Number 2 on my Doctor Who favorites list: Kinda.
My first exposure to this Fifth Doctor story was running across the novelisation in a bookstore. The title was written as “Doctor Who — Kinda” and I thought: so, it’s kinda Doctor Who and kinda not? What could this possibly be?
It could possibly be the best Doctor Who story ever made, in my book, at least. This is exactly what I want the show to be like, what I want it to be about. There’s a fairly classic science fiction premise (said to resemble that of The Word for World Is Forest by Ursula K. LeGuin, but in fact they’re not much alike); an alien culture with its own customs and differences (the men of the Kinda people don’t speak, and the women seem to reincarnate in a manner not unlike what happens in “Planet of the Spiders”); and a monster that’s half alien menace and half psychological horror from “the Dark Places of the Inside.” The story is populated by strong, fairly believable characters with their own motivations and, crucially, neuroses, and much of the drama comes from the way the forces at work on the Kinda world of Deva Loka influence and change the personalities and relationships of the characters. People like to make fun of the giant snake at the end of the story — the manifestation of the Mara we previously discussed in this story’s sequel, “Snakedance” — but really, if that even matters to you, I suggest you watch a different show. It’s no more a real snake than Cho-Je is a real Tibetan, and it’s far from the least convincing effect the show has ever had.
I love the weird dark “nowhere” place Tegan finds herself when “dreaming alone,” where she first encounters and is psychologically coerced into embracing the Mara. The effect the Mara has on possessed Tegan is to bring out her sensuality, and in some ways it’s the most potently sexual the classic series got, even though all that happens onscreen is that a woman drops apples on the head of a half-naked man, and seduces him into allowing her to put her snake inside him. Those scenes of the Mara tattoo coming to life and crawling from one person’s arm to another’s were and are absolutely thrilling to me, on par with spiders that leap onto the back for creepiness and coolness and richness of image.
I love the frightening shifts of power between the authoritarian Sanders, who is converted to childlike peacefulness by the secrets found in a teenage girl’s box (no, really: it’s an empty wooden box called the Box of Jhana and it heals the mind), and the brittle paranoid Hindle, once the underling and now the unhinged loose cannon. I love the female scientist who acts as a sort of guest companion to the Doctor, and the wise woman played by stage and screen legend Mary Morris who gives the Doctor (whom she calls “idiot”) a vision of the wheel of time turning before she passes her spirit on to the teenage girl. I love the double helix necklaces of the Kinda (rhymes with “Linda,” but I didn’t learn that until I saw this onscreen). I even love the way Adric’s frustrating tendency to collude with the villains is portrayed more as a devious attempt to gain the upper hand over them.
I truly, honestly don’t think Doctor Who has ever gotten better than this, new series, classic series, books, audios, whatever. It may have looked better, but that’s a budget thing; in terms of story, theme, character, vision, depth of thought, everything here to my mind is just perfect.
There is only one story that can hope to match it, and it’s such a completely different kind of thing with completely different merits that it’s very difficult to judge which one I prefer. But since this is a list about sentiment, the one I’ll post tomorrow wins the top spot. This year.