As I prepare to talk about religion and Doctor Who at AAR in a panel on religion and science fiction, it will necessitate occasional jumps away from watching the series in order from the beginning. One episode that simply cannot be omitted from a consideration of this topic is “Kinda” from the Peter Davison era. Written by Christopher Bailey, himself a Buddhist if I am not mistaken, the episode is full of imagery and terminology from Buddhism. (I will get to the sequel, Snakedance, on another occasion). The audiobook of the episode is based on the novelization and is read by Peter Davison himself.
The episode’s characters’ names draw primarily from Buddhism, but those familiar with Christianity will also notice striking imagery. The planet where the episode’s action takes place is a garden world, a paradise, with no variations of season and no dangerous animals. It is reminiscent of the concept of Eden. In it the Kinda dwell in simplicity and peace. But through Tegan’s dreaming it turns out that there is an evil presence just waiting for an opportunity to emerge: the Mara. Although the name is drawn from Buddhism, this entity is manifest in the form of a snake – and first tempts a woman, Tegan, before moving on to a man, in an echo of the Genesis story.
One of the more prominent Buddhist ideas is when the Mara persuades Tegan in a dream to give in to its demand that it be allowed to control her, by first confronting her with multiple Tegans, and then no Tegan at all. While Descartes claimed that it is impossible to deny one’s own existence, Buddhism emphasizes that one’s own sense of distinct selfhood is an illusion.
A cyclical view of history is envisaged when the Doctor is asked whether a vision they were shown was of the future or the past, and he answer “both.”
The idea that evil cannot bear to see its own image is more reminiscent of The Sword of Shannara than anything that immediately comes to mind from the Jewish, Christian or Buddhist traditions. And by the end of the episode the characters seem to agree that this paradise is not a particularly tempting place to remain, which represents something of an inversion of the Biblical view of Eden and its connection with temptation.
If you have seen the episode, what did you make of its inclusion of Buddhist ideas and terminology? Is there anything profoundly Buddhist about the episode, or is the connection merely a superficial one?