Doctor Who is generally grounded in science. Everything he encounters, no matter how fantastical, have a basis in reality, whether it be biological, technical or physics. Vampires, ghosts and werewolves have all been encountered and their existence explained.
‘Kinda’ takes a different approach. We are given little explanation for the Mara, a creature that appears in a dream and becomes a reality. The Kinda have an empty box that can drive a man mad. Even the Doctor acts differently, fascinated by Adric’s simple sleight of hand tricks that initially befuddle his scientific mind.
This is a story in which legends and prophecy are true and the Doctor is happy to be considered an idiot. This is a story that shows that the laws of science can’t protect us and we are in danger even when we sleep.
In sleep we are vulnerable, even our own minds are not ours to control. The idea that something could prey upon us in this state and endanger the real world is very disturbing. They bring the sense of unreality experienced in dreams into the real world.
The story even begins with Sanders frightening a sleeping Hindle and asking if he’s had bad dreams. It is no coincidence that Hindle grasp of reality is lost soon afterwards. His ramblings of the plants plotting against him have a feel of dream logic to them.
It is Tegan who experiences a true nightmare, finding herself trapped in a dark void where she is made to doubt her own existence. Trapped in a dream she doesn’t know how she will escape or even if she can.
Forced imprisonment and cryptic visions are likely to frustrate any player character that experiences them. Roleplaying games are based on the players making decisions and in such a scenario they can feel a lack of freedom and choice.
Presented with the choice of an endless void or being possessed by a clearly evil entity, even if it is only for a few minutes, many player character would choose the void. The reason being that players know that their job is to stop evil and refusing to join with the entity would do that. They can always wait for the other player characters to come and save them.
The rule book suggests giving story points if player characters allow themselves to be captured. Story points could also be rewarded for agreeing to similar bargains. The evil forces will be free but the player character will now be in a better position to stop them.
The ‘dark places of the inside’ is an interesting addition to the Doctor Who cosmology. Since Tegan enters the place during sleep it would appear to be some kind of psychic plane. The wind chimes could induce a deep trance that allow a sleeping mind to reach this black void.
Tegan encounters three people while in the dark place. Anatta and Anicca are the elderly chess players and Dukkha is the young man that bargains with her. Dukkha says the reason that all three have a snake tattoo is that they are the same as each other.
This could be interpreted to mean that they are the same being, explaining why the wise old woman Panna refers to the Mara as ‘the evil ones’. It could also be that they are the same in that they were all trapped by the Mara in the void.
Each of these three people are wearing clothes that seem to be from the Elizabethan period. It is not hard to imagine that many of the occultists of that era, such as John Dee, may have accidentally reached the dark place and encountered the Mara. Such an encounter would make a fine historical adventure.
The chess players claim that Tegan can’t exist. If they’d been trapped there for hundreds of years one could certainly see how they’d think the arrival of someone new was just a figment of their imagination. It also sets up the crisis of identity that Tegan suffers.
Introduced to another version of herself she is faced with the challenge of working out which one is the real her. This would be rather difficult to pull off in a roleplaying game as players would assume whichever character they control is the real one.
You could further complicate this by having other players temporarily play the same character, in exchange for story points. Each could be given a card which, once they’ve decided who is real, would reveal which one was the genuine article.
This sequence also shows the danger of an environment that takes place in the mind. A stray thought produces 8 more Tegans, to make their decision more difficult. Later she is also rendered invisible, even to herself. Nothing has any substance within the dark place.
Once Tegan agrees to be possessed by Dukkha she awakens with the snake tattoo on her own arm. In this state she is portrayed in a much more sexualised manner, seducing Aris and taking him as the Mara’s new host.
A villain that can pass from host to host makes them an elusive opponent. They can appear as anyone and escape pursuit by simply taking another host. In this case it isn’t clear if the Mara could have travelled into anyone else or whether it is the telepathic ability of the Kinda that make this process so simple.
Tellingly, in this story of a snake in a garden of eden, Tegan gets Aris’s attention by dropping apples on his head. This echoes an earlier scene in which Todd, a scientist and thus a bringer of knowledge, offers the Doctor an apple as well.
Don’t be afraid to introduce similar symbols into your own game, especially if they work on a purely literal level. They can reinforce ideas and themes of your story, even if it is with great subtlety.
Once freed from the Mara Tegan remembers her possession as a dream, embarrassed by her actions. Even if a player character wasn’t in control while they were possessed they are likely to still feel shame for their actions, after all it was their bodies that were committing the deed, if not their minds.
The Mara is finally defeated by being confronted by its own reflection, that evil can’t bear the sight of itself. This has more of a mystical feel to it than a solution based in science, which is appropriate for the story.
Mirrors are reoccurring element in superstition, from the idea that they can capture the soul or that certain evil entities, such as vampires, don’t appear in their reflective surface to them being able to summon ghosts by repeating their name three times. Doctor Who even used mirrors as the basis of a time machine in ‘The Evil of Daleks’ and again in ‘The Time of the Daleks.’
The fact that it works suggests that the Mara experiences some shame or revulsion when confronted with what it is. Whatever the true reason the Mara is forced back into the dark place.
Yet it doesn’t leave without again corrupting Tegan, who can’t resist taking one more look at the Mara. The consequences of its actions wouldn’t be seen until ‘Snakedance.’