Recap / Doctor Who S20 E2 "Snakedance"
No! Bad snake! You spit her out this instant!
Dreams are important... never underestimate them.
The Doctor

The one with Doc Martin.

Uh-oh. Looks like Tegan isn't quite over her encounter with the Mara, the mind-controlling snake god from "Kinda". Not long after they land on Manussa, the planet of really pretty unisex dresses, she starts having sinister snake-themed dreams. The Doctor realises that Mara might still be alive, not in a physical form but one that exists inside Tegan's mind.

While the Doctor explores the capital of Manussa, the Mara breaks free of the Doctor's blocking device (essentially a fancy iPod) and starts guiding Tegan's body through the city, which is busy celebrating the 500-year anniversary of the Mara's defeat.

Meanwhile Lon, the fabulous local prince-equivalent, spends his days lazily ignoring the Mara myth and pretty much all of his other duties as well. While his mother Tanha and local historial Ambril instruct him about the upcoming ceremony, he takes an interest in the Doctor, who rushes in to explain that the Mara's still very real and about to destroy the whole world. Of course, the Doctor fails to impress anyone, and he gets to spend much of the story locked up in a fancy cell. Nyssa, roaming through the palace in a new outfit, is eventually locked up together with him.

However, once Lon is lured in by the Mara-as-Tegan and possessed by the snake as well, Ambril's assistant Chela realises that the Doctor is speaking the truth and sets the Doctor and Nyssa free again. The three of them visit Dojjen, Ambril's predecessor, who has retreated to a life in the desert to contemplate the Mara's mysteries. Dojjen gets the Doctor magnificently stoned on hallucinogenic snake venom and, while tripping, the two devise a plan to defeat the Mara once and for all.

One random puppet show later, Lon changes into his fanciest of fancy dresses and prepares to lead the traditional ceremony. However, the Mara inside him insists on using the actual legendary great crystal, instead of the glass prop, and Ambril (with the promise of getting shiny archaeological trinkets in return) recluctantly brings it along to the show. It's used, of course, to bring the Mara back to life, but the Doctor and Dojjen use their combined psychic energy to will it into submission. Free of the Mara's possession, Tegan is left trembling and crying in absolute horror while the Doctor just holds her.

This is Steven Moffat's favourite story from the classic series.


  • All Myths Are True: The Mara is largely regarded as a fairy tale used to scare children, but guess what...?
  • All There in the Manual: According to the novelisation, the Fortune Teller's name is given as Madame Zara.
    • The Doctor explains that "Sumaran Empire" translates to "Empire of the Mara."
    • Scenes on life on Manussa and supporting characters is expanded upon.
    • The Doctor reflects on how no one listened to him until it was too late.
  • Barefoot Sage: Dojjen, the desert-dwelling Hermit Guru, is noticeably barefoot.
  • Cassandra Truth: For once the Doctor has trouble getting people to believe him. The other characters think he's mad; his habit of bursting into rooms and spewing panicked monologues about the Mara may have something to do with this.
  • Cliffhanger: Naturally. Part 3 gives us a particularly stereotypical Prepare to Die moment, complete with a rare Nyssa scream.
  • Demonic Possession
  • Distressed Dude: Once again, the Doctor spends almost an entire episode locked up in a cage!
  • Earthy Barefoot Character: Dojjen. To stress this, his feet are actually made up to look realistically dirty.
  • Enhanced on DVD: The DVD release features a frighteningly realistic CGI upgrade for the Mara, from a dorky-looking inflatable rubber prop.
  • Everybody Lives: Astonishing for a Fifth Doctor serial.
    • Except for the Mara if one excludes the expanded universe.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Whenever the Mara speaks through Tegan. The first time it's done—"GO AWAY!"—is one of the best jump scares in Doctor Who history.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Rather infamous for being the episode where the Doctor gets really, really stoned.
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: For the Mara to return, it must feed off of the belief of the Manussan people. The Doctor throws a metaphysical spanner in the works by finding his "still point" and disrupting the Mara's control.
  • Hermit Guru: Dojjen
  • Higher Understanding Through Drugs: The Doctor and Dojjen realise the solution to the problem, and the Doctor achieves enlightenment, while tripping balls. Although the dangerous side effects of the psychedelic snake venom are stressed.
  • "I Know You Are in There Somewhere" Fight
  • I'm Not Afraid of You: how the Doctor weakens the Mara enough to be able to destroy it.
  • Impossibly Tacky Clothes: Martin Clunes, the actor who played Lon and who went on to be a star, is being quoted on the DVD for never quite forgiving director Fiona Cumming for putting him in the ceremonial costume, since whenever he now appears on a talk-show they always show that clip in order to make fun of his earlier jobs pre-stardom.
  • Meaningful Name: Manussa. Swap a syllable and you get Medusa, who famously had hair comprised of the Mara's bretheren.
  • Mind Control: Tegan and the Mara.
  • Phony Psychic: Hawker.
    "I'm not a curious man. I was once, a long time ago. I was a humble student of life's mysteries. A treader of the secret pathways, a delver into the darker corners and so forth. All rubbish, of course. At the end of the day, when the lights come up, as in one form or another they always do, there's always somebody standing there with their hand out, waiting to be paid. I decided long ago that person might as well be me."
  • Royal Brat: Lon
  • Santa Clausmas: The overall idea behind "Snakedance" is that the story of the Mara's defeat has become rather tawdry and commercialised, which is why nobody takes the Doctor seriously.
  • Sequel Episode: To "Kinda"
  • Shout-Out:
    • Takes place in a very Gormenghast-like kingdom.
    • The final scene is extremely reminiscent of Metropolis.
    • Blue crystalline stones that can be used to enhance telepathy and allow long distance telepathic communication? Might es well call them matrix stones like they do on Darkover.
    • A Manussan version of the Punch and Judy slapstick puppet show appears, with a Mara standing in for the crocodile.
  • Sissy Villain: Lon.
  • You Have to Believe Me: The Doctor's method of choice for winning over the Manussans.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: The Mara to the showman, almost to the word.