Doctor Who: Kinda - Review


A baddie in Doctor Who is typically something tangible. The instant you see a Dalek, you know they are evil because you can see their guns and they are all too eager to use them. Nobody ever expects a Dalek to win a battle psychologically. Kinda is the only story in Doctor Who's history, to really try a different tack, there is a monster sure, a giant snake called the Mara. But the evil in this story really comes from within that outside. Kinda shows us that often the greatest dangers are the tiny insecurities and hidden flaws that live inside of people. It shows us these things through two different storylines that eventually meet and work together as part of a larger parable. The first plot centres around Tegan and the Kinda tribe, weaving some Buddhist-inspired ideas about the struggle to find oneself and repressed negativity into a story surrounding an Eden-like planet which is threatened by the corruption of knowledge. The second plot thread concerns the dangers of colonialism and the ignorance of those who would conquer the planet, who also face a danger bigger than any of them can fully understand and comprehend. The end result is a little too muddled and oblique to be really successful and the poor use of the main characters leaves the story feeling really unfocused. But Kinda really is an interesting experiment in doing something a little more psychological. The more you think about it, the more the story will grow on you. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. It is good because there is a hell of a lot more to appreciate with this story than first appears but it is bad because the story doesn't gel on the most basic of levels. And you will be left unsure if the story gels on some deeper levels, only that it is really thought provoking.

One of the main strengths of Kinda is that it acts like an experimental piece of theatre, much more so than an ordinary Doctor Who story. But is also some of its weaknesses, author, Christopher Bailey was more suited to scripting theatre productions than he was television and he went through something of a culture shock which didn't help the story in the least. He believed that being a television script writer would be much the same as a theatre writer. I mean to sound like he was arrogant, he just saw this as a standard part of a writer's development, where he could continue to refine and clarify the story. On the DVD, the behind the scenes features make it abundantly clear that the entire cast and production staff found the script murky and hard to understand. It also didn't help that Kinda was commissioned by a script editor who had left the show and completed by a new script editor who just didn't see the story the same way as others. He rewrote it to fit into Doctor Who's more typical monster based mode, making the Mara more a physical threat than Bailey had originally intended.

Earlier I called Kinda a parable. I mean that literally because Bailey intended for the story to embody specific Buddhist themes and spiritual concepts which are reflected in the names chosen for things in this story. The planet, called Deva Loka, means 'God World' or 'spirit world'. The wise women of the Kinda, Panna and Karuna, mean, 'wisdom' and 'compassion'. The Mara itself is named after the Buddhist demon who tempted Buddha. Dukkha, Annica and Annatta, the three associates of the Mara, who Tegan meets in her dreams, are named after concepts relating to states of mind which lead to unhappiness and unbalance.

For younger fans and people of younger generations, when watched today, Kinda does bare some resemblances to the movie, Avatar. Now, I highly doubt that James Cameron was pinching ideas from Kinda, I doubt he has even heard of Doctor Who but both stories draw from a larger well of inspiration. Much like Avatar, Kinda features a futuristic human colonial outpost on a backwater jungle planet. The arrogant and militaristic humans are besieged by the natives of the planet, a tribe called the Kinda, who have a very deep spiritual relationship with the planet they call home. This connection is supposed to tell us that it has its roots in the technology of the Kinda's ancestors, meaning that their seemingly primitiveness is actually a sophisticated and advanced culture. Where the stories differ is that one of the humans doesn't go native and join the tribe, the Kinda aren't computer generated blue cat people and the sympathetic female scientist isn't played by Sigourney Weaver.

The Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Adric and Nyssa find themselves arriving in an atmosphere fraught with tension and a sense of paranoia. Crew members of the human colonists have been disappearing for weeks and they are now at the point where only the bullying and racist Commander Sanders, the gentle scientist Todd and the highly strung - rules obsessed subordinate, Hindle, are the only compliment of the colonists. While the planet isn't dangerous to the humans like the poisonous atmosphere of Pandora in Avatar, they still aren't entirely convinced that the atmosphere is safe for them, which means that trips into the jungles are done in a sealed, one man vehicle, designed for moving around in a jungle. Todd is open to understanding Deva Loka on its own terms, but the men have different attitudes. They basically represent the worst kind of European colonialists, there only to take Deva Loka by force and this is a point which isn't made in anything resembling subtlety. If the harmful taking of Kinda hostages is standard procedure or Sanders referring to the Kinda as a bunch of primitive savages isn't subtle enough for you, then there is the uniforms' 19th century pith helmets, just the thing a young enterprising man would have worn when going off to subjugate Rhodesia.

Another piece of fiction which one could draw comparisons between is the 1972 novel, The Word for World is Forest, something which Bailey claims to have never read. But in any given case, the themes in play here were common enough, post colonialism was in high fashion at the time and there were plenty of stories about people going mad deep within the primal jungle. The book by Ursula LeGuin may be cited for Kinda because of the science fiction connection, but recently the world has seen movies like Apocalypse Now and novels like The Mosquito Coast. There is also a Russian movie and now called Solaris where exposure to an incomprehensible alien world, drives a group of scientists and explorers mad. Kinda is just one of those kind of stories.

The story leaves us with little doubt that the humans are being picked off by the mental powers of the nearby tribe, though it does make it look like it is something that the Kinda aren't aware of doing, or if they are, not going quite to plan. Hindle finds his mind snaps because he forms a telepathic link with two Kinda hostages. But they act like his own zombie servants for the rest of the adventure, obeying his mad commands and show no initiative of their own. So snapping his mind was obviously not an act of revenge or retaliation for their imprisonment. And he becomes even more xenophobic before, becoming intent on sterilizing the surrounding jungle with fire before it can infect him with its microbes, vines and other such stuff.

Sanders has the opposite happen to him, his mind is expanded by the mystical Jhana Box, something which the Kinda's two wise women give him as a gift. Incidentally, this is another Buddhist name, referring to the still serenity of meditation. It almost helps him for the better - but there is a problem, Sanders turns so benign and kind he falls under the sway of Hindle and helps him to wire up their base to explode, taking the jungle with them if they were to press the big red button. As Sanders explains Hindle's actions to Adric, "He means well...We all do, don't we, underneath it all?"

But not everyone who means well does well. Although he is visibly wracked with terror and threatens to cause untold destruction because of it, Hindle isn't really an evil man. He is just someone who is hopelessly lost and confused. Hindle's madness was catalysed by his contact with the alien world but it was something which had come from within. It wasn't something which the Kinda did to him but something which was waiting to come out. This is why he gets so agitated when the Doctor accidentally breaks one of his cardboard people, crying out that you can't mend people when Sanders suggests putting him back with a spot of glue. He has to know, on some level or another that he is talking about himself too. And actor Simon Rouse, really sells the line. All this is resolved a little too easily with the Jhana box, something which had been sitting around since the second episode, apparently waiting for someone to remember it. The story's resolution doesn't really feel earned, partly because it is hard to believe that deep psychological trauma is so simply switched off and partly because what the box actually does is described in many different contradictory ways, throughout the course of the tale. It appears to be both a source of harm and of healing. During an early episode, the blind Panna explains that no male can open the box without going mad because their mind doesn't possess the capability of understanding what is inside. But when the insanity needs to be cured, this is something which the box provides. Sanity in males, when it apparently shouldn't.

With Hindle's madness running rampant inside the dome, Tegan opens a door to hell in the jungle outside, as the Mara finally seizes its chance to manifest itself in the real world by possessing her. The story does cleverly leave it open to interpretation exactly what the Mara is but it seem reasonable to believe that the Mara is the personification of the Kinda's dark side. They explain that they had to banish their aggression and hatred to the dark places to achieve their return to innocence. But they haven't removed the snake from their garden of Eden, just repressed it and the arrival of the TARDIS and its crew gives the Mara the physical force to get its foothold back into the world of the Kinda. Tegan makes the mistake of falling under its influence under the chimes which allow it to possess her. Tegan's personality was much like Donna Noble's from the new series of the show, loud, brassy and outspoken. It made her the perfect person to allow the Mara back into the physical world. But considering how screwed up the humans were who already had arrived on the planet, I'm surprised that it hadn't attempted to attack one of them, the only explanation that I can think of is that they hadn't found the strange chimes yet!

Tegan's trip to Wonderland, is a vast black space, that the script calls 'The Wherever'. But this easily the strongest part of the adventure as a whole. It is not only a demonic possession but a demonic seduction, only made possible because Tegan had a well of evil hidden deep within her. It is important to make a note of the fact that, at the end of the story, Tegan asks the Doctor if the Mara is still inside her head, he doesn't give her a straight answer. And there is another really interesting juxtaposition that was never explored which happens inside the dream sequences. Tegan sees two white figures playing chess next to a giant black structure, mirroring an earlier scene where her friends, Nyssa and Adric were playing chess next to the TARDIS. So if the first two phantoms were Nyssa and Adric then that makes the third phantom, the personification of the Mara, the one who tricks her into possession is clearly an evil version of...well, it doesn't need spelling out. But here is a hint - he's the one Bailey called, 'Dukkha'...

If the Mara was ever really meant to represent the repressed side of the Kinda's nature, then it makes sense that once Tegan wakes, she transfers the Mara's powers to a member of the Kinda. Its ultimate goal would be to get back to the tribe an re-infect it. It almost achieves its goal as Tegan gives the Mara to the mute Kinda male, Aris, who carries the role of villain for almost the entirety of the story. What strikes me as odd though, is that Bailey writes Tegan out for nearly the rest of the adventure. He removes her entirely from episode three and gives her a weak contribution to the plot in episode four. When you really think about it, there isn't really a good enough reason for Aris to be the main villain. Tegan should have remained the focus, instead of some man who we don't know and aren't emotionally invested in. While Tegan would get a chance to wrestle with the Mara again in Snakedance, it doesn't mean that her absence from the majority of this story is a baffling weakness of this story.

This is part of a larger problem too as all the companions get side-lined. Nyssa gets clumsily written out as it is explained that she needs to sleep for the next forty-eight hours, simply because her character hadn't been a companion at the time that Bailey had written the original scripts. Even the sonic screwdriver got written out an subsequently destroyed in the following story, The Visitation.

And while the Doctor does in the end defeat the Mara in a circle of mirrors, making it face itself, he spends much of this story simply reacting to events unfolding around him, rather than getting involved in them. But there may be a plausible explanation for this. The Doctor is the only male smart enough on the planet to open the Jhana Box and when he does open the box, he remains unaffected because he had faced his demons during his turbulent regeneration in Castrovalva, the story that opened series nineteen. It isn't merely designed to be an insult when Panna calls the Doctor an idiot. As Shakespeare had once explained, a wise man is a man who knows he is a fool. And more than other incarnation of the character, before and after, it was the Fifth Doctor who was most aware of his shortcomings and faults. He lacks the arrogance of the previous four incarnations of the character and this might be why the Jhana box can't find anything inside of him to fix.

The problem with this however is that the Doctor is less at stake than everyone else in this tale, since the majority of the main threats are against the emotionally unbalanced secondary and main characters. Kinda might have been more interesting as the Fourth Doctor's final adventure, with the Mara attacking the Doctor, instead of Tegan and tries to exploit his darker nature. That would have lead nicely to the Doctor being forced to explore the part of himself that attracted the Mara, which would have lead nicely into having a more laid back Fifth incarnation. But the Fifth Doctor's serenity was only short lived. Panna explains about the cycles of history in an earlier episode, implying that the Kinda have gone through the process of defeating the Mara time and time again because history has a habit of happening again. The Doctor's life is something which is dominated by the Buddhist theme of reincarnation and as we all know, when the Fifth Doctor regenerated, he lost his inner battle with himself in a big way...

Comments

  1. Very insightful review of a challenging and powerful story.

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    Replies
    1. Glad you enjoyed my review, Kinda is one of those stories where there is a lot more going on beneath the surface and a good story to boot!

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