Thursday, May 22, 2008

view from the panopticon- snakedance

08-27-07 "Snakedance"

Showman: People are amused.
Lon: Are they?
Showman: Generally.

The success of "Kinda" no doubt inspired those in the know to commission Christopher Bailey to write a sequel. Unfortunately, unlike Ben Aaronovitch’s later double-whammy, "Snakedance"’s structure and story aren’t nearly as inventive, though the production values are exceedingly high. In fact, I can’t think of a story with better costumes. Honestly.

I can’t say much for Nyssa here. She lets Tegan run away several times and can’t even steal a key without being caught. She doesn’t even make the moves on research assistant Tala up in the hills while waiting for Diogen. She does make a memorable entrance in a really strange outfit: an almost Victorian top with blue diagonal pinstripes and a jauntily cut skirt, with a clashing colorful stripe pattern, over burgundy shorts and high heels (!). I’m so flabbergasted I don’t know what to say. Neither does the Doctor, apparently: "Well?" "We’re not where we’re supposed to be." Sarah Sutton has gorgeous hair, though, and I can see why some fans get a bit lascivious about her. Tegan, meanwhile, is fitfully dozing in a room that’s way too light for anyone to sleep in it.

Great set for the Federator’s palace. The great costumes start here, with Lon’s mother’s Roman-inspired gown and hairstyle. The script’s a bit blander, with the Federatress (?) telling Lon "how much better life is under the Federation." I try not to think of Star Trek, but it’s hard. We find out that the primitive culture before the Federation "handled live snakes . . . something to do with their religion." Alluding to many cults over the centuries on different continents . . . Then Ambrill walks in with another costume to make me gleeful, this one medieval Russian and fab. He proves a rather good character, even if he does fulfill the usual role of scientific doubter/foil to the Doctor. I like the fact that the Mara seduce him by offering him priceless antiques.
"Please, Tegan, think," the Doctor snaps before deciding "simple hypnosis" will tell him what he needs to know. Strangely, this hypnosis includes something that looks suspiciously like an iPod. I have to wonder at the Doctor’s logic, getting Tegan to wear something that doesn’t let her hear—how long is Tegan really going to put up with that? To be fair, the Doctor’s celery does look a little wilted.

It’s too bad the market scenes could not be filmed on location, instead of in a studio, because with the amount of money they’ve obviously spent on props and costumes, the third component they needed was location. Nevertheless, it looks pretty good overall—quasi-Arabian Nights or Samarkand. We meet the showman, who is quite good, and wearing another exciting Russian-inspired costume. Trumping his costume, however, is Lon’s, which is fabulously futuristic and vaguely piratical 17th century at the same time. There are some quasi-Egyptian pictograms in an unfortunately constructed cave (again, should have gone to location). There are shades of the Seventh Doctor as the Doctor goads Tegan to enter the cave even though he knows it’s causing her emotional distress.

Peter Howell is providing some very end-era Davison music ("Five Doctors" and "Caves of Androzani"). Tegan scares the bejesus out of a phony fortuneteller (who nonetheless has another very good Slavic costume), and Janet Fielding no doubt revels in getting to act evil. Again, I’m a little at a loss as none of the episode endings are preserved, but I suspect that was one of them. It occurs to me, too, that Bailey created Death Eaters before there were Death Eaters with the snake symbol that migrates from Tegan’s arm to Lon’s. Obviously my Phantom obsession will always cause me to comment on mirrors, though the sort of funhouse sequence could have been so much more inspired.

The Federatress gets to don an absolutely gorgeous Tsarina costume in pink with a Russian-style tiara. I’m even impressed with the props that are supposed to be archaeological artifacts (such as the Six Heads of Deception . . . how did they afford this stuff?). Later, when Lon and Ambrill enter the cave, they even have super cool candlesticks that light up. Meanwhile, the Doctor, though generally having not done much of anything this episode, gets himself locked up in, again, a wonderful-looking prison cell! Just as I reflect that, ha ha, he doesn’t have the sonic screwdriver to get him out, Nyssa notes the same thing. She gets thrown in with him, and I find I am as impatient as they are. Too bad they didn’t have Will Turner around to apply leverage to the double-barrel hinges.

How the actor playing Diogen manages to act his way through most of the episode not speaking at all impresses me, as he still comes across trustworthy and likeable. I like his Russian beggar costume too. The only costume I don’t like in the entire thing is Lon’s during the ceremony, which looks like it was made with ‘80s puff paints, sateen, and gold spray-painted cardboard. Oh, I forgot to make a comment about the very ‘80s earring. At least no one ever made Captain Jack wear an earring. I’m amazed that, in the end, no one dies, not even the Showman (which is good, since I liked him). Not even Lon, for all this stupidity, or bumbling Ambrill. Tegan, of course, will be emotionally scarred for life if she isn’t already—I’ve never seen "Mawdryn Undead" all the way through so I don’t know if any time is given for her healing—on to further emotional rape in "Enlightenment." You can sort of tell that Nyssa’s being written out (I’ve never seen "Terminus"), but I think all three are past their prime.

I’m not really afraid of snakes. I handled them a lot when I was younger, so I don’t find them slimy or repulsive. The snake skull sitting on Tegan’s neck is a pretty disconcerting image, but other than that, I can’t say giant Mara inspire me with too much fear. I’m kind of curious what else Bailey had in mind—did he perhaps envision a trilogy? I’m afraid it’s kind of the end of the line for me for awhile . . . I don’t have all of the Black Guardian trilogy nor much of Davison’s last season. I won’t have as much time to watch Doctor Who for awhile. It’s funny, every time I watch a story, I just want to keep watching. I love the show so much. I really hope I can be around for original broadcast of season 4, but if not, I’m lucky to live in a time when new episodes are being written and produced and of such quality.

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