Sue: Snakedance… Sounds a bit rude to me.
Sue’s jaw slackens in disbelief as Nyssa enters the console room dressed in a different outfit.
Sue: Is that the best she could come up with after all this time? She’s had ages to think about what she was going to wear, and she still chose that? Don’t they have mirrors on the TARDIS? That skirt clashes with her top!
Even the Doctor notices that Nyssa looks different somehow.
Sue: (As the Doctor) You smell different, too. I can breathe through my nose for the first time in years.
Elsewhere on the TARDIS, Tegan is having a bad dream.
Sue: Why is Tegan sleeping in Nyssa’s bedroom? Is there something I should know?
Meanwhile, on the planet Manussa…
Sue: Are we still on Gallifrey?
Sue: Are you sure about that? This looks like another airport departure lounge to me.
A character named Lon is played by an actor who’s so famous, even Sue recognises him.
Sue: Bloody hell, it’s Martin Clunes! Is this his first television role?
Sue: I always feel a bit queasy when I look at Martin Clunes’ face. Good actor, though.
Me: It’s a week’s washing-up for the first person who says he’s behaving badly. Okay?
Lon makes a passing reference to the Mara, but it sails over Sue’s head. So I rewind the scene.
Sue: The Mara. Oh yes, I remember now. The two-headed snake.
Me: No! The Mara is the giant pink snake with one head. Kinda, remember?
Me: That’ll do.
Lon is reminiscing about the good old days with his mother.
Sue: The costumes are all over the place. There’s a bit of Rome over there, a bit of India over here, and a hint of Russia, too. There’s no consistency to this at all.
The Doctor suspects that the Mara is still hiding inside Tegan’s head, so he hypnotises her. The Mara tells the Doctor to go away.
Sue: That was pretty scary. It’s a good job this didn’t happen when she was working as a stewardess. (As Tegan-Mara) Chicken or beef?
Lon decides to tour Manussa’s local market.
Sue: They are really pushing the boat out with this set. It’s just a shame we’re stuck in a studio.
Me: Maybe it’s an indoor shopping centre?
The Doctor hooks Tegan up to an anti-dreaming device (“It’s basically an iPod with a ****ed-up shuffle setting”) before leading her to the cave which featured in her dream.
Sue: Surely this can’t be doing her any good. What is the Doctor playing at? Shouldn’t they be heading in the opposite direction? Isn’t this what the Mara wants them to do?
The Doctor enters the cave alone, but Lon, his mother and a tedious academic named Ambril have already beaten them to it.
Sue: He’s famous.
Me: That’s John Carson. You probably recognise him from all the Hammer films I’ve made you watch over the years.
She points excitedly at a Manussan guard.
Sue: And I definitely know that face.
Me: Oh, yes, him. He had a show called In Bed with Medinner, which we used to watch in the early 1990s. I can’t remember his name.
Sue: Bob Mills.
Me: How can you recognise Bob Mills in a non-speaking role, but you can’t recognise the Mara or Omega? How does that work, exactly?
And then Sue stops talking for a while.
Me: You’re very quiet all of a sudden, Sue. Are you enjoying the story too much to comment on it?
Sue: Not really. I’m struggling to get into it. I have a lot on my mind today – I’m trying to buy some cabinets on eBay and I’m worried I’ll be outbid.
Tegan finds herself in a fortune teller’s tent. The seer who works there is incredibly honest, admitting she basically just makes things up as she goes along.
Sue: She really needs to work on her sales talk if she wants to stay in business. She may as well put up a sign outside that says, ‘Hey! I’m shit!’
The episode concludes with a snake skull escaping from an exploding crystal ball.
Sue: That was a bit shit.
Me: Are you serious?
Sue: Yes. Hang on a minute… Bollocks! Outbid by a measly quid!
Sue: Did Christopher Bailey write the first Mara story?
Sue: But didn’t he say in the documentary you made me watch that he had a terrible time and he hated the experience? Why did he come back, then? Was it the money? I bet it was the money.
Sue has some very strong opinions about Peter Howell’s incidental music.
Sue: It sounds like a rehearsal for the Durham Miners’ Gala. All I can hear are brass bands tuning up in the background.
When the Doctor warns Ambril to call off the ceremony before it’s too late, Ambril takes the piss out of him.
Sue: That’s very funny. And believable, too. You wouldn’t take the Doctor seriously because he does sound like an excitable child.
At least somebody believes him.
Sue: “Aveline! Aveline!” I used to love Bread. He’s a good actor, too. The performances are definitely the best thing about this story.
Sadly, the Six Faces of Delusion riddle fails to fox Sue.
Sue: How is it possible he didn’t notice that before? That is ridiculous! Don’t they have peer-reviewed research on this planet? Did no one notice the bleeding obvious? Even the guy from Bread didn’t get it!
Tegan finds herself in a Hall of Mirrors that’s run by a showman named Dugdale.
Sue: It’s Ridley Scott.
Tegan speaks with the voice of the Mara. “Look at me!” she cries.
Sue: Are you sure it’s the Mara? I think she may have been possessed by Jeremy Kyle.
Back at the Federator’s residence, Lon tells his mother that he is going to skip dinner so he can wallow in his boredom instead.
Sue: You could always get another earring, pet. Or you could practice with your Duran Duran tribute band if you’re that desperate for something to do.
The Doctor investigates some pictograms which confirm his suspicions – the Mara will return.
Sue: If there’s one thing Peter Davison does really well, it’s excitement. They’ll have to scrape him off the ceiling if he doesn’t calm down soon.
The Doctor and Nyssa return to the TARDIS so they can concentrate on a blue crystal in order to determine its properties. Unfortunately, there are far too many distractions.
Sue: The background hum in the TARDIS would drive me mad. He should dampen it. Nyssa’s outfit probably doesn’t help, either. You know, I think I actually prefer her in her original costume, and I never thought I’d ever say that. What she’s wearing now was never fashionable. Not even in the 1980s.
The mark of the Mara can be seen on Lon and Tegan’s arms.
Sue: (Singing) The union of the snake is on the la-la-la… Sorry, I’ve forgotten the words.
The episode concludes with Tegan going full-blown Mara.
Sue: You can get filters to remove red-eye, you know. I’ve got hundreds of photos where I look like that.
Me: You’re not enjoying this very much, are you?
Sue: Not really, no.
The Doctor is thrown into jail for being a smart arse.
Sue: Now this is what you call a proper cell. It’s very cleverly designed, actually – the slanted angle forces the prisoner to outstretch his arms before he can get his hands on the bars. All prison cells should be made like this. The lighting’s very nice, too.
Chela tells the Doctor everything he needs to know about the Great Crystal.
Sue: Haven’t we seen this before? A big blue crystal with telepathic powers? I’m sure we have.
Me: You’re thinking about Planet of the Spiders.
Sue: Do the snakes and the spiders gang up on the Doctor? That would be mental.
We catch a glimpse of Dojjen.
Sue: Is this character trapped inside an oil painting? I don’t get it.
When Lon returns from his rendezvous with Tegan, his mother accuses him of sneaking out to have fun.
Sue: She isn’t happy with him. Maybe it’s because he’s been behaving badly.
Me: You just couldn’t resist, could you?
Sue: I’ve just realised that Martin Clunes’ shirt collar is supposed to look like that. I thought it was just the way he’d dressed himself in the morning, but it’s actually intentional. The costume designer must be taking the piss.
She doesn’t have a problem with Martin’s trousers, though.
Sue: Martin has a tight little arse, don’t you think?
Me: Is this what we’ve been reduced to? Martin Clunes’ arse? I had such high hopes for this experiment when we started it.
Sue: Poor Martin. He looks like he’s just lost his pet falcon.
A potted history of Manussa is presented to us via the medium of Punch and Judy puppeteering.
Sue: The programme is obsessed with showing us scenes of small children staring at naff street entertainment. What’s that all about? I thought changing light bulbs in every story was a bit weird, but that’s nothing compared to this.
The Doctor and Nyssa share a well-designed cell. If only they still had a sonic screwdriver…
Sue: Why hasn’t he replaced it yet?
Me: Please stop asking that. Let’s just say he doesn’t get another sonic screwdriver for quite some time.
Sue: But why? That’s a bit stupid, isn’t it?
Lon escorts Ambril to the cave where he met Tegan (“She’s really gone overboard with the fake tan”) and a totally ****ed-up Dugdale.
Sue: Doctor Who does possession far too much, you know, but this is still a pretty good example of it. It’s pretty creepy, actually.
Lon threatens to break some priceless artifacts if Ambril doesn’t give him access to the Great Crystal.
Sue: But the cups are already broken! Who’ll notice the difference?
Tegan’s tattoo turns into a real snake. Well, real-ish. However, the episode concludes with a contretemps in a corridor instead.
Sue: Nyssa wouldn’t scream like that. That’s completely out of character. That’s one of the laziest cliffhangers I’ve ever seen.
If the cliffhanger was bad, its resolution is even worse.
Sue: That was pathetic! Why didn’t they end the last episode with a close-up of the snake? That would have been so much better.
Speaking of which…
Sue: They should have made Tegan handle a real snake. They should have written that into her contract when they rehired her.
Me: They didn’t get rid of her. Tegan was always supposed to come back.
Sue: Oh, I thought they tried to get rid of her but she had something incriminating against JN-T. I didn’t know it was planned. That just makes her initial departure seem even more stupid. Actually, maybe the Mara was responsible for Tegan getting back with the Doctor because it subconsciously… Oh, who am I kidding? It’s rubbish.
When the ceremony to celebrate the Mara’s passing finally gets underway, Sue is convinced she recognises the MC.
Sue: It’s Lionel Blair!
Me: No, it isn’t.
Sue: Yes it is! It’s Lionel Blair!
The Doctor, Nyssa and Chela arrive at some ruins in the wilderness.
Sue: And now we are on film all of a sudden. And it looks great. Why didn’t they do it all like this? It’s still in a studio but it looks so much better.
When the Doctor’s crystal hums a little tune, Sue spoils the mood by singing the theme to Close Encounters over it. And then we reach the scene that I’ve been dreading ever since we began this story…
Sue: I take it all back: Nyssa is no longer the worst dressed person in this story. ****ing hell!
Me: This is the clip they always use on chat shows to embarrass Martin Clunes. It’s a shame, really, because he gives a fantastic performance in this. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Sue: He looks like a massive twat!
Me: He’s supposed to look like a massive twat. I think.
Sue: **** off! The costume designer wants sacking!
The Doctor finally meets Dojjen.
Sue: Roger Waters has really let himself go.
The Doctor is bitten by a snake.
Sue: I bet Peter Davison has handled a few snakes in his time. He doesn’t need a rubber one to get the job done.
The snake’s poison contains hallucinogens.
Sue: He really is tripping this week. They aren’t even trying to hide it with scientific mumbo-jumbo, either. The Doctor really is tripping his face off. This is not for kids. I’m not sure who it’s for, actually.
Dojjen communicates with the Doctor telepathically.
Sue: This doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s just like that other Mara story. The scriptwriter has got his head up his arse.
Back in the cave, Lon prepares to complete the ceremony.
Sue: His outfit would look a lot better if the fluffy clouds covered both his nipples.
Sue has nipples on the brain this week.
Sue: They’re going to subject him to a nipple temptation? What?
Me: Triple temptation, Sue. Triple.
Lon’s mother is appalled when she notices her son bears the mark of the Mara.
Sue: (As Lon’s mother) First the earring, now a tattoo! You are grounded for a month, young man. You have behaved very badly indeed!
Me: That’s two weeks’ washing-up for you.
Sue: It was worth it.
When Lon places the Great Crystal in the mouth of an ornate snake, all hell breaks loose.
Sue: That was the best scene in the whole story. That was very effective. Finally, something happened!
The Mara manifests itself.
Sue: It’s a lot better than last time, I’ll give them that.
The Doctor urges everyone to concentrate and find the still point.
Sue: Er, excuse me, what’s the still point, exactly? Is there an instructional video for this type of yoga?
The Mara speaks with Tegan’s childlike voice in an attempt to distract the Doctor.
Sue: This is very disturbing. In fact, it’s even more disturbing than Martin Clunes’ knees, and that’s saying something.
The Mara is destroyed and Dojjen returns to the wilderness. But not before he allows us one last look at him.
Sue: Yes, okay, we can see you. It’s like he’s on a catwalk or something. What’s he waiting for? A ****ing bow?
The Doctor tells Tegan that the Mara has been destroyed.
Sue: That was very touching, but he’s wrong, of course. The Mara will be back. The monsters always come back. It’s becoming very tedious, actually.
Sue: That was nothing special. I’ll tell you what the problem is – it lacked atmosphere. It was very flat. There were some good performances, and some of the sets were okay, even the direction had its moments, but it lacked excitement and the plot bored me rigid. It’s average.
I shake my head. I can’t believe I postponed a colonoscopy for this. This is a much bigger pain in the arse.
Sue: I mean, why did they bring the Mara back so soon?
Me: It’s Doctor Who’s 20th anniversary so all the stories this year had to feature old monsters.
Sue: It might have been more exciting if I’d waited a whole year to see the Mara again, but it wasn’t that long ago for me. It just feels like they’re recycling ideas. It’s lazy. Let’s do something different instead. I’m sick of being stuck inside Tegan’s head.
I slam my notebook shut.
Sue: The fans are going to hate me, aren’t they?
Me: Do you care?
Me: Would you like to watch any extras?
Me: The documentary tells you how they recycled the sets from A Song for Europe.
Sue: I could always give it a four…
Me: But it’s Rob Shearman’s favourite story!
Sue: Don’t tell me. I bet he says it’s rubbish on purpose.