Doctor Who serial
Directed byFiona Cumming
Written byChristopher Bailey
Script editorEric Saward
Produced byJohn Nathan-Turner
Executive producer(s)None
Incidental music composerPeter Howell
Production code6D
SeriesSeason 20
Running time4 episodes, 25 minutes each
First broadcast18 January–26 January 1983
← Preceded by
Arc of Infinity
Followed by →
Mawdryn Undead
List of Doctor Who episodes (1963–1989)

Snakedance is the second serial of the 20th season of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in four twice-weekly parts on BBC1 from 18 to 26 January 1983.

The serial is set on the planet Manussa 500 years after the serial Kinda (1982). In the serial, the Mara takes over the bodies of the Doctor's companion Tegan (Janet Fielding) and Lon (Martin Clunes), the ruler's son, while seeking to manifest itself by using a crystal.


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The arrival of the TARDIS on Manussa, formerly homeworld of both the Manussan Empire and Sumaran Empire, triggers nightmares in Tegan, who dreams of a snake-shaped cave mouth. It is evident to the Fifth Doctor that the Mara is reasserting itself on her mind following her possession by the entity while on the Kinda planet of Deva Loka (Kinda). He attempts to calm her by taking her and Nyssa in search of the cave but Tegan is too scared to enter when they find it, and runs away. Alone and confused Tegan lapses under the control of the Mara once more, revelling in horror and destruction. The emblem of the snake returns to her arm.

Manussa is in the grip of a festival of celebration of the banishment of the Mara from the civilisation five hundred years earlier. In the absence of the Federator, who rules over the three-planet Federation, his indolent son Lon is to have a major role in the celebration, supported by his mother the Lady Tanha and the archaeologist Ambril, who is an expert in the Sumaran period. Lon is intrigued with the notion that the Mara might one day return as prophesied, but Ambril is unconvinced and believes such talk is the product of cranks. When the Doctor tries to get Ambril to take the threat seriously he too is dismissed as a maverick, though the young deputy curator Chela is more sympathetic and gives the Doctor a small blue crystal called a Little Mind's Eye, which is used by the Snakedancers, a mystical cult, in their ceremonies to repel the Mara. The Doctor realises the small crystal and its large counterpart, the Great Mind's Eye, can be used as focal points for mental energy and can turn thought into matter. This, he determines, is how the Mara will transfer from Tegan's mind to corporeal existence. He realises that the Manussans must once have been a very advanced people who could use molecular engineering in a zero-gravity environment. They created the Great Mind's Eye without realising its full potential, and the crystal drew the fear, hatred, and evil from their minds, amplified it and fed it back to them. Thus the Mara was born into Manussa and the reign of the Sumaran Empire began.

Meanwhile, Tegan makes contact with Lon and passes the snake mark of the Mara to him too. They visit the cave from Tegan's dream, which contains a wall pattern, which could accommodate the Great Mind's Eye. Lon is sent back to the Palace while she causes more havoc and takes control of a showman, Dugdale, who is used for her pleasure. Lon meanwhile covers his arm and goes about trying to persuade Ambril to use the real Great Mind's Eye in the ceremony, placing it in a position in a wall carving that will evidently enable the Mara to return as the Doctor predicted. To persuade him to comply, Ambril is shown a secret cave of Sumaran archaeological treasures and warned they will all be destroyed if he does not help him.

The Doctor and Nyssa have meanwhile been aided by Chela, who shares with them the journal of Dojjen, a snakedancer who was Ambril's predecessor. All three venture to the Palace to persuade the authorities to do something about the situation, but soon see Lon is in the grip of the Mara and orchestrating a very dangerous situation. All three escape and the Doctor now uses the Little Mind's Eye to contact Dojjen, who lives in sandy dunes beyond the city. They venture there and the Doctor communes with Dojjen by opening his mind after being bitten by a poisonous snake. He is told by the wise old snakedancer that the Mara may only be defeated by finding a still point in the mind. All three head back to the city to prevent the ceremony of defeating the Mara using the real Great Mind's Eye. The festivities are now at a peak, with a procession taking place which culminates in a ceremony at the cave. Lon plays the role of his ancestor Federator in rejecting the Mara. After a series of verbal challenges he seizes the real Great Mind's Eye and places it in the appropriate place on the wall. Tegan and Dugdale arrive and she displays the Mara mark on her arm, which is now becoming flesh having fed on the fear in Dugdale's mind. With the crystal in place, the Mara is able to create itself in the cave, becoming a vast and deadly snake. However, the Doctor arrives in time and refuses to look at the snake or recognise its evil, relying instead on the still place he finds through mental commune with Dojjen via the Little Mind's Eye. This resistance interrupts the manifestation of the Mara and its three slaves are freed while the snake itself dies and rots. The Doctor comforts a distraught Tegan, sure that the Mara has at last been destroyed.


In post-production, episode four of this story overran very badly. As a result, it had to be completely restructured. Originally the door for a third Mara adventure was to be left open, with closing scenes discussing the ultimate fate of the Great Crystal. Furthermore, a sequence in which the Doctor comforts Tegan had to be removed. The scene was reincorporated into the beginning of the subsequent serial, Mawdryn Undead (1983).

Script editor Eric Saward commissioned Bailey to write a third and final story to feature the Mara, May Time. However, the story was abandoned due to production problems.

Cast notes

Martin Clunes made his television debut as Lon.[2] Brian Miller was the husband of Elisabeth Sladen, who portrayed long-time companion Sarah Jane Smith.[3] He later appeared in "Deep Breath" in Series 8 (2014), as well as playing Harry Sowersby in The Mad Woman in the Attic (2009), a story of The Sarah Jane Adventures, and providing Dalek voices for both Resurrection of the Daleks (1984) and Remembrance of the Daleks (1988). Brian Grellis previously played Sheprah in Revenge of the Cybermen (1975) and Safran in The Invisible Enemy (1977).

Broadcast and reception

EpisodeTitleRun timeOriginal air dateUK viewers
(millions) [4]
1"Part One"24:2618 January 1983 (1983-01-18)6.7
2"Part Two"24:3519 January 1983 (1983-01-19)7.7
3"Part Three"24:2925 January 1983 (1983-01-25)6.6
4"Part Four"24:2926 January 1983 (1983-01-26)7.4

In Doctor Who: The Episode Guide, Mark Campbell awarded it seven out of ten, describing it as "less experimental than Kinda" but still containing "some good moments", although he concluded that "Martin Clunes and Colette O'Neill are the best things in it".[5] Mark Braxton of Radio Times awarded it two stars out of five, describing it as "a firm fan favourite" but a "limp sequel to Kinda", adding "where Kinda had bravura performances and genuinely unsettling moments, here the coils of plot and subtext hang rather limply". He observed a "lack of genuine jeopardy, pace or thrills", but described the guest cast as "solid" and praised Janet Fielding's performance and Fiona Cumming's direction of the "surreal possession scenes". He ended by stating that it was "competent" and "colourful enough" but found it "a stretch to understand quite why Snakedance is so beloved".[6]

Commercial releases

In print

AuthorTerrance Dicks
Cover artistAndrew Skilleter
SeriesDoctor Who book:
Target novelisations
Release number
PublisherTarget Books
Publication date
3 May 1984

A novelisation of this serial, written by Terrance Dicks, was published by Target Books in January 1984. It was the first of two (the other being Enlightenment) to feature Peter Davison's image in the logo.

Home media

Snakedance was released on VHS in December 1994. It was released on DVD on 7 March 2011 along with Kinda in a special edition boxset entitled "Mara Tales". This serial was also released as part of the Doctor Who DVD Files in Issue 103 on 12 December 2012.


  1. ^ From the Doctor Who Magazine series overview, in issue 407 (pp26-29). The Discontinuity Guide, which counts the unbroadcast serial Shada, lists this as story number 125. Region 1 DVD releases follow The Discontinuity Guide numbering system.
  2. ^ "Martin Clunes 'was approached to be Dr Who'". The Daily Telegraph. 27 January 2009. Retrieved 4 March 2021.
  3. ^ "BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Snakedance - Details". www.bbc.co.uk.
  4. ^ "Ratings Guide". Doctor Who News. Retrieved 28 May 2017.
  5. ^ Campbell, Mark (2010). Doctor Who: The Episode Guide (4th ed.). Pocket Essentials. ISBN 978-1842433485. Retrieved 4 March 2021.
  6. ^ Braxton, Mark. "Snakedance ★★". Radio Times. Retrieved 4 March 2021.

Target novelisation