‘Was it real or not?’ The script has a charming awareness of its own obfuscations, and Todd becomes a brilliant audience mouthpiece, baffled and irritated by the gnomic comments of Karuna, and demanding rational explanations which, by and large, are forthcoming. The Mara lives in the ‘dark places of the inside’ (‘or wherever’ – the Doctor doesn’t buy into the mysticism either) and has used Tegan to cross into the material world and possess Aris.
The conclusion plays into the mysticism, with the Mara unable to confront its own reflection, and driven back into the dark places of the inside (or wherever), while the Box of Jhana presumably resets Hindle’s broken mind thanks to some nifty reverse psychology by Todd. I think it all just about works – the idea of the cycle of death and rebirth, explicit in Panna’s resurrection in Karuna, is completed without the kind of wholesale destruction foretold in last episode’s prophecy – instead, it’s the cardboard city and the cargo cult style TSS that get destroyed (the latter eyed very nervously by Adrian Mills).
There’s loads for keen viewers to get their analytical teeth into, and for the rest of the audience enough incident and strong performances that it doesn’t feel impenetrable and arcane. I suspect off the back of Castrovalva and Four to Doomsday a few dads in the audience were glumly reflecting that Doctor Who, like the Beatles in 1967, had “gone weird”, and the puppet snake probably wasn’t enough to win them over. I’m not entirely surprised this came bottom of the Season 19 poll: its allusive, elusive nature defies a single, allegorical reading which is why its still fascinating to one subset of fans and mildly frustrating to another.
As I’ve reflected elsewhere, part of that’s due to the number of fingers in this pie: more script editors worked on Kinda than on all of the Doctor Who stories from 1969-77 put together, plus Grimwade and JNT were also throwing their ideas into the mix. Peter Davison holds this together with his strongest performance yet: turning on a penny from bemused concern to fired-up excitement. I love his impatient ‘come on!’ as the dome’s door rises slowly, and his genuine ‘I’m so sorry’ when he steps on one of Hindle’s cardboard people. Tegan and Adric become helpless bystanders in the final scenes as the Doctor springs into action. I think this is basically how he plays the Doctor from now on: that two-month break in production helped bring the character into focus for him. So it’s going to be interesting to jump back in time to the story recorded before the gap.
Next episode: The Visitation