Saturday, 2 November 2013

Kinda written by Christopher Bailey and directed by Peter Grimwade


This story in a nutshell: ‘I was possessed! My mind was taken over by the Mara…’

Fair Fellow: I like how the Doctor approaches his adventures with an optimistic air these days, questioning why they should need the sonic screwdriver. He barely seems to notice that Tegan has been hypnotised by the wind chimes, which seems to be a comment on Janet Fielding’s acting ability. Davison is still a little unsure of how to play his Doctor and is pumping for the grinning idiot more often than not, especially when he first enters the Dome. I’d want to point a gun in the face of man who was that overflowing with geniality. It’s not until The Visitation when he leaps upon the idea of an older man in a younger mans body that is running through Saward’s script like a stick of rock and he plays that to the hilt. In Kinda, as pitch perfect as his performance is, he is still playing Peter Davison in space. He’s appalled at the idea of the Kinda being held captive for study but isn’t assured enough to object too strongly. The reason that the end of episode one works so well is the sudden cut to the Doctor’s haunted face. When the Doctor looks that scared, it’s brown trousers time. Is he an idiot? He has been called one many times so he supposes he must be. The Doctor keeps talking because he doesn’t want to admit that Panna is dead. He’s intuitive and pleasant to be around but this might one of the Doctor’s least effective appearances. He’s deliberately kept back from involving himself in the situation until he learns everything that is going on which is not until about ten minutes before the end of the adventure. Until then he is contented to simply observe and take notes.

One Hit Wonder: The companion for the fifth Doctor that never was. In fact my dream team for Davison would be for the Doctor to dump Adric and Tegan here and take Todd with him and for The Awakening to be the next adventure in his run where he would pick up Will Chandler. The fifth Doctor, Todd, Nyssa and Will would have been a much more fun and far more tolerable team than the one we are stuck with for the rest of the season. It’s bizarre because Todd is exactly the sort of character that JNT axed as a regular on the show, she’s smart and capable like Romana was and has a connection with the Doctor because of it. Todd has never been locked up before and if she is going to join the Doctor on his adventures she better get used to that. She sure has a great set of lungs on her, and a great sense of humour too. She’s asks all the appropriate questions but makes some great observations. She’s basically Nyssa but older and wiser. Hughes might even be a fraction older than Davison (I think the only other time that happens is with Tennant and Tate) and it has a profound difference on the type of show Doctor Who is – it’s another component of the argument for an older companion because every time it occurs it works so well. Their chemistry is immediate and hugely enjoyable to experience. It breaks my heart to see him say his goodbyes to Todd and head back to the three impatient brats waiting outside the TARDIS.

Mouth on Legs: Does the Mara latch onto Tegan because it senses the aggression in her mind? Or is it simply because she was the one who heard the chimes playing on the breeze? In a sequence that is supposed to be nightmarish for a very different reason, the thought of countless Tegan’s being whisked into existence gives me the screaming abdabs. Janet Fielding is acting her socks off during the sequences in Tegan’s mind, especially during the moment when the Mara extinguishes her form and she is trapped in the darkness. There is a really feeling of panic and terror. She agrees to the Mara borrowing her form purely because she is afraid and she wants to wake up. Her scream when the transference takes place is sudden, like a snake lashing out to bite. Fielding vamps it up as the Mara possessed Tegan and it is a pleasingly flirtatious and intimidating spin on the usual grouchbag that we have to endure. What a shame the mental menace transfers to Aris so quickly as found Fielding’s interpretation much more agreeable. After three episodes of being accompanied by the extremely agreeable Todd, Tegan and the Doctor are reunited and she’s immediately griping (‘What’s going on? Who are these people?’). Talk about coming back down to Earth with a bang.

Boy Genius: The production makes Adric look the fool for thinking the surface of Deva Loka is beautiful when it’s clearly anything but. He’s also daft enough to go wandering off on a new planet, get trapped in the wake of alien technology and is the one responsible for their imprisonment in the Dome. This is also the third story in a row where he has sided with the bad guy against the Doctor (whether through choice or against his will…and some might argue that here it was to affect their escape). The boy is a liability. Bailey tries to inject some of that Artful Dodger charm into the boy by giving him magic tricks to perform but he’s so smug with it I just wanted the Doctor to punch him so hard until his nose bled profusely. When Adric agrees with Hindle that the plants are the danger, the Doctor looks crestfallen but that could just be Davison unable to hide his disappointment at Waterhouse’s unconvincing portrayal. The Doctor dumps him at the first opportunity, calling Adric resourceful but I think he meant turncoat. Watch out for the bitch fight between Adric and Tegan in episode four that was inserted to pad out the running time; two unlikable companions, hissing at each other nonsensically. It’s empty dialogue played by empty actors. I would have let the episode under run.

Alien Orphan: Continuing the early Hartnell era theme that runs riot through season nineteen (the links between stories, the overcrowded family in the TARDIS), one of the regulars takes a two episode holiday. Nyssa disappears from the action for a long nap before popping up at the end of the story once the other two regulars have had a decent amount of exposure. Oh if only it could have been Adric.

Unhinged Hindle: I cannot fault the effort of Simon Rouse in Kinda who gives what is possibly one of the most chilling portrayals of a man having a nervous breakdown ever seen on Doctor Who. When you compare it to the comic excesses of David Daker’s Rigg in Nightmare of Eden and Graeme Crowden’s Soldeed in The Horns of Nimon (who are both in similar states of balancing precariously on the edge of insanity and then tipping over the edge due to stimulants in the story) it is a performance packed with nuance and meaning. He manages to go over the top in a very believable way and that is not as easy as you might think, offering up a childlike madness and unpredictability that is genuinely frightening. It is clear from the very first scene that Hindle is edgy and nervous, Hindle’s gag with the mask missing the mark by a country mile. He parades around the Dome trying to boost his confidence but is mocked by all and sundry, even when he quotes the law (of which he is perfectly within his rights to do) he has it thrown in his face. It’s that barely restrained anger that sets my teeth on edge, which turns to outright fear when he smashes up Todd’s laboratory, unable to contain himself anymore. We’ve seen authorities figures in Doctor Who lose their temper before but this is the sheer unhinged violence of a man who just wants to hurt somebody. The thought of leaving him in charge of the others after we have had a sneak peek into his psychological stability is quite frightening. ‘I have the power of life and death over all of you!’ He’s a man who likes playing at being in charge because he knows he never will be. He admits proudly that when he was a boy he was beaten every day but professes it never did him any harm, when we can see the result of this treatment. The sequence when Hindle collapses screaming for his mummy to make the bad man go away is genuinely destabilising moment for the character and a revelation for the audience. Hindle was beaten, he’s terrified of authority figures because of it and now he is reverting to childhood pleading as Sanders returns to the base. This is working on so many levels. Hindle is pushed so far into madness that the only way forward for his character is to heal and the mental repair offered by the box of Jhana doesn’t come a moment too soon. To see him so at peace with himself is far what the climax of this adventure is about for me than the destruction of that ruddy great snake.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘An apple a day keeps the uhhh – no, never mind…’
‘No, no…the trees have no mercy.’
‘If the Kinda are more sophisticated than they first appear then is it not possible that their enemies are also?’
‘Was what we just saw the future or the past?’ ‘Both.’
‘Don’t be silly! You can’t mend people, can you? You can’t mend people!’ – one of the best lines in Doctor Who’s long history. Hindle’s psychosis and fear of never recovering laid bare.
‘I think paradise is a little too green for me as well.’

The Good:
  • The dialogue is astonishingly mature throughout, a cut above what we are used to in Doctor and certainly during this era. Todd and Hindle discuss not only how they should view the Kinda but how the Kinda might view them, with the former worried that they have made a bad impression and the latter not giving a damn as long as they behave themselves. The Kinda themselves are an intriguing species; telepathic and empathic, with mute males and gifted females and daughters with seven fathers.  Technically clever in some ways and primitive ands superstitious in others (they think Hindle has captured their souls in a mirror).
  • One of the finest scores in Doctor Who’s long history. I am a massive fan of Murray Gold’s soundtracks for the new series but I do think he could do well to look over his shoulder and see the subtler, brooding and menacing scores that were created by his forbears in the stuffiest of conditions. Peter Howell was a breath of fresh air after the staleness of Dudley Simpson’s repetitive cues in the latter Tom Baker era, like opening a window in a musty old attic and reminding the audience that there was still wonder, excitement and scares to be found in Doctor Who. I love the hypnotic sting that accompanies the epiphany of opening the box of Jhana and also the disturbing notes of Boys and Girls Come out to Play that accompanies Sanders’ return to the Dome. Howell’s score for the sequences in Tegan’s mind is sparse and uncompromising and about as scary as music ever got in the classic series. The climax is similarly excellent, the Mara’s manifestation is accompanied by a mixture of rattles and shrill screams that drives home the nature of the creature.
  • The one area of design that works perfectly is the Dome, not only because it is packed full of lovely detail that makes the place looked lived but because of the general flat packed look of the place…that is because it is flat packed and his been shipped from Earth to be as functional as possible.
  • The sequences in Tegan’s mind have been over hyped by every person that has ever seen this story that you have to start to wonder if they can ever live up expectation. But they do. And they are the moments where Kinda truly shines and pushes to be something so different from the norm that you sit up and pay attention. The first zoom into Tegan’s eye, her looking over her shoulder in pitch darkness, the spectres of death playing chess in her mind, laughter in the blackout, the constant teasing and manipulations of the Mara who wants her to agree to the creature of the mind borrowing her form…Doctor Who rarely heads down a metaphysical path like this and it has never been this scaled by and nightmarish before. Picked out crisply in the darkness by intense spotlights and with hallucinatory dialogue that worms its way into your mind, this silly science fiction show feels as though for a few short scenes as though it has reached psychological maturity. ‘You will agree to be me sooner or later, this side of madness or the other…’
  • Doctor Who is known for it’s occasionally hammy performances. It is also well known for strong actors giving riveting performances in well chosen roles. In Kinda you have both examples side by side during the Panna/Karuna sequences. In Mary Morris you have an intense, committed performance, stressing the theatrical nature of the part by unearthing nuances while she does. I literally cannot take my eyes off her. With Sarah Price you have a second rate am dram performance from an actress that stresses every line as though it might be her last and who manages to sink some of the more intense moments in the story with her shrill outpourings.
  • The simple mystery of what is in the box makes for a memorably small cliffhanger that is well dramaticised. I love the little toy that comes leaping out. It’s almost a symbol for all those empty moments of jeopardy that make up the majority of the cliffhangers during the eighties.
  • My favourite sequence in Kinda comes at the end of episode three. It encapsulates everything that is weird and wonderful about this tale (plus features three of it’s greatest assets – Peter Davison, Neyrs Hughes and Mary Morris) and highlights the star contributor to this tale, director Peter Grimwade. Not a popular man amongst the actors (but then if you take the time to watch all the documentaries on the DVDs all of the better directors never were, obviously too busy trying to make the show as good as possible to stroke the actors egos at the same time) but producing four unforgettable tales, Grimwade might be mostly remembered for his action epic Earthshock but I would argue that his most creative work can be found in Kinda. Watch as the Doctor and his one-off assistant Todd step into a hallucinogenic prophecy of the future featuring some imagery so trippy that you might think you have swallowed down an overdose of mind altering drugs. The Kinda flap and panic as mist descends over the forest, clocks from all periods stand atop plinths and count down to destruction, Panna oversees Armageddon with her arms stretched wide and the Jester is gripped by a powerful unseen force which laughs as it drags him down into the mist. It is a wildly unusual sequence for Doctor Who but tells the story with little explanation through visual description with some aplomb. The music is lingering, the pace furious and Davison and Hughes express appropriate horror at the fate that awaits them.  Anybody who says that Doctor Who cannot be visually startling on a budget go and watch this mindfuck of a dreamscape and crawl back to your hole. It rather makes a mockery of the production values of the rest of the story.
  • The idea of reducing grown men to the psychological stability of children and giving them explosives to play with chills the blood. ‘Boom!’
  • In a story full of overstatement, Panna’s death is gloriously downplayed. Even Karuna’s newfound wisdom now that she has absorbed her memories makes the event a triumphant one.
  • This story is so frustrating, how it swings from sublime to embarrassing and back to sublime again. The ‘you can’t mend people!’ exchange is phenomenally revealing but is followed by an appalling action sequence that sees Davison and Rouse collapse into a load of tatty cardboard boxes…and that is followed immediately by a breathtakingly tense exchanged between Hindle and Todd (‘Are you frightened of me?’ ‘Terrified’).
  • I haven’t mentioned Richard Todd. He is fabulous.

The Bad:

  • I’ve heard every excuse under the sun about the duff production values that plague this story but none of them wash because said same people are usually criticising other stories for the very same reason they are trying to defend Kinda. This is a deliberately theatrical show with a deliberately theatrical look. The forest sets look fine for the amount of time and money they had to construct them in. Not when you compare them to the gorgeous forest location work in the next story nor the exquisite, authentically misty and alive forest set built for Creature from the Pit just two seasons back. There is a tang of artificialness running right through Deva Loka which made it very hard for me to connect to the setting and it’s importance to the story. It looks like a BBC studio with pot plants covering an unconvincing backdrop and leaves barely disguising the studio floor. The lightning is the biggest hindrance, not subtle or drenched in shadows to suggest any overhanging trees or vines and I never got any sense that there was verdant life existing within the foliage despite the wealth of sound effects. It is a good job that the story and performances are so good to constant distract you from the fact that Deva Loka looks one hundred percent fabricated but it is a genuine problem that you have to be distracted. A forest in a studio? So many planets have run to this theme that Doctor Who should be a dab hand at this sort of thing by now. I love the idea of the wind chimes and the sound effects designer certainly has a field day making the notes as evocative as possible but when you can see they are strips of cheap plastic hanging from a set it loses its magic somewhat.
  • Unfortunately the design inefficiency stretches to the props as well with the TSS machine proving particularly cumbersome and unrealistic. There is simply no way you could hope to traverse the uneven surface of a forest world in such a unwieldy and cramped device. It wobbles perilously up the ramp into the Dome as though it is going to fall over at any minute, unable to perform the simplest of tasks. And the less said about those crappy cardboard guns, the better.
  • Once again the staging issues infect the costume design also with the Kinda, supposedly a ragtag bunch of primitives living outside turning up looking like they have just stepped from a shampoo commercial with lusciously voluminous locks, spanking clean clothes and not a lick of dirt around their faces. Some of the production errors in Kinda you can forgive for the usual round of excuses but in this case it feels as though there has been no meeting between the writer, director and designer to match up the ideas in the script and the visual on screen. The Kinda look like am dram primitives that take a bubble bath every day and get Persil non bio delivered from Earth on a regular basis. How can the audience be shocked by a primitive culture understanding the basis of genetics when it is clear they have a shampoo and set every other day. Sorry if it sounds like I am being facetious but these are genuine flaws in this production that should be addressed. Even the snakes drawn on the arm look like they’ve been done at a third rate funfair by a drunken clown.
  • Adrian Mills is very keen to point out the acting deficiencies of certain other members of the cast, which is quite extraordinary given the own execution of his role. Would you like some pickle with that ham? ‘I…have…spoken! Seize them!’
  • Countering the exquisite dream sequence at the end of episode three is the toe curling action scene in episode four where Adric is trapped in the TSS. Doctor Who is rarely this embarrassing. The shoddily designed piece of apparatus jiggles about whilst the Kinda dance on the spot in an attempt to look menacing, the Jester does some cartwheels, Adrian Mills overacts horribly and Matthew Waterhouse some still manages to be the worst thing about it (looking for all the world like he is about to burst into laughter when he is supposed to be terrified). Grimwade’s worst moment in the directors chair.
  • I wont even go into detail because it is so well documented. All I’ll say is…the giant snake. For all you purists that wont use the CGI features on the DVDs, you are definitely missing out with Kinda.

The Shallow Bit: Nerys Hughes turns up with her blouse provocatively opened, her hair screaming sexy scientist and with spectacles that she borrowed from Deirdre Barlow. It’s enough to get every teenage boy in the audience hard in less time than it would if you gave them an unlimited budget in Forbidden Planet. If you’re a fan of hairy chests then this story should be right up your street. Adric being tortured might please the SM crowd but Waterhouse’s poor acting might distract.

Result: Hindle smashing up Todd’s laboratory. An insidious invasion into Tegan’s mind. The hallucinatory vision of the end of the world. There are some extraordinary sequences in Kinda that pretty much justify the almost universal praise that the story is lavished with. I just wanted to get that off my chest before I add my personal issues with the tale. Sometimes I think Kinda is the ultimate expression of having to suspend your beliefs in order to reap the rewards in Doctor Who. Imagine if you switched on to the series for the first time at the beginning of episode two and you were faced with a man in a silly costume holding a cardboard gun in what is clearly a cardboard set apparently raving about the power and life of death over everybody. As a non-fan it would probably confirm all your worst fears. And yet context is everything. If you had seen Hindle’s slow descent into madness, if you knew that the Dome was supposed to flat packed, if you understood that the gun is just a symbol and that Hindle himself is a far more dangerous weapon… the trouble is you shouldn’t have to dig that deep to be able to overlook all these flaws. You should be able to switch on and what the show without making allowances. You wouldn’t have to do it in Castrovlava just gone or Earthshock to come. You get the impression that those involved are not happy with the finished product. Christopher Bailey considers the production values failed his ambitious script and that he was too pretentious with some of his Buddhist allegories and names, Janet Fielding points at her performance and says that you can see that she is acting whereas Nerys Hughes pulls off the same feat effortlessly and everybody agrees on the commentary that the whole thing is a bit creaky and let down by the way that TV was made at the time. The trouble is, they’re all right. When Peter Grimwade is able to turn the lights down and focus on the actors his direction is typically excellent, inspired even. But under the harsh glow of the studio lights many of the scenes set in the forests of Deva Loka lose any atmosphere and come across as theatrical, so much so that I would even call them mannered. I certainly never got the sense of paradise that the script is clearly aiming for. A garden centre paradise perhaps. Kinda is maturely written, extraordinarily well acted (bar one or two examples) and features some stunning direction. It is also overly pretentious, artificial looking and threatens to lose it’s audience with it’s obscure Buddhist symbolism. Whilst some might declare it the finest Doctor Who story of all time, I couldn’t possibly agree. Some scenes are positively vintage Who, others are the show at it’s nadir. I appreciate the intelligence and maturity but deride the technical limitations and pretentiousness. I wouldn’t want the show to stop trying to make stories like this though, it pushes the envelope in the most fascinating of ways: 7/10


15 Year Old Whovian said...

I feel like teagan could have had an interesting story arc. when she starts off, she is scared and lonely with 3 aliens lost in time and space, which she hides by whining and moaning all the time. as time progresses, as she becomes friends with Nyssa, and remains on good terms with Adric, and her whiny additude slowly crumbles away.eventually she does not want to leave, but then she is left on earth in timeflight. she then comes back in arc of infinity, and continues her adventures with a friendly demeanor and positive look out on life.

on another note, would you rather have had adric stay and teagan leave?

Joe Ford said...

I would buy into your argument if that was genuinely how it played out...but the truth of the matter is that after Tegan returns in season twenty she isn't positive and friendly. In stories such as Mawdryn Undead, The Kings Demons and The Five Doctors she is more abrasive, unfriendly and miserable than ever. I get the argument that she might be initially afraid of her situation when she stumbles into the TARDIS but I strongly feel that the situation was badly written and performed, it plays out far too abrasively for my tastes and as a result, unconvincingly. I have simply never known anybody quite this single mindedly stubborn and whiny.

15 Year Old Whovian said...

I agree with you (although I dont feel as strong about it then you do),but I'm suggesting that if it was played like how I suggested in season 19 ,then the character wouldn't be so bad.

also, congratulations on reading that despite my grammatical errors.

Joe Ford said...

Your grammar was perfectly comprehensible, don't beat yourself up.

Mind you thought you were saying that was how you saw it rather than how you suggested it should have played out...if I had realised my response would have been quite different. Apologies.

Yeah, that is exactly how I would have liked to have seen it happen too with Tegan a much brighter and breezier character in season 20 after choosing to go on travelling with the Doctor. As it is it feels as if she is still being held against her will.

The Big Finish version of Tegan is fantastic, far more humorous and enjoyable to be around. I really wish Alan Barnes was script editing at this time rather than Eric Saward, at least in that respect.

Anthony Pirtle said...