Kinda is a fascinating Doctor Who story. There are layers upon layers of subtext to explore. Christopher Bailey draws on Buddhist philosophy but I’m not going to get too hung up on that because it is little more than a case of grabbing a few ideas and making use of some Buddhist names, but this is just part of a rich mix of inspirations such as classical philosophy, fantasy, sci-fi and children’s literature, and in fact Christianity is much more central to the plot than the use of a few Buddhist words. Playing spot-the-source is not much fun, and there is something else that makes Kinda almost unique amongst classic era Doctor Who stories. To get to the heart of that we need to look at some of the characters. And we all love a list, so let’s take a look:
- Hindle (Simon Rouse) is the most convincing portrayal of the descent into madness Doctor Who has ever given us. Reviewers often accuse Rouse of overacting or hamming it up: nonsense. He pitches it perfectly, because here’s the thing about this: we have seen plenty of “power mad conspirators” in Doctor Who, but this is the only genuine attempt to really show mental illness, with all its volatility, instability and uncertainty. In thematic terms Hindle is made unwell by his desire for power, and by the story’s end he has been healed and is at peace. He has a character arc.
- Sanders (Richard Todd). He already has the power that Hindle desires, and he also has the arrogance that goes with that. He abuses his power and has a Victorian empire-builder mentality and scorn for the natives. Like many Doctor Who stories this is an allegory for empire – Doctor Who is a bit hung up on that to say the least. By the story’s end he has learnt to live in harmony with indigenous people and to exercise his power kindly, and is at peace. He has a character arc.
- Todd (Nerys Hughes) descends into terror as something that is a clear parallel with Pandora’s Box is opened, giving us that superficially odd cliffhanger with somebody seemingly overreacting at an empty box. But it’s not a silly moment and it’s not just an excuse for a cliffhanger because she knows the significance of that box. She knows the Greek mythology and, invisibly or not, she is releasing evil into the base. She doesn’t find love at the bottom of the box – she may have desire for the Doctor but Kinda is too busy showing us the dangers of that to allow for anything more than the merest hint of a love interest for the Doctor – but what she does find at the bottom of the box is the same as Pandora finds – hope. She faces her fears and emerges to a picture of a brighter future. She has a character arc.
- Karuna (Sarah Prince) has a coming of age story. There are hints of something between her and Aris (Adrian Mills). Her maturity is a dangerous moment in her life, and there are parallels between the path she follows and that of Tegan, but she is a purer character and has compassion (the Buddhist meaning of her name) so escapes unscathed and inherits the knowledge of maturity from Panna (Mary Morris). She has to learn how to take on responsibility and form the jigsaw puzzle of her life that must include both power and love. She has a character arc.
- Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) is a frightened child. He’s stubborn. He thinks he knows best. Basically he’s an annoying kid, as usual. He has to face his fears and learn that he is not always right about everything. The fact that he fails in this story to entirely learn his lesson will ultimately lead to his demise in three stories time. He has a character arc.
- Tegan (Janet Fielding) is overcome with temptation (which is what “Mara” translates as) and experiences that in a warped Alice in Wonderland surreal dreamscape. This is tied in tightly with Genesis from the Old Testament, with the temptation of sin in the Garden of Eden. In a moment of weakness she gives herself over to possession and lets the evil in which causes her suffering that lasts beyond these four episodes (Dukkha means “pain”). By the end of the story she thinks the evil has been banished but here we come to the story’s one big mistake because the resolution to the story should have come from Tegan’s character arc. Instead it comes from the Doctor finally having an idea, so her journey in this story is undermined and unfinished… but at least that gives us a sequel to look forward to.
So you might or might not agree with all the above, and that’s fine. What’s great about Kinda is that it sparks off so much debate and interpretations and there are many valid ways of looking at it. But that’s not the point of my list above. What I wanted to illustrate with that is how much character stuff there is here. Kinda more than any other classic series story is built on giving each character a genuinely interesting function in the story and a path to follow. That won’t happen again in Doctor Who on this kind of magnificent scale for more than another two decades. Kinda is so ahead of its time that it was astonishingly unpopular at the time, at the lower reaches of the (admittedly remarkably stable) Season Nineteen viewing figures and loathed by many contemporary fans when the virtually-zero-death story flew over the top of their heads. The giant snake didn’t help its cause, and it’s not so much the effects work as the whole tacked-on nature of the conclusion (I believe it was an Eric Saward script editing “fix” for the story) which needed instead to flow naturally from one of the multitude of character arcs, ideally either Hindle or Tegan. You can fix a special effect with CGI on a DVD release, but you can’t fix a weak resolution to a script. RP
The view from across the pond:
I’ve said it many times before but you’ve got to love how Doctor Who tries new things. Monsters-of-the-week are great fun and as a kid, I loved having those recognizable monsters to fight the Doctor every week. I was far less impressed by the two-part Mara series. Here, Doctor Who went for a different approach: this time the monsters came from within. When I was older, however, I re-watched Kinda and found I enjoyed it more than I remembered. It was almost exactly 2 years ago that I last saw this episode though and what do I think, reminiscing after that amount of time?
First, the sense of British Colonialism that pervades the whole episode is wonderful. Sanders has the right look and feel to what one might expect, if a bit the caricature. His transition however makes him hilarious. Back when Stimpy comes in with his “Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy” record in Ren and Stimpy, one can’t help but assume Sanders was the model he used! That look of silly joy on his face, “I brought you a present!” he says with near childlike glee, harkens back to my enjoyment of that silly cartoon! If he had a vinyl disk instead of a wooden box, I would not have been surprised! Sanders offers the box to Hindle (played by Simon Rouse) and he is magnificent! Talk about damaged goods. I found myself laughing frequently at his mania. “When I was a boy I was beaten every day! Didn’t do me any harm!” Oh, it didn’t, eh? Might want to re-assess that statement, old boy! “Must I think of everything myself!” “Fire and acid… acid and fire!” Yes, he’s a broken, abused individual with issues. And that makes him both tragic, dangerous and just a little bit comical!
But really, this episode belongs to Tegan. She makes this episode really stand out. Typically, she’s a whiny, confused character who always seems to be wondering who moved her water dish. However, Janet Fielding shines when given a confident, powerful character to play. As the Mara, she’s scary. Her red-dyed teeth hint at a blood-thirsty force that’s controlling her. She exudes a confidence that really would have been nice to see carry over for her character after this story because it was very refreshing and proves Janet a very capable actress! And though she is often confused, her time in the dream is actually amazingly well done and that confusion is understandable. One scene, for instance, has her being “left alone” by the harlequin character; the scene goes to black with white outlines for both Tegan and the harlequin. It’s stark, alarming. Visually moments like that are extremely impressive and deeply memorable. All of the people Tegan encounters in this nightmare world are visually jarring, in fact, and it creates a perfect atmosphere of dread.
Panna, played by the ever-wonderful Mary Morris, has some great lines: “Keep silent, idiot!” “What is? History is, you male fool!” But her character is far more than meets her blind eyes. When, at one point the Doctor comments on the mark on Aris’ arm, the blind Panna says “the mark of the snake”. She knows without seeing! And her understanding about nature, how things don’t end and begin with destruction but darkness and confusion… wise words indeed.
Unfortunately, the rest of the cast doesn’t fare as well. I have to say Adric is a few cards short of a deck. The truth is, Adric only gets a chance to shine during his final story. At this point, we just see a lot of him running around in his typical pajamas. (Change! For the love of Gallifrey, the TARDIS has a wardrobe!!) I recently commented (in our Planet of the Ood review) that I don’t cheer for many people’s demise…. Adric might be an especially powerful exception. About that bomb, Adric, feel free to try to diffuse it…
The Doctor does not really impress me during this story either. At one point he tries to perform a sleight of hand trick but is found out. When Hindle demands to be shown what the Doctor is holding, he tries to hand it off to the woman (Todd) sitting behind him. When she doesn’t take it, he doesn’t think to drop it? (I do that all the time with my nephew! Why wouldn’t it work for Hindle, who is watching on a camera?) It’s silly oversights like that, that really work against the show. It requires little thought, but somehow it gets overlooked!
Kinda is still not one of my favorites, but it has its moments, primarily made stronger by Tegan. It is far superior to its successor, Snakedance, but never really won me over completely. There are stronger episodes during the Davison era.
I guess one would say I only ever considered it… kinda good.
(It’s not my fault; when they are given to me on a silver platter, I take them!) ML
Read next in the Junkyard… The Visitation