Doctor Who: Looking Back At KINDA - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Doctor Who: Looking Back At KINDA

Tony deals with snakes on a planet.
It’s always tricky when the Doctor regenerates in Doctor Who. The eyes of the fans – and of a significant number of curious non-fans – are on the new owner of the Tardis, to see what they’re going to be like, whether they instinctively feel like that have what it takes to BE the Doctor, like the last one did (despite the fact that the last one went through exactly the same period of scrutiny in their time).

When you’re both the youngest actor to step into the role (to date), and following not only the longest-running Doctor but one who was entirely beloved, the pressure is a little more intense even than usual.

So people were looking at Peter Davison’s first season in the Tardis in 1982 particularly closely, as “the young chap from the vet programme” (All Creatures Great And Small) took over from the goggle-eyed wonder that was Tom Baker.

At first, to many non-fans, the signs weren’t good. Castrovalva, Davison’s first story, took up a lot of time with the Doctor suffering post-regenerative trauma and being in a kind of trance. All very understandable, but not exactly gripping drama. The rest of the time, the Tardis team were trapped in a kind of Escher painting of impossible dimensions, with the ultimate solution being to tear a tapestry and lob some furniture about. The Doctor’s real contribution to proceedings was his vision, being able to see past the illusion of a logical fallacy and find the truth underneath.

The second story for the Fifth Doctor, Four To Doomsday, was almost as baffling, with a spaceship full of ethnic extras and a somewhat wasted Stratford Johns covered in Rice Krispies and painted green as a froggish alien convinced that he was, for want of a more precise term, God.

The third story…

Well now, the third story is where Peter Davison’s Doctor really started to bed in. Kinda, by Christopher Bailey, was unlike anything Doctor Who had really seen since at least The Deadly Assassin – itself a high point of the Tom Baker years. It dealt with both colonisation as a concept, the cultural biases of invaders toward native people, and its villain… oh, its villain was something really rather special.
The Mara is a being or class of beings from another dimensional plane. It, or they, have enormous potential power, but no physical presence unless they can find or steal one. And they inhabit the dark places of the mind, getting in through dreams. They are essentially a personification of self-doubt, self-disappointment, fear, rage… everything you carry around inside you and wish you didn’t, given a voice to hate you with, to poke you with… to consume you with…

This was a whole different league of Doctor Who. But first things’ first.

Deva Loka is a lush jungle planet, inhabited by an aboriginal people called the Kinda. They are by no means ‘simple’ or ‘primitive’ people – they just have their way of going about things. They’re mostly a matriarchy, the males are silent, but communicate by telepathy, while the females lead, and at least the highest of them, an old woman called Panna (Mary Morris) and a young woman named Karuna (Sarah Prince), have the gift of speech.

Into this world comes an Earth colonisation survey team. The colonists have erected a habitation and exploration dome, and then… started going missing. Of the original seven, four have already vanished, leaving just three behind: Sanders (Richard Todd), the acting commander, with the look, and for the most part the manner of a 19th century English explorer, all bluff and bluster; Hindle (Simon Rouse), the sweaty, nervous young underling with increasing agoraphobia and a suspicion that the outside is watching him; and Todd (Nerys Hughes), the science officer who at least so far, is keeping her head and trying to make sense of the situation.

Enter the new Doctor and his rather full Tardis. One of the things that makes Kinda more successful than some early Davison stories is that it immediately cuts down the number of companions that everyone has to deal with, by making Nyssa (the young aristocratic woman from Traken, a world since destroyed by the Master) come over all faint, and get packed off to bed in the Tardis while she recovers from exhaustion.

One down, two to go.
While Adric, the arrogant young mathematician from a whole other universe (you kind of had to be there…) is keen to explore the dome with the Doctor, Tegan, an Australian air stewardess, feels a little peaky herself, and sits down to rest by a set of peculiar wind chimes made by the Kinda.

Except what none of them know is that it’s not safe to dream alone on Deva Loka. Dream alone, in the cold, dark solitude of a single, unconnected mind, and you let in the Mara.

The filming style when we go into Tegan’s dreams is inherently disturbing – deep blackness and over-exposed light forming the liminal edges of things and people. It’s a minimal environment, which means that when the Mara (in the form of a character called Dukkha, played with hissing spite by Jeff Stewart (later the kindly Reg Hollis in The Bill)) tempts and taunts her, it feels like a definition of inner, personal hell.

Dukkha himself is written and performed with a new kind of villainous energy, a command and a power which was unnerving on broadcast, and remains unnerving almost forty years on. Dukkha is a Mara, and he wants to be out in the world, rather than trapped in this flat, dark realm inside Tegan’s head. With little alternative other than staying there herself, permanently unconscious, Tegan agrees, and Dukkha the Mara walks about in her body.
Janet Fielding, who played Tegan, rarely had a great deal of what might be thought of as challenging acting material in Doctor Who. That she made as much as she did with what she was given is a credit to both her skills and her attitude. But in Kinda, as the Mara-possessed Tegan, she takes her performance to somewhere extraordinary, and she bristles with all the potential of a creature newly born into a universe of flesh.

Meanwhile, things inside the colonists’ dome are going from bad to worse. When Sanders decides to go outside to look for the latest of his missing crewmates, he leaves Hindle in charge – a move of such cataclysmically poor judgement, it clean blows your hair back.

Hindle, almost immediately the old man is gone, takes the opportunity to go totally tonto, reverting to a state of petulant childhood, building people out of paper, co-opting the Kinda who have been *ahem* borrowed to work as servants in the dome, and declaring war on the plants outside by wiring up the dome to explode the instant the outside shows signs of getting in.

As ya do.

These two battles run simultaneously, cutting back and forth like bets placed and raised, the battle for Tegan’s mind and body as the Mara emerges, and the battle for control and sanity in the dome. It’s really when the Kinda themselves get involved that both battles tighten up a notch.

A Kinda man, Aris, mourning for his brother who went into the dome but did not come out, is full of rage and confusion against the ‘not-we,’ making him a much stronger vessel for the Mara inside Tegan – with a clasp of hands, the Mara transfers, through its symbol, a snake tattoo on the arm. Now Aris (played by That’s Life presenter Adrian Mills) has a voice – the voice of the Mara - and he’s not afraid to use it to rouse the Kinda men to a fruitless attack on the dome, while Hindle, inside, is willing to blow the dome and the forest to smithereens.

Meanwhile the headwomen of the tribe recruit Todd and the Doctor to at least understand the cycle of events happening on Deva Loka – and it’s no exaggeration to say the story goes a bit surreal and Buddhist for some tastes round about this point.

But for Davison’s Doctor, the competing battles on Deva Loka are a great environment to prove his mettle – while Adric is more useful than usual in the dome, the Doctor working with Todd and the Kinda headwomen works out not only that the Mara is manifesting, but also how to defeat it.
Now, it’s important we realise that early Eighties Doctor Who had a budget of around £6.50 and a bundle of string. So it’s impressive that all of this was done on a jungle set that is essentially a BBC studio floor with occasional bits of green stuck around the place. It’s also important to remember that the “Mara in Tegan’s mind” sequences are brilliantly inventive, creepy, deeply unnerving, and like little if anything Doctor Who had ever seen before.

What we’re building up to with all this is an admission. The ending makes perfectly good in-story sense, and again ties into Buddhist principles with the notion that the one thing pure evil cannot face is its own reflection. So, in Kinda, the way to defeat the Mara is to surround it with mirrors. But for lots of people, none of the excellent, thought-provoking work that goes into Kinda is of any importance, because at the end, when the snake tattoo is forced of Aris’ arm and the true Mara – a giant snake – is forced out into the world, it. Looks. Dreadful.

Truly, it’s among one of the worst visual effects in Doctor Who history – and that’s including the plastic dinosaurs in the Jon Pertwee story, Invasion of the Dinosaurs. The snake used in Kinda is inflatable and wobbly, and altogether silly-looking, to the extent that when the story was released on DVD, they spent real effects money to replace it with a CGI snake.

The point about which is that WITH the CGI snake, Kinda settles back into its rightful place as an engaging, thought-provoking and in some ways downright creepy Doctor Who story, which means the only deal-breaker about Kinda is the hellish silly snake.

Simon Rouse as Hindle, Janet Fielding as Tegan, and especially Mara-Tegan, Jeff Stewart as Dukkha, Nerys Hughes as Todd, and Mary Morris as Panna are particular high points, anchoring the drama, the stakes and the scares. That’s a LOT of high points anchoring the story in place.

And Peter Davison’s Doctor strides through it all, not with the same authoritative energy as his predecessor, but with a curiosity, an open mind, and when necessary, a sense of focus that gives you a real sense of an exciting new Time Lord in the universe, fighting evil and bullies in equal measure, and looking out for the people who need it.

Kinda was the first time the new Doctor really asserted himself, and gave a distinct sense that he could handle the pressures and the dangers of the universe. And in Christopher Bailey’s Mara, it also gave us the first new villain that would be back for a second bite.

Watch Doctor Who: Kinda today with a seven day free trial of BritBox.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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