Kinda, by Frank Collins (and Christopher Bailey, and Terrance Dicks)

I vividly remember watching Kinda when it was first shown in 1982, and being a little baffled but also a little reassured; I wanted interesting adventures on distant planets, like we had largely had in the Tom Baker years, and apart from the one production fail of the snake itself, we got it.

When I rewatched it in 2008, I wrote:

I also saw Kinda on first showing in 1982, and in some ways it is even less comprehensible than Logopolis, though in other ways it is fairly clear what is going on – giant pink snake trying to penetrate Tegan’s inner recesses, and all that. It is one of Doctor Who’s most successful takes on colonialism (a theme the Pertwee era consistently tried and failed with) even though that isn’t really the point of the story. Wood and Miles point to the influence of Ursula Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest, and while I can see that, I think it may be a more general reflection of the ecological concerns of the day. The deep themes are laid on pretty heavily – the apple in paradise, the reflections of the “real” world in Tegan’s dream, and on the whole we are shown rather than told about it. There are some impressive performances – Janet Fielding as Tegan of course, the three colonial officers (though we never find out what happened to their missing colleagues) the two Kinda women and the Trickster, which means you can almost overlook the cheapness of the sets and how wooden Adric is. Rather fascinating.

When I rewatched it in 2011 as part of my Great Rewatch, I wrote:

I had forgotten quite how fantastic Kinda is. Even the snake at the end is not as bad as I remembered. But it’s a brilliant tour de force of explorations of reality, possession by spiritual forces, possession by colonial agents, about speaking and not speaking. Again, Janet Fielding is the best of the regular cast, but everyone is good, especially of course Simon Rouse as the increasingly deranged Hindle, and Mary Morris – only in two of the four episodes, but bloody hell, what a performance – as Panna. But nobody is actually bad; Nerys Hughes and Richard Todd, big name actors hired to perform auxiliary parts, lift it; even Matthew Waterhouse, delivered with yet another Adric-as-potential-traitor script, more or less rises to the occasion; and though I see some fan criticism of Sarah Prince as Karuna I must say I find her performance pretty luminous and interesting.

It does show the value of watching Who in sequence. Taken as an attempt at a serious big-picture SF story, it would probably fail because of the limited means available. But when one bears in mind the production constraints, and considers the story as a televised theatrical piece, it really ought to blow you away. I don’t have time or energy to wax more lyrical on the subject, so just let me refer you to a brilliant write-up of the story here. [link now long dead].

Just before we go any further, here is Mary Morris 42 years earlier at the age of 25, performing the dance of the robotic Silver Maiden in The Thief of Baghdad:

As with Paradise Towers, I enjoyed revisiting Kinda, and it almost reminds me of the early Hartnell stories which were trying to tell big picture space parables in a fairly small production and budget space. Adric is still annoying, and the snake still disappoints, but the rest of it all works very well, and this was a rewatch that was more rewarding than I had hoped.

An easy pass for the Bechdel test, with four women guest characters and at least one regular (Nyssa only in briefly, but two versions of Tegan), all of whom talk to each other about various things other than men.

Terrance Dicks wrote the novelisation, and it’s not one of his more energetic efforts. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

She stared challengingly at this new apparition. ‘I suppose you’re also going to tell me I don’t exist?’

When I reread it in 2008, I wrote:

Another standard write-up, not doing any favours to a story whose impact was visual and implicit.

Nothing to add to that. You can get it here.

Frank Collins’ Black Archive monograph on the story follows his previous writing on Warriors Gate and on the first Matt Smith season. As usual, it is dense but enjoyable, one of the longer Black Archives, with seven chapters. Like the monograph of Paradise Towers, it has clearly benefited from a lot of dialogue with the original writer of the story, in this case Christopher Bailey.

The first chapter, ‘An Eccentric Chain-Smoking Buddhist’, looks at Bailey’s personal biography and other work, and convincingly shows how a mild-mannered but politically radical playwright who had not previously touched science fiction ended up writing Kinda.

The second chapter, ‘Only Ever One Ingredient in the Stew’, looks head-on at the Buddhist themes in the story (and the limited visibility of Buddhism elsewhere in Doctor Who).

The third chapter, ‘The Important Part is the Melody’ looks at the behind-the-scene story of the commissioning and production of Kinda. In particular, Eric Saward as script editor rewrote large parts of the last two episodes, and Christopher Bailey then rewrote them again. Its second paragraph is:

However, changes were made to the scripts of The Kinda under the guidance of three different script editors. After his initial consultation with Bidmead, apart from several phone calls and letters, Bailey doesn’t recall meeting in person with him again. Bidmead later saw that Bailey was exploring a ‘strong Buddhist element’ on his own terms and while Kinda ‘lacked the form and structure and indeed the sort of subject that I thought was essential to Doctor Who […] nevertheless, it had an extraordinarily haunting quality to it’3.
3 Bidmead, ‘Dream Time’.

The fourth and longest chapter, ‘The Power of Life and Death, Over All of You!’, starts by looking at the casting of Richard Todd and Simon Rouse and the postcolonial context (unfortunately he says nothing about Nerys Hughes), and goes on to look at theories of ancient science, and then sources of inspiration such as Ursula Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, with a brief coda on cargo cults.

The fifth chapter, ‘Otherwise Out There Gets In. Do You See?’, looks at Hindle’s disintegration, Christianity and imperialism, matriarchy and the Box of Jhana, and the Mara and Janet Fielding’s sensuous performance.

The sixth chapter, ‘The Mara Turns the Wheel of Life. It Ends as it Began’, begins and ends with the Box of Jhana again, and also looks at the unfortunate fact that all the actors are white and how this intersects with the colonial themes, and at the uncomfortable role of prophecy in the story.

The seventh chapter, ‘There is Great Danger in Dreaming Alone’, looks at dark places (Conrad again), the imperfect implementation of Bailey’s vision for gender roles among the Kinda, and the late rewrites of especially the last episode to foreground the Buddhist themes more visibly.

I sometimes complain about the Black Archives on less good Doctor Who stories, that they cannot bear the freights of the interpretation placed on them by the Black Archive authors. This is not one of those cases, and it’s a great rick unpacking of the themes informing the story and how they were realised on the screen. (Though I’d still have liked a bit more about Nerys Hughes.) You can get it here.

The Black Archives
1st Doctor: Marco Polo (18) | The Dalek Invasion of Earth (30) | The Romans (32) | The Massacre (2)
2nd Doctor: The Underwater Menace (40) | The Evil of the Daleks (11) | The Mind Robber (7)
3rd Doctor: Doctor Who and the Silurians (39) | The Ambassadors of Death (3) | The Dæmons (26) | Carnival of Monsters (16) | The Time Warrior (24) | Invasion of the Dinosaurs (55)
4th Doctor: Pyramids of Mars (12) | The Hand of Fear (53) | The Deadly Assassin (45) | The Face of Evil (27) | The Robots of Death (43) | Talons of Weng-Chiang (58) | Horror of Fang Rock (33) | Image of the Fendahl (5) | The Sun Makers (60) | The Stones of Blood (47) | Full Circle (15) | Warriors’ Gate (31)
5th Doctor: Kinda (62) | Black Orchid (8) | Earthshock (51) | The Awakening (46)
6th Doctor: Vengeance on Varos (41) | Timelash (35) | The Ultimate Foe (14)
7th Doctor: Paradise Towers (61) | Battlefield (34) | The Curse of Fenric (23) | Ghost Light (6)
8th Doctor: The Movie (25) | The Night of the Doctor (49)
Other Doctor: Scream of the Shalka (10)
9th Doctor: Rose (1) | Dalek (54)
10th Doctor: The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (17) | Love & Monsters (28) | Human Nature / The Family of Blood (13) | The Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords (38)
11th Doctor: The Eleventh Hour (19) | Vincent and the Doctor (57) | The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang (44) | The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon (29) | The God Complex (9) | The Rings of Akhaten (42) | Day of the Doctor (50)
12th Doctor: Listen (36) | Kill the Moon (59) | Dark Water / Death in Heaven (4) | Face the Raven (20) | Heaven Sent (21) | Hell Bent (22)
13th Doctor: Arachnids in the UK (48) | Kerblam! (37) | The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos (52) | The Haunting of Villa Diodati (56) | Flux (63)