Doctor Who: Kinda

The fashion police finally caught up with the Doctor
"An apple a day keeps the... Ah, never mind."

There's a lot that's brilliant about 'Kinda' and a lot that's not.

Incorporating elements of both Buddhist and Christian philosophy, Christopher Bialy’s script is certainly one of the most interesting Doctor Who scripts ever written. It was even examined closely in the 1983 media studies volume Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text by John Tulloch and Manuel Alvarado, which was the first major scholarly work dedicated to Doctor Who. I stumbled on a tattered copy of it in the library when I was at university and can't for the life of me remember a single thing about it.

Most of the negatives are purely superficial ones. The sets, mainly the forest sets of Deva Loka, look horribly cheap. The Kinda themselves are your stereotypical friendly primitives with naff costumes and even worse hair. Adric is still there, still siding with the bad guys as always and still fucking everything up. The giant snake at the end is an inflatable embarrassment of the highest order (the DVD gives you the option of replacing it with a CGI one). And some of the acting is so hammy you could buy it from a butchers.

'Kinda' is a story that walks the fine line between genius and "what the Dickens have you been smoking, Christopher?". It stumbles in the final episode, but for the first three episodes it is damn near brilliant. 'Kinda's story has two parallel storylines. Although linked, both stories work well independently of each other. The first concerns a demon called the Mara pulling Tegan into its dream world and mentally torturing her until she agrees to become its host so it can cause havoc in the real world.

The name Mara is common in many different Earth cultures. In Slavic mythology, Mara is the goddess of darkness, death, winter, the Moon and horror. In Germanic folklore it is an evil spirit or goblin which rides on people's chests while they sleep, bringing on bad dreams. In Latvian mythology Māra is Mother Earth, the highest-ranking goddess and a feminine counterpart to Dievs (God). In Hindu, Mara is the personification of death. And in Buddhism, Mara is a demon, the personification of unwholesome impulses, a tempter who distracts humans from practising the spiritual life by making mundane things alluring, or the negative seem positive.

It is the last one that Bialy based his Mara on, although there are some similarities to the Germanic Mara, such as the ability to cause bad dreams. Unlike the unusual foes the Doctor has faced, the Mara is no ranting megalomaniac with a thirst for power. It is a trickster that feeds off the chaos it wreaks. Janet Fielding is great fun as the Mara. Too bad it is only for one episode. Once the Mara leaves Tegan and takes over Aris the story starts to go downhill. The Mara just isn't as much fun when it is possessing Aris instead of Tegan thanks to Adrian Mills somehow finding a way to be hammy and completely wooden at the exact same time. The creepy surrealism of the earlier episodes is replaced by a load of badly shot nonsense that makes a sense that is not. And the less said about the Mara's ultimate form the better.

This is main problem with 'Kinda'. It's great at set up, not so much with the wrap up. This is very true for the stories' secondary plotline, which centres around a human expedition to Deva Loka whose members have been disappearing one by one. This has caused one member of the expedition, Hindle (brilliantly played by future Bill copper Simon Rouse), to slowly lose his marbles. Hindle's decent into madness, which eventually causes him to regress to an infantile state, is one of my favourite parts of the story. I like that his breakdown is due simply to the pressure of his job rather than some external alien influence. However, once the Doctor and Todd escape the dome this storyline sort of fizzles out.

As with the previous story, the regular cast are pretty much upstaged by the guest stars. Nerys Huges' Todd takes on the companion role for the majority of the story and actually does a much better job in these four episodes than Tegan, Nyssa and Adric have done all season. Richard Todd is also great as Sanders, a proper old school English soldier, full of pomp and bombast who becomes timid as a mouse after opening the box of Jana. But it's Mary Morris who steals the whole show as Panna. It is always great when the Doctor idiot meets someone who puts him firmly in his place.

"I may be an idiot, but at least I'm a pretty idiot"
Notes and Quotes

--Nyssa spends the entirety of this story asleep in the TARDIS. That's because she was originally going to be written out of the show after 'Castrovalva'. Peter Davison strongly opposed this as he felt that Nyssa was the companion who was "most suited to his vision of the Doctor". John Nathan-Turner eventually relented and Nyssa was retained. Since 'Kinda' was already developed with two companions, it was decided to just shove Nyssa into the TARDIS to rest, rather than do a complete rewrite of the script to include her.

--Most of the characters have names with Buddhist meanings, including Mara (temptation), Dukkha (pain), Panna (wisdom), Karuna (compassion), Anicca (impermanence) and Anatta (egolessness).

--Why do the chairs in the dome have people's names on them like it's a film set?

--Mary Morris was so intrigued by the Buddhist/metaphysical aspects of the script that she drove herself overland from Switzerland to take part in the story.

--For a while there were rumours that Kate Bush or Tom Stoppard wrote this story under a pseudonym (they didn't).

Hindle: “I have the power of life and death over all of you”

The Doctor: "There's always something to look at if you open your eyes!"

Hindle: "Open it! Or I’ll have you shot!"

Tegan: "Hello?"
Old Woman: "You, my dear, can't possibly exist, so go away."

Three out of four apples a day that keep... ah, never mind.
--
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.

3 comments:

Tim said...


God, what I would have given for a CGI snake back in'81...

Excellent review as always, Mark. Thanks.

JB said...

I assume that this Christopher Bialy is actually writer Christopher Bailey, who wrote a Kinda sequel called Snakedance as well as an unrelated storyline that Marc Platt adapted into The Children Of Seth (which features the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan).

Important question, are you a not-we?

John said...

Thank heavens they solved the mystery of what happened to the other members of the expedition... wait, what?