Friday 11 March 2011

Darkness in the Garden 2.0

To celebrate the DVD release of 'Kinda' (alongside its sequel 'Snakedance') here is a guest post by Rob, also known at Gallifrey Base as vgrattidge-1.

ADDITIONAL: The text below is different from that originally posted, having been revised and expanded by the author.  25/4/11.

‘Kinda’ raises a lot of questions and embraces an unusually (for Doctor Who) complex approach to its subject matter. It’s a rich script by Christopher Bailey – one that looks at invidualism vs collectivism in two (very different) societies; colonialism; propaganda; History; male aggression, and madness, while drawing on Freudian theory, Christian imagery and Buddhist concepts in order to explore these ideas in multiple ways. A stylized theatrical piece, if one inflatable snake and a pot plant jungle gets in the way of some of the most interesting writing (not to mention performance, music and direction) of the classic series, then that’s to lose sight of one of its greatest, most thoughtful and arresting serials ever.

‘Kinda’ is about many things. It’s about the power of the community over individuals (in this case men, reversing a convention but avoiding the ‘Planet of Women’ trope), so as to prevent aggressive, warlike behaviour. This is couched in the idea of an alien tribe who, if they don’t share everything (especially their dreams), are prey to monsters who will use them as mediums to pass into the real world from the darkest corners of their Id.

The Mara (the Buddhist word for temptation) is certainly a “real” creature here, but is the evil it revels in to be found within us or beyond us?  Is it a demon of our minds, or something that uses our minds as a way of gaining access to the material world?

Bailey bats around psychosis, the Oedipus complex and paranoia both within the parameters of Freudianism (the scenes with Hindle in the base) and via several Buddhist concepts (the scenes in Tegan’s dream and with Panna, the wise woman of the Kinda tribe) in order to explore this dichotomy. Brilliantly, he sticks to posing questions without offering pat answers.

Initially, this seems like a reactionary message about war-like men needing to be contained and about a pre-agrarian community being superior to a high-technological society; essentially, the message of the egregious Avatar with its noble savages and BIG BAD COLONISTS. But while the Kinda are indeed a bunch of “serene dream catchers” (winks at Jack Graham) with odd bits of knowledge (they are aware of DNA – perhaps a leftover from a time before the Mara was first unleashed), they also have to halt progress and exist in a state of enforced servility in order to survive. The ‘ideal’ they most certainly are not! Dr Todd may see innocent children in a Garden of Eden but this is a romanticized view of a society forcibly held in stasis in case the wheel of History starts up and brings the conflict that Panna fears will change things irrevocably on Deva Loka; we should note how her vision of the Mara’s return is brimming with nuclear-era countdowns to apocalyptic destruction (‘Kinda’ being a near-contemporary of Threads and Z For Zacharia).

Meanwhile, the colonists are an example of what happens when rampant, imperialist aggression asserts itself. And while the satire of colonialism might be blunt (pith helmets galore!), Bailey shows its own inherent destructiveness – Hindle has been brought up to see a world of order and structure and simply cannot deal with Deva Loka. And he is as caged as the Kinda – part of a structure and a colonial machine that alienates him and denies him the sense of innocence he craves. Meanwhile, the Kinda’s attempts to cage their men-folk in case they should give into their destructive impulses has given rise to other, quite subtle ways of dealing with outsiders.

The Box of Jhana is a propoganda device designed to make aliens see things the way the Kinda do; in itself, this is not such a bad thing – but their fear of the return of the Mara (which is a metaphor for the return of rampant male aggression and expansion through conflict and land-grabbing) means they (as is key in Buddhism) are trying to negate History. As in ‘The Keeper of Traken’, History is brought back to a society that has tried to do without it. But, even though the Doctor is on hand to repel the Mara that successfully makes it through to the material world, only his benign individualism seems to get the thumbs-up come the end, while the colonists and the Kinda are both criticized, although sympathetically because they are both caught in different but equally devastating traps, which make the people in their societies lose their individuality, even their dreams and desires.

When Hindle and Sanders go native, they have just exchanged one trap for another (or one box for another)...the Kinda are just better at war – using propoganda; the Box of Jhana is said to heal – to drive away darker thoughts through a shared communion with the Kinda – but doesn’t it actually condition people to accept their way of life? Is this not a highly successful cultural invasion of the mind, in place of the expensive cultural invasion of the environment by the technological might of the colonists (ideology over military might)? Essentially, this is a war that the Kinda win and, at the end, Sanders and Hindle reject their own culture. But have they actually been coerced to do so?

The thing is, at the end, the Kinda are denied History once more (something the Doctor seems to lament in a cryptic remark before he leaves in the TARDIS). They will not progress. They will not change. They are stuck until the Mara returns to start the clocks of History, no matter how devastating that might potentially be.

So, we have one society that has free rein to conquer through its technological might but has men who exercise power without judgement (Sanders misreads the situation and Hindle can't deal with it) and another that must contain its darker impulses and effectively castrate the males (by denying them the right to speak) in order to prevent self-destructive violence. However, although women are not punished for possessing knowledge and wisdom (which neatly subverts the Christian symbolism on show), it is Tegan who is the first to be “possessed” and then manipulated to pass the Mara onto (a male), Aris, to start the clocks of History (and therefore, empire, conflict, progress, creation and destruction). Interestingly, Janet Fielding’s performance plays up a sense of sexual satisfaction when she is “infected” by the Mara, suggesting that this is one more impulse that the Kinda must suppress, given its destructive and aggressive power. And, as Freudian theory is nothing without sex, the circle is squared once again!

Bailey’s script is intelligent and dialectical: while he seems to be saying that men are the destructive element that should be contained, he also shows how the social passivity that results from this makes the Kinda superstitious (they believe their souls can be captured by mirrors), sheep-like (they seem to possess little or no individuality) and simultaneously gullible and fickle (they follow Aris because he is the only male with voice; essentially defeating Panna’s ultimately flimsy control just because he gets a shot of Mara-assisted testosterone!). They suppress their desire to shape the world around them - but what's the first thing Aris does when he gains voice? Yup, he gets the Kinda to build (in this case, a replica of the TSS Machine).

At the same time of course, the Kinda are presented as more sophisticated than the colonists because of that enforced lack of aggression and their unique understanding of their environment... So, which is Bailey criticizing – the destructive capability of men such as the colonists (or, potentially, the males of the Kinda tribe), or the stasis that occurs if societies attempted to dam progress (the Kinda have no ambition of any sort)? In a sense, he’s criticizing women (certainly Panna) for ending History, but he’s also giving them wisdom...Hm, don’t come here looking for clear answers!

The Doctor says “Paradise is a bit too green for me” and one senses that he has the measure of the Kinda and their problematic society, just as much as he has the measure of the colonists and their drive to shape everything in their own image. We can assume he pities the trappings of both groups, while he himself has attained a certain kind of freedom.

So much is at work here that it is a credit to Bailey that he manages to weld it to a fairly traditional Doctor Who base-under-siege-come-monster-story. As mentioned, Freudianism is a big theme, with Tegan’s inferiority complex about her companions allowing her neurosis, or (if we slide from the Freudian to the Buddhist frame of reference), a 'demon of her mind’ to make her aggressively and sexually powerful enough to infect a male Kinda, whose re-masculation drives him to want to make war on the colonists, which will feed the Mara/psychosis in his head.

Added to this is the Buddhist concept of life as suffering underpinning the Kinda society; this tribe are continually on guard against the evil impulses that curse us all, except theirs can be made material because of their telepathy.

Bailey makes a collage of psycho-analysis and Buddhism yet more complex by creating an overlap with Christianity. But Dr Todd’s perspective of Deva Loka as Paradise is false because this is a world in which its native population are basically acting as a dam against evil impulses by suppressing their individuality; as such she fails to see the metaphorical serpent in this Garden of Eden until Aris makes that serpent real (well, sort of...). That Hindle also goes mad as a result of his Oedipus Complex regarding Sanders and his culturally-inherited inability to accept (what he sees as) disorder on Deva Loka - our Hindle's not much of a pluralist, is he? - allows Bailey to explore yet another aspect of madness without the Buddhist symbolism.  Out in the jungle we have spiritual metaphors for madness, while in the base we have a more formal, western reading.

While the production has been vilified it seems fitting that Deva Loka (a place of subtexts, memories and dreams), is this artificial world that is clearly symbolic; the various perspectives of what it represents can be projected onto it without the ‘concrete’ identity of a genuine location getting in the way. So, to the Kinda, this is a world with dark dimensions that must be held in check; to the colonists it is a chaotic jungle that must be ordered, and to Dr. Todd it is Eden – three attempts to organize the world rather than see it as essentially chaotic. But each approach has its problems and this examines the “human” need to organize against the chaos of existence – we all project a world onto the world (or a map onto reality) and here the viewer gets several alternative maps of Deva Loka to project onto the mere suggestion of an environment created in Television Centre!

I should leave the last words to the proprietor of this blog when he says that 'Kinda'... the end of an extraordinary run of stories. Everything from 'Full Circle' to 'Kinda' is either a masterpiece or near-masterpiece. Even the weakest of these stories ('Four to Doomsday') is chock-full of amazing ideas and fascinating concepts, sophisticated wit and off-the-wall imagery. Sadly, from now on, the great stories will come in fits and starts. There's some amazing stuff on its way, but that run of consistently-excellent stories is now over.

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