Friday, October 4, 2013

A Doctor A Week: Peter Davison: Kinda

By Russel D McLean

11 weeks. 11 Doctors. 11 stories. Right up to the fiftieth anniversary, Russel will be reviewing one story a week for each Doctor. He will try and relate each story to a larger picture and how it relates to each period. He will occasionally make fun of them. But he will try and show you what a varied and brilliant history the show has. As well as overcoming his own prejducies about certain periods in the shows history. Each review will have spoilers and will assume a certain level of knowledge about the story in question.

What point of view could they have? They’re savages!”

Ahhh the eighties. Cheap, spartan sets and australian air hostesses (three stories in and Tegan’s *still* not changed out of her uniform; but then Adric’s been wearing pyjamas for months).

Also Peter Davison: youngest Doctor ever at the time, playing it absolutely straight and far too often inneftecually. not his fault, but the fifth doctor is so rarely in control it often feels like he might not as well be there. Also all the bickering in the TARDIS (its the most full its been in a long time with Adric, Nyssa and Tegan) tends to grate after a while. Also its at this stage the Doctor seems to be dressing in a particular fashion; the cricket stuff is far more like a costume than previous regenerations who merely seemed to throw on whatever they could find that worked. Yes, they were eccentric, but with the question marks and the slight impracticality of it all, it looks like an affectation. I want to like Davison, I really do. And he does very well with the material, but if you take this Doctor’s lines in isolation your realise they are trying to dial back the alienness of the character, to make him less eccentric. The result is that Davison has to try and make up the slack, but there’s nowhere you could go even if you were Lawrence Olivier. They would, of course, dial it in the other direction when Colin Baker came on board, but we’ll talk about that next week...

There’s also a po-faced seriousness to this era of stories that sometimes gets in the way of the fun. I know Davison is a fan favourite, but at this point - as I mentioned - the scripters play it far too safe with his incarnation. He’s oh so terribly nice. All the time. Even when he’s annoyed (and who wouldn’t be?) at Adric, the boy genius. In fact with all the squabbling among the TARDIS crew during this era, you’re amazed Davison doesn’t just suddenly snap and chuck Adric and Tegan out the TARDIS doors and into the time vortex (when Adric does finally kick the bucket in Earth Shock, even the Doctor doesn’t actually do that much to stop the inevitable).

Kinda is regarded - depending on your point of view - as either one of the best or one of the worst of the Davison era stories. It does actually show the possibilities of this new take on the Doctor, with some strong philosophising and a lot of mysticism beneath the sci fi surface.. The black landscape in which Tegan finds herself during the dreamscape sequences is starkly effective (a shame that’s undercut by the standard colonist sets). The Mara itself is wonderful in its initial human form - - although as with all villains, he’s a little too jolly. Maybe seeking the end of everything is infinitely amusing. I also love the idea of the box where no one knows what is inside. Its all very Schrodinger and a simple way of building tension, although the scream that ends episode two is markedly dramatic considering no one has seen the contents of the box they’re about to open.

Back with the colonists, Sanders - the leader of the human expedition to this backwards little world - is a big blowhard stereotype, although his childishness after his encounter with the Kinda - the name given to the natives of this world - is very amusing. His second in command, Hindle, is all chaotic crazy, on the verge of losing in this new world. He is suitably hammy, but feels out of place in the new subdued tone of the Davison era. There’s also lots of stuff with two Kinda who wear hats for no apparent reason.

Tegan finally gets some interesting stuff to do. No more whinging about getting home, she gets to go all weird in her dreamsapce (the multiple Tegans - and which is real? - bit is brilliant, and marks for me what the intent of this era may have been, although it would rarely if ever live up to that again) and then plays the bad guy for a little when she lets the Mara break through into reality via her physical form. Its all a little cliched now, but for the time its all very good stuff and a little frightening.

I also like that its the women who have the most intelligence here. The Kinda are a matriarchal society and perhaps there’s something in the fact that its when the menfolk gain a voice that everything starts to go very very wrong. Its progressive thinking, and its another intriguing idea in a script that’s chock full of them (when its not doing the colonists cliche story).

Kinda’s problem is tone. For all the great symbolism and thoughtful stuff about savagery, intelligence and so forth, it’s also a standard colonists versus unexpectedly wise primitives story. Dances with Timelords, if you will. The best sequences are the dream based ones and those with the Kinda. The dullest bits are the colonists-going-mad moments and the very strange and slow fight with a robot controlled by Adric (who, as ever, is just a colossal and dull pain, whose magic tricks wouldn’t fool a blind mongoose).

In short, there are moments of brilliance here combined with typical eighties cheapness. The ambitions outweigh the execution (checked the papier-mache snake of doom when the Mara reveals it’s true self). Its not for everyone, but its one of the best Davison stories I’ve seen, ranking up there with the similarly unusual Enlightenment and, of course, crowd-pleaser Caves of Androzani.


The robot that takes Adric and the Doctor to the colonist’s shape keeps farting hilariously. I know, I’m twelve years old.

The story was originally written for Baker. So one assumes they took all the jokes out for Davison. Sadly. I would love to see what Davison would have done with a more eccentric script. Imagine if they’d given him some Matt Smith dialogue or just an alien sense of perspective that wasn’t so subdued.

Love the colonists’s chairs with their names on the back. Hate their cheap 80s flatpack colonist ship.

“primitive mind” - - when Davidson says this line, it sticks out. A very unDoctorly approach to the world. Would he really see the Kinda as primitives? The Doctor is usually the first to see the truth of a situation like this.

“Is he an idiot?” - - oh such a leading question from the wise woman re the Doctor. In this incarnation he may well be, He is so desperate to be nice that at times he just seems completely lost. It is a change from Baker, but aside from flashes of genius, most of the fifth doctor stories tend to see our hero making things worse or making very little difference to the actual situation.

“I just feel so useless” - Adric has a self revelatory moment in episode 4 during one of the timefilling scenes where, for no reason, he and Tegan hang out in corridors.

Nyssa is conveniently absent for most of the story. Apparently this was because the story was written before they realised there would be 3 companions and rather than give her something to do, they just made her faint and go for a lie down in the TARDIS for the whole story.

I have no idea who the chess playing couple are in Tegan’s dreamscape, but their bizarre conversation about whether Tegan is really there or if they’re imagining her is wonderful.

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