Wheel turns, civilisations arise, wheel turns, civilisations fall. Doctor Who – Kinda

tegan doctor chimes

Like Warriors’ Gate, Kinda was written by someone new to television and required a substantial rewrite before it was of broadcast standard.  And while Christopher Bailey, like Steve Gallagher before him, had a very clear vision of what he wanted to achieve, there had to be a comprise between his original story concept and what script editors Christopher H. Bidmead and Eric Saward required from him in order to produce a Doctor Who story.

Bailey approached the Doctor Who production office in 1980 with a story outline entitled The Kinda.  The inspiration for The Kinda was derived from Ursula K. Le Guin‘s 1976 novel The Word for World Is Forest.

The Word For World Is Forest by Ursula K. LeGuin
The Word For World Is Forest by Ursula K. LeGuin

Le Guin’s novel is set several hundred years in the future and concerns a human colony which has been established on the planet Athshe.  Athshe is an unspoilt paradise which the humans regard as rich for exploitation.  The Athsheans appear to be docile and primitive and have a culture based on “dream-time” in which they share their thoughts.

Although Kinda does superficially resemble this brief outline, Le Guin’s novel develops in quite a different way as some of the humans, particularly Captain Davidson, enslave large portions of the Athsheans and his cruelty eventually results in a revolt from the Athsheans with a considerable loss of life.

In Kinda nobody dies (except Panna, and as her knowledge and experience were passed over to Karuna, it’s debatable if we can regard this as a “death”).  The disappearance of three of the expedition party (Roberts and two others) prior to the TARDIS crew arriving is more of a mystery and is never explained.  Hindle (Simon Rouse) does, like Davidson in Le Guin’s novel, enslave some of the natives and poses a considerable threat to them, but unlike Davidson, Hindle is redeemed.

Christopher H. Bidmead was very impressed with The Kinda.  For him, it was exactly the sort of intelligent science fiction he was always striving to find.  Bailey was commissioned to provide a full story breakdown in summer 1980.  He was briefed to include two companions (as this was before Nyssa was added to the crew) and as Tom Baker hadn’t yet decided to quit, it was written with the fourth Doctor in mind.

Bidmead found plenty of interest in the story breakdown but was well aware that a great deal of work needed to be done in order to turn it into a Doctor Who story.  One major problem was that it lacked any villains – instead the conflicts came from the various choices and temptations faced by the characters.  One of Bidmead’s first recommendations to Bailey was to make the Mara much more of a tangible, corporeal presence.

Although rehearsal scripts had been delivered by August 1980, it was clear that it wouldn’t be ready in time to form part of S18, so it was deferred until S19.  By this time Tom Baker had been replaced by Peter Davison and a third companion, Nyssa, had been added to the mix.  And by early 1981, Eric Saward was now in the script editors chair and he continued to work with Bailey on the scripts.

One early decision made by Saward was not to ask for the scripts to be rewritten in order to include Nyssa.  It was felt that her absence would benefit the story as it would allow the other characters more room for development.

Thanks to Bidmead’s input, episodes one and two were in a workable shape but episodes three and four still required a substantial amount of work.   For example, Saward would later comment that he always had a great deal of difficulty in getting Bailey to understand the importance of including a strong cliff-hanger at the end of each episode.

Saward’s major contribution to the script was the ending, where the Mara is drawn from the body of Aris and banished from Deva Loka forever.  Bailey understood in the end that dramatically the serial needed such a conclusion, originally he had written something much more low-key.

Eventually, filmable scripts were delivered and John Nathan-Turner assigned Peter Grimwade to direct.  Although they were later to have a spectacular falling out, at the time Grimwade was one JNT’s favourite directors.  He had already directed Full Circle and Logopolis and would direct Earthshock towards the end of S19.  Grimwade would also pen three stories for Davison’s Doctor – Time-Flight, Mawdryn Undead and Planet of Fire.

Grimwade was able to assemble an impressive cast, headed by Richard Todd.  Todd had been one of the major stars of British cinema during the 1950’s (probably best known for The Dam Busters) but the decline of the film industry in the 1960’s meant he had spent more time acting on the stage during the 1970’s and by the early 1980’s he had also instructed his agent to look for interesting television roles.

Nerys Hughes was a familiar television face, thanks to her ten-year stint on The Liver Birds.  Following the end of that series she had found other television work harder to come by, so this was a welcome role for her to re-establish her profile.

Mary Morris had had an extensive career in film, stage and television.  For fans of British telefantasy though, she was probably best known for her roles in A For Andromeda and The Prisoner.

Simon Rouse was still a number of years away from his defining role as DCI Meadows in The Bill, but he was in good company in Kinda, as several other Sun Hill regulars such as Jeffrey Stewart (Dukkha) and Graham Cole (member of the Kinda tribe) were also present.

L-R Simon Rouse, Nerys Hughes, Richard Todd, Peter Davison and Mathew Waterhouse
L-R Simon Rouse, Nerys Hughes, Richard Todd, Peter Davison and Mathew Waterhouse

The decision was made to shoot the entire story in the studio.  Although this meant that the forest would occasionally look a little stagey it worked quite well, although there were some problems.  Early on it became clear that the movement of the TSS machine and the cameras caused the covering of leaves to be swept away and revealed the studio floor underneath.  For later days, more leaves were brought in, but the floor can still be seen at various times during the story.

Story-wise, Kinda is interesting in that there are two main plot-threads (Hindle’s madness and the Mara crossing over in to the real world via Tegan/Aris) which run totally independently of each other. Both of the plot-threads offer the same possibility of destroying the Kinda and starting again the wheel of life as described by Panna in episode three.

As episode one begins, we see Adric and Nyssa playing draughts outside the TARDIS.  The fact that Adric is easily able to beat her is a clear indication that she is not herself.  The Doctor rigs up a delta wave augmenter in order to allow her to have 48 hours worth of uninterrupted sleep whilst the Doctor, Adric and Tegan explore their new surroundings.

As happens so often in Doctor Who, the three are very quickly separated.  The Doctor and Adric end up at the Dome whilst Tegan sleeps alone under the wind chimes.  One intriguing aspect of the story is how events are repeated.  For example, when Tegan enters the dreamscape she encounters two old people playing chess which mirrors the same scene between Adric and Nyssa.  Are the people in Tegan’s dream her subconscious representations of Adric and Nyssa?

"You will agree to believe in me sooner or later. This side of madness or the other."
“You will agree to believe in me sooner or later. This side of madness or the other.”

As Tegan is offered a way out of her nightmare by Dukkha (which like many of the names in Kinda has a Buddhist translation, this one means suffering or anxiety) the Doctor and Adric meet the survivors of the survey team.  They seem to be all quite recognisable archetypes – Sanders is the uptight leader and a stickler for discipline, Hindle is the rigid security officer who probably believes he should be in charge and Todd is the scientist with probably the best grasp on the reality of the situation.  Two of these three will change dramatically during the course of the story.

Sanders decides to solve the mystery of his three missing team members and ventures into the forest.  There he meets Panna (wisdom) and Karuna (compassion) who offers him the Box of Jhana (meditation).

The properties of the Box of Jhana do seem to change during the story.  At this point it’s designed to send a message to the humans in order to bring them to the cave so that Panna can explain about the wheel of life and why they must leave Deva Loka.

The only problem with this is that the Box of Jhana can only be opened safely by a woman.  Since five of the six members of the survey team were probably male, this is a bit awkward.  Why Panna couldn’t visit the Dome and leave a more straightforward message is a plot-hole that is never explained.

When Sanders opens the box he regresses to childhood, although this is only temporary.  Eventually he re-emerges as a whole and better-adjusted person than he seemed to have been at the start of the story.  Hindle becomes dangerously psychotic so that when he looks into the box it resets the balance of his mind.  The Doctor concludes that the Box of Jhana is a Kinda healing device, which is somewhat different from the start of the story when it was designed to send a message.  Perhaps it does both at the same time?

Sarah Prince and Mary Morris
Sarah Prince and Mary Morris

Tegan is still trapped in her dreaming and agrees to let the Mara (the personification of unwholesome impulses) take over her body.  Janet Fielding’s three previous broadcast stories had all been somewhat problematic for her character and Kinda is the first time that she’s been allowed to really act.  But given that this is seen as a Tegan-centric story, it’s a little surprising that she doesn’t have all that much screen time.

All of her key scenes are in the first two episodes, although if you added up all the sequences in the dreamscape then they wouldn’t run for too long.  Her re-emergence into Deva Loka, now possessed by the Mara, is another stand-out moment (but again it’s a fairly short scene).  She’s then pretty much absent for episode three and only rejoins the narrative in the last episode.  But this is definitely a story where quality outweighs quantity and what she does is certainly memorable.

Matthew Waterhouse has more screen time and spends a large amount of the middle part of the story sharing three-handed scenes with Richard Todd and Simon Rouse.  The story of Waterhouse offering the vastly experienced Richard Todd tips on acting is legendary, but Waterhouse doesn’t fare too badly against these two quality actors.

At the start of the story we know perfectly well what sort of character Sanders is.  We’ve seen his type in countless films, books and television programmes before (indeed, his name is a direct lift from the British empire yarn Sanders of the River).  So his return to the Dome as a wide-eyed childish innocent is a major jolt.

By far the most difficult role in the story is portrayed by Simon Rouse.  Doctor Who has portrayed mad and unbalanced people before, but none quite like this.  It’s a tour-de-force performance.

Eventually the Box of Jhana is delivered to somebody that can understand the message and Dr Todd and the Doctor venture out to find Panna.  With Tegan isolated for much of the story and Adric teamed up with Sanders and Hindle this leaves the Doctor and Todd together.

Nerys Hughes worked very well with Davison, indeed she could have made a very interesting companion.  There’s certainly more of a connection between the two of them than there has been between the Doctor and Adric, Nyssa and Tegan in his first few stories.

The Kinda, like many of the civilisations seen in S18, exist in a form of stasis.  Panna explains to Aris, the Doctor and Todd why the presence of the Dome and the Mara threatens the Kinda’s idyllic existence –

PANNA: Please. What are you going to do?
ARIS: We shall destroy the dome. The Not-we must be killed. This is our duty.
PANNA: You fool, you blind male fool. Do you think it ends there?
ARIS: We shall be free.
PANNA: Of course not. It doesn’t end there. That is how it all begins again, with a killing. It doesn’t end. That ends as it has always done, in chaos and despair. It ends as it begins, in the darkness. Is that what you all want?

DOCTOR: Did you see the design on his arm?
TODD: What design?
PANNA: The sign of the snake.
DOCTOR: Yes, that’s right.
PANNA: It is the mark of the Mara, the evil ones.
TODD: Doctor, I really think we should …
DOCTOR: What do you know of the Mara?
PANNA: It is the Mara who now turn the wheel. It is the Mara who dance to the music of our despair. Our suffering is the Mara’s delight, our madness the Mara’s meat and drink. And now he has returned.

The Mara (in the body of Aris) doesn’t, it has to be said, seem to pose much of a threat.  The Kinda lack any weapons and Aris’ decision to build his own TSS Machine (from wood) might work symbolically but is no match for the real machine even when piloted by the inexperienced Adric.

Hindle is a much more immediate threat, but luckily he opens the Box of Jhana just in time, which solves that problem.  This only leaves the job of extracting the Mara from Aris and banishing it from Deva Loka.

With the help of the Kinda, the Doctor traps the Mara within a circle of mirrors.  As he says: “No Mara can bear the sight of its own reflection. It must recoil from itself. Understandably, don’t you think, given it’s nature.”

The plan works, although for some the sight of the puppet snake is a major problem.  Luckily there is now a CGI snake option for those that object to the original.

It's better than the Skarasen, anyway.
It’s better than the Skarasen, anyway.

After its initial transmission in 1982, Doctor Who fandom was split over the merits of this story.  Let’s look at some of the differing opinions.

Kinda was by far the most mind-taxing story of the season, [but] despite the complex nature of the story I thoroughly enjoyed watching it — every moment was brilliant.”
(Michael Emmerson, Views, News and Reviews)

“The one feature cursed by all and sundry though was that wretched snake. With its balance of good and bad scenes Kinda was good, but not, like so much of this season, excellent.”
(Cloister Bell)

“I felt Kinda was an exceptionally good story, but it lacked something. I regret having to put it last in the DWAS poll, but the other stories far surpassed normal standards.”
(Tim Westerman, Laseron Probe)

Kinda was one of the most visually striking stories since the Hinchcliffe era. Television is a visual art, but it is a rare treat to see work of such high artistic quality.”
(Simon Lydiard, Skaro)

The 2014 DWM poll ranked it at number 63 out of 241 stories, which is fairly respectable.  It probably should be higher, since for me it’s an exceptional story that manages to transcend the limitations of the studio environment to produce a story of some depth. It’s certainly a story that repays multiple rewatches in order to discover the various different layers of meaning contained within.

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