THIS STORY TAKES
BETWEEN THE TV
STORIES "FOUR TO
'MARA TALES' DVD
BOX SET (BBCDVD2871)
RELEASED IN MARCH
THE DOCTOR ARRIVES ON
THE PARADISE PLANET
OF DEVA LOKA TO FIND
A COLONIAL MISSION ON
THE VERGE OF COLLAPSE.
SEVERAL PEOPLE HAVE
VANISHED WITHOUT A
TRACE, LEAVING THE
THE MYSTERY DEEPENS
AS IT BECOMES CLEAR
THAT THE PLANET'S
THE KINDA, POSSESS
POWERS CAPABLE OF
BY THE MARA, AN EVIL
FORCE THAT LIVES IN
DREAMS AND PREYS
1st february 1982 - 9th february 1982
Very few people seem to kinda like Kinda. Some champion Christopher Bailey’s story as being “one of the greatest achievements of 1980s British television as a whole”, whereas others condemn its tawdriness and impenetrability. But, love it or hate it, there is one thing that everyone can agree on: Kinda is something different.
Generally speaking, I admire stories that break new ground, and Kinda certainly pushed the series in a fresh and really quite high-brow direction. Indeed, so rich were its themes that it would be the subject of an academic publication, Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text, which would examine the way in which the story explores certain symbols and themes, as well as elements of Carl Jung’s philosophy and particularly Buddhism. Each of Bailey’s dreamtime characters are lifted directly from Buddhist ideology, with Dukkha representing pain, Panna wisdom, Karuna (compassion), and the Mara temptation. This doesn’t limit the audience to the intelligentsia, however; the piece is so well-written that what these characters represent is self-evident. What limits the audience is the cheapness of the world that exists outside the realm of dreams.
The first time that I watched this serial, back on UK Gold in the 1990s, I was in agreement with the readers of Doctor Who Magazine who had ranked it the worst story of Season 19
in a contemporaneous poll. I was a bit young to appreciate the spiritual and anthropological aspects of the story, leaving with me only an abysmally-realised alien jungle, and a few pith helmets; robotic suits; and identity crises to enjoy. Even Nerys Hughes’ zip was just an inch
or so too high. Even back then though, I found the scenes in the darkness of “the wherever” absolutely spellbinding, and loved the idea of a subconscious entity that seduced dreamers into serving its will. Surreal, subversive, and disturbing in a way that the series never really had been previously, there is no denying that in it finest scenes, Kinda is Who working on a whole new level.
Revisiting the serial on DVD, I’ve found that many of the elements that turned me off Kinda were just as pungent as I remembered. Dambusters star Richard Todd’s performance is
so very hammy, and Colonel Sanders is such a clichéd character, that he almost deserved
that infamous acting lesson from Matthew Waterhouse; and Nerys Hughes’ Todd’s gentle flirting with the Doctor is almost as painful. Worst of all though, Peter Davison’s Doctor is at his lowest ebb. Bailey’s script does absolutely nothing for him, making him a mere part of events – a hapless passenger – rather than a catalyst. Given that this was only Davison’s third performance in the role, he really needed something meatier to help finds his feet.
However, once again I was enthralled by Janet Fielding’s striking, sensual performance. In the bonus material that accompanies the serial Fielding is very critical of her acting, but I’d say that Kinda houses her finest performance in the series. She absolutely nails the “Eve in the Garden of Eden” vibe without ever making it too explicit, and when in the metaphysical mayhem of “the wherever” she truly excels. I understand that she even scripted the exchange between the two Tegans, such was her investment in the story and the character.
Fielding’s authoritative turn is complemented
by a stunning performance from Simon Rouse,
who plays Hindle – a man who’s mind is rapidly
succumbing to madness. Rouse embodies the
terrifying unpredictability of mental dysfunction,
evoking all the pity, fear and stigma that go
hand in hand with it. His fraught, desperate
line “You can’t mend people!” is definitely
one of the serial’s highlights. Chilling stuff.
The DVD’s bonus material is largely consolidated in
two ample features, but as usual we are also treated
to a commentary. Nerys Hughes accompanies all the
regulars save for Sarah Sutton, who was presumably
asleep in the TARDIS. The track is as amusing and as
interesting as ever, and for once it sees Peter Davison
give lip service to the show, albeit under duress.
Dreamtime is the disc’s clear highlight. Ostensibly a ‘making of’ documentary, this feature focuses heavily on the writing of the story and the development of the script, which seems
to have had a more tumultuous maturation that most. Christopher Bailey had three different script editors tinkering with his cherished script, and all three of them are on hand here to discuss their respective two penneths. Christopher H Bidmead and Anthony Root are both very kind to Kinda, but Eric Saward is his usually forthright self, criticising the imprecision of Bailey whilst also shoe-horning in a few tenuously-related John Nathan-Turner jibes. Joking aside though, it’s actually very interesting to hear Bailey and Saward defend their respective positions. On one side, we have the artist with a vision; a vision that he doesn’t want to be dumbed-down or diluted for a mainstream audience. On the other, we have the sensible script editor with his big red pen, threatening to turn what some would consider a piece of high art into something homogonous, anodyne – and capable of comprehension. Had this serial been made more accessible, then I suspect it would have been met with a warmer reception, but it would no doubt have lost the aura that sets it apart from everything else in Doctor Who’s initial twenty-six year run.
The documentary also sees award-winning author Robert Shearman return to his role as the
champion of the underrated. As was the case with The Space Museum, his representations are eloquent and well-constructed, particularly his defence of the oft-maligned Mara prop. In the same way that prose or audio drama requires some imagination, classic Who often did too, and there’s nothing at all wrong with that. Besides, who’s to say that the Mara doesn’t look like a big, pink, plastic snake? It needn’t anymore, mind, thanks to the sterling work of Chris Petts and Sally Clayton, who have provided DVD viewers with the option of switching the original final episode with something reminiscent of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
The other significant featurette, Directing with Attitude, critiques the contributions that Peter Grimwade made to the series. Presented by erstwhile companion Mark Strickson, whose opening and closing adventures Grimwade wrote, this documentary is a warm but candid look at the work of an intense, highly-strung man who could claim responsibility for Doctor Who serials ranging from the acclaimed to the notorious. The programme even examines Grimwade’s hat trick of novelisations for Target, with his editor, Nigel Robinson, praising
his professionalism and prose. His scriptwriting skills don’t come off anywhere near as well, but that won’t come as surprise to many. The disc is then rounded off with some time-coded deleted and extended scenes; a photo gallery; and one or two other titbits that will appeal to completists, but aren’t really cause for any excitement.
Having revisited Kinda, then, I found it to be every bit as sub-standard as I once did in some areas, and every bit as dazzling in others. Were the story remounted today and afforded a location shoot; some half-decent CGI; a lot of red pen; and a reduction in running time, then Bailey’s story might have the making of a classic. As it is though, paradise is just a little too green for me.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2007, 2011
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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