After the spine-liquifying terror of those plastic-faced Robots of Death from last week, we move on to the Fifth Doctor, and a monster that is principally scary when you can’t see it. And when you can… well we’ll come back to that in a bit.
So the Mara is a classic sci-fi rotter. It was created on the planet Manussa, and used as a weapon to build an empire, but things went wrong, as they so often do, and the Manussans had to drive the Mara out. It’s a kind of consciousness parasite, eating fear for food, and hopping from brain to brain (although it can also appear as a massive snake). It exists in a realm called the Dark Places of the Inside, where it manifests as in phantom form. This would be bad enough, if the Mara wasn’t also fantastically greedy, and perpetually cross. As such, even the Mara is scared of the Mara, and cannot stand to see itself in a mirror.
For those unlucky enough to stray into its path, the Mara can possess the mind and take over the senses, forcing the host to do evil things against their will. It also leaves a physical sign of manifestation, a mark on the forearm in the shape of a snake. This might not be immediately noticeable in the case of the fully-sleeved Fifth Doctor’s companion Tegan, but when the Mara occupies Aris, the leader of the Kinda tribe on the planet of Deva Loka (Kinda), that mark is the key to its undoing. Not before Aris, acting under the Mara’s orders, nearly kills everyone, of course.
Now, to get back to that point about seen and unseen things, this is how the Mara’s physical being was first revealed on TV (wait until the end for the round of applause, it’s delightful):
And you’d be forgiven for thinking, as a lot of people have, that perhaps this giant snake isn’t the most frightening thing you’ve ever seen. Which just goes to prove the true power of suggestion in creating scary stories. Once you see that the thing you’re supposed to be scared of looks a little home-made, the fear bubble pops. Actually the full horror is that of being possessed. Having a good scary snake at the end is only the cherry on the disgusting sundae.
Note: the good news is the recent DVD re-issue of Kinda has substituted a more realistic CGI snake, so that the final reveal works better now.
Anyway, having been banished once, the Mara manages to find its way back inside Tegan’s mind again, making her take the TARDIS to Manussa, just in time for a celebration: it’s 500 years since they banished the Mara! And now it’s back! Oh, the irony!
This time, the plan is to try and get hold of the Great Crystal, through which the Mara can once again gain physical form, and it seems to be able to control more than one person at once, this time. Starting with that arrogant fop Lon (played by Martin Clunes):
The Doctor prevents this using a decoy crystal and some fairly impressive mind control techniques learned from a local mystic. He grabs the Great Crystal himself, the Mara’s hold is broken and it is destroyed, this time (apparently) for good. But of course, the brilliant thing about having a baddy with no corporeal form is that no one can ever be truly sure if it has gone forever.
The thing is, having a monster that you can’t see, but which can control the mind, that’s a very nowadays sort of conceit. And now they’ve sorted out the pantomime snake issue, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to let the Mara out for another slither through the mind, would it?