What’s It About?
The TARDIS materializes on the planet Manussa, but no one remembers setting the coordinates. The Doctor, Nyssa, and Tegan discover that Manussa is preparing for a celebration of the epic battle in which the Mara was destroyed. But Tegan has been having dreams about a snake skull, and the Doctor soon suspects that the Mara was not truly defeated on Deva Loka.
Fear is the only poison
For the most part, “Snakedance” is more accomplished than its predecessor “Kinda.” The parallels with Buddhism in the previous story were interesting, but in “Snakedance” they seem more fully formed. Fear and the darkness in the human heart are more concretely emphasized in this story, and they tie more directly into the story’s resolution. While I think the mirrors in “Kinda” worked as a metaphor, I’m far more satisfied with “Snakedance,” in which the Doctor recognizes that banishing fear from his mind is a far more effective weapon against the Mara.
But “Snakedance” also shines in its world building. “Kinda” had a vaguely colonial India feel to it. “Snakedance” feels more like a thought-out culture, a continuation of an empire that was most-likely of Earthly origin (they have Punch and Judy shows, after all), but have developed their own flourishes and culture. I love when science fiction acknowledges the ancient (because I love archaeology) and “Snakedance” punches those buttons for me. I also really enjoyed the interplay between the approach to religion from academia and the approach to religion from the Doctor, who is actually arguing for the mythology in this case rather than against it. And who can fault Martin Clunes who give a marvelous performance (despite a horrible costume in episode 4) as a bored aristocratic youth who flirts with the devil just because he has nothing better to do. This story touches on ideas from authors like Arthur Machen or Henry Blackwood in its interplay between the spiritual and the secular and the society that has forgotten its mythology, but now that mythology has returned to destroy it.
All of the companions are utilized here. Janet Fielding gives a wonderful, creepy performance as Tegan. Nyssa gets to do more than stand around in the TARDIS or wait for the Doctor to tell her what to do. Stories like this make the Davison era shine and make me excited to see what Big Finish has brought to the era.