Continuing the theme of bringing back old villains (well, it is the anniversary year), Snakedance features the return of the Mara, the snake-demon from Kinda. Hardly an iconic villain to bring back, since it only first appeared in the previous season, but the writer obviously wanted to explore his creation a little more, now from the perspective of an ancient legend, a creature that will return from our minds and become real once again.
There’s an attempt to explore the nature of legends and truths that are inferred from mangled facts over generations, but since the legend turns out to be literally true, this doesn’t really work. Nevertheless, this story is creepy and well-made. I would not have been old enough to see this at the time, but children of the eighties would no doubt have found much of the imagery to be very frightening. It’s bad enough that Tegan is possessed and starts talking with a strange deep voice, but everything is punctuated by images of snakes, skulls, glowing eyes and the sounds of screams. It’s not quite as creepy as the dream sequences from Kinda, but it’s close. Sensibly, the Mara isn’t seen until the end, and it’s a far more convincing effect than the paper snake from Kinda.
I enjoyed all the performances in Snakedance. Martin Clunes plays a great “bored prince” who is then brainwashed by the Mara. Tegan convincingly plays the villain role most of the way through, which gives Nyssa more to do again – although she does resort to screaming, unfortunately. The extended cast of carnies and servants are also nicely watchable. The Doctor continues to be the Doctor, digging and probing, seeing what others do not see.
I suppose the resolution is a bit of a cliché (believe that it doesn’t exist and it can’t exist is a well-worn trope), but it makes more sense than a sudden realisation that the Mara hates mirrors, so it’s fair enough. An improvement, then, but probably the end of the Mara for good this time.