindle and start to see the extent of his madness through his paranoia. Hindle, it turns out, is completely paranoid of all those that he thinks pose a threat to him. In the first part he could not control the Kinda and was thusly terrified of them. Then they started listening to him and he moved on to bigger and better things. If he could master them, he thought, then the real threat to him must have been something bigger. It’s in this part that he reveals that he wants to raze the jungle to the ground through "a cleansing bath of fire and acid", destroying this edenic paradise because he believes the spores and the seeds are conspiring to overthrow him and the colony.

Security implementations indeed.

Here, Bailey establishes an age old discussion of civilization vs. nature. It’s undeniable that with the technology at his fingertips, Hindle has a clear tactical advantage over the nature encroaching on him. As such, Bailey aligns the crazy lunatic man on the side of civilization and his opponent (The Doctor) on the side of nature. It’s a Romantic notion, but I'm not sure it's one that I can necessarily ascribe to Bailey as the discussion he seems to be raising is one of Imperialism rather than Romanticism. Then again, there’s also something to be said about the fact that Hindle has been corrupted by his society and the burdens placed upon him (he is isolated from the forest; his leadership role has been thrust upon him, etc). A return to the forest to cleanse will probably do him some good.

But being unwilling to do that, Hindle here is absolutely off his rocker. One hundred percent. He’s a psychopath, driven mad for whatever reason. I really have to give mad props to Rouse on this one. He really, really goes for it and sells it one hundred percent.

What I love about it is the way it’s portrayed in both Bailey’s script and Grimwade’s direction. They continue the portrayal of Hindle as a child, marching around and barking orders and demanding the sorta things a child would want (“Let me see your fingernails!”) while still being an unrelenting fascist. His face on the viewscreen is positively Orwellian, and the way he barks orders (with an iron fist) and tells people that “He’ll have them shot” is reminiscent of other dictators who delegate undesirable tasks to those weaker than them. And yet he is threatened by “his father”. Sanders’ return is framed exactly like the return of a father from a business trip (“I brought you a present”).

Said present, of course, is the big mystery of the episode.

I love this item. It’s a magic box. Straight Pandora. From the second we understand it has importance, our curiosity takes over and we need to know what is inside it. It doesn’t help that we’re led to understand (and rightfully so) that this box regraded Sanders into a childlike state (positively infantile compared to Hindle’s budding, awkward adolescence). To complicate the matter, it's given to Sanders by Panna and Karuna, whom we do not quite understand at the outset. It is clear they are Kinda, but they are not like the other Kinda. They can only speak because they are wise (which, by the way, is an awesome idea and concept and can explain why the Kinda in the dome might fear Hindle: he is the loudest and most-spoken of the people).

Panna and Karuna's agenda, of course, we do not know. But it leaves me conflicted (in the “now”. By the end we know what to make of them). Do we trust them or do we not? They gave Sanders the box and the box seems to have crippled his mind. He took the box back to the colony and now it looks like our heroes are about to be crippled as well. So it seems the two women are evil. But Panna and Karuna seem not to know of the benevolence of The Doctor, Adric, and Todd, so maybe they weren’t the intended targets. Even Sanders, though... I’d hardly think of him as a bad guy and yet they crippled him. So where does that leave us?

We also get some further development of Adric. And by further I mean that he turncoats AGAIN. Like for reallys. But the difference here is that his goals seem to only be to help The Doctor, which is nice and a change of pace given what we know of Adric going back just a story and a half a season.

And Tegan continues to be under assault from The Mara, which is still a fascinating set piece. All of the Tegan vs. Tegan stuff is terribly, terribly strong. I love the fact that what we see of the dreamscape in the first episode was really just Grimwade getting started. All of the tricks he does with the surreality of the setting is absolutely breathtaking, from the merging of the Tegans to the lighting on Dukkah to the moment when they are plunged into absolute darkness and all you can see is the negative outlines of the two people as they move. It’s… brilliantly composed.

I love the way it continues to build out of there. We’re not entirely sure what happens when the snake transfers from Dukkah to Tegan, but we can tell when she wakes up that it’s not Tegan anymore, and that’s not even counting the added makeup and fruit punch mouth. Fielding really does an outstanding job of bringing the Mara to life and it all shows here. She’s sinister, evil, and she drops apples on Aris’s head before transferring the Mara to him. She’s an evil Eve, completely corrupted by whatever it is that’s possessed her. And Grimwade does an excellent job cross-cutting between both this storyline and the end of episode cliffhanger.

Now maybe I’m wrong about this, but it feels to me that you can understand what’s going on in this even without understanding the mechanics of what’s going on. One of the criticisms script editor Eric Saward levels at this story is the fact that things happen for seemingly no reason and that the internal logic of it requires more explanation to make sense. Bailey makes a point to refute this argument saying “the explanation of the idea is inherently uninteresting and that the focus should be the ramification of the idea itself.” This storyline is exactly that. Even if you don’t know that The Mara is seeping into Tegan’s mind because of her anger and fear, that it's preying on her resulting psychological weakness, and that it’s playing with her emotions, you can still understand that something inherently bad happened, that the Mara is evil, and the corruption of Tegan (and Aris in the subsequent) is not something that’s going to be good moving forward.

And you know what? Good on Bailey. There doesn’t always need to be an explanation right away for what is happening. If the story is engaging and it matters and it means something then you can understand that it’s bad right now and only going to get worse. I mean, this is Doctor Who for god’s sake, and if the structure is solid you can understand the bad things are coming. Let the thing be explained later. Sit in the dark for a while. The dark is an intriguing place that allows your imagination to run wild until we tell you what’s up. It’s okay. You can handle it.

But my fascination in this part is all about this cliffhanger.

I love this cliffhanger, possibly even more than the one we got at the end of part one. There’s a sense of foreboding that kicks in the second Sanders returns with the box and Grimwade deftly crosscuts it with the corruption of Aris in such a way that it’s... breathtaking. It’s masterfully constructed and vaguely reminds me of the way Grimwade edits and cuts across the scenes of "Earthshock", doing a hard edit on scenes, harder than you’re used to. It gives a nail biting quality and is the sort of thing that… well… enhances it. It ratchets the tension all the way into the final moments when The Doctor doesn’t want to open the box but we want him to open the box but he doesn’t think it’s a good idea so don’t open the box but open it or Hindle will have you shot and oh no bad things are coming.

It’s so good that by the time I get to the end I am… enthralled and I can’t believe that I wrote another fifteen hundred words on this part when I could be watching the next one. WHY IS THIS HAPPENING.

Again, before I run off to watch the next installment, I must discuss Davison, whom I think is still marvelous here. I love his compassion and attempts to understand Hindle (even though the man is beyond comprehension at this point; "The trees have no mercy") and the way he manages to be silly but deathly serious at the same time is a testament to his quality as an actor. It’s a tremendously strong performance, especially in a story that’s full of strong performances.  He’s captivating and masterful at everything and really… damn. Just damn.

Part 3:

And true to form to the four part Doctor Who story structure, this episode is a little wheel spinny.

In reflecting back on this episode, not much actually happens. They open the box, the lights go out, The Doctor and Todd flee into the jungle, run across the natives, go to Panna at the cave, and learn her lesson. Meanwhile, The Mara makes its power play through Aris, seizes control of the Kinda, and leads them off to the dome to destroy the “not-we” once and for all. In the middle we get some more Hindle (in which he’s degenerated to playing games with Sanders and constructing a fake town out of cardboard boxes) and some maneuvering from Adric, but nothing terribly substantial.

This, though, is to be expected. Third parts are traditionally the weakest parts of any story, or at least, the most frequent part in which nothing substantial happens.

So it goes, but there’s some substantial stuff here nonetheless. Take, for instance, the fact that this is when we learn all of the things we need to know for the story to move forward. Aris has, in fact, been corrupted by a force called “The Mara”. What is The Mara? That is not exactly clear, but according to Panna it does spell "the beginning and the end of all things" and its continued existence will bring an end to time itself. We’ll learn a bit more about The Mara moving forward, but for now it’s enough to know that whatever’s coming is bad.

“Whatever’s coming”, though, is not exactly clear. It takes place in a vision, the one Panna gives to The Doctor and Todd. It’s disorienting, and easily the most abstract thing in the story to the point where it's almost entirely unintelligible.

But what can we tell from it? We can tell that the Kinda are in a circle, watching the Trickster (more on him later) dance his dance that (as we know from Todd's explanation earlier in the episode) "distracts them from the worries of the world." Then the Mara starts to laugh. Time starts ticking forward. The world is approaching the end... but of what, exactly? It’s unclear. But in the end the Trickster is brutally murdered (it’s implied) by the Kinda while the Mara laughs manaically. The bells go off. The Doctor calls this “the end of everything”. And yet it is also a beginning? But how? Also unclear, but it is at the very least interesting for all its abstraction and discussion. Take, for instance, The Mara. The Mara is a malignant force of sin and temptation (remember the apples?). So if the Kinda fall under the influence of The Mara, then the world (or at least The Kinda's world) will descend into chaos, creating a ticking time bomb for the Kinda overall (time being an abstract concept only defined by society's need to progress).

So basically The Mara will end everything, it will end time, it will bring about an end.

Honestly, while it is frustrating, I suppose it could also be a critique on the stories Doctor Who chooses to tell. And as we discussed in the last part, Bailey made a point to not outright explain what he was going for, instead going for something more poetically tonal than anything else. And that’s fine. The story’s supposed to make you think about things, to think about what it is the spirits of corruption and temptation will do to you over a period of time. The vision sequence very specifically singles out the trickster as the entity that keeps society perfectly happy. But why The Trickster? And why kill him? Because without him, society will start to collapse under the weight of its own failings, rotting from the inside out until it completely falls apart.

And in that, Bailey is remarking that we need The Doctor in our lives because he himself is a trickster for the society he visits.

In this episode, Bailey makes a point to include a scene in which The Kinda encounter The Doctor and Todd and watch while the fool plays his little games with them. This results in The Doctor turning around and playing the fool himself for the benefit of the crowd, demonstrating the sleight-of-hand trick Adric taught him back in episode two. It’s a clear handoff between the two characters and is in line with one of the points Bailey makes later in the story when his writer-proxy (Panna, the one with the knowledge) calls The Doctor “an idiot” because the Box of Jahnna did not corrupt his male mind.

So what is The Box of Jahnna then? And what happened when The Doctor and Todd opened it and the world went bibbledy? The same, we assume, as happened to Sanders when he opened the box. But The Doctor remained unscathed because (as Panna says) “he’s an idiot”. And yet this is a direct contradiction to everything we've ever known about The Doctor. He's the smartest person in just about any room he's in. But as the wise man, you can say that “The Doctor knows he knows nothing” and “the fool believes he knows all.” In that, Bailey raises yet another discussion atop all the other ones (Romanticism, Imperialism, Colonialism, Buddhism, Edenism) about the nature of knowledge . Sanders is the sorta man who thinks he knows everything. He can be corrupted by the influx of knowledge from the box because he literally has no idea how to process being given such tremendous insight into the Kinda worldview. He shuts down, reduced to a childlike state. The Doctor is much more accepting, and is capable of processing what he sees. 

And compare the seemingly main antagonist of the story with The Doctor. Hindle believes he knows everything. He thinks he’s superior because he thinks he knows a lot of stuff. That makes him a fool.

The Doctor is not. He is no fool, but he thinks of himself as one (as wise men do). And that is how he survives the box, and that’s why it’s funny every time Panna wants to call The Doctor an idiot. It’s pure irony. It’s not a phrase of derision or cynicism. No. Panna and Bailey both know The Doctor to be tremendously smart, but calling him that comes off as ludicrous and silly. It’s deeply philosophical in ways that Doctor Who just usually isn’t (not in the Classic series, anyways).

We also get some tremendous work with the continued deterioration of Hindle, who (it turns out) is a coward. He prepares to blow up the dome and sacrifice himself into the sweet embrace of death (which, to be fair, is a tremendously safe place), occupying the in-between moments with building a model city with Sanders. Building the city is interesting, and it’s a wonderful contrast to see the same guy who's actively preparing to be a destroyer (much like a Mara) simultaneously attempt to create something of his own. It’s a thought-provoking contrast, I think, and it’s interesting how it comes about in this episode. His madness brings him to a place of fracture, where he thinks he can simultaneously combine his desires to be both creator and destroyer. Fool indeed.

Also, there’s nothing like Rouse taking the opportunity to yell. “Turn the light on!” is a tremendous moment.

But more than anything, it’s great how this episode builds. The threat of the Mara is impossibly palpable (telling, especially when we don’t know exactly what it means) and the ticking time bomb that is the dome is incredible simply because Hindle is sitting around waiting for something bad to happen. It’s just a matter of time before these worlds collide and the fact that the one ally The Doctor has (who isn’t Todd) dies at the end of this episode gives us an incredible “oh damn” moment. It's exactly what I want going into a final part.

Heck. Yes.

Part 4:

Whenever anyone discusses this story, there are two things inevitably mentioned. The primary one will lead me to more of a rant, the second one is easily addressed. I'll do the second one first.

Up to this point in this story there has not been a wasted line of dialogue. Not a wasted moment, not a wasted character, not a wasted second. Unfortunately, the story ended up coming in about four minutes short in the initial edits and they were forced to add some additional scenes (specifically two) to fill up the time. Funny enough? These scenes suck. Both of them. You can tell they’re added and extended and padded and most of the reason for that is because of how much the story has been chugging along just fine without a re-exposition dump during which two of our principals talk about their feelings.

I think the biggest problem is that it only makes sense for Tegan and Adric to be the main players of additional scenes, and that of course is why they suffer.

For one thing, both scenes accomplish nothing. It’s just Adric and Tegan standing around and talking in circles, accomplishing nothing. Not only that, but Fielding (who self-admittedly knows she’s not the strongest of actors) and Waterhouse (not a strong actor regardless of his own feelings to the contrary) have trouble making the scene particularly convincing. Part of this is the lack of justification for said scene. Why have this scene in the first place? The characters don’t make any emotional connection, nor does what they talk about seem to be thematically relevant. So really, it's a waste of time made all the more stark by the fact that up to this point the story is remarkably strong and well-moved.

It’s unfortunate. But it happens. Let’s talk about something else.

One of the things I like about this story even more now that I’m watching it again is just how much actually is answered, even if it is only in passing lines of dialogue or fleeting glimpses. Bailey demonstrates that he clearly knows what he’s doing in and out of this story, he just doesn’t feel the need to explain it. Is that a mistake? I’d argue no, because getting too deep into these things would lead to a tremendously unfortunate sinkhole of expository postulating, philosophical debate, and arguing on the thematic dynamics of the story. Honestly, such points are better discussed outside the narrative of the story, i.e. in blogs, papers, and discussions about the show.

Regardless, Bailey does introduce possibilities and explanations as to what has happened in the story. These are, of course, open to interpretation...

We learn that The Mara is an evil force that will bring time to the idyllic Eden of Deva Loka. Taking the metaphor further, if The Mara is sin incarnate, then it makes a statement about the Judeo-Christian creation myth: Adam and Eve never aged in the Garden of Eden and with the first sin came the burden of time. In a world of sin, Adam and Eve begin to age; suddenly, life is not a timeless expanse of "eternity" and has a fixed end point. Life and Death begin as a cycle. Time has ruined Eden.

We learn that Hindle tricked the Kinda into believing that he’d stolen their souls. This, of course, is only one explanation. I said earlier my own contrasting opinions about what might have happened. Just because The Doctor says it does not make it canon.

We also learn about how The Mara is brought into the world (it latches onto the thoughts of an isolated non-psychic person, who is most vulnerable during sleep when they are defenseless to The Mara’s attacks). We learn that the box is a box that brings one in tune with the forces of nature (in effect, healing you; once again, it's a Romantic ideal). We learn that The Mara is actually a big ol’ vicious snake that takes over and wants to destroy the world.

And I’d argue that all of these insane, seemingly eclectic ideas build extremely well to a tremendously satisfying conclusion. I don’t care what anyone says about the damn snake.

Yes. The Snake. The G.D. snake. That’s one of the things about this story that everyone says. “Oh it’s so good but what about that damn snake.” First of all, fine. Yes. The snake is crappy, but for the naysayers who are dissatisfied, I welcome them to turn on the CGI features on the DVD and see the “real” version of the snake which they couldn’t see because they were so blinded by a poor special effect. But even without the tremendous work of the CGI on this story, I still say it’s a wonderfully realized sequence. Sure, it’s outside the bounds of what Doctor Who can effectively do on it’s extremely limited budget. But it’s very well shot by Grimwade and it really does capture the shock and scare of the thing.

I’m tired of that argument, though. The argument that “such and such episode of Doctor Who sucks because it was done on the cheap.” Seriously, that should have been discarded the second they aired "The Daleks" because that story is nothing but cheap. But judging a Doctor Who story on the basis of its budget is hardly fair. Besides, what does it matter how cheap the thing is, so long as it's well told and well done? Same goes for the issue of "it's shot in a studio and I can see the floor and those leaves don't cover it". Come on. Who cares. Does that really blind you to the fact that you’re getting a cracking good story and a thrilling ride of an experience? I’m tired of people who watch Classic Who and complain about the effects or sets or anything. Oh my god I’m sorry they shot this whole thing in a studio. The world frakking ends. I pity the sentiment, but in the end I'd rather you just watched the story and enjoyed it and let your imagination fill in the gaps rather than bitch that you couldn't get over a little cardboard. Who cares if it looks a little cheap? Doctor Who was notoriously low budget. Maybe you can get over it eventually, yeah?

But that speaks to a larger issue with the story. I think the real issue is people just don’t want to admit they don’t get this story. I really think that. People will come up with all sorts of stupid, asinine thoughts and opinions based on something completely irrelevant.

Because to say “oh my god what about that snake, huh?” completely disregards the fantastic work by Peter Davison as The Doctor works to wrap everything up. It also discounts the fact that this is, to me, a quintessential Doctor Who story because of how The Doctor saves the day. It’s completely cerebral such that The Doctor uses his intelligence to outwit his foe. There’s no violence, no contrivances, just a case of someone tremendously smart outthinking a completely insane, dangerous being. I mean, look at that picture. It's just The Doctor squaring off against The Mara. It's impossibly iconic.

It also discounts the absolutely inspired moment when Todd tricks Hindle into opening The Box by outthinking him, thereby saving the day from the explosion of the dome. It also gets away from the interesting bit where The Mara attempts to use technology (having The Kinda build a makeshift bio suit robot thing) to duel with the real bio suit robot thing. Again, we see the use of technology as a corruptive force to disrupt the natural balance of order, only here The Mara attempts to synthesize both, using nature as technology. It’s an interesting twist and smart on The Mara’s part, except for the fact that The Mara completely underestimates the laser blasting of the suit and just how much technology outclasses nature in this situation. In essence: nature's strength is not in its technology.

It’s also something how The Doctor goes back into The TARDIS, saying that “paradise is not for him.” I like that, in a way, it speaks volumes about The Doctor’s character. It tells you what he thinks of Eden and how he has no place there. Perhaps it’s because he sees himself as a corrupting influence (he did leave Tegan unsupervised and set the whole event into motion) or because he finds it rather boring (although how in the world is this boring?). But there’s a somber tone to him as he sets off to leave. Maybe it’s because he knows what’s coming just around the corner, that maybe the gaps weren’t closed quite fast enough and that Tegan did probably make eye contact with The Mara as it writhed around in its final moments.

And maybe he did realize that his encounters with The Mara were far from over.

But that’s a story for another time.

Final Thoughts?: Woof.

So almost six thousand words later I think it's pretty clear I unabashedly love this story. And for... so many reasons.

I think the biggest thing about this story that I love so much about it is how well done it is overall. It's one of the few (relatively speaking) stories that really benefits from multiple viewings and demands you pay attention and think and attempt to be smart and put things together. Sure, that's not necessarily for everyone (there are people who like to turn their brain off when they watch something), but I'll take a story like this over a story like "Creature From the Pit" any day. I find I have no interest in stories like those, the ones that I don't have to think about because it's really just surface surface surface. "Kinda", though, stands up in a way that few other stories do and really rewards thinking and observing and analyzing as you attempt to puzzle your way through it.

I'm sure people consider this a cop out. They might think that having to do so much work means Bailey failed as a storyteller.

But I think that gets away from what he does here. For one thing, the story is incredibly straightforward if you attack it from a broad-strokes of "what happens here". Sure it's remarkably abstract, but it features all the great hallmarks of a great Doctor Who episode. The Doctor is captured and detained for a time. He uses his brain to think his way out of problems. The supporting cast have great side stories. The Doctor's companions have shining moments one and all. It's great dialogue, great allegories, fantastic storytelling, and wonderful science fiction (The Mara brings sin/time to Deva Loka; brilliant!). It's well constructed. And it's got some definite scares and "oh shit" moments that really hammer it all home.

That it ends up realized so well is all down to Peter Grimwade, who did a remarkable job in the directing of this story. It's extremely well cast, well paced, well acted, well shot, and well put together.

But the hero of the piece is Christopher Bailey, who ended up writing one of the most memorable and awesome Doctor Who stories I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing. The man really pushed Doctor Who into directions I don't think the show had seen in years (indeed, his twisting of structure is reminiscent of the Hartnell years, when the show was constantly experimenting with form to figure out how to make a Doctor Who story). He poured every ounce of himself into the script and wrote a Doctor Who story only he could ever tell and came out the other side with a legendary story that STILL perseveres, regardless of how frakkin lame that snake might have been in everyone's eyes. He's one of the few people I can think of who wrote for The Doctor while being smarter than The Doctor, and those always end up as the best writers for Doctor Who.

The biggest tragedy is that he only ever wrote one other Doctor Who story that made it to air (the superlative "Snakedance") and another one that only just came out from Big Finish earlier this week (you don't know how excited I am to get to it).

If nothing else, though, Christopher Bailey leaves his mark on Doctor Who with one of the best stories the show ever produced. It inspired great work from all those involved and really ended up being remarkably great for "the video age" (it's a Rob Shearman idea), which allowed viewers to watch and absorb stories over and over again, pulling something new out of them each time. It's ahead of its time, this story, and in a season that includes "Earthshock" and "Castrovalva", it's telling that this story stands out as a king amongst giants. It's one of my favourite Davison stories (that's saying something) and one of my favourite Doctor Who stories ever.

Big ups. Big props. Fantastic fantastic work. Now if you'll excuse me, I think I want to go watch it again.

Next Time!: 3rd Doctor! Dangerous Aliens(?)! Yet another Master appearances! And something that reminds me of Firefly except Firefly isn't boring! "Frontier in Space"! Coming Next Tuesday!


  1. Wow, that really makes me want to watch the story again :) (last time was two years agao, a day before Richard Todd died...).

    Yes, I think I'll just watch again.

  2. Thank you very much! And by the way, the story really REALLY holds up it does. I'm sure you'll love it even more this time!

  3. Great serial. Great review. I'm only surprised, Matt, that your insight into Tegan's visions -- and particularly how they reflect her suspicions and fears about the Doctor -- don't give you greater empathy for her character. To his great credit, Bailey pretty much explains why she's such a bitch this first season. And admittedly, the REAL reason is because that's how she was conceived, so that's what the Season 19 writers were given to work with, and Saward didn't have the vision, aptitude or drive to actually refine her character as the season went along. But "Kinda" allows me to forgive a lot of Tegan's insolence. I also never had a problem with the "crowded Tardis" of Season 19; rather than getting a shapely companion, Davison acquired a family -- a very, very dysfunctional family. For me, it makes Season 19 a nice change of pace; you can pick your friends, but you're stuck with your family. Tegan was the oldest child: a brat and a flirt; pretty, bossy, and self-entitled. She was just like my older sister, who could be loads of fun, but man, the world revolved around her. (My brother, the middle child, is as dull as Nyssa. Oh crap, that makes me Adric...)

  4. Excellent review! :-) Your analysis is excellent. You made me want to watch this one again. i don't have the DVD and i had no idea that they did CGI to replace the snake. That's neat. Maybe some day i'll have the DVD. i grew up watching on fuzzy tv, which is frustrating. i don't mind that Doctor Who was low budget. i get it. i look past it (easier done as a kid, though).

    One comment: the Mara/Aris situation with the fake "nature made" bio suit robot vehicle thing wasn't about a legitimate desire to use nature to make technology to destroy the Earth people. It was the Mara misleading Aris into believing he could do something about his resentment of the invaders by building his own robot machine. It was an abuse of Aris' negative emotions and his naivety about what technology is. What does the Mara get out of this? Chaos and suffering. That's what gives the Mara form. See Snakedance (one of my favorites because it is a sequel to Kinda and offers a little more explanation to the origins of the Mara, making it less mystical and magical, despite outward appearances of mysticism/magic, which always works for me).

  5. Superb review. Kinda is not just superb Who but superb television full stop. So many good things here, but I must mention Simon Rouse. The best guest performance ever in Who, "You can't mend people!". Just wonderful.

  6. It has been reported this story was originally written with Tom Baker in mind but got rewritten and restructured for Peter Davison and I do wonder if Kinda would have worked as a Tom Baker story who knows