"Where the winds of restlessness blow, where the fires of greed burn, where hatred chills the blood, here in the Great Mind's Eye, here in the depths of the human heart, here is the Mara." --from the diary of Dojjen.
Much like the later Season 25, Season 20 of Doctor Who had the Doctor confronting villains from his past. This time, it's a creature that only appeared in the previous season.
Tegan has given the Doctor the coordinates to Manussa, a planet of the Earth Federation that used to be part of the Manussan Empire and the Sumaran Empire--Su-Mara, in other words, empire of the Mara, the serpentine embodiment of evil that possessed Tegan in the Kinda story. The Doctor's fears that the Mara is back is confirmed, but he fits a device that prevents dreams from occurring in her subconscious. However, once on Manussa, she gets separated from the Doctor and Nyssa, result being that the Mara gains full control over her.
On Manussa, Lon, the young son of the Federator, is bored with affairs of state and spends his time idling on a sofa or behaving childishly, to the chagrin of his indulgent mother Tanha, who wishes he'd take an interest in his own planet's culture. Ambril, the Director of Historical Research, a pompous academic type who is enthusiastic about archaeology and history, is respectful to Lon nevertheless. He isn't bored much longer, as he is summoned by the owner of a hall of mirrors stall sent to fetch him. There, he meets Tegan, who sports a distinctive snake tattoo on her arm, which he acquires once he makes physical contact with her. She enlists him to get the Great Crystal, under the custodianship of Ambril.
There is a legend on Manussa, that the Mara was not destroyed but driven to the dark places within, and that it will return in a dream and regain power over humans when the minds meet in the Great Crystal. Ambril dismisses the legend with contempt. To him, the Mara was destroyed by the Federation, end of story. His assistant Chela, isn't as skeptical, and he helps out the Doctor under the nose of his boss. And the Doctor's suspicions are stirred further when he learns that there is an upcoming ceremony commemorating the quinquecentennial of the Mara's destruction.
Like its predecessor Kinda, Snakedance is studio-bound, but the lively atmosphere of the bazaar and the sight of costumed Manussans serves to fill the screen with movement and colour.
Of the guest stars, John Carson as the pompous scholar Ambril and Colette O'Neil (Tanha) stand out. Preston Lockwood (Dojjen) doesn't say a word onscreen, but his importance is felt when he is mentioned and his characterization is a credible one as a mystical shaman.
Nyssa's new outfit is alas only seen in this story, as she wears a drab white blouse and blue skirt in her final two stories, but here, the seersucker blouse with a striped multicoloured dress ia a welcome change from her fairy princess-like maroon velvet outfit.
Janet Fielding (Tegan) has more fun being possessed than other companions have in previous stories. Her harsh grating voice is used to great effect, and her laughter when possessed is a far cry from the Doctor's familiar grumpy sorehead of a companion. She plays someone divided within herself, pleading for help one moment, the next moment speaking harshly. One of her better moments.
Lots of Buddhist and Native American religion come into play in this sequel to Kinda, and while not reaching the heights of its predecessor, Snakedance succeeds in presenting the material inspired by it in a more easily understood fashion than Kinda.