Kinda [Classic Doctor Who]

Doctor Who has long been my favorite show, but in recent years rewatchings of old episodes have been few and far between.  But lately I decided to spend both some of my birthday and Christmas spending money on some of these adventures, and enjoy them with one or two of my nerdier daughters.

(Daily Doctor Who #321)

Kinda

Starring Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor.
Companions: Janet Fielding as Tegan Jovanka and Matthew Waterhouse as Adric. With Sarah Sutton as Nyssa (parts 1 & 4 only)
Written by Christopher Bailey. Directed by Peter Grimwade.

Format:  4 episodes, each about 25 minutes long
Originally Aired:  February 1982 (Episodes 9-12 of Season Nineteen).

Kinda is kind of a perfect representation of what classic Doctor Who is all about. It’s a thoughtful science fiction drama with interesting characters and fascinating ideas…and also a big, ridiculous-looking snake monster at the climax!

Spoilers Ahead!

There’s a lot to like about Kinda. Foremost amongst them is the fact that it created a monster that was memorable enough to actually recur on the series, a bit of a rarity in latter-day classic Doctor Who. The Mara really is a cool idea–a disembodied nightmare creature and corrupts people and on some level looks like a snake. It’s a concept that is actually ripe for a re-visit in the modern series–something that would fit right in. But this is partly because the idea is not fully developed here, and there’s so much further that the show could go. It’s clear, for example, that the Mara is threatening, but it’s not really clear what the nature of that threat is. Maybe it’s explored further in the sequel story from Season 20–Snakedance. I can’t honestly remember.

And this maybe is the biggest challenge with Kinda. The production for the most part works really well, thanks to some good sets and strong performances, but there’s a lot that goes unexplained or even unexplored, when one stops to think about it.

For example, what exactly happened to rest of the expedition? There is talk about a guy called Roberts and two other members of the team, who all just wandering in the jungle, and then never came back. This is how the story sets up its tension–both for the audience and for Hindle. We’re all wondering what has happened…but the answer never actually comes. So what exactly happened? Did they just go crazy in the forest? Did the Mara “get” them? Did the Kinda cook them and eat them and then use their helmets as a drums?

If it was the Mara, how was that possible if it was mostly dormant until Tegan fell asleep next to those wind chimes? Does the Mara, in fact, have anything to do with Hindle’s mental breakdown, and if so, how?

My guess is that the Mara exerts an negative / aggressive influence on everyone on the planet, with the males being particularly vulnerable if they don’t have the Kinda’s telepathic defenses.

This leads to the extremes in both Sanders’ and Hindle’s behavior, and presumably, somehow, to the Roberts and the others being killed (maybe one of them went crazy and attacked and murdered the others). Maybe it even explains Adric’s difficulty in the Total Survival Suit. And surely Sanders would have also died if he had not been “rescued” by the Kinda themselves exposing him to the box. And only through the full dreams of Tegan’s unguarded mind can the Mara fully manifest as a personality.

So all of that makes a fair amount of sense, but it’s largely conjecture. It’d have been nice if the show explored some of this a bit more.

All that said, there is quite a lot to like about Kinda. In addition to the Mara, you’ve got the Kinda themselves, which might just be the most “developed” (from a story point of view) civilization that we’ve ever seen on the series.

This is a case where the fact that we get only scraps of information works quite well–we don’t fully understand the social structure and religion of the Kinda, but the scraps the story offers us suggest something rich and complex, and intriguingly alien. The presence of the explorers with their colonial approach to things is perhaps a tad obvious from a thematic perspective, but still works well within the limited confines of the story.

I was also impressed by much of the guest cast–Mary Morris brings a strong sense of otherworldliness to her roll as the mysterious elder Panna, and Jeff Stewart is suitably creepy as Dukkha, the creepy avatar of the Mara that appears to Tegan in her dream.

Janet Fielding is outstanding as the possessed Tegan–indeed one of the disappointments of the story is that she gets to play this part for such a short period of time (basically just a couple of scenes in one episode). I remember people asking Janet Fielding to replicate her “Mara laugh” at a convention and her refusing–it seemed like something people asked her to do all the time.

But really the highlight performances for the story are Richard Todd and Sanders and Simon Rouse as Hindle. Both actors bring a lot of color to their roles and bring tremendous life to figures who could have wound up being nothing more than generic stock characters. A similar relationship dynamic was repeated with Ringway and Briggs a couple of stories later, in Earthshock, but was not nearly as successful. Hindle especially is fascinating to watch and keeps the extensive scenes in the bunker from becoming tiresome.

I was glad that both he and Sanders survive and story, and even seem to be healed and reconciled at the end of it–a surprisingly upbeat outcome on a show often known for its darker tone.

Less interesting is Nerys Hughes’ Dr. Todd. It’s not that she’s bad at all (except for her bizarre over-the-top scream at a jack-in-the-box at the end of Part Two), it’s just that she’s not particularly engaging. Given that she basically functions like a companion for much of the story, it’s a bit of a pity that a bunch of her scenes couldn’t have been given to Nyssa (who is basically resting in the TARDIS for the whole plot due to the scripts being written before Sarah Sutton became a regular). However, I can understand the narrative convenience of having somebody familiar with the planet present with the Doctor as he is figuring things out.

Adric is given a lot to do in this story–even more than Tegan, once the Mara moves on. It’s interesting to see him interact with Hindle and try to outwit him–but it never really goes anywhere in terms of the story. And the Doctor is strangely naive when it comes to Adric’s “guess which hand” game, although I suppose Doctors have always displayed different levels of canniness with “ordinary” things. Still, the script overall could have benefited from another pass-through to address some of this, but its also not hard to look past these flaws given the serial’s other strengths.

Harder to ignore is the physical realization of the Mara itself–big silly-looking snake-puppet that it is. Apparently it would have been better if production had been smoother, and the director could have used his initial plan to pull off the effect, whatever it was. But production wasn’t smooth, so the effect wound up being what it was. And it’s impossible to call it anything but bad, so there’s no sense trying.

But, we are fans of classic Doctor Who, so we are well-practiced with looking past dodgy production values to find the gold within. And I think there’s a fair amount of gold in Kinda if you want to come and look for it.

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