Doctor Who - Snakedance by Terrance Dicks

Published: April 1984

Edition read: Target first, 1984

Coolest Cover: Andrew Skilleter’s cover has always been a favourite and could easily grace a rock album cover. The idea of having Peter Davision crudely impaled on the logo was so popular that Target decided to continue with it for a whole other book.

The BBC Budget Wouldn’t Run To:

Crimes Against Literature: ‘Thrusting Nyssa aside, Tegan disappeared into the crows." (p. 43). Sack the copy editor.

Childhood Recollections: If you pushed me, I couldn’t swear that my hardback of this was acquired by entirely legitimate means.

Ramblings: Having adapted ‘Kinda’ with a reasonable degree of success, Terrance Dicks then turned his attention to is sequel ‘Snakedance’; by most people’s accounts a more conventional Doctor Who story, but also one with a similar balance of complex ideas floating around and interweaving. We find out more about the Mara’s origins- the concept of a monster created out of human negativity arguably ahead of its time- and the idea of a society which has ritualised history into pageant is equally fascinating. Add a superior cast of supporting characters, characterised to a greater or lesser extent by their capacity for self-delusion ( the Six Faces of Delusion being key, I think- Manussa is deluded into thinking the Mara a myth, Ambril into believing that his society is more advanced than the one which rpeceded it, and that relics are more important than the truth of the situation), and the raw materials of a very good story indeed are present.

That said, because it’s a more conventional story there’s less for Dicks to do in the way of exposition and explanation. The best scenes are those with Lon, and the later moments building up to the Great Ceremony, when there’s a real sense of a society which has forgotten the meaning of its past and the danger of the Mara. The Mara itself never ceases to be a particularly striking enemy, one whose physical form is less unnerving than its presence as joy in suffering, greed and cruelty, and in ‘Snakedance’ it’s shown to be a creation of all the darkness in human nature. If the scenes with Dojjen and the spirituality of the Snakedancers come across as flat by comparison, it’s probably because visual symbolism and direction can sometimes overcome a simple premise. Dicks also expands on the televised story’s rather abrupt ending, giving us a resolution in which the main characters are seen to be recovering and Dojjen reappears in the Doctor’s imagination like the mentor figure Dicks and Letts created in the Pertwee era.

Christopher Bailey’s scripts are such a refreshing new slant on the format of Doctor Who that it’s a shame he only wrote the two, and while Terrance Dicks’s adaptations are both solid and faithful, at times the density of allusion escapes (or is allowed to) because part of the joy of allusion is being able to believe you’re the first person to see it. Nevertheless, this is a good middle-of-the-road novelisation of the story which leaves the more complex ideas lying around in the prose for the more enlightened reader to find and appreciate and while it doesn’t elaborate on the more ambitious ideas, it doesn’t try to whitewash them out of the story either.