19.3 – “Kinda”
Deva Loka, planet of the primitive Kinda, is being assessed for suitability for colonisation, but crew members venturing out into the jungle have not been returning. Could the natives be growing restless? Meanwhile, Nyssa’s cried off from the adventure with a headache, Tegan’s fallen asleep within five minutes and Adric continues to perfect his trademark turncoat moves by (possibly) joining the bad guys for the third time this season.
Doctor Who, let’s be fair, doesn’t always try any harder than it needs to. When it finds a good storytelling formula it quite often likes to wring every last drop out of it, be that formula “the base is under siege”, “The Master is up to his old tricks”, “a classic Hammer Horror film is reworked”…you get the idea. And generally the fans lap this kind of thing up: once you’ve hit on something that is sufficiently “classic” you can do whole seasons of it with only minor variations on the basic theme and they will ride high in the polls for decades to come. So there are definitely two schools of thought when something comes along at a bit of a right angle to the standard template. Some find mould-breaking stories like “Kinda” a breath of fresh air, a refreshing and stimulating change from business as usual. Others are horrified and insulted. What’s the point of “The Enemy of the World” when it fails to bring a monster or a base to the base-besieged-by-monsters season? Why does “Ghost Light” spend so much time being verbally clever at the expense of returning foes and stuff exploding? Boo hiss to anything like “Love and Monsters”, which dares to be meta and ironic and ask what it is that we love when we love Doctor Who.
There are a lot of fans, in short, who want the show to be as straightforward as possible. Give us scary monsters, give us serious science fiction (n.b. must never send itself up), give us some soldiers shooting guns at aliens, give us some top-flight production values to minimise that tricky suspension of disbelief problem. That’s all they ask. Then along comes something like “Kinda” that withholds all this stuff, subverts the standard expectations, and it can make them… kinda angry. The annual Doctor Who Magazine poll at the time rated “Kinda” the worst story of Season 19 and indeed the first three stories of season 19 as its worst three stories. Yep, despite healthy audience figures, the cultured, thoughtful, ideas-driven Doctor Who that I’ve been largely raving about on this site was going down in some quarters like a lead balloon and “Kinda” the leadenest balloon of the lot.
Let’s talk about some of the aforementioned things that must be in Who for the po-faced Real Who contingent to be on board and how “Kinda” fails to deliver them:
SCARY MONSTERS: Reluctantly, the “real fans” do admit that you can’t actually just alternate Dalek and Cyberman stories all the time. It is, in fact, acceptable to leaven that mixture with the occasional Sontaran or Ice Warrior outing. Horrifyingly though, “Kinda” continues the JNT era’s trend of not only not featuring a 60’s enemy, but not having any kind of rubber-suited alien hoodlums at all. In this one, the closest we get to some very-very-slowly-clomping-up-corridors menace is a dark force within the psyche called the Mara, who appears to have been the serpent in the garden of Eden, and is quite possibly also encoded in human DNA. Well, actually, the real enemy is misunderstanding and miscommunication between left-brained versus right-brained, rational versus intuitive, basically benevolent opposing factions, but you try selling that to a humourless nerd without the help of a giant writhing rubber snake.
SERIOUS SCI-FI: “Kinda” is a heavily philosophical piece – author Christopher Bailey was exploring his ideas about Buddhism in it, though of course he then plonks the serpent from the garden of Eden into the mix so it’s clearly something of a smorgasbord. Despite some promising initial space-dome-on-jungle-planet setup, nothing is solved with rayguns, polarity reversals or large quantities of explosives. A key revelation in episode 4 is that “the one thing evil cannot face is itself” and, as such, the Mara is defeated by dint of a circle of mirrors. This may seem like small potatoes in the light of the 21st century show, where alien invasions are routinely defeated by love, faith, or singing, but at the time it was quite unacceptable for a storyline to be resolved by poetic metaphor rather than the all knowing technobabble.
SOLDIERS SHOOTING GUNS AT ALIENS: Your typical reactionary Doctor Who fan likes a situation that’s pretty cut and dried, with clearly defined goodies and baddies, so we know who needs to win and lose in the last episode for the story to have been a success. “Kinda” presents us with a base under siege that isn’t actually under siege! The illusion of danger is entirely in the mind of the batshit crazy Hindle and the only real threat is of him blowing up 30 square miles of jungle as a security precaution. Meanwhile, the Kinda themselves are a race so primitive they greet extra-terrestrials with a jester who defuses tension through the medium of humour. This kind of thing can’t be allowed to catch on: if, as Sanders says at one point, “we all [mean well], underneath it all”, how can we be expected to identify the nefarious baddies who deserve to be shot, electrocuted or dissolved in acid in episode 4?
PRODUCTION VALUES: There’s no getting away from it: a lot of the people who hated “Kinda” hated it because of the dramatic final showdown with the physically manifested Mara. Yes, it’s a deeply rubbish giant pink plastic snake that does the scene no favours, but for crying out loud, it’s one scene. It’s the Doctor Who equivalent of the old joke where the guy has done dozens of amazing things for his community, but his nickname is still based on the one time he shagged one lousy sheep who didn’t know when to keep it on the down low. Three and a half episodes of genius ideas, astonishing performances and brilliant lines, but if you contain one lousy plastic snake…
I’ve tried to avoid analysing the details of “Kinda” too much in this review, as it’s about as close as a Doctor Who story has ever gotten to a poem, and might be better allowed to fly free than dissected under a microscope. But it has one of the most living, breathing alien cultures ever seen in Who; a tour de force performance of descent into madness from Simon Rouse as Hindle; the unnerving, almost David Lynchian sequences inside Tegan’s mind, and a terrific libidinous Mara-possessed performance from Janet Fielding that exonerates her crimes in “Four To Doomsday”. Sure, it cheats in places: hiding Nyssa in the TARDIS so there aren’t too many characters needing things to do; never explaining the mystery of the missing expedition members; never really correlating the action inside the dome with the Mara’s machinations outside it; and resolving the Mara problem in a faintly disappointing way. But the good and interesting far, far outweighs any bad.
I could have listed great lines and mind-expanding ideas for 1000 words instead of writing this review. But I can sum up how good “Kinda” is with this one statement; it’s so good that even Adric is good in it. What a roll Doctor Who was on at this time, even if not everyone appreciated it. More fool them! A poetic 8/10.
Written and edited by Matthew Marcus