On 26th December 2019, 627 pieces of Classic Doctor Who content were made available to Britbox subscribers. Every Sunday in 2020, our Doctor Who expert, Tony Cross, looks back at some of the classic stories. Here is the Fifth Doctor adventure Snakedance ...
Unfortunately, Nyssa and the Doctor let Tegan slip through their fingers and all hell starts to break loose. Hell might be too strong a word for it for although the tension remains high throughout Snakedance and we know that the threat is real enough it is surprisingly uncynical and bloodless for an Eric Saward era Doctor Who story. Nobody actually dies, even though you constantly suspect they might do.
It has that same fable/fairy tale feel that Kinda has, unsurprisingly since it was written by the same writer, Christopher Bailey. Bailey's take on Doctor Who is very un-Doctor Who and I'm almost tempted to say perfectly suits Peter Davison's Doctor whose gentle, more philosophical Doctor works better with the material.
This has a great cast and some great performances. I suppose the most talked about is Martin Clunes's turn as Lon. This was apparently his first-ever television work and footage of him in that ridiculous outfit he wears in Episode Four haunts him to this day. He is excellent. The right combination of boredom, brattishness and arrogance. Lon's relationship with his mother, Tanha (Collete O'Neill) is well-played too. Unusually for Doctor Who it feels like a real relationship, even if the indulgent mother-spoilt son is something of a cliche in theory. They're bored, privileged and waiting for a rather tedious sounding old man to die. You could see Snakedance as a sort of anti-Hamlet. With Lon as Hamlet; Tanha as Gertrude and John Carson's Ambril as an archaeologically addicted Polonius. John Carson is excellent in the part.
Jonathan Morris as Chela, Brian Miller as Dugdale and Preston Lockwood as Dojjon all do excellent jobs in minor-ish roles. I particularly love Preston Lockwood in this. He just looks perfect for the part and has one of the most British actor-ish of names, which I adore. But I'm strange that way.
Sarah Sutton has much less to do in this story as the focus is on Janet Fielding as Tegan. Sutton has finally changed her outfit, for no really obvious reason except that JNT seemed determined to get the female assistants into fewer clothes with each week that passed by.
Janet Fielding does a sterling job pre-and post-Mara. She's pretty disturbing once she's been taken over by the Mara and the scenes where she taunts Dugdale border of the genuinely disturbing.
Peter Davison is excellent. It's often commented that this is one of the few stories where people react to the Doctor as if he's a babbling madman, which is probably how he'd be dealt with for real each time he arrived on a planet predicting the downfall of civilization. The issue for the Doctor is that he knows what's happening but in this story, he can't prove anything until it is almost too late to stop. The Doctor specializes in close-run things but this is perhaps the closest run thing of them all. Only the Doctor's determination not to be tempted by the Mara brings things to a halt, even as the Mara tries desperately to bring him out of his 'still point'.
So Snakedance is well-worth watching. I must praise the design of the story, even the jail cell looks interesting. There are some boring looking corridors but really this wouldn't be 1980s Doctor Who without some dull corridors to walk, run and get captured in.
This and Kinda were two of my favourite ever Doctor Who stories re-watching them hasn't changed my mind. They're very different from most Doctor Who but I like that so I recommend you give them a watch as and when you get the chance.
Tony Cross is the creator of the wonderful Centurion Blog's found HERE and HERE.
Image – BBC.