Wise Men Say – Of Entertainers, Seers and Fools in Christopher Bailey’s televised Doctor Who


Image Credit: Daniel Blythe – All rights reserved

Image Description: An inflatable snake poking out through a stone window

By Andrew O’Day

Like Stephen Gallagher’s Warriors’ Gate (1981) and Christopher H. Bidmead’s Logopolis (1981) and Castrovalva (1982) before them (O’Day a b c), and Marc Platt’s Ghost Light (1989) after them (see O’Day 2018d), reading Christopher Bailey’s Kinda (1982) and Snakedance (1983) is fraught with difficulty. In the first academic study of the programme, Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text, scholars John Tulloch and Manuel Alvarado recognized Kinda’s complexity by providing an in-depth analysis of it in a book written before Snakedance was even broadcast. They concentrated largely on the Buddhist/Christian allegorical meanings in Kinda, but there are different ways that the narratives, starring Peter Davison as the Doctor, can be read applying a close reading approach, just as those other serials invited close readings. This article will develop Tulloch and Alvarado’s investigation of entertainers, seers and foolishness and look at how these connect Kinda and Snakedance and reflect on the programme as a whole.

Entertainers in Kinda and Snakedance

In Kinda oppositions are set up between the Dome and the outside forest and between the colonists and the simple Kinda, as well as among the colonists themselves. We are told that Deva Loka is like Paradise:

TODD: There are no predatory animals on Deva Loka. No diseases, no adverse environmental factors. The climate is constant within a five degree range and the trees fruit in sequence all the year round.
Kinda, Part One (see also Bryther 2014: 66)

The outside only seems threatening through Tegan’s eyes as indicated through sound effects and camera angles. Moreover, as Todd remarks, in the forest the clown/jester is a common figure who diffuses potential conflict through mockery and ridicule. At the beginning of Part One, Sanders puts the Kinda mask to his face to scare Hindle and remarks that it is “just a joke.” In Part Three, the Trickster’s jumping out from behind a bush using the mask echoes Sanders’s action. He then reveals his painted face underneath showing that he is self-consciously playing the clown for amusement. Here the clown is different from the sinister circus clowns of the later serial The Greatest Show in the Galaxy (1988). The Trickster’s play is amusing, but there are instances in Kinda where others’ play is not. Sanders waking Hindle up saying “Boo” to him and indicating that he is having “bad dreams” is echoed by the deranged Hindle saying “Boo” in Part Four as he jumps out of a box to an unsurprised Doctor and Todd, and by Tegan, possessed by the Mara, saying the same to Aris as she drops apples on his head. The Trickster’s jumping from behind a bush is also echoed by the appearance of the attendant demon in Part Four of Snakedance.

Bailey intended that the Trickster was conceptually based on Jung, performing the same function in relation to the Kinda society as did Hare in Native American mythology (Tulloch and Alvarado 1983: 273). The Trickster does not preach or lead but ridicules (1983: 273). Tulloch and Alvarado explore the Trickster’s role in more detail than made it to the screen in Kinda, arguing that the Winnebago’s Trickster ridiculed peace (the equivalent of Panna) as well as war (the equivalent of Aris), that he was a heroic benefactor yet also, distinguished from gods, represented human weaknesses, and was a figure of disorder (1983: 275-76). By comparison with Kinda, the Trickster in The Sarah Jane Adventures (2006-2011) is a more mischievous figure.

The Trickster of Kinda derives from other figures in addition to Hare. As pointed out in the DVD Production Notes for the serial, the Trickster’s carrying a doll is reminiscent of the medieval court jester figure who held such an object, even though in Kinda the doll is a Little Green Man which brings with it connotations of rebirth. This links with Todd’s comment that the clown/jester diffuses potential conflict.

Whether Bailey was thinking about it or not for his Christian Buddhist allegory, other traditions present rustic entertainment in an idyllic outer countryside. This is important since the Trickster not only diffuses conflict outside but stands in opposition to the society inside, in addition to being a figure of disorder. The most notable tradition is that of the pastoral genre which began with the classical poets Theocritus and Virgil but which flourished in the English Renaissance. In Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia shepherds sing, and following The Shepheardes Calender, there is a pastoral interlude in Book VI of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. In the Book of Courtesy, Sir Calidore “loathd leasing, and base flattery/And loued simple truth and stedfast honesty” (I 3) and embarks on a quest for the Blatant Beast. In the pastoral interlude, based on Christ as the good shepherd there are “shepheards singing to their flockes” (IX 4), “Playing on pypes and carolling apace” (IX 5) who “fell to daunce” (IX 41). Soon afterwards, Sir Calidore views the Graces who dance and sing (X 10-18). This society is invaded by Evil (the Brigants) just as is that on Deva Loka invaded by the Mara. In Shakespearean drama, meanwhile, the countryside is not always idyllic. For example, while the forest can be enchanting (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), it can also be a dangerous place hiding rapists (Titus Andronicus) or nature itself can be hostile (King Lear, The Tempest). But it is The Winter’s Tale that evidences the pastoral genre with a move from Leontes’ court to a countryside where shepherds and shepherdesses dance (IV. 4).

Unlike in Kinda where there is an opposition between inside and outside, in Snakedance the contrast revolves around social class. Interestingly, the word clown originally denoted someone of lower rustic origin. Snakedance juxtaposes the aristocratic hierarchy of the Federator (unseen), his wife Lady Tanha and their son Lon, with the common folk in the market. These include the showman Dugdale, who runs a booth of mirrors which distort identity, just as the Mara does. Social roles are to a degree collapsed as Lon, possessed by the Mara, escapes from boredom by finding amusement in his distorted reflection. However, it is still the commoner Dugdale who is sent by a possessed Tegan to summon Lon to the booth and it is Dugdale who is ultimately “no longer necessary.” Dugdale is rendered mindless by looking at the possessed pair and upon Ambril’s arrival in the cavern behind the snake mouth makes his pitch like a fairground automation.

Snakedance also contrasts the supposed frivolity of children’s entertainment with adult seriousness. Dugdale responds to a possessed Lon that the relics in the cavern are not toys for children but genuine antiques and worth money, while later there are shots of children watching a Punch and Judy show. Instead of the traditional crocodile appearing, a snake takes Punch into its mouth, but this anticipates the seriousness  of the Mara consuming Tegan at the end of the serial (see DVD Production Notes).

From fool to wise man: the figure of the Doctor

In the vein of clowns and entertainers is the “artificial” or “wise fool” found frequently in Shakespearean drama. These fools have a festive license and simulate ‘natural fools’, who are those with limited mental facilities who remained detached from ordinary and corruptive social life and manners. Robert H. Bell writes that Elizabethans often distinguished between a natural fool, meaning a simpleton or lunatic, and an artificial fool, who “professionally counterfeits folly for the entertainment of others …is conscious of the role he plays” (2011: 1), and is therefore “deliberately” (2011: 4) a “self-reflexive performer” (2011: 5), “self-identified or self-evident”(2011: 3). The different meanings of ‘fool’ are also “extravagantly displayed in Erasmus’s Praise of Folly, written in 1511 and immediately translated and widely read throughout Europe”(Bell 2011: 1). Robert Hornback groups fools and clowns together, looking at their ideological significance such as the way representations of blackness were emblematic of the “natural fool” who was seen as mentally deficient and the way puritans were viewed as arrogant and stupid. The artificial fool who mimics natural fools is not to be found in Bailey’s televised Doctor Who, but Bailey plays with the idea of foolishness. The boundaries between natural and artificial foolishness were explored in the Blake’s 7 episode ‘The Keeper’ (1979).

In classic Doctor Who, the Doctor is anything but an idiot, as a number of examples show. Echoing the Doctor (William Hartnell) deducing his way out of a cell in The Dalek Invasion of Earth (1964), in The Dominators (1968) the Doctor (Patrick Troughton) and Jamie are tested for cleverness. Here, however, they feign stupidity so that the evil alien Dominators will not perceive them as a threat. In The Krotons (1968-69) the Doctor (again Patrick Troughton) and his companion Zoe are selected as “High Brains,” while the Krotons seek to eliminate the most intelligent of Gond society who are anything but fools. In Inferno (1970), both the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and his antagonist Professor Stahlman dismiss their opponents as fools. Tom Baker’s Doctor could also define his authority by others’ foolishness—most famously his declaration that “Harry Sullivan is an imbecile!” (Revenge of the Cybermen, 1975), but could also criticise his own mistakes in this way, for example his failure to recognise a couch as a short-range matter transmitter in The Ark in Space (1975).

The Doctor is regularly characterised as foolish when played by Peter Davison. In Time-Flight (1982) the Master, shedding his disguise as Kalid, says of the Doctor that “you never do understand.” A year later in The King’s Demons (1983), as the Master abandons his disguise as Sir Gilles, he accuses the Doctor (Peter Davison) of naiveite, but the Doctor responds that the Master may be able to disguise his features but never his intent. In Enlightenment (1983) the Doctor (Peter Davison) remarks that he is a fool. He has hacked up the jewel which is going to explode Striker’s ship, but realises that the power of the stone has therefore multiplied. Yet he perceptively proceeds to collect the little pieces and throw them overboard. There is mirroring in that two serials earlier, in Mawdryn Undead (1983), the Black Guardian rebukes his assassin Turlough as an “imbecile,” and in the next serial Terminus (1983) as a “fool,” but at the climax of Enlightenment, Turlough (who is prone to assume an air of intellectual superiority) at the last recognises his own foolishness and rejects the eponymous prize. In this he acknowledges the Doctor, not the Black Guardian, as his mentor.

There are also examples of the Doctor being seen as a clown-like figure as opposed to being intellectually foolish or clever. Tulloch and Alvarado, for instance, point to the way Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor visually echoed Charlie Chaplin from silent cinema (1983: 61). In Robot (1974-75) the Doctor (Tom Baker) engages in post-regenerative foolishness, common to all the Doctors, trying on a variety of ridiculous costumes, including that of a clown. In Earthshock (1982) the Doctor (Peter Davison) is accused by Scott with the words “Too many people have died for you to play the fool.” Characters other than the Doctor are described as fools, like Bigon by Monarch in Four to Doomsday (1982), the mutants by the Doctor in Mawdryn Undead (1983), and indeed Nyssa by Tegan in Snakedance. Bailey, however, highlights the Doctor’s wisdom more strongly.

In Kinda there is an opposition between wisdom and foolishness. Panna is labelled the “wise woman.” Like Tiresias from Greek mythology, she is physically blind but has insight, in contrast to the Fortune Teller in Snakedance who looks into her crystal ball and makes things up. Panna is an allegorical Buddhist figure who gives birth to Karuna standing for the way wisdom leads to compassion. Panna and Karuna and Wisdom and Compassion are one, since later when Panna seemingly dies, she continues to live through Karuna. Both wear similarly coloured costumes, highlighting the identification of the two as doubles. Panna points out that for the Not We voice is not a mark of wisdom. She describes the Kinda Aris, who has gained the power of speech when possessed by the Mara, as a “blind male fool” rather than truly wise. Panna dismisses the Doctor, who is “babbling,” as an “idiot,” telling him to “keep quiet”, stating that no male can open the Box of Jhana without going out of his mind. This was illustrated on-screen by the expedition leader Sanders and presumably off-screen before him by Roberts and the other colonists who disappeared in the forest long before the serial began. Later when the Doctor tells Karuna that Panna is dead, Karuna continues Panna’s perception of the Doctor by remarking “Idiot. Don’t you know anything. Of course I’m not dead.” Far from being an idiot, the Doctor is assuming a stance where rational enquiry provides the answers. The Doctor and Todd are both scientists and each says of the other that they are asking “so many questions” such as earlier when the Doctor interrogates Karuna on the way to Panna in the cave. Todd had earlier said that “guesses are not science.” The Doctor and Todd are in this respect like Sanders, who told Adric before leaving for the forest that what is needed is “good down the line practical thought.” The Doctor had said to Hindle that opening the box would not be “very wise” but it actually leads the Doctor and Todd to the forest and answers about the Deva Loka world.

Tulloch and Alvarado explain that Kinda was originally written for Tom Baker’s Doctor and that writer Bailey was attracted to Baker’s Doctor’s “all knowing’ wisdom” (1983: 273). Bailey told Tulloch and Alvarado: “I did consider the Doctor to be more of a sage than he is now, and so I had him helping the Kinda, but helping them in full knowledge that something was just being postponed” (1983: 273). Bailey’s vision of the Doctor as “wise old man…was as a reaction to the action-drama formula he disliked” but that as director Peter Grimwade said “In contrast to the interiorised drama of Hindle and the exteriorised one of the Kinda, the Doctor would have sunk from view” (1983: 278). However, even with the departure of Baker, the arrival of Peter Davison, and the removal of lines emphasising the Doctor’s wisdom, in the final televised version the contrast between foolishness and wisdom and the Doctor’s rational approach to things is far more pronounced than Tulloch and Alvarado allow for.

The Doctor can be seen as a fool, however, in precipitating the events of Kinda. As Tulloch and Alvarado note, it is “the Doctor who destroys a culture through his wanderlust.” They quote director Peter Grimwade: “The whole trouble is caused by the Doctor. If Tegan hadn’t landed with the Doctor, nothing would have ever happened. It would all have worked out quite happily. So in fact it’s the Doctor’s intervention that caused the problem…” (1983: 279). Therefore, as Tulloch and Alvarado explain, the Trickster is a reflection of the Doctor himself with the dual functions of hero and buffoon (1983: 279) and indeed the Doctor plays his coin trick, based on Adric’s in the Dome, on the Trickster. This is where the Doctor puts his clenched fists out and tells the Trickster to choose only to reveal that both his hands are empty and taking a coin from behind the Trickster’s ear.

The colonist Hindle, meanwhile, is a madman. He says at the end of Part One to the Doctor, “you don’t fool me, I’m afraid.” Later in Part Two he tells the Doctor to “be sensible.” But Hindle has lost all sanity and sees the outside forest as threatening and the Kinda as the servants of the trees and plants. It is rather the Doctor, not trying to fool anyone, who applies reason to the situation on Deva Loka.

In Snakedance much is made of the supposed foolishness of those who believe in ‘the Legend of the Return’ of the Mara. Right from near the beginning of Part One, in the exchange between Lady Tanha and her son Lon, there is the idea that the Legend is “nonsense” and that the previous Director Dojjen’s beliefs were “the ramblings of a madman.” In a play on Queen Victoria’s alleged catchphrase, Tanha remarks that Lon’s father, the Federator, “was not amused” at going in disguise into the wilderness to see the snakedancers. Ambril, the current Director, continues this theme saying that the Legend of the Return is “pure nonsense” and sees the Doctor (who insists that the Legend is not a made-up story) as “clearly deranged” and one of a series of fools following Dojjen’s views which were “the meanderings of another crank.” Ambril describes such theories as “colourful improbabilities”. as “wishy mystical mumbo jumbo” and as “woolly-minded nonsense.” He sees the Doctor as a fool, noting in Part Three to his assistant Chela’s assessment, that “of course the fool’s harmless.”

However, as is usual in the programme, the Doctor is revealed to be anything but a fool and credibility is given to his theories. Arriving on Manussa, he tells his companion Nyssa that the answers they seek are outside on the Mara’s homeworld rather than in the TARDIS data bank. He says that the cave in Tegan’s dream is a real place and likely nearby and there is an immediate cross-cut to the snake-mouth entrance of the cave. This interestingly echoes the Doctor’s wisdom in Kinda, where he told Todd that the cave in the vision from the Box of Jhana was undoubtedly a real place. Much later in Snakedance, Lon tells Tanha that the Doctor is “a complete fool,” but we know that the Doctor is not and that Lon is possessed by the Mara. The Doctor follows Dojjen’s beliefs and as Chela earlier reads from Dojjen’s writings about the presence of the Mara, something dismissed out-of-hand by Ambril, Lon appears in the doorway, possessed by the Mara (see Gillatt) giving weight to Dojjen and the Doctor’s conclusions.

The Doctor is indeed presented as an astute reader. On the cave walls are pictorial representations of how the Mara reoccurs just as there are similar drawings detailing the emergence of Gastropods in The Twin Dilemma (1984) (see DVD Production Notes, Snakedance). In Snakedance, the Doctor declares that everything has meaning if one knows how to read the drawings and later comes to the conclusion that the lines flow from the figures to the spot of the Great Crystal, with this energy allowing the Mara to reoccur. This reading is shown to be correct towards the serial’s end.

The theme of seeing is important to the narrative and while many Manussans are blinded to the truth, with Ambril even wearing a blindfold, the Doctor perceives correctly. The Mara gains its power through people looking at it whether that be the Fortune Teller at the end of Part One, the Showman at the end of Part Two or the Manussans at the ceremony towards the end of Part Four. Earlier, Lady Tanha looks at her son Lon in his ceremonial costume and says “let me look at you. I am going to be so proud.” But it is the Doctor who realises that the glove on Lon covers up the mark of the snake to which Lon says “they’ll never believe you” until he dramatically unveils the design at the ceremony later on. The Doctor says that evil will never succeed and Lon plays on his identity as Lady Tanha’s son replying to inquiry about who is evil that her son is evil and when he says “Don’t you see” (my italic) she replies “I most certainly do.” The Doctor’s wisdom is contrasted with the foolishness of those around him.

The Doctor has already turned Ambril into a figure of mockery, exposing him as the real fool. Ambril shows the Doctor a headpiece of the Six Faces of Delusion. On the headpiece there are five faces, and Ambril says that he finds it very difficult to take seriously a legend which cannot count properly. However, the Doctor persuades Ambril to try the headpiece on, and after Chela counts the five faces the Doctor points to Ambril’s own face revealing that the sixth face of delusion is the wearer’s own. Ambril’s reaction becomes one of fury at having been made a buffoon, shouting at the Doctor to get out. Ambril is one of many deluded in not believing in the Legend. This scene is based on a ‘joke’ picture common in the Renaissance where two people are dressed as fools and significantly is commonly called ‘We Three Fools’ or ‘We Three Asses’ (see DVD Production Notes) highlighting that Ambril is revealing himself as a fool.

The theme of ceremony and reality reaches its conclusion at the end of Part Four. Possessed, Lon is uninterested in the ceremony marking the Federation’s vanquishing the Mara 500 years previously. Lon takes the ‘fake’ Great Crystal from the rubber snake’s mouth and treads upon it, echoing Aris, possessed by the Mara in Kinda, stamping on the Trickster’s doll. Lon is only concerned with placing the real Great Crystal in its socket to enable the Mara to return. Lon’s stamping on the fake Great Crystal connects with his earlier destruction of relics that Ambril is so interested in, prefigured by Lon throwing an ornament of a snake towards Ambril, which the Director anxiously catches, near the start of the narrative. Lon is not interested in Ambril’s love of relics apart from as a tool to make Ambril provide the real Great Crystal. In putting the lie to Ambril’s view of the Legend as “nonsense,” he confirms the truth in the Doctor’s theories.


A close reading of Kinda and Snakedance supports the idea that entertainment, foolishness and wisdom are central concerns, and that they can be placed in the context of other texts and traditions, whether intended by writer Christopher Bailey or not. Rational enquiry means putting aside preconceptions and accepting that there are different planes and paradigms. However, this is not the final word on Bailey’s televised Who. For example, the Buddhist/Christian allegory can be investigated further. The Mara is personified in ancient Buddhist texts as a great tempter. In Bailey’s serials it appears in the guise of a snake, tempting figures to agree to its terms just as Satan tempts Eve to eat from the Forbidden Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden and just as Satan tries to tempt Christ in John Milton’s Paradise Regained. Also, as mentioned elsewhere (O’Day 2018d), the snake mouth cave in Snakedance reminds one of Hell Mouth in the Christian tradition.

I’d like to thank Tim Harris for providing archival material and Dr Matthew Kilburn for offering suggestions on drafts of this article. I am also indebted to Professor Ken Borris (English Department, McGill University) for his undergraduate course on pastoral.


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