Part One

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.

SnakedanceSue: 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?
Me: No.
Sue: Are you sure about that? This looks like another airport departure lounge to me.

A very familiar face is playing Lon.

SnakedanceSue: Bloody hell, it’s Martin Clunes! Is this his first television role?
Me: Yes.
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?
Sue: Kinda.
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.

SnakedanceThe 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.

SnakedanceSeer: 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.


Part Two

SnakedanceSue: Did Christopher Bailey write the first Mara story?
Me: Yes.
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.

SnakedanceAt 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.

Sue: Are you sure it’s the Mara? I think she’s been possessed by Jeremy Kyle.

SnakedanceBack 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!

SnakedanceThe 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.


Part Three

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.

SnakedanceWe 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.

SnakedanceSue: 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.
Me: What?
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.

SnakedanceSue: 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.


Part Four

SnakedanceIf 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.

SnakedanceSue: 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.

SnakedanceSue: 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.

SnakedanceSue: 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.

SnakedanceThe 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.


The Score

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.

A Song for EuropeSue: The fans are going to hate me, aren’t they? I can tell.
Me: Do you care?
Sue: No.
Me: Would you like to watch any extras?
Sue: No.
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?


Coming Soon




  1. Dave Sanders  October 6, 2012

    You know how you’re always hinting at spoilers, Neil? Please don’t spoil Sue’s opinions for us – how can we *not* skip straight to the score, on a story as regarded as this one, with a heading tagline like THAT? 🙂

  2. Neil Perryman  October 6, 2012

    Hey, I might hate it and she might love it. Who’s to say?

    • Dave Sanders  October 6, 2012

      What, for Snakedance? Who are you, and what have you done with Neil Perryman? Are you one of Terry Nation’s android replicas that can’t tell if somebody hates ginger pop?

    • Alisaunder  October 7, 2012

      I never much liked it or Kinda though the Big Finish prequel to it was quite good. Ive found that I side with Sue on scores much more than Neil. And if thats the case theres very rough times ahead but a few gems still.

      • encyclops  October 8, 2012

        Big Finish did a prequel to these stories? Is nothing sacred?

  3. Rob  October 6, 2012

    The “becoming” costume is rubbish. I’ve always assumed that was the intention. Manusa is a planet where all their glories are long gone, leaving people to meddle with silly superstition and the whole thing gets really rather stupid as a result, hence the costume! Or they did it to make Martin look like a prat.

  4. Ian  October 6, 2012

    Is this that highly regarded by fandom? I haven’t seen it for years but remember being bored rigid when I did.

  5. Jazza1971  October 6, 2012

    I’m sure you can work through your marital problems! 😀

    One thing that gets me about “Snakedance” is the scene when the Doctor meets Dojjen. You never see Davison’s face in the same shot as Dojjen which made me think that the two actors weren’t available for filming at the same time and that maybe they had a double to play the back of Davison, but there is no mention of it on the commentary, so I guess it is just an odd bit of directing.

    I do like “Snakedance”, but not as much as “Kinda”. Probably a 7 or an 8 from me.

    Good luck in weathering the storm of abuse that is to follow…

  6. Broadshoulder2  October 6, 2012

    ..and Snakedance is considered by many (not me) to be one of the highlights of season 20. I have always found it as flat and uninvolving as Sue.

    • DPC  October 6, 2012

      And it’s got a similar plot structure to “The Power of the Daleks” (Doctor sees enemy, everyone thinks Doctor is a nut, enemy is in the background waiting to come out… the only thing missing is the domestic power struggle of the Mannusians…)

    • Robert Dick  October 8, 2012

      Never call a lady flat or uninvolving.

  7. Ian  October 6, 2012

    It may well be one of the highlights of season twenty but when it’s rubbing shoulders with Arc of Infinity, King’s Demons and Terminus that’s not much to shout about!

    • Jay  October 6, 2012

      Don’t mention King’s Demons, I’m still in a vulnerable state.

  8. Jay  October 6, 2012

    GLITTER! I’m pretty sure the stage directions didn’t say “throws a handful of glitter” but there it is to go with that dress. And I fell out of my chair. It’s got to be the campest story before Planet Of Fire (though Olvir and Black give it their best). And those damn falconer gloves.

    I finished Five yesterday, starting Six in a couple of hours. I really did enjoy Five, even if it was sometimes hilariously bad. At least Ainley made me laugh more than cry for their final appearance together.

  9. Martin  October 6, 2012

    I’ve always thought Snakedance was a bit of a bore, although it’s probably close to what doing heroin was like at the height of the New Romantic era. Still, Mawdryn Undead is next, that should perk things up before the torpor of Terminus. And I’m sure Enlightenment will go down well.

    • Cracked Polystyrene Man  October 7, 2012

      I like Terminus.

      • Dave Sanders  October 7, 2012

        I’ll be surprised if, after ‘this is boring’ and ‘nothing’s happening’, Sue doesn’t hit the Terminus nail on the head with ‘this should look more epic’.

      • Broton  October 7, 2012

        I like Terminus too.
        I don’t like Snakedance though, I reckon 5 is very generous.

        • Dave Sanders  October 8, 2012

          I take it both you guys have read the book.

          • Dave Sanders  October 8, 2012

            Steve Gallagher’s own novelization of Terminus, I should say.

  10. Gavin Noble  October 6, 2012

    Totally with Sue on this one. Never been a fan of this story – even if it is refreshing not to have the Doctor completely in control for most of the story in terms of him winning over the natives.

  11. Ian Marchant  October 6, 2012

    I remember thinking this story was utter pants on broadcast, yet I loved Kinda (or parts of it anyhow). Rewatching it when the DVD came out I thought the story was pretty good but the direction was very stagy. The actors save it and I agree that Martin Clunes has nothing to be ashamed of, he is remarkable in it.

    Neil go get that colonoscopy, I’ve had camera’s pushed up and down and upwards at least you don’t have to watch it happening. And I’m sure they will lube it well. Unless the NHS cuts hit them.

    • DPC  October 6, 2012

      Count me in as having had that procedure in the past as well…

      TBH, the prepwork needed to be done the day before is far more annoying than the actual event… and it’s better to get it over with, in case something nasty is found having a party in there…

      Best wishes as well.

      • Cracked Polystyrene Man  October 7, 2012

        Get the colonoscopsy and we’ll let you skip TIME AND RANI. I know which is worse and I’m doing you a favour.

        • Wholahoop  October 8, 2012

          Here at Colonoscopies Anonymous I can only say that having a colonoscopy is still less painful than (Waste of my) Time and the Rani. Fwiw, I agree that the day before camped on the loo is more of an annoyance than the procedure itself. I was even given a printout with nice pictures taken during the procedure, I kid you not and no they are not going up on Facebook

          • Wholahoop  October 8, 2012

            Mind you if I work out how to post pics on AWtWiS, you never know you might get lucky (using the word lucky in its loosest sense of course)

          • Simon Harries  October 8, 2012

            Presumably any picture you post would be reminiscent of the slit-scan titles?

  12. encyclops  October 6, 2012

    I seem to recall thinking this story wasn’t QUITE as good as “Kinda” the first couple of times I watched it, but that might just have been the effect of it being a sequel. Now, of course, I think it’s brilliant, a top 5 story for me.

    One of the scenes that always sticks out for me is the very end, where the Doctor sits down to (somewhat reluctantly) comfort Tegan. I don’t remember that happening in too many stories and it helps to retroactively strengthen the sense of horror.

    In a way I think seeing your comment on Twitter and at the top of the page helped, Neil — I was expecting at most a 3/10 based on that. A 5/10 I can live with more easily, particularly since she also gave that to another top fiver for me, “Robots of Death,” if I recall correctly. It’s nice to know you’re on pins and needles about these as much as we are sometimes. 🙂

  13. William  October 6, 2012

    Yes, I’m with Sue here. This is uninvolving and has terrible cliffhangers. I can see someone looking out, but killing it so much that you get upset that someone gives it a relatively charitable 5?

    • William  October 6, 2012

      Looking out = loving it, the perils of posting from my phone.

  14. Warren Andrews  October 6, 2012

    10/10 story for me. What is loses over Kinda is the direction, Fiona Cumming casts well but she doesn’t shoot with any energy or passion. A Grimwade directed Snakedance would be brilliant.

  15. Marty  October 6, 2012

    The commentary for this story is very unenlightening and quite boring, most commentaries featuring Peter Davison and companions is interesting or at best amusing (like Earthshock).

    This story is in the weird basket of Doctor Who stories, all the stuff with Dojien just ups the strangeness.
    It’s also a weird sequel to Kinda. I would have liked to see more of the Kinda (tribe).

    Hope you’re doing better Neil.

  16. John G  October 6, 2012

    “Roger Waters has really let himself go.”

    Compared to the real Roger Waters nowadays, I thought this chap actually looks quite good! Sorry Neil, but my views on Snakedance are a bit closer to Sue’s than yours. It suffers a bit in comparison to Kinda’s visual flair, and although this is touted as a more accessible story than Kinda I actually found it harder to follow. On the plus side, the performances are strong and the crowd scenes are quite colourful – it just feels a bit too studio-bound.

    Anyway, happy birthday to Neil. While it’s a bit of a shame Sue couldn’t make his day by liking this one more, I hope her response to the next one is more positive, as it is probably the most enjoyable story in a rather patchy season…

  17. Darrell  October 6, 2012

    I think Sue’s being generous! I thought this one was a snore, besides Martin Clunes’ face (take that as you will).

  18. Longtime Listener  October 6, 2012

    “This is not for kids. I’m not sure who it’s for, actually.”

    A fitting Saward-era successor to Sue’s Robert Holmes catchphrase?

  19. Jane  October 6, 2012

    Count me among the Sue supporters. She’s right about this story, and what it represents for where the show’s going at this point in its history, recycling the crap out of itself. Lacking a Sonic to trivialize the trope of capture, the Doctor’s rendered much less dynamic, and the whole story turns into a grind for it, a suffering we should never endure for a show with the potential of Who. Rather than smashing together genres, we get poorly blended aesthetics (good call by Sue there) and possibly the most blatant propaganda we’ve seen since Barry Letts. In light of that era, the production aspects of Snakedance aren’t all that bad.

    But it’s still one I enjoy, and I wonder why it’s held in high esteem by such a large segment of fandom. Perhaps it’s that the underlying philosophy of its propaganda (a Buddhist message) appeals, but I think it’s more likely that this tack makes it easier to take the show seriously, because it’s evidence the show’s trying to do *something* seriously. It’s got plenty to offer on myth and ritual, and academia versus mysticism, with colonialist trappings to boot.

  20. Richard Lyth  October 6, 2012

    I’ve always thought this was nowhere near as good as Kinda – the writing’s still pretty strong, but the setting and characters aren’t nearly as engaging, and nothing really happens until part four. I suspect Sue may enjoy the next one a lot more.

  21. Antti Björklund  October 6, 2012

    I watched this a couple of days ago, and two things stood out for me: 1. I couldn’t help but watch the next episode 2. The Mara looks better here than in Kinda.

  22. Thomas  October 6, 2012

    This is probably my absolute favorite Davison so far- love it to pieces. They develop this world and its characters so intricately and so well- there’s such a great sense of life to it all. And then I love the main conceit of it all- that all the really cool stuff in Kinda has been commercialized and sold-out to this Manussan stuff.

    There’s a lot of depth and complexity to this one that makes it really fun for me. If ever there was a story that warranted a rewatch, I’d say it was this one.

  23. Rob Shearman  October 6, 2012

    Ah, you’re right, Neil. It is my favourite story. I do love it to small pieces, and I do think it’s the Doctor Who adventure that most made me want to be a writer.

    But, to be fair, I was on the brink of my thirteenth birthday – I was about two months into my first year of DWAS membership – I’d only just been to my very first convention. I was so young and so keen. I was as excited for the anniversary season as a little bunny on steroids. I dearly dearly wanted to fall in love with someone, something, anything – and I was at an all boy’s school, had discovered some time for certain during Black Orchid I was unquestionably straight (I got the hots for Lady Cranleigh – weird, but true), so since girlfriends were off the agenda was on the pull for a Doctor Who story I could give my heart to instead.

    It wasn’t going to be Arc of infinity. Of course it was going to be Snakedance, with weird dream sequences and magic crystals and the Doctor looking like a weird madman. I still love it with utterly uncritical adoration, I still think it’s a work of utter genius – but I have to accept the conditions in which I fell in love, and accept too that to a lot of people it’s a pretty middle of the road romp.

    Means the world to me, though. Told Chris Bailey once! On camera! So I gather. It’s hidden on a DVD easter egg somewhere, and I have neither the technical know how or the patience to find it.

    I hope Sue likes Mawdryn Undead more! I love Mawdryn Undead. Always have done. Though after my passion for Snakedance, my love for MUD always seems a bit like a tawdry one night stand.

    • Richard Lyth  October 7, 2012

      It’s crazy they hid that away as an easter egg, it’s the best extra on that DVD – I had to turn on Audio Navigation to get to it. I’d like to think that in thirty years time when Doctor Who comes out on holographic crystals or whatever, there’ll be s similar feature with a gushing young fan telling a bitter old Rob Shearman about how good his Dalek episode was…

      • Dave Sanders  October 7, 2012

        He’ll have to get to the back of the queue then, because the gushing old fans still will be.

    • Andrew Hutchings  October 7, 2012

      “I was at an all boy’s school, had discovered some time for certain during Black Orchid I was unquestionably straight (I got the hots for Lady Cranleigh…)…”

      As did I!
      You need to pick up the DVDs of The Power Game then, Mr Shearman. ‘Lady Cranleigh’ is seriously adorable in that show as Pamela Wilder (assuming you still haven’t got over your teenage fancies…)

    • Dave Sanders  October 7, 2012

      Even if she finds it confusing, I’m sure she’ll find it fascinating for the dual time zones and the two – or strictly speaking, three – unexpected you-know-whos.

      Please let there be ONE Paddy Kingsland score she gets along with though.

    • Wholahoop  October 8, 2012

      Lady Cranleigh = MILF I would suggest perhaps?

  24. Tim Cook  October 6, 2012

    This story bored me to tears as a kid, and I’ve not seen it since. Season 20 was really a drab old thing, wasn’t it?

  25. Philippa Sidle  October 6, 2012

    The only thing that sticks in my mind about Snakedance, which I haven’t seen since broadcast, is that Martin Clunes’ character seemed to believe that Mara!Tegan was offering him sexual favours. And since that sort of thing didn’t happen very often in 80s Who, even by subtle implication, that got me moderately excited.

    I really really was a teenage fangirl a quarter of a century too early.

    Take care of your health, Neil! That’s the most important thing.

  26. Oz Baxter  October 6, 2012

    Neil, have you tried explaining to Sue that, before 2005, it was assumed The Doctor had gotten the Sonic from somewhere else?

    At no point when I was young did I think The Doctor built the original Sonic Screwdriver. Now that we see that, somehow, the TARDIS makes Omni-Tool Screwdrivers for him out of the console it pretty much kills the mystery of the device. And the device is no longer a special advantage. It’s simply a magic wand.

    Which is a shame. But, at least Smith usually uses his as a scanning device, rather than a Fix-Plot-Device. Usually. Moffat’s gotten lazy lately.

    And I never found Kinda or Snakedance enjoyable. Burn me!!! 😉

    • DPC  October 6, 2012

      “the Sonic”? Sounds like some cheap product that was sold in the 1980s, the time that relied more on cheap marketing thrills than solid products and quality craftsmanship… 😀

      I wholly agree that the Pez di… I mean Sonic Screwdriver dispenser kills the mystery… it turns the whole thing into a farce as well. And while the classic series overused it, the new series really showed how the classic series remained tactful with its use…

      I prefer the original intent of the screwdriver (sonic vibrations to counter physical problems) – letting it reprogram computers on a whim, act as a star trek tricorder, etc, is just sloppy writing AND of the caliber the classic series, 1980s or otherwise, never degenerated into.

      • Jane  October 7, 2012

        Psychic interface — just point and think.

        It’s not lazy writing, but reflective of a different intention or perspective on telling stories. The old series served up plot for content, and characters for context; the new series is oriented around its characters first, with plot providing context. Within that framework, then, the Sonic is a device for illuminating character. It *is* a magic wand, and this makes the Doctor an archetypal magician — we’re now in the territory of myth, not science fiction.

        And frankly, given all the times the Doctor’s needed to pick locks, hack computers, and do whatever technobabble things it takes to save the day, of *course* he’s not going to forego a device as useful as the Sonic. It’s an indication not just of his technical prowess, but also his wisdom. It’s in character for him.

        As for Moffat, he’s really drawn back from the Sonic. It doesn’t come into play during Angels — that story’s resolved through Amy making a choice, and River writing a book about it. The Doctor goes techno in Asylum by fixing up a transmat, nothing new here, but it’s his confrontation with another character that drives the climax. The Sonic specifically doesn’t work in The Wardrobe in the Androzani Forest, and while the Doctor can lock up the Tesselecta in The Wedding, it’s in service to some chinwagging; the bowtie’s the prop of choice for the climax, which is oriented around a relationship, not some technological fix.

        The last time the Sonic played a significant role in a Moffat-penned story was Hitler, when Amy uses it to communicate with the Time Lord and eventually save her daughter by revoking the crew’s *privileges* — which is really about responding to power and authority, what made the classic series relevant in the first place.

        • encyclops  October 8, 2012

          The crux of the problem, for me, is “a device as useful as the Sonic.” It’s so omnipotent it throws pretty much everything else he could encounter out of whack. And the problem with being “in the territory of myth” is that now every choice has to mean something, as opposed to just seeming likely or plausible, and that makes a whole slew of the new series stories vulnerable to seeming even more bullshitty and vacuous than they otherwise would.

          I’ve heard both sides of this argument and I still think that if you’re going to lock the Doctor up, you need a reason why that’s important to the story, and if it’s important to the story, he shouldn’t just be able to walk out. (In Snakedance I’d argue that it’s important to the story.) That goes double if we’re doing myth, when events don’t happen arbitrarily or because it’s the sort of thing people do. That said, opening locks is one of the few functions of the sonic screwdriver that actually makes sense to me.

    • Robert Dick  October 8, 2012

      I’ve never heard anyone else assume the sonic screwdriver was obtained elsewhere.

      • solar penguin  October 8, 2012

        That’s probably because we just thought it was too obvious to mention.

        Pre-RTD series, I’d never heard anyone assume the Doctor had made the sonic screwdriver himself, again because they probably thought that was too obvious to mention.

        • encyclops  October 8, 2012

          The fact that Romana makes her own (in “Horns of Nimon,” of course) does seem to suggest it’s something an enterprising Time Lord can do with a bit of tinkering (and not, say, by binding a lock of unicorn hair and a mermaid’s tear within a titanium shaft at the stroke of midnight).

          • solar penguin  October 8, 2012

            Good point. But it’s not a question of whether the Doctor COULD make one, but whether he WOULD.

            He’s not really an inventor or designer of gadgets. He stole the TARDIS, he was given K9, he’s acquired lots of items over the course of his travels. But whenever we actually see him build a device, it’s always looked like an obvious lash-up, bodged together to serve one specific purpose.

            Sitting down and planning ahead by designing a sleek, elegant, multi-purpose tool, with lots of extra functions that might come in useful one day, just isn’t in character for someone as spontaneous and unorganised as the Doctor. But, yes, it’s the sort of thing that Romana would do. She’s much more organised. Much more likely to plan ahead.

          • Frankymole  October 8, 2012

            Even in the very episode of “The Visitation” where the sonic screwdriver was detroyed, the Doctor struggles to assemble a useful collection of items together from his pockets, and mutters that he must get a proper survival kit together some day.

            So it does seem unlikely he’d organise the design and construction of a new toolkit (the TARDIS toolbox seen in “Earthshock” and several other Davison stories does indeed have a space for the screwdriver, implying it came from that tool set originally). He’d have to have “got” it from somewhere – including the new one McCoy uses in the TV Movie. Perhaps the sonic-making circuit in the TARDIS goes on the blink just as often as all the others…

          • encyclops  October 8, 2012

            Where do we figure he got K9 Mks II and III? Did he build them himself, perhaps either reverse-engineering Mk I or ordering the plans from Make Magazine? Was he able to order them from somewhere, or perhaps do something timey-wimey to pick them up?

            I always inferred that he put them together himself and that he’s no stranger to tinkering and model-building, though I’d agree we don’t often see him actually _inventing_. I think it’s unlikely that he built his first sonic screwdriver, though I don’t think it’s unlikely at all that he built at least some of the ones we’ve seen since then.

            I’m not a hater, but I can’t get behind the idea that the TARDIS gestates and gives birth to sonic screwdrivers. It’s not that it’s that much more far-fetched than anything else we’ve seen in the new series; I just find it aesthetically off-putting, as I do the whole “wizard with his magic wand” business. I agree that it’s what’s for dinner, I don’t begrudge anyone else for liking it, but I really don’t.

          • James C  October 9, 2012

            The thought occurred to me the other day that the sonic is now basically a remote TARDIS link. A magic wand backed up by a semi sentient time machine is more palatable to me than something that seems to have all these functions held within the one unit.

            Certainly the original didn’t work that way (it was simply a sonic screwdriver), but I like to imagine that at some point the TARDIS thought ‘hey, I can do something with that’ and with the reconfiguration of the console room created what the Doctor still calls a sonic screwdriver but which is really something else entirely. I’d say that this would hold true for both the 2005 and 2010 versions.

          • encyclops  October 9, 2012

            Interesting theory, James. Are River’s sonic and the Master’s “laser” also remote TARDIS links, would you guess? Or something else?

          • Andrew Bowman  October 9, 2012

            I would have said that the Master was *inspired* by the Doctor’s device to invent his own version, although he needed the help of Professor Lazarus to create it, and River’s? Well, she gets given a version of the Doctor’s screwdriver by (presumably) the 11th Doctor in Silence in the Library. Does she have a Sonic Screwdriver in the subsequent stories? I can’t recall her doing so, but that doesn’t mean anything. Even if she does, it’s plausible that the TARDIS has provided one for her. After all, she is the Doctor’s wife 😉

          • solar penguin  October 9, 2012

            “Where do we figure he got K9 Mks II and III?”

            Well, K9 Mk II came in a box labelled “K9 Mk II”, so the Doctor probably bought it or had it delivered or something.

            I’ve no idea about K9 Mk III. (I still like to pretend that K9 & Co. never even happened.)

        • Robert Dick  October 8, 2012

          “That’s probably because we just thought it was too obvious to mention.”

          Or because it’s not that common an assumption?

          • solar penguin  October 8, 2012

            Maybe, but like I said, I’d originally never heard anyone assume the Doctor had made the sonic screwdriver himself, so that can’t have been a common assumption either.

            (Hmmm… What was the common assumption then!?!)

  27. DPC  October 6, 2012

    Aye, Sue’s summary makes sense…

    That and “Sue: Why is Tegan sleeping in Nyssa’s bedroom? Is there something I should know?” – since Sue is definitely picking up on things I never fathomed… 😀

    Lon’s bizarre snake-fighting outfit at the end aside, I thought there was atmosphere… ep 1’s clliffhanger was (IMHO) very strong… ep 3’s was a bit lame, I’ll agree… but, yeah, the Federator’s cloudy puffy costume that Lon had to don was really strange… I know aliens have different tastes, but can anyone imagine an army of warriors all wearing THOSE outfits, which – for the record – were also rejected outright from the art room that produced the vile “Strawberry Shortcake” cartoon…

  28. Simon Harries  October 7, 2012

    Great review! The Ian Richardson Reference was much appreciated in this quarter and caused a loud guffaw.

  29. Stan Parker  October 7, 2012

    I’m flabberghasted that I have only just stumbled upon this excellent blog now! Sue, you are a wonder, I love your commentaries! Pity that the comments are closed on all the Pertwee stuff, I wish I had found this website earlier!
    I stopped watching Dr Who round about this time, as a 14 or 15-year old. I just couldn’t take any more rubbish scripts/bad sets/un-scary monsters/etc. Sue, don’t let your hubby bully you into watching any more classic Dr Who! You already know deep in your bones that it has lost the plot, all the drama and excitement has gone out of it, and sorry for the spoiler, but it doesn’t improve at all from here, until 1989 when Auntie Beeb finally pulls the plug on it and puts it out of its misery. If I could put it in a poem, I would say:
    Dr Who was really great
    From 1970 to 78.
    But after that, I must admit
    It just became a load of…um, underpants.

    • Andrew Bowman  October 7, 2012

      Although it’s a nice subversion of expectation with the use of the word “underpants” in your poem, I’m afraid that the rest of it is woefully misrepresentative of an entire genre of the show. It’s still a series brimming with ideas, returning to the experimental format of the early ’60s. Peter Davison excels in the role, as do the later two Doctors. It’s just that the ideas in the writing is never matched by the achievements in the studio, which has always been the way of things. Doctor Who was still bringing in the ratings during this time, more or less.

      • Leo  October 7, 2012

        And also, what is it with people going on about how they should stop doing it because it’s reached a stage where the individual poster just happens not to like it anymore? There was some of this a few weeks ago too. Wouldn’t it better for the people making these comments to just stop reading it themselves if they’re not interested in anything afterwards, rather than expecting the blog to be based around their own preferences?

      • John G  October 7, 2012

        “Doctor Who was still bringing in the ratings during this time, more or less.”

        That is certainly true up to the end of Season 22. However, the ratings for the Trial season were disappointing, and of course following the show’s subsequent exile to the Coronation Street slot they never had a chance to recover.

        • Andrew Bowman  October 7, 2012

          Hence “more or less” I suppose. Certainly, Trial hadn’t received the audience share Who had been used to, but this probably down to negative press reaction and audience reaction to what was, on the face of it, an unusual departure, namely the whole season being one long story (is that a spoiler for Sue? If so, sorry). Of course, once we get to the suicide mission of scheduling the show against Coronation Street, it had nowhere to go, especially as most homes had only one telly, and ITV at 7.30 in the evening was “mum’s turn” as far as viewing anything was concerned. Of course, if they had Sky +…

          • John G  October 8, 2012

            I actually had my own telly in my bedroom by the late 1980s, but I must confess I was completely uninterested in Who at the time and preferred to watch the Street downstairs with Mum and Dad…

          • Andrew Bowman  October 8, 2012

            I think it was Gareth Roberts who said that if the Sylvester McCoy years had been shown on a Saturday, trailed to death throughout the week, they would have been a huge success. And I’m inclined to agree with him: Paradise Towers, Dragonfire, The Happiness Patrol, Silver Nemesis and many others would be much better regarded if they had been, I’m sure of it.

  30. Dave Owen  October 7, 2012

    Market square? Punch and Judy? I am on to you, you know.

    • DPC  October 7, 2012

      I forgot about the Punch ‘n’ Judy bit… that was definitely a naff scene, and there’s no director that could have saved it, apart from keeping it in the background instead of putting it up point blank for all to groan at…

      • Thomas  October 7, 2012

        I rather liked it, honestly. It was just a fun little bit that serves to develop the world further. I never really saw the problem with it.

  31. Professor Thascales  October 7, 2012

    “Sue: First the earring, now a tattoo! You are grounded for a month, young man. You have behaved very badly indeed!”

  32. BWT  October 7, 2012

    Well, let’s fly in the face of Sue’s opinion: “Snakedance” is one of the highlights of Davo for me – though its author’s previous offering is still in the top spot. I’m also looking forward to “Mawdryn Undead” – it’s one of me faves and the best of the season for me (here’s hoping the boss likes it too!).

  33. Wholahoop  October 7, 2012

    Much as I now love Snakedance I can remember as a sweaty, hormonal 15 year old, finding this one a bit slow. Maybe it’s really quite a subtle story which grows on you with aging (like a mould?). Sue’s reaction whilst disappointing should not be that surprising. Make her watch it once a year for the next 20 years and then see the reaction 🙂

  34. Dave Sanders  October 7, 2012

    That’s two stories in a row where Sue bucks the received fan wisdom, and marks it as the casual viewer of the day would more likely have done, for reasons which the typical fan are likely to gloss over or pretend aren’t there. Good! That’s the whole *point*. Fans tend to treat television programmes like pure stories; casuals see them for what they actually are.

    Snakedance is, for the most part, almost as good as its fan reputation – but only almost. OF COURSE it would have been lovely to have had Sue on our side, but let’s be brutally honest with ourselves – Snakedance isn’t a terribly well-made piece of television and requires a lot of suspension of disbelief to really get into. The studio staginess has its charms, but the obvious ‘let’s throw everything we can find at the screen and see what sticks’ nature of it isn’t really one of them. However substantial the wordbuilding of Manussa comes across in the script, nothing’s more likely to puncture the illusion than spotting the mishmash of costumes early on, as Sue did. It’s like pointing out to a fan every instance of a Blakes Seven helmet or Red Dwarf bazookoid turning up.

    Another pertinant narrative-versus-television point: Kinda gets a bit of stick in certain fan quarters for how blatant the direction shouts THIS IS A SYMBOL at you, but New-Wave 1981 Peter Grimwade knew exactly what he was doing with it. Snakedance allows the script do that instead, while the direction concentrates on getting the best out of the meagre resources and lets the audience fill in the gaps for themselves. But though Kinda is definitely the more complex story, which one is more accessible to the average viewer? Let’s ask Sue, shall we?

    There WILL be strife on the horizon if Caves gets a ‘meh’ though. 🙂

    • Thomas  October 7, 2012

      See, I would’ve thought Arc would be boring as hell to the casual viewer, so I’m not sure if that’s always the view she takes. It’s often worthwhile to hear a contrasting view on a particular episode, but it ‘s also good to remember Sue isn’t representative of any majority out there, be it fan or casual viewer.

      • Dave Sanders  October 8, 2012

        Arc is better made, has nicer scenery and a foreign location. It sounds shallow, but this is why viewer response was positive to Planet Of Fire as well – don’t forget that in this period, Doctor Who was competing against shows like Wish You Were Here on ITV.

        • Thomas  October 9, 2012

          Hm, you’re right that the response was higher for Infinity. Honestly that just baffles me, since it’s a clumsily-plotted story with very little going on, I would’ve thought casual viewers would’ve been completely turned off by it. Apparently location work does go a long way.

        • Thomas  October 9, 2012

          Still, though, I think it’s a mistake to say that Sue’s opinion is always reflective of any larger majority, because it isn’t. It’s just reflective of her own. Still valuable and insightful, but not really representative of any more than it should be.

    • encyclops  October 8, 2012

      I’d say “Caves” is the one that’s only almost as good as its fan reputation, but that still leaves room for it to be incredible. Considering her reactions to “Seeds of Doom” and “Earthshock,” though, I’d say it’s a safe bet she’ll find something in it to love.

      I don’t really get the problem with the costumes. Isn’t this an imperial culture? Why wouldn’t they have eclectic fashion influences?

      My biggest issue with this story — and again, it’s all relative, because this is a solid 10/10 for me — is that it always seems as though there are an awful lot of static scenes of standing around in caves.

  35. Frankymole  October 7, 2012

    Lionel Blair? The bloke from “House of Cards”?!

    “Should have gone to Specsavers”.

  36. Andrew Smith  October 7, 2012

    Must shove in my twopence worth here and say that for me it’s also one of my favourite Peter Davison stories. However, it’s one that I’ve grown to love over time. I wasn’t that smitten on first broadcast. Silly me!

    The story has layers that reward repeat viewings. It moves along and develops very nicely, it has some very powerful scenes and sumptuous dialogue, and the resolution satisfies very nicely (for me at least). And I’m very sorry Christopher Bailey’s next project ended so badly and that he hasn’t written for the show (or indeed for TV) since.

    And yes, Rob’s interview with Christopher Bailey is one of the best DVD extras ever to grace our shelves. Shame it’s hidden behind an Easter egg.

  37. Professor Thascales  October 7, 2012

    I find it one of the better Davison stories myself, for most of the reasons people have pointed out.
    But I do have to admit that some of the costumes are bad, especially Nyssa’s clashing top and skirt, and especially Lon’s infamous drag outfit. Nyssa’s scream cliffhanger is bad, and the ending is abrupt. But it’s overshadowed by all the good things.

    BTW Happy birthday Neil!

    • Thomas  October 7, 2012

      I was always confused as to why they cut out the perfectly decent ending they had…maybe the episode ran too long or something?

      • Dave Sanders  October 8, 2012

        Pretty much. They carry the ending over into the start of Mawdryn Undead – another example (but not necessarily a bad one) of the show following the format of the typical soap opera as was then, before EastEnders totally changed the ballpark.

  38. DamonD  October 8, 2012

    *falls off chair*

  39. Paul Mudie  October 8, 2012

    I’m afraid I’m with Sue on this one. I’m sure it’s all very clever, but a cracking sci-fi adventure serial it is not.

    • Dave Sanders  October 8, 2012

      And that’s probably the most ‘soapy’ aspect of the mid-Davison period; plenty of character-driven stories than aren’t really ‘adventures’ as such. I certainly don’t mean to unkind with that comparison though, because this kind of plotting is also ideally suited to many of the spin-off books and later Target novelisations.

      • Paul Mudie  October 9, 2012

        I don’t really mind little deviations like this, but they do feel a bit trivial and indulgent in the wake of something like Earthshock.

        • Thomas  October 9, 2012

          I’m not sure I understand precisely what you’re saying. How does something like this look trivial in comparison to something like Earthshock?

  40. Damon  October 8, 2012

    I’m hoping that when you get to Enlightenment, you somehow get her to watch bits of the “cut down DVD omnibus special edition”.

    There are definitely parts that were removed for the special edition that I was glad to see gone (no spoilers here yet, but it’s the obvious acting-related bits). In all, the cuts *were* a bit too much, but they had the right idea.

    Terminus, on the other hand, should have been cut down by half. Blecch.

  41. Sparklepunk  October 9, 2012

    I’ve always liked Snakedance, but I know that was partially cause I thought Clunes was cute when I was a kid and was excited to see “that guy from No Place Like Home” and cause it was a sequel to Kinda, which I loved, since then it has acquired that happy feeling of nostalgia, so I can’t judge I’d never be able to give it an impartial judgment.

    As for the outfit, since I’ve read up on the New York club scene in the 80s and 90s I’ve always thought he looked like a Club Kid, that makes it even more amusing for me. I could definitely see how they were purposefully making him look stupid.

    • encyclops  October 9, 2012

      Sure he looked stupid: the Mara is a joke to his culture, the stuff of puppet shows for children and empty ritual. The costume is antiquated and ridiculous in the story, not just to us.

      • Dave Sanders  October 10, 2012

        Yep, it’s called propaganda.

  42. Jennie  October 9, 2012

    I only have very vague memories of Snakedance. Was scared of the snake and Tegan’s red eyes. Thought Lon’s costume was silly. Haven’t seen it since it was first shown on telly. However, if anyone is interested, the chorus to Duran Duran’s song is….

    “The union of the snake is on the cli-iiimb. Moving up, it’s gonna race, gonna break through the borderli-iiine.”

    So there you go:)