This serial from Peter Davison’s second season as the Fifth Doctor is forever going to be associated with the rather ridiculous get-up Martin Clunes’ character Lon ends up wearing in episode 4. But it is unkind and undeserved, for Clunes plays a good straight performance and I would argue that Snakedance is even more effective than Kinda at exploring the nature of true evil.
For season 20 producer John Nathan Turner wanted to have a returning enemy in every story – but he cheated on an epic scale. The three stories following this one were covered by the return of the Black Guardian, regardless of his own involvement in the story, while the Mara had only appeared in the previous season. Not quite the same as rolling out the Daleks and the Cybermen in Tom Baker’s first season. We can forgive him somewhat however, in that the Mara is a genuinely unsettling villain, and one that could assuredly be used more. Thankfully for Snakedance, the special effects of the snake creature have improved enormously – it helps create the aura of malevolence and evil needed to make the character believable.
I was pleasantly surprised when I viewed the DVD, not having hugely fond memories of the VHS – probably because of Clunes’ costume! While not a gripping story by any means, the gentle narrative pace allows the tension to ratchet up notch by notch – you instead wait for the breaking point that you know must come soon. In simple form – the Doctor arrives with Tegan and Nyssa on the planet Manussa – once the focus of the Mara’s power, which subsequently reawakens within Tegan. While the Mara possesses Tegan and Lon, and manipulates them to bring about its rebirth, the Doctor traces local folklore to discover how to repel the monster – and does so. Not complicated – therefore a simple and enjoyable story. I am not at all inclined to ridicule this story for its 1980s production values – rather I feel these are the kind of stories we needed more of in the 1980s.
And it is definitely worth repeating – please please please Mister Moffat – bring back the Mara!