Review [Doctor Who]: "Kinda"

This is the first of my Doctor Who reviews that I’ll be posting here; hopefully, this blog will give me an added incentive to keep up with my re-viewing, and reviewing, of the series a little more regularly. You can view my website where I archive all my reviews here.

19×3. Kinda
Writer: Christopher Bailey
Director: Peter Grimwade
Script Editor: Eric Saward
Producer: John Nathan-Turner

Synopsis: The TARDIS arrives on the planet Deva Loka, where a group of human explorers have an uneasy relationship with the native Kinda and some of their personnel have recently disappeared. The Doctor and Adric are drawn into the conflict between Sanders, who commands the mission, and Hindle, his increasingly unstable subordinate, while Tegan is contacted and briefly controlled by the Mara, a malevolent entity that manifests as a snake.

Review: The long era of John Nathan-Turner as Doctor Who‘s executive producer has sparked considerable debate among fans, but one positive development at this point was that the show was starting to experiment a little more in both style and content. “Kinda” stands alongside “Warrior’s Gate” and perhaps “Logopolis” as one of the clearest examples of this: while we’ve certainly seen critiques of imperialism on the show before, I don’t think we’ve seen one quite like this.

In a serial like “The Power of Kroll,” for example, we see a conflict between an opportunistic human leader and some locals with strange religious practices, but there isn’t any big mystery as to what’s really happening and why. It’s difficult to imagine any of the earlier eras of Doctor Whoattempting something like Tegan’s nightmare, in which she encounters a sinister young man who seems to represent the Mara and finds herself arguing with her own duplicate over which of them is real. Prior to “Warrior’s Gate,” I’d have to go all the way back to “The Mind Robber” for a serial that involves a similarly bizarre alternate reality sequence. The Kinda themselves are suitably alien, with most of the population communicating only through telepathy and actual speech as a mark of advanced wisdom. And while the giant rubber snake at the end is a little embarrassing, such things are perhaps inevitable on Doctor Who‘s budget, and the concept of the Mara – an entity that takes control of others by manipulating them through dreams – adds to the sense of Deva Loka as a very strange place.

“Kinda” earns points for taking a creative approach to what could have been a formulaic imperialists-vs.-indigenous-people conflict. Unfortunately, the characterizations are more of a mixed bag. Hindle is the most interesting guest character, in that he’s gone insane due neither to egotistical hubris nor to the manipulations of the Mara, but because he’s simply cracked under pressure. Unlike the one-note villains we’ve seen in weaker Doctor Whoentries, he’s genuinely unpredictable, going from bellowing at the Doctor and Adric to panicking at the notion that the trees and vegetation pose a threat to even calling out for his mother. Sanders and Todd, on the other hand, seem unfazed by the situation to a curious degree. Todd acknowledges that the mission is in trouble, but the tension and dread we’d expect from someone in her situation aren’t there – instead, she mostly acts as a sort of substitute-companion for the Doctor when his actual companions are separated from him. Sanders, meanwhile, is so blithely unconcerned that he might as well have “imperialist doofus” written across his forehead, stating matter-of-factly that they’ve taken two Kinda hostage out of “standard procedure” and that he never thinks twice because it’s a waste of time. I realize that the character is supposed to be arrogant and out of touch, but some of his behavior verges on a complete absence of rational thought or common sense (even before his mind is affected by the mysterious Box of Jhana).

Overall, I’m relatively content with this new incarnation of the Doctor. Peter Davison, at 29, was the youngest actor to take the role at the time, and the Fifth Doctor does display a sort of breezily personable and curious manner that I might well call “youthful,” while still displaying a mix of wisdom, whimsy, and occasional irritability that reflect the character’s vast experience and unique intelligence. When Adric accidentally activates a robotic survival suit that takes them both prisoner, for example, the Doctor observes that “[t]here is a difference between serious scientific investigation and meddling.” However, there are a couple of instances where it’s unclear whether what we’re seeing is a deliberate quirk of characterization or the same sort of oddly laid-back attitude that seems so inappropriate from Sanders and Todd. Specifically, he seems to think both Tegan and Adric are okay on their own at one point, and he is quite clearly wrong on both counts. Tegan falls asleep in the woods and becomes prey to the Mara’s psychic attacks, and Adric finds himself in the midst of another crisis at the colonization team’s headquarters. Without any direct acknowledgment of this issue, we’re left to guess as to whether the Doctor is actually meant to be seen as making a mistake.

“Kinda” gets a positive recommendation for its creative approach and underlying concepts. Still, it definitely could have been better when it comes to telling a coherent story. The effort to stop the Mara only develops at the end and feels like it’s over rather quickly, and it’s never explained what happened to the three missing personnel. I’m all for weird flights of imagination when it comes to Doctor Whoand science fiction in general, but after “Four to Doomsday” and now this, I’m hoping to see a little more structure to the narrative next time around.

Other Notes:
– Nyssa’s sudden fainting spell at the end of “Four to Doomsday” really amounted to absolutely nothing. She’s out of the action recuperating for most of “Kinda,” but it turns out to have nothing to do with Monarch, the Mara, or anything else that the TARDIS crew have encountered. (Reportedly, the script was developed before a firm decision had been made to make Nyssa a companion.)

– I couldn’t help but snicker a little bit when the Doctor constructs a device to help Nyssa recover around the sonic screwdriver and casually dismisses Adric’s concern that they might need it. Right, because none of the seemingly benign situations the Doctor encounters ever turn out to be the least bit dangerous.

Rating: *** (out of four)

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