Sue: Snakedance… Sounds a bit rude.
After briefly glimpsing a Roger Dean album cover (“What the hell was that supposed to be?”), we join the TARDIS in flight. Sue’s jaw slackens in disbelief when 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!
The Doctor: (to Nyssa) You look different.
Sue: (As the Doctor) You smell different, too. I can breathe through my nose for the first time in years.
Elsewhere, 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 very familiar face is playing Lon.
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: The first person who cracks a ‘behaving badly’ gag has to do the washing-up for a week.
When Lon makes a passing reference to the Mara, 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.
On Manussa, Lon is reminiscing 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.
The Doctor suspects that the Mara is hiding inside Tegan’s head, so he hypnotises her. The voice of 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?
Meanwhile, Lon decides to tour the local market place.
Sue: They are really pushing the boat out with this set. It’s just a shame we are stuck in a studio.
Me: Maybe it’s an indoor shopping centre?
Sue: Maybe. It reminds me of a David Tennant story, but I’m sure they went outside for that one.
The Doctor hooks Tegan up to an anti-dreaming device (“It’s basically an iPod with a really ****ed-up shuffle setting”) and then he leads her to the cave from 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 beaten them to it.
Sue: He’s famous.
Me: That’s John Carson. You probably recognise his face from some Hammer Horror films that I’ve made you watch over the years.
Sue: He’s far too young for that.
She’s pointing at the Manussan guard.
Sue: 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?
For several minutes, Sue doesn’t say a word.
Me: You are very quiet. Are you enjoying this 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 bidding on some cabinets on eBay and I’m worried that I’ll be outbid.
Tegan escapes from Nyssa’s care and she finds herself in a fortune teller’s tent. The seer who works there is very honest.
Seer: I make something up. Whatever comes into my head. Whatever I think they want to hear.
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 that 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 very strong opinions about Peter Howell’s incidental music, too.
Sue: It sounds like a rehearsal for the Durham Miners’ Gala. All I can hear are brass bands tuning up in the background.
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 sounds 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 the best thing about this story.
Sadly, the Six Faces of Delusion riddle fails to fox Sue.
Sue: How is it possible that 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 which is run by a showman named Dugdale.
Sue: Ridley Scott in a role that will surprise you.
Tegan speaks with the voice of the Mara.
Mara: LOOK AT ME!
Sue: Are you sure it’s the Mara? I think she’s 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 are really desperate for something to do.
The Doctor investigates some pictograms that confirm his suspicions – the Mara will return.
Sue: If there’s one thing Peter Davison does really well, it’s excitement. You’ll have to scrape him off the ceiling if he doesn’t calm down.
The Doctor and Nyssa return to the TARDIS so they can concentrate on a blue crystal and determine its properties. Unfortunately, there are too many distractions.
Sue: The background hum in the TARDIS would drive me mad as well. 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 eighties.
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 possessed pair turn their attention to Dugdale.
Tegan: Look at me. I’m not going to harm you. Look at me.
Lon: That’s right. Look at me. Look at me.
Sue: Put something on the end of it!
The episode concludes with a close-up that confirms the worst – Tegan has gone full-blown Mara.
Sue: You can get filters to remove red-eye, you know. I’ve got hundreds of photos were I look like that.
Me: You’re not enjoying this, are you?
Sue: No, not really.
The Doctor is thrown into jail for being a smart arse.
Sue: Now this is what you call a proper cell. It’s a very clever design, actually – the slanted angle forces the prisoner to outstretch his arms before he gets his hands on the bars. All prison cells should be made like this. The lighting is very nice, too.
Chela visits the Doctor and he tells him everything he wants 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 get another fleeting glimpse at Dojjen.
Sue: Is this character trapped inside an oil painting? I don’t get it.
Lon returns from his rendezvous with Tegan. His mother accuses him of sneaking out to have some fun.
Sue: She isn’t happy with him. Maybe it’s because he’s been behaving badly.
Me: You 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, but it’s intentional. The costume designer is 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. It looks as if he’s lost his pet falcon.
Lon shows Ambril a priceless artefact that he claims he found lying around in a cave somewhere.
Lon: Surprising, really, what one can turn up.
Sue: (As Ambril) You might think that; I couldn’t possibly comment.
Sue: I loved this actor in House of Cards. He’s very good.
Out in the market square, the history of Manussa is communicated 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 lightbulbs in every story was a bit weird, but that’s nothing compared to this.
The Doctor and Nyssa share a well-designed cell together.
The Doctor: If only we still had the sonic screwdriver.
Sue: So why haven’t you replaced it yet?
Me: Please stop saying that. Let’s just say he doesn’t get another sonic screwdriver for quite a while.
Sue: Why? That’s a bit stupid, isn’t it?
Lon escorts Ambril to the secret cave where he meets the possessed Tegan (“She’s really gone overboard with the fake tan”) and a ****ed up Dugdale.
Sue: Doctor Who does possession far too much, but this is a pretty good example of it. It’s pretty creepy.
Lon threatens to break some priceless artefacts if Ambril doesn’t grant him access to the Great Crystal.
Sue: But the cups are already broken! Who’s going to notice the difference?
Tegan’s tattoo becomes a real snake. Well, real-ish. Sadly, the episode concludes with a contretemps in a corridor instead.
Sue: Nyssa wouldn’t scream like that. That’s completely out of character. That must be one of the laziest cliffhangers I think I’ve ever seen.
If the cliffhanger was bad, its resolution is even worse.
Sue: That was pathetic! Why didn’t they just end the last episode with a close-up of Tegan’s snake? That would have been so much better.
Speaking of which…
Sue: They should have made her handle a real one. They should have written it into her contract when they re-hired her.
Me: They didn’t get rid of her. Tegan was always supposed to return.
Sue: Oh, I thought they tried to get rid of her but she had something incriminating against JNT. 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 gets underway, Sue is convinced that she recognises the MC.
Sue: It’s Lionel Blair!
Me: No, it isn’t.
Sue: Yes it is! It’s Lionel Blair!
I let her believe what she likes. I’m past caring, now.
The Doctor, Nyssa and Chela arrive at some ruins in the wilderness.
Sue: And now we are on film. And it looks great. Why didn’t they do it all like this? It’s still in a studio but it’s much, much better.
The Doctor’s crystal hums a little tune, but Sue spoils the mood when she sings the theme to Close Encounters over it.
And then we reach the scene that I’ve been dreading since we started 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 bring out on chat shows to embarrass Martin Clunes. It’s a shame 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, 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 is a hallucinogenic.
Sue: He really is tripping this week. They aren’t even trying to hide it with scientific mumbo-jumbo. The Doctor is tripping his face off. This is not for kids. I’m not sure who it’s for, actually.
Dojjen speaks to the Doctor telepathically.
Dojjen: The dance goes on. It is all the dance, everywhere and always. So, find the still point.
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: I think his outfit would work better if the fluffy clouds covered both his nipples.
Sue has nipples on the brain.
Sue: They are going to subject him to a nipple temptation? What?
Me: Triple temptation. Triple.
Lon’s mother is appalled when she sees the mark of the Mara on her son.
Sue: 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.
Sue: It was worth it.
Lon places the Great Crystal in the mouth of an ornate snake and then 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 better than the last one, 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? Is there an instructional video to go with this type of yoga?
The snake fights for control of Tegan.
Sue: Is it going to dance now?
The Mara uses the voice of Tegan as a child to distract the Doctor.
Sue: This is very disturbing. In fact, it’s even more disturbing than Martin Clunes’ knees, and that’s really saying something.
The Mara is destroyed and Dojjen returns to the wilderness, but not before he gives us one last look.
Sue: Yes, we can see you. It’s like he’s on a catwalk. What is he waiting for? A ****ing bow?
The Doctor consoles his companion.
The Doctor: The Mara has been destroyed.
Sue: That was very touching, but he’s wrong. The Mara will be back. The monsters always come back. It’s becoming very tedious.
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 feature old monsters.
Sue: It might have been more exciting if I had to wait a year to see the Mara again but it wasn’t that long ago for me. It just feels as if they are recycling old 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? I can tell.
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 4.
Me: But it’s Rob Shearman’s favourite story!
Sue: Now you’re just getting desperate. Wait, don’t tell me. I bet he says it’s supposed to be rubbish on purpose?