Doctor Who #534: The Leisure Hive Part 1

"I can't spend the rest of my life running away from the Black Guardian." "We should be safe here. I shouldn't think even he fancies freezing to death on Brighton beach."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Aug.30 1980.

IN THIS ONE... After a cold day at the beach, the Doctor and Romana head for Argolis where CSO effects soon kill a guy.

I don't like to let myself be influenced by other pieces of Whovian criticism during my pilgrimage, but About Time's contention that The Leisure Hive changed the nature of the show by giving it a more VISUAL aesthetic was always in my mind as I watched Part 1. John Nathan-Turner has become producer and he has changed everything. The new opening credits trade the time vortex in for outer space. The Doctor is wearing burgundy. The music is all ethereal synth and Dudley Simpson is off the credits in favor of a "workshop". K9 is removed from the action - common enough - but not because he would solve too many problems OR couldn't navigate the terrain, but because he's a natural comedy element. JNT hates the tin dog, so he follows a ball into water and blows up. A far cry from Season 17's invincible dog ex machina. But the big difference is the reliance on the visual to tell the story. Show, don't tell, is the mantra, and I can't exactly argue with the sentiment.

HOW visual is it? Well, it starts with an interminable pan across Brighton beach as the Doctor's snores become more and more audible. Is he echoing our own feelings about the shot? Or is it rather an extended visual joke, subverting audience expectations and making the camera search for our hero. We're catching the time travellers on their down time, still on break between seasons. Romana soon comes in with her frustrations (it really does look like it's FREEZING out there), but the season starts with a completely visual STATEMENT. And so it goes for the rest of the episode, really. After all, this is a story where a man is horrifically killed by CSO effects! Because that's all "tachyonics" seems to be, and the characters more than once proclaim that there's fakery involved. There's a visual transition between Brighton and Argolis that has us look through the vortex (opening credits starscape) as if it were a peephole. The editing is quicker and more modern. Insert shots speak for themselves and explanations are kept to a minimum. The colors are shocking (80s pinks and oranges, with green people who unfortunately look like asparagus, though face make-up is surprisingly subtle). The sets are glossy. I mean, just look at those plastic Argolin (pictured above), like giant jelly babies. Just decorative with no real plot function except the bit of business added by Tom Baker (and it's a strange trick to play on Romana while you sneak into the tachyonic booth). I can believe director Lovett Bickford busted the budget and was reputedly barred from Doctor Who for it. It's all on the screen.

Another influence being felt, though technically it was JNT who sollicited David Fisher's script, is new script editor Christopher H. Bidemead's. His interest in hard science can be felt here. Tachyonics seems completely bogus to me, but I seem to remember him defending it as real in the DVD extras. I'm thinking it's a complete misapplication of some scientific article. At any rate, the science in The Leisure Hive, though it looks as absurd as any in the previous season, is treated more seriously. The characters take it as given and do not dwell on technobabble. It's also ever slightly boring, which means it's a good thing it's so visually interesting. The story of Argolis is an interesting one too. On the edge of extinction after a war that turned their planet into a radioactive wasteland, they've turned to tourism as so many endangered cultures do. Their enemies, the reptilian Foamasi, can thrive in such an environment and want to buy the whole planet. The Argolin should take the money and run, it's not like they can use the planet. They're lucky they were even offered something. The Foamasi could have just moved in and left the Hive alone.

- It's not so much the plot as it is the style that makes this episode an interesting one. We probably haven't seen so much directorial flair from Doctor Who, probably because it wasn't allowed.


JDJarvis said...

I was watching this episode lastnight. The beachchair to snores sequence was drawn out indeed. The episode was enjoyable, I don't think I've seen it for 20 years.

Siskoid said...

You think it's going to end at any second, and then it doesn't!

LiamKav said...

It's almost certainly nostalgia talking, but I love this version of the theme tune. The middle-eight is back!

LiamKav said...

Although it's a terrible shot of Tom that gets used for the title sequence. It looks it was taken from somewhere else, possibly because Baker wouldn't pose for it.

Siskoid said...

I have great affection for that version of the theme as well, especially the middle 8 bit.

Matthew Turnage said...

I think it's my favorite version of the theme tune.

I'm a big fan of season 18. The Williams era was not my cup of tea, and I really like the style of this season. I don't know if any of the stories are really classic, but there's a lot of enjoyable stuff coming up.

Siskoid said...

And I agree.

I've been programmed to dislike JNT's regime, but looking ahead, there are some solid stories coming up. JNT's excesses only hit hard later, end of Doc5, all of Doc6, and start of Doc7, although there are missteps throughout.

Bill D. said...

I rewatched this recently and found it a lot better than I remembered it being. But at the same time, it's hard not to let the rainbow-hued bodycounts of the later JNT-era color your opinions of the earlier stuff.


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