Doctor Who complete reviews: Kinda
|REVIEWS - DOCTOR WHO|
Not written by Kate Bush, but just as weird...
That Kate Bush, eh? Prolific songwriter by day, Doctor Who writer at night. Well, actually, that's not true. It was just a rumour circulating at the time that Christopher Bailey was actually a pseudonym for the eerie warbler. And I'm not too sure that Bailey would be too happy about the link.
Still, in a way you can see why a handful of folks might think this. Like Bush's meisterworks, Kinda is unusual, eccentric, deep 'n' meaningful, and also very entertaining. Some of the set pieces could possibly have come from one of Bush's videos, especially the scenes in Teabag's mind. You almost half expect Bush to leap out of the darkness from behind the steel girders to start crooning a variant on 'The Man With The Child In His Eyes' called 'The Woman With The Vile In Her Eyes'.
Coming after the comparatively simple Four To Doomsday, Kinda is something of a welcome relief. It's one of those stories that can be enjoyed on several levels. There's plenty of food for thought with religious undercurrents, the mental psyche and human relationships. But in another sense, it's a plain, good old-fashioned tale of good triumphing over evil. At least with Kinda you get the choice of appreciating the story in different ways, unlike say, Four To Doomsday or Black Orchid.
So pull out the psychologist's chair, and let's delve deep into those murky corners that we call pseudo-intellectualism. Or in other words, I'll try the amateur psychology and look at some of the themes prevalent in Kinda. Speaking as someone who hardly knows anything about religion, my religious education classes from school way back when do at least throw up a few clues. On the one hand, there are the Buddhist elements, such as the names: The Box of Jhana; The Mara; Panna; Karuna... It also has similarities to Planet Of The Spiders, especially the theory of the old man being reborn. Both Sanders and Hindle become new men after peering into the Box of Jhana, finally finding that inner peace after spending their time stomping about and shouting. However, there are Christian overtones at work here too, notably in the Eden-like Deva Loka jungle, not to mention Aris and Teabag succumbing to temptation by the Mara.
Kinda is generally a psychologist's field day. Aside from the religious aspects, many of the characters have deep-rooted psychological issues. Take Hindle and Sanders - one, a mentally screwed-up control freak, the other an old-school bully boy. Both are part of a team who have been sent to colonise Deva Loka, along with a woman called Todd and one or two other grunts who have mysteriously disappeared. Sanders is initially seen to be one of that stiff-upper-lip breed, the old grizzled soldier who insists on doing press-ups before breakfast and bellowing at everyone in earshot. However, once he's stared into the Box Of Jhana, he regresses back towards a quiet, meek 'n' mild sort, like a young kid trapped in an old man's body.
If you really wanted a parallel, then you could argue that it's close to home. Sanders - you could say - represents the change-over from the domineering Fourth Doctor into the quieter Fifth Doctor, who's similarly meeker in temperament. Whether or not the production team were trying to send some sort of message is a good question, but the similarity's there if you look for it.
"It's perfectly feasible that at the back of Hindle's mind, he knows that mentally, he's beyond help, and has gone past the point of no return"
Hindle's more of an obvious rogue element in the team. The man's sanity is hanging by a thread, right from the word go, when he fails to take Sanders' joke of dressing up in a Kinda head-dress. In the first part alone, he's prone to shouting, sniping at everyone about the rule book, throwing tantrums and going on a Who-style rampage, not to mention bellowing that he has the power of life and death over everyone in the dome. Over the next few parts, we see that Hindle's mental state deteriorates rapidly, and it's telling that when The Doctor rips off the head of one of his specially-designed cardboard people, he flips: "You can't mend people, can you?!" It's perfectly feasible that at the back of Hindle's mind, he knows that mentally, he's beyond help, and has gone past the point of no return. It's only the Box of Jhana that luckily proves to be his salvation.
So what's behind his breakdown? There are a few clues peppered throughout the story which give the impression of a man who endured a troubled upbringing as a kid. He says that he used to be beaten as a youngster, and tries in vain to convince that it never did him any harm. And when the returning Sanders trundles back in his mobile portable toilet, Hindle cracks and screams out for mummy to make him go away. Sanders, the control freak, is obviously the sort of father that gave Hindle such a hard time as a youth, and all this has steadily taken its toll. Hindle's own unique brand of control freakery is rather inept by comparison - the sign of a man desperate to assert his own authority, but doesn't know how. He even dresses the captured Kinda up in similar pith suits in a rather pathetic attempt to make everyone be like him.
Both characters needed excellent acting to do these parts justice, and fortunately, Peter Grimwade struck gold. Legendary actor Richard Todd is perfect as Sanders, and makes a very real distinction between the bluff old soldier and the naive innocent - and kudos to the man for actually not thwacking Matthew Waterhouse around the head after the scamp allegedly offered him advice on how to act. Simon Rouse, meanwhile (better known as Meadows from the recently-departed Bill) gives one of the most convincing portrayals of madness in Doctor Who - Rouse makes Hindle chillingly convincing, thanks to an understated, carefully studied performance, and it works brilliantly.
Talking of The Bill - who's that giving Teabag a hard time in her head? Why, it's none other than good old Reg Hollis - AKA Jeffrey Stewart, who gives a performance far removed from the dopey old policeman. Stewart's Dukkha is a deeply creepy proposition, a kind of New Romantic psycho in way too much war paint and frilly clothes. But that eerie, sneering voice is perfect for the part, as he tortures Teabag in her mind.
Actually, these sequences are genuinely scary, full of unsettling little shocks and psychological head games. Teabag is duplicated, forced to challenge her own identity, and is then forced to accommodate the Mara when Dukkha makes her invisible. Lots of stuff at work here - the couple playing chess (including Lou Beale of all people) is identical to Adric and Nyssa playing chess outside the TARDIS at the start of the story. Dukkha sounds a lot like The Doctor - a twisted dark side if you like, except that instead of showing her all the wonders of the universe, Dukkha is hellbent on exposing Teabag to all the horrors and evil of the dark corners of the galaxy.
"For once, we actually get to see the real Tegan rather than the walking, whiny cliché."
And amazingly, Janet Fielding is actually excellent in these scenes. For once, we actually get to see the real Tegan rather than the walking, whiny cliché. Trapped in her worst nightmare, she is forced to rely on her wits and force of will to banish the Mara from her brain - but this time, the evil force is too strong. Fielding gives a suitably tortured performance as the terrified air hostess, and after the past few stories, it shows just what she can do with a really good storyline. Having said that, I'm not quite as sold on her performance when she's possessed by the Mara. Fielding's pièce de résistance will come in Snakedance, when she gives a brilliantly convincing portrayal of evil, but in Kinda - I don't know, the possessed Teabag resembles a drunken reveller who's decided that red licquorice is a good hangover cure.
That said, Fielding's a lot more convincing than poor old Adrian Mills as Aris. I always remember the hapless That's Life presenter squirming in embarrassment at being showed that clip from the finale of Kinda when he's asked to writhe around on the floor with a plastic snake. The things we do for money, eh? And unfortunately, Mills never convinces as the walking embodiment of evil in the slightest. Maybe it's the silly haircut of a nine-year-old girl that does it. Maybe it's the fact that he stomps around hissing the same old tat in a wimpy growl: "I am Aris! I have spoken! I have voice!! etc etc". Or maybe it's the fact that like many other pantomime villains in Doctor Who, he just can't stop laughing evilly. Every time he's in shot, Aris breaks into a chorus of "Bwa-ha-ha-ha-haaaa!!" - possibly, he's seen his ridiculous reflection in a mirror, which would account for the mirth. But it completely undermines the menace of the Mara - more on its ultimate manifestation later.
The rest of the Kinda are quite well done. There are four principal characters: Aris, I've just mentioned - the sorriest case for possession ever recorded; the Trickster is a kind of bizarre mute Paul Daniels, full of silly tricks and bug eyes; Karuna is the rather ethereal sidekick to Panna the wise woman, who ultimately takes her place. Panna herself is probably the most successful of the tribe. Resembling a 1000-year-old Joni Mitchell. Played to creepy perfection by Mary Morris, Panna gives as good as she gets, calling The Doctor an idiot (only women can talk in the Kinda clan, you see) and remaining headstrong in the face of the possessed Kinda tribe. She even gets her own (rather odd) cliffhanger when Todd discovers that she's dead after showing the Time Lord and his new friend a vision of what could happen if the Mara ruled.
"Nerys Hughes is very good indeed as Todd, and it's a nicely understated performance. At the time, Doctor Who was now starting to attract more than its fair share of comedy actor guest stars, but this actually worked very well"
Talking of Todd, it's a shame that she couldn't get a regular gig as The Doctor's companion, since she curiously has a better rapport with him than the terrible trio. Nerys Hughes is very good indeed as Todd, and it's a nicely understated performance. At the time, Doctor Who was now starting to attract more than its fair share of comedy actor guest stars, but this actually worked very well. Hughes - she of The Liver Birds - is the perfect foil to The Doctor, and there's even a hint of mutual attraction between the two. Just look at his face when he's forced to say goodbye to her. He even says that paradise is a bit too green for him at the conclusion of the story, hinting that he quite likes his new friend. The Fifth Doctor will be paired up with older-looking women in the future, but it's Nerys Hughes' charming performance that stands as the best example. Peter Davison gives his first definitive portrayal of The Doctor, full of kind wisdom, thought and an edgy temper - especially when dealing with Adric, who typically gets himself trapped in the TSS machine.
Christopher Bailey's multilayered script is well served by Peter Grimwade's imaginative direction. He really goes to town on the more surreal aspects of the story, in particular the Teabag dream sequences and the rather disarming video distorted prophecy at the end of part three. His casting is generally spot on, and even if the production values are a bit hit 'n' miss (the fake interior jungle looks a bit obvious, sadly), Grimwade's direction contains enough style and verve to paper over any shortcomings.
Well, apart from the bouncy castle snake at the end. Given that the Mara has had such a buildup as a badass villain, it's more than disappointing to see it manifest itself as the sort of thing that kids might go and jump on at the fairground. Grimwade again does his best by electronically ghosting the picture to hide the strings, but it's not really enough. Luckily, Snakedance would get it right, but it's a great shame that the Mara looks risible rather than convincing this time around. Although the distorted electronic screech from composer Peter Howell is marvellous (as is the score for the whole story).
Despite this problem though, Kinda is one of the highlights of the season. It's got a dash of adventure, an edge of pyschological horror, and buckets of interesting things to say about the human mind and condition. A bonafide success - as Kate Bush, would say, Wow.
John Bensalhia limbered up for this mammoth task with a full four-series review of Blake's 7, and writes professionally and recreationally all over the web. Check out his portfolio of work at Wordprofectors.
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