THIS STORY TAKES
BIG FINISH AUDIO
BIG FINISH CD#138
RELEASED IN SEPTEMBER
Seeking to banish
the Mara from his
the Doctor LAYS IN A
course for Manussa,
the creature's point
of origin. But INSTEAD,
the TARDIS arrives
in the heyday of the
Rick ausGarten is
preparing to turn
dreams into reality.
The sun is setting on
the Manussan Empire.
and it's all the
of the Snake
When Big Finish first coined the idea of reuniting the 1983 TARDIS crew, the urge
to revisit the Mara can’t have taken long to follow. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Kinda and Snake-dance were not only two of Tegan’s strongest stories, but cornerstones of the Peter Davison era. Surreal, subversive, and disturbing in a way that Who never really had been before that point, there is no denying the significance of Christopher Bailey’s scripts. And so with the team back together, what better way to bring their run to a suitably spectacular climax than with a third Mara tale?
As a keen advocate of the Mara stories and an accomplished audio scriptwriter, Marc Platt was ideally placed to try and capture the same ‘Mara’ lightening in a slightly different-shaped bottle. Indeed, as the mastermind behind abstract works as multifaceted as Ghost Light and Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Crucible, Platt must’ve seemed singularly qualified for the commission. And with The Cradle of the Snake he really delivers, not only capturing and showcasing the most successful elements of the two Mara stories, but setting them against a fast and furious contemporary backdrop that I found much more appealing than the drab flora of Deva Loka or even the faded gentility of post-Maran Manussa.
“The Mara is in all of us, deep in our minds. In our darkest thoughts, that’s where it started...”
The Cradle of the Snake is also remarkable in that it confounds expectation throughout. As Platt concedes in his author’s note, both Kinda and Snakedance ran to a formula; a formula that he consciously eschews here in favour of indiscriminate volatility. No doubt a third ‘Mara possesses Tegan tale’ would have proven most entertaining had it been penned by Platt, but in turning the premise on its head and having Tegan fighting to free her friends from the thrall of the nascent Mara, Platt is able to offer listeners something both faithful and progressive in one fell swoop.
This inspired setup imbues the production with a real sense of jeopardy, as for almost three quarters of its running time it is the Doctor who’s possessed; the Doctor’s who’s threatening to bring about the dawn of the Sumaran era a century too early. Those who listened to last year’s Eternal Summer will be able to attest as to how effectual a villain Peter Davison can make, but his edgy performance here completely trounces his comparatively straightforward Stockbridge turn. Throughout this play the listener can almost perceptibly hear the Doctor, scratching away at the inside of his head as his body paves the way for the final episode’s manifestation of the Mara (which, rather ironically for the only Mara audio, is televised).
What’s more, with the Doctor cast as the play’s principal villain, Platt is able to effortlessly allocate substantial chunks of plot to his three companions – there’s no-one sleeping off a headache this time around. Indeed, Platt more than makes up for Nyssa’s sleeping through most of Kinda by allowing Sarah Sutton to cast off the shackles of the priggish obfuscator and play the character with a sense of Mara-borne sultriness… and as a sheep. Turlough, meanwhile, is the facilitator, worming his way into all the wrong places at all the wrong times and suddenly finding himself best-placed to play the hesitant hero… and a sheep. Tegan’s role is far less ovine: she’s the story’s heart and its drive; its passion. Indeed, if I were Platt, I’d have been tempted to call this Snakedance II: Tegan’s Revenge... before remembering that I’d want people to buy it.
“Some people call it a demon, but that’s too simple. It’s about temptation.”
However, what I feel really
makes The Cradle of the
Snake the resounding hit
that it is is its setting. Whilst
it’s a chronological prequel
to the two televised Mara
stories, here the civilisation
of Manussa is similar to that
of our modern day, attrition
having long-since taken its toll by time of Snakedance. As such, Platt’s world is instantly relatable; his characters instantly accessible. The ensemble here aren’t villains but people;
just stupid, worthless, arrogant , flawed people. We have celebrity scientists with delusions of grandeur, Heath and Safety executives with incongruously adventurous traits, and even superficially safe characters whose humble exteriors belie a fearful symmetry beneath – every one of them rife for corruption by the Mara. Each of Platt’s characters is so very well
written that it’s no surprise the production’s supporting performers each excel in their roles, particularly Madeleine Potter’s (Assassin the Limelight) Yoanna, who would have made a fabulous fourth companion were Big Finish’s sound booths not smaller on the inside than
On a final note, I must applaud the general opulence of this release, and indeed the trilogy
as a whole. In a day and age where “clutter” is anathema and one can save a few quid by foregoing hard copies and purchasing downloads, Big Finish continue to make it hard for their subscribers to be thrifty. The Cradle of the Snake CD release, for instance, boasts dazzling reversible covers, which now look to be a permanent fixture, happily; an elegant cool blue booklet centrefold, which I’m not sure whether to credit to Iain Robertson or Alex Mallinson; deftly-edited interviews with the story’s writer, cast and crew; and even seven minutes’ worth of Andy Hardwick’s majestic score. Compare that to what you’d get if you were to buy a new series audio book put out by BBC Audio, and note the difference.
In summary then, I don’t see how The Cradle of the Snake could be regarded as anything other than a soaring success. Liberated by the world of sound, Marc Platt has been able
to trade the arty blackout of Kinda for the psychedelia of Pink Floyd; the cold comfort of formula for a doomed civilisation on the brink of an abyss. Yet he still catches that lightning
in the bottle; that same spirit, that same buzz. And best of all, there’s more still to come, as the Doctor, Tegan, Turlough and Nyssa still have plenty of distance left to run…
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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