Doctor Who #536: The Leisure Hive Part 3

"There's no doubt about it, all this rushing about takes it out of you, particularly when you're twelve hundred and fifty years old."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Sep.13 1980.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor's an old man, Brock is a Foamasi, and Pangol was born in the chamber!

REVIEW: Though the show looks rather pretty now - that shot of the camera moving into the Hive from the tinted windows into the room, Pangol shot from above in his tachyonic cathedral, etc. - it's far less quotable than it was before. Obviously, losing Douglas Adams as script editor can do that, but the show didn't become less witty when Holmes was succeeded by Anthony Read. It's also Tom Baker who seems to have been muzzled. The new regime has almost certainly been cracking down on his famous ad libs. And with less dialog generally (scenes that usually require technobabble explanations are replaced with "of course!") and none of Baker's little bits of business, we're getting into some short episodes indeed. Part 3 and 4 barely clock in at 20 minutes WITH credit sequences and reprises! Talk about swinging the pendulum too far the other way!

With the Doctor spending the entire episode as a tired and sometimes addled 1250-year-old, there's every sense that this is the beginning of the end of an era. People like to praise Logopolis on its funereal feel, but the anticipation for the fourth Doctor's farewell starts in The Leisure Hive, as does the season-long theme of entropy. It's not just the Doctor, it's the whole Argolin species dying, struggling to save what they can of their culture and legacy before they're gone. But where we might not care about the Argolin all that much - Mena is a sympathetic character, but Pangol is a real jerk - we do care about the Doctor being put in a similar situation. All props to Baker for his limp, unfocused performance - and I mean that in a good way! - which reminded me of poor Hartnell in The Three Doctors. Kind of freaked me out.

One piece of wit that does slip by is the truth of the recreation chamber. It's a pun, you see. Recreation or re-creation? The twists and revelations start coming hard and fast at the end. Pangol is a tachyonic image brought to life (the technology is STILL complete nonsense to my ears), too young to have been born naturally to this sterile race. The Foamasi lurking around is a goodie tracking down skinsuited Foamasi involved in the real estate fraud (I guess), and it unmasks Brock as one of its own. The Foamasi's appearance is one of the serial's missteps, I'm afraid. Though I dig their chameleon/owl faces, their bodies look like baggy sack cloth. They look like giant plushies and their skin doesn't look real. Points for trying something other than rubber, but it's a complete fail. An other misstep, while we're on the subject, is the sound in the conference room. It's like they're talking inside empty oil drum whenever they're in there. What gives? And finally, there's the bit where the Doctor seemingly makes an Argolin pass out from looking at equations he's written in chalk on the side of the TARDIS. This is when expository dialog would have been appreciated, guys!

THEORIES: Why doesn't the TARDIS telepathic circuit translate the Foamasi's clicks and chirps? Is it because the TARDIS must interact with its pilot's mind, a function disrupted by the sudden aging of the Doctor? I guess it can't use Romana's brain for back-up. Which begs a question about the telepathic circuit's range. We've often seen companions make use of the unobtrusive translation while well away from the Doctor, so does the machine really need to relay through his mind? Well, in The Christmas Invasion, while the Doctor is more or less comatose post-regeneration, the TARDIS won't translate the Sycorax. They start speaking English only when he wakes up refreshed. His mind obviously has a role to play. Any discrepancies can probably be attributed to a TARDIS malfunction. It's not like it's in perfect working order, is it?

REWATCHABILITY: Medium
- The Doctor's wizened performance is off-putting and therefore great, but I still don't buy the science, and the alien costumes are stupendously silly.

4 comments:

snell said...

I'm not quibbling with your critiques of the science here in particular. But I'm also amused/confused where the line is. We can accept dimensionally transcendent time craft and all sorts of other "nonsense" science when it's part of the show's premise, but "tachyonics" crosses the line.

I'm reminded of trek critics who complain of technobabble, but have absolutely no problem with warp drive, transporters and other premises the show couldn't operate without.

I guess we can take only so many impossible things before breakfast...

Siskoid said...

For me it's about internal consistency. Doctor Who is full of mad science, and it's explained a certain way. Tachyonics (and other scientific ridiculousness in Season 17 for example) just doesn't make sense even as mad TV science.

In this case, it's just never adequately explained, and even confusing. If things are happening to an "image", how can it ever affect real people, which it does? How is the same tech/effect at play in speeding time up, reversing it, playing racquetball in anti-grav and removing someone's limbs and letting them float about? How can Pangol have been born as part of its effects? Is he someone's image? A sort of time-clone? Was there an original Pangol? No explanations, no real coherence. Things happen because they need to, that's all. That's where I draw the line.

Siskoid said...

Or if I may crystallize my point further: It's bad when it distracts me from enjoying the story.

Anonymous said...

Every time the camera is trained on old beardy Tom Baker's face, I have an uncontrollable urge to say "IT'S!"

 

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