The Well-Mannered War
The Leisure Hive
|Dates||Aug. 30, 1980 -
Sept. 20, 1980
With Tom Baker, Lalla Ward,
John Leeson as the voice of "K9".
Written by David Fisher. Script-edited by Christopher H. Bidmead.
Directed by Lovett Bickford. Produced by John Nathan-Turner.
Executive Producer: Barry Letts.
|Synopsis: The Doctor and Romana land aboard a holiday planet, where a strange experiment in tachyonics leads to murder.|
The Beginning of a New Era by Michael Hickerson 9/3/98
In 1980, Doctor Who stood at a crossroads-- new producer, new script editor, a changing of the guard in the lead role, even new opening credits. A new era was upon Who fans. And The Leisure Hive jump starts that era.
The Leisure Hive is one of those brilliant stories that often times gets lost in the shuffle of other "classic" stories such as Pyramids of Mars, Curse of Fenric, etc. I consider it to be a forgotten classic and it's one that I often return to in my video collection.
It's simply a compelling story with some stunning direction, an ear-catching soundtrack, and some wonderful performances. About the only thing that mars the overall production is the less than satifsying Formazi costumes, which are sub-par, even by Who standards.
But beyond that, it's four entertaining episodes that simply tell a delicious story. The brilliance is that it's so simple that it seems more complex than it is. David Fischer takes a page from the Robert Holmes book of Script Writing and gives us a great, three-dimensional supporting cast. Each character is given a moment to shine and makes a real difference to the plot. And as with Caves of Androazni, there is the feeling the Doctor has stubmled across a situation that is almost beyond his control to fix. He is a player in the events occuring around him, but his usual pattern of discerning the problem, seing who the bad guys are and then stopping their evil plan, is not able to be put into use. Namely because the character here are all shades of gray. Each one believes what they are doing is the best thing not only for themselves but for their people respectively. It leads to sympathies for each character changing as the story progresses. Pangol, who is virtually invisible episode one except as a tour guide, proves to be a driving force for the story by the middle of episode three.
But this brilliant story is helped by some remarkable camera angles, some nice directional choices, and an addictive soundtrack. Add to it that the Argolan are some of the best realized, in terms of make-up, aliens in Who and it adds to that.
Finally, Tom Baker is reigned in a bit and it works well. After some overacting in season seventeen, Baker is given a script that allows him to show off not only his clownish side, but his serious side as well. He is utterly believable as the aged Doctor.
So, if you looking for a good story to pass a little over an hour (for some reasons, the episodes run short in this one, but the story's so good, you hardly notice!), I suggest giving The Leisure Hive another look. It's well worth the time.
A Review by Robert Thomas 31/7/00
After having read the previous review of this story I felt compelled to throw in my own opinion.
The most startling fact about this story is that after exploring the top ten section of this site I ended up listing my top ten all time worst Doctor Who stories. Amazingly there were six other stories in it that I found worse than this one.
I am still in shock as I have long thought of this story as my least favourite. There is not a single redeeming aspect that can be mentioned. The story is boring to extreme, Tom Baker himself puts in his worse performance, the sets so often talked about are tacky and the influx of new ideas of which I had been told about are non existent.
Other fans apparently single this story out as a change in direction for Doctor Who that would develop under John Nathan-Turner. Those of us who remain unbiased and objective can see that this story is definitely one of the tragedies of his term.
When looking at the landmark stories that occurred in his time it can be seen that he was a hit and miss producer for the big occasion. The last 4th doctor story, too sombre. The first 6th doctor story, disaster. The last 6th doctor, story non existent. The first 7th doctor story, weak. The 25th anniversary special, great. The last 5th doctor story, a classic. The first 5th doctor story, poetry in motion.
Believe me when I first watched this story I wanted to like it. But after watching it there can only be one word that can describe it - sloppy.
Don't Believe The Hype by Robert Frederick 22/10/00
The two other reviews here are a bit extreme so I have decided to sit on the fence. A lot of people talk about this story as the dawning of a new era. They are wrong. Turner pulled out all the stops in terms of production and the script is ok. My favourite effect is those purple balls that drop off as the argolians age. The politics of this story makes it more interesting than it should be. Lalla Ward again like in Horns of Nimon takes most of the centre stage as Tom Baker plays an aged Doctor for the most of the story.
The end scenes with the multiple Doctor's are cool, especially since they are not sure which of them is real. Too bad K9 does not appear much, what with this being his last season, plus I think the setting would have suited him. The supporting characters are not particulary memorable, except for the mother and son arguing over the fate of the planet. Towards the end when the son goes mad is fantastic overacting. The Foamasi are good monsters but too bulky for the plot to work, but otherwise fine. To sum up this is a good but not great story. I would think most people would think that is ok, but like the two above reviews show it brings out extreme responses in fans.
A Review by Rob Matthews 28/9/01
I've often written reviews in a bit of a rush, or with the intention of only making one or two specious points that were niggling me at the time (witness my woefully inadequate season 18 and Millennial Rites scribblings... On the other hand, don't bother). Probably Robert Thomas, one of the reviewers above, did much the same thing when it came to this story. I hope he won't take any personal offence at my pointing out that his criticism is insatisfactory.
His review suggests that to anyone who is 'unbiased and objective', The Leisure Hive must be seen as a failure, and sums it up as 'sloppy'. However, he dosn't back up this supposedly unbiased objectivity with any analysis of the story, beyond calling it boring and criticising the sets (symptomatic of the then-new JNT reign) as 'tacky'.
This is unfair. Boredom and interest are of course subjective things and impossible to quantify, but we should at least offer some analysis of these stories and how we relate to them before just dismissing them. Does he think the story was misconceived? Does he think it was a good idea badly executed? We can't tell. Likewise there's no explanation of why he considers it 'sloppy'.
Anyway, having recently seen the story for the first time, I liked it. It's hardly one of the very best, but not at all bad.
I can see no evidence of sloppiness in the plotting, which is pretty tight and twisty. A race whose planet has been made uninhabitable, and who have themselves been made sterile, by war, locked up inside a protective hive and forced to prostitute their scientific discoveries as light entertainment in order to survive. And that's just for starters. The story takes in two recurrent Doctor Who themes - the futility of war and the destructiveness of insularity (in this case, xenophobia), while also raising questions about the negative consequences of science - in particular, cloning.
The war theme is best dealt with in the scene where the Doctor and Romana view the scorched surface of Argolis from inside the hive, with the following exchange-
'How long did the war last'-, but a theme of healing the wounds is crucial to the story, with the Argolins dedicated to the use of their facility for the fostering of peace and empathy, and their former enemies the Foamasi eager to make restorations. Only one character is dedicated to vengeance and renewing old hatreds. There's a stray faction of dirty capitalist Foamasi, but they have little interest in the Argolins per se; they have their own agenda, one of those (IMO) wonderful stray agendas that occasionally wander across a Doctor Who story and expand its vistas, make it seem real.
'Really? That long?'
At the heart of the story is the conflict of Pangol and his 'mother', Waiting for her to die so he can stop all her work toward peace and plunge his people back into war, he's quite literally the type of person who'll step over his own mother to achieve his ends. And in their interaction we see the conflict of considered wisdom versus unreasoning impulsiveness, or patience versus kick 'em in the head and ask questions later. It's a lot easier than to smash things up than to build them. Pangol's attitude reminds me of Davros' in Genesis - the belief that peace can't be achieved by being nice, but only by destroying or suppressing everyone who dares contradict you.
All of which might not have worked, but I think Pangol is very well-cast, giving the impression of naivete and even pitifulness while still remaining despicable. He's a bigot, but as his father ('Why, isn't that Dastari?!') points out, his phobia of aliens is understandable in someone who's seen his people laid waste by green monsters.
And his scheme to create new Argolins, 'Children of the Generator' would appear to make perfect sense, but for the fact that he wants them all to be duplicates of him. I found it intriguingly similar to to the idea of the Time Lord looms from the Virgin books, and perhaps a little underexplored; at the end of the story, there wasn't much sense that the Argolins would adapt Pangol's discoveries to find a way for their race to survive.
Anyway, all this is at the core of the story and for the most part it works for me. I can imagine the finale not being to everyone's tastes, but I loved it, a shocking concept handled in a throwaway fashion as if it were a mere trifle, black humour the way Dave Stone does it - 'I must try to raise him better this time'. And - I apologise profusely for this - the line 'Did someone say Foamasi?' makes me chuckle.
The Doctor's cunning use of the randomiser from the Tardis, meanwhile, is a clever way of drawing a line under the whole randomiser saga, rather than letting it simply fade away.
And it's quite amusing how the Doctor works out the scientist's rejuvenation experiment was a fake - you'd think the makers would be wary about calling attention to unconvincing special effects!
The things this story is perhaps best known for are mainly on the periphery - the Doctor's ageing and the shiny sets. There's not much to be said for the former, except that it's funny (in context) and a bit unnerving. The latter point, however, is one which I don't think should be made an issue in the first place. In my opinion, the sets are neither an indicator of a spangly new direction for the show nor a symptom of its becoming more superficial. This story is clearly not about style over substance, and I think people on both sides of the argument have put too much stock into the matter. The previous season's Movellans were tacky-looking, and the costumes in Nightmare of Eden were godawful. So don't blame JNT, blame disco. Personally I think the sets and costumes in The Leisure Hive are well-designed - those coloured crystals the scientist uses to record his work with are quite elegant -, but it wouldn't matter to me hugely if they weren't. It's amazing how often people lose track of the fact that this was a Saturday teatime kids show. Do they expect it to look like it was directed by Stanley Kubrick and designed by HR Giger or something?
The Foamasi are admittedly particualrly poor-looking, but at least they're kept off the screen with something approaching artistry. If it's good enough for Stephen Spielberg and Bruce the shark, it's good enough for Dr Who.
Viewed on its own and without artificially imposing the weight of the whole John Nathan Turner era on it, this is an engaging and enjoyable story.
Argy Bargy by Andrew Wixon 15/11/02
The first thing that hits you, watching The Leisure Hive straight from Season 17, is the revamped title sequence and theme music: which are, of course, much more dated and less atmospheric than those they replaced. The next thing you notice is the length and redundancy of the opening pan along Brighton beach. This whole scene is only there for effect: compare it to the opening scene of the previous season, which manages to be more entertaining and get more done story-wise while being confined to the console room. But then to criticise The Leisure Hive for doing things solely for effect is to miss the whole point of the story.
Somewhere in here there's a fairly solid story by the much underrated David Fisher; one that might have fit very comfortably in a previous season. (Although the story lacks focus: it's not clear whether it's about Foamasi gangsters or Pangol's scheme until rather late on, and Pangol himself transforms from a officious pain in the neck to a ranting megalomaniac in a pretty arbitrary way.) There are lots of solid performances and two terrifically well-designed alien races. But you notice this only in passing as most of the time you're wondering what the hell Lovett Bickford is doing with the camera now: the direction defines the story, being flashy, superficial and distracting.
And it really doesn't help the telling of the story. Sure, the low angle shots displaying the (expensive) set ceilings add a touch of verite, but those same ceilings make the Hive seem gloomy and claustrophobic - surely not the desired effect. And Bickford's tendency to shoot everyone in extreme close-up all the time just gets silly, especially at the beginning of part four. Even Tom seems a bit subdued by all the whizz-bangs with the camera (although his heavy make-up job for most of the story may have something to do with it).
All this would of course be justified if Bickford's approach was the show's new house style - but it isn't. While there would be a general improvement in the quality of direction on the show over the next few years, nothing else approaches this level. and so the most memorable feature of The Leisure Hive isn't much more than a colossal gimmick. The JNT era has begun.
"I must rewrite this story properly" by David Barnes 2/7/02
The Leisure Hive. The first story of Season 18. The first story of John Nathan-Turner as producer. The first story of the eighties.
It's not very good is it?
The story opens with a gratuitously long pan along Brighton Beach. Quite why this was deemed to be a good idea, no-one will ever know. This story excels in containing long stretches of nothingness. The pan along Brighton Beach, the bit with the slowed up title sequence, loads of spaceship landings and the longest episode reprises I've ever seen.
Tom Baker just seems bored with the whole thing, he dosn't need to be made up to look like an old man to see that. Lalla Ward as Romana struggles to make it look as if she wants to be there after blowing up K9 in the first minute (well, after the Brighton Beach pan). Ian Talbot as Klout is so bored that he decides to say nothing, John Collin, who plays Brock, obviously didn't want to be there so they acquired a piece of cardboard and got John to phone in his lines. Adrienne Corri as Meena seems to actually want to be in the production. Nigel Lambert as Hardin is fairly good but is still a bit dull ("It dosn't really work, you know." he tells Romana, probably referring to the plot).
The only person to stand out is David Haig as Pangol. He rises above the dreariness of the story to put in a marvellous performance. He is very quiet and reserved early on but is brilliant when he goes insane later.
The Foamasi are pretty good but too bulky (and how do those masks fit on their heads?).
The plot takes a very long time to get going. Pangol's schemes only come to fruition in part 3, until then we have the plot about the Foamasi wanting to buy the Hive and some stuff about time experiments (represented by some goo in an hour glass).
Then the stuff with the Foamasi is forgotten about 2 minutes into part 4 (apart from that one who keeps asking permission to leave the story) and we really get into the stuff with Pangol for about 15 minutes. The Foamasi shuttle is blown up, one of the genuinely good moments in this story. What the Doctor actually does to the Recreation Generator to a) rejuvenate himself and b) create an army of himself that last for 30 seconds is anyone's guess.
And then suddenly, in the last minute, Pangol goes mad, the Doctor throws a helmet at a TV screen (he had probably seen the earlier episodes) and Pangol turns into a baby. Meena wraps up the plot with Pangol by saying "This time I must remember to bring him up properly", the plot about the Foamasi is wrapped up ("You mentioned Foamasi?" That is an actual quote) when you find out the good Foamasi didn't go onboard the shuttle. Then the Doctor and Romana leave.
What sort of resolution was that? Its not as if too much time had been spent early on as this story has some of the shortest episodes ever (episode 3 lasts 20 minutes).
The model work is very good but is used every 20 seconds.
The only good things in this story are the musical score, the cliffhangers (particulary the one for Part 1, a favourite of mine) and David Haig's performance as Pangol. This story looks nice but the plot needs a good going-over. 4/10
Style over substance by Tim Roll-Pickering 7/11/02
It is hard to deny the level of change brought about by The Leisure Hive, beginning so dramatically with the new title sequence and rendition of the theme music. Throughout the story it is clear that the series has a new direction with production values that are a clear improvement upon the previous season, whilst the script has a huge degree of scientific content in it. Even the Doctor seems changed, being far more subdued than in previous seasons. The music is very different from before and there's a general feeling that this is truly the beginning of a new era for the series. Unfortunately there are some areas where elements of the old one still show through.
Although The Leisure Hive contains far more scientific dialogue than its recent predecessors, this does still not disguise the story's roots as a typical send-up tale of the type so prevalent in the previous season. There is a high degree of humour in the story that even the technobabble can not hide, whilst the plot would not have been out of place in the previous era. David Fisher's final script for the series may have some good ideas, but the finished product is a highly confused mess that shows all too clearly that there has been a major creative conflict that has resulted in a script which tries to fit two very different visions of Doctor Who and succeeds in fitting neither. The jokey dialogue weakens the story immensely, whilst some of the basic plot elements rely far too much on science. The story's opening sequence is unnecessary and as dull as the weather. Furthermore the idea of the Doctor being able to pilot the TARDIS whilst the Randomiser is still fitted goes against established continuity. Although other stories have made the same 'offence', The Leisure Hive actually features the device and explains it, so it makes no sense whatsoever for it to be ignored in the very same tale.
Of the cast, Tom Baker plays the Doctor as though it has been some time since we last saw him in The Horns of Nimon/Shada. Far from the overdomineering individual, he is far more reserved and gives a general sense of weariness, even before his advanced ageing at the end of Part Two. Lalla Ward manages to play Romana well even when forced to recite endless technobabble. Of the guest cast the only performances of any note are Adrienne Corri as Mena, who brings a strong sense of ageing dignity to the role, whilst David Haig successfully plays Pangol as the hot-headed radical who is too young to remember the devastation of his race's history.
The production values for this story are strong in many areas and are helped by some excellent camera work and direction from Lovett Bickford. However in many places the story is too brightly lit whilst the Foamasi are a very dissatisfactory realised monster. They simply do not convince in the scenes where Borck and Klout are revealed, due to the size of the costumes, and otherwise contribute very little to the tale that justifies such an elaborate outfit. Otherwise the production suffers in places from the excess use of plastic whilst some of the video effects make it a little hard to follow just what is happening. At times it feels that far too much effort has been put into the style of the story rather than the substance and this is what makes the tale ultimately disappointing, especially on reviewing. Whilst a bold new step for the series, it is clear that more needs to be done and the old order completely forgotten in order to firmly step forward. 1/10
Exploring the Hive... by Joe Ford 21/6/03
How fans diss this story is beyond me. Our own Tim Roll-Pickering gave the story 1/10....1/10!!!! Jesus the production alone is enough to warrant 8/10! I have re-watched this story more times than I care to remember and every time I do I come away thinking I have watched possibly the best slice of entertainment the show has to offer. Some Doctor Who stories manage to break tradition and look great despite the budget troubles. Some manage to struggle through on the charisma of the actors. Others achieve miracles just by presenting imaginative concepts and witty dialogue. The Leisure Hive is one of those rare stories that achieves all of these and more.
I mean it's just gorgeous to look at, isn't it? For me this is like watching Spike from Buffy soap himself up and down, a complete eye candy dream that I would not want to takes my eyes off. Every shot of this story is painstaking crafted so that nothing is predictable, it constantly surprises, impresses and pleases the eye. There is an abundance of colour from the rich burgandy of Tom Baker's gorgeous new costume, the painful yellow glare of the Argolin sun, the eye catching green and yellow hair for the Argolins, the luminous statues everywhere...it is almost an assault on the senses but a hugely enjoyable one. Lovett Bickford does a superb of job of keeping the narrative flowing whilst indulging in some almost movie-style filming. Of particular note is the quick cuts of the Fomasi in episode four as they are exposed, it could have been mortifying but thanks to some sharp editing and camera work it looks great. And the shots of the Hive swirling in the radioactive dust is perhaps Doctor Who's ultimate expression in effects. One scene begins with an exterior shot as the camera pans along outside the window and it effortlessly cuts inside to the conversation between Mena and Hardin, a truly spectacular and inventive shot. And this story is full of similar tricks.
But it's not just the body of the show that is impressive, its brain is equally deft and this fourth script by stalwart David Fisher is something very special. Let loose in the Williams era Fisher created some top notch comedy, some of the best in the entire show but under JNT's unrelenting glare he produces what is possibly his tightest script, a serious piece that deals with some compelling issues and yet still has time for the odd chuckle to stop things getting too dry. He created the Argolin, a fascinating species (who are treated to a fantastic design) on the verge of destruction and their one last gift to the universe, the Leisure Hive, a sort of educational Butlins where different cultures can come and learn about each other and have some fun with it too. With such a fascinating set up it would easy to indulge in a traditional Doctor Who run-around but he resists the temptation and introduces a brilliant thriller element to the show, the warlike Fomasi who want to take over the Hive and will infiltrate and sabotage to achieve their aims. It leads to some good whodunnit sequences as the Doctor and Romana are yet again blamed for all the problems. The plot unfolds at a quick pace and touches on sterility, accelerated ageing, genetics and homicide. This is a script with intelligence and is not afraid to show it. Maybe that's why fans don't like it so much?
And yet there's still more on offer. The characters are beautifully crafted and ideally cast. Who would ever think that racist dictator Pangol played with such restrained evil by David Haig would later turn up as that CID prat from The Thin Blue Line? Mena makes a good impression from the word go, strong willed, sensitive and intelligent, her vulnerability only comes with her illness and I sympathised with her character until the end. Even conniving buggers like Brock and his silent (yet undeniably sinister) Lawyer get their moments to shine. The performances are never less than stellar and unusually for Doctor Who it's all played straight and is all the more compelling for it.
What is the point of that four minute sequence on Brighton beach? To blow up K.9. in spectacular fashion of course!!! And isn't it funny? I just chuckle my head off as soon as that slapsticky music cranks up as he heads for the shore. That's JNT for you, making his mark from the very first scene. This story is in fact such a contrast to the theatrical antics of The Horns of Nimon that watching the first episode of this is like a slap in the face. Let's face facts, the show looked better, it sounded better, it was better written and better acted. Season seventeen was good stuff but it wasn't a patch on the wonders this year would offer up.
The eminently shaggable team of Tom Baker and Lalla Ward (or should that be eminently shagging team???) actually taste a lot different in this new, polished, season. Baker especially looks like he's had his wrist slapped and is delivering a performance more akin to his first two seasons, level headed and very watchable. His subdued, frail acting when he is aged exposes just what a fine actor he is when given the chance to stretch himself. Lalla just looks positively lickable in this, so tasty in her arrogance you just want her to stay forever. Even her screaming fit in episode four is great as we finally realise the severity of the situation as the usually calm Time Lady explodes with anger.
And the laughs? "Arrest the scarf then!" is the obvious contender but I love more subtle lines like..."Well I can't get everything right!", "500 years goes by so fast", "Why are they so competitive?" ...it's mostly Tom and Lalla who provide the laughs, their chemistry is so hot these days it makes you weep to think how little time they have left.
The incidental music is so good after years of Dudley Simpson's endless racket. Anything gets dull after a while and his tunes of doom polluted the Tom Baker era for far too long. Occasionally effective but far too similar what the stories needed was something definitive, something uplifting, just like the wall to wall music we get here. Practically every scene is punctuated with seductive music that literally tells the story in places. If there was one thing JNT improved it was definitely the music. I love it.
I have recently watched an episode of Farscape called Scratch'n'Sniff which has a similar sort of giddy feel. It looks fantastic, tells a lot of its story through sumptuous effects and camera trickery and has regulars that are at the height of their powers, charismatic as hell. That The Leisure Hive took place 22 years earlier on one hundredth of the budget just goes to show how bloody good this story is.
Four episodes of magic, treat yourself and watch again soon.
Never before has a DVD release prompted me to write an additional review to discuss its extras but The Leisure Hive is surely in a league of its own. This is the WORST DVD package yet and without tipping this review into melodrama it actually detracts from the story rather than adding to it. Frankly I would rather watch my fuzzy VHS and appreciate the story on its merits than sit through what has to be the least entertaining commentary I have ever heard.
What is the point of pulling together three people who worked on the programme if you aren't going to learn anything about the story? Or if they are going to be so clueless about the whole thing at least make it an entertaining line up like the playful Peter Davison and the cheeky Janet Fielding. But no what we get here is three very powerful personalities constantly interrupting, patronising and insulting each other but doing it all with a smile.
Lalla Ward makes a perceptive comment on how creative the show is with its FX compared to the cartoonish bonanzas these days because they did not have the time or technology to make it easy so they worked all the harder to make it interesting. Unfortunately that is the only interesting thing she says and other than saying "oh that looked nice" a few times spends the rest of the time slagging off her ex husband in a childish and puerile manner. At least Tom had the dignity to say nice things about Lalla on The Tom Baker years... here she never praises his performance, constantly alludes to how he is pushing her out of the limelight and insults his intelligence on various subjects. In short, get over it love, back stabbing comments only make you look childish.
But Christopher H Bidmead is even WORSE. I've never worked with anyone from the telly but the arrogance of this man would seem to epitomise every big headed executive piss take I have ever seen. Occasionally he says "oh that's a nice shot" like Lalla but more often than not he jumps in before anyone can speak saying "that didn't work!" and waiting for Lovett Bickford to explain himself as though he ruined the entire project. The visuals of The Leisure Hive are fantastic, almost cinematic and Bidmead's constant negativity (he doesn't like the opening pan, the rocket landing shots, the sun coming up over Argolis, the model shots of the Hive, most of the visual effects, the overpowering music) and expectations of Lovett to explain away the narrative during the dialogue-free scenes becomes ridiculous. Even worse is the lapses in the story; actual plotting errors that Bidmead refuses to take the blame for and instead blames it on scene cuts and directional errors. I realise Bidmead is entitled to his opinion but listening to the man I got the impression that he felt he had delivered a perfect script and it was sabotaged therein after. Which is doubtful.
Lalla Ward makes a terribly good point when she says that Bidmead was trying to take all the fun out of the show by scrapping K9 and the Sonic Screwdriver and his determination to remind people that he (and others) managed to "stop the silliness!" again exposes the single mindedness of the man. Yes, he helped to create one of the best ever seasons of Doctor Who and we now all know it.
Lovett Bickford is the star of show really trying terribly hard to explain this effect and that but more often than not is dealing with a barrage of complaints from his script editor and justifying his work. I love the opening pan Lovett, it symbolises the new era JNT was after perfectly and I don't give a damn if the story elements aren't introduced for 90 seconds, it is a haunting new beginning. Poor guy, he tries to say he thought the story was good at the end of the commentary but his companions refuse to take up the subject and before he can bring it up again his time is up.
The other extras are a bit of a mixed bag to be honest, not up to the usual high standards of the DVDs (and certainly a step down from the highly entertaining Green Death extras).
The John Nathan-Turner documentary is marred by the fact that (obviously) they couldn't have any fresh material from him. It wisely restricts the documentary to his initial changes visible in The Leisure Hive and has some fascinating titbits from old interviews from JNT himself (love his dismissal of K9!) but much of the rest is rather dull, just rehashing the information, which, frankly is present in the other documentaries on the disc.
David Fisher is another harsh critic of The Leisure Hive as he feels that JNT and Chris Bidmead sucked all the fun out of writing for the show and excised all his jokes. With all these people who worked on the story bringing it down it is hard to actually enjoy the damn thing! I shall certainly give it another go soon just to remind myself that it is a classic!
My personal favourite was June Hudson's contribution, talking briefly about changes in the costumes. Fascinating because she sticks to talking about what she knows best and gives you some interesting new info on why she chose certain colours and styles.
I was really looking forward to The Leisure Hive coming out on DVD because it is so technically accomplished I expected to learn much about its production. It's such a shame that this DVD drowns under the weight of several overbearing personalities who would rather critisize someone else's work than discuss their own contributions.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 18/2/04
Kickstarting a new era, The Leisure Hive brings Doctor Who firmly into the 1980s thanks largely to new producer John Nathan-Turner. His influence extending as far as revamping the show with new opening titles, theme, a new costume reflecting the sombreness of Tom Baker`s performance and a glossy feel to the show. As to the story itself, it's highly enjoyable in part thanks to Lovett Bickford`s great direction, in part to the score (the most obvious example being the Doctor`s screams melding into the theme seemlessly) and also down to some great performances from the cast.
To begin with the two leads, Tom Baker`s performance is considerably restrained and as a result actually works better when he is aged, as his voice changes to suit the character. Lalla Ward gives a solid performance and Romana`s concern for the Doctor is perhaps never better illustrated than here. Unfortunately, we are deprived of K-9, rather than send him into the sea, why not simply keep him in the TARDIS?
Visually the story is impressive, the aged Doctor, the opening shot on the beach, and the Foamasi all come across well (the latter more so, as they are only partially revealed throughout). Strong performances from the guest cast help too in what is in summary a particularly effective and memorable season opener.
"Stop that laughing! Concentrate on the Science!" by Steve Cassidy 4/8/04
I was the right age to watch The Leisure Hive in 1980. If the series was aimed at intelligent fourteen year olds then I was a precocious twelve year old who could tell you how the planets formed, what the capital of Namibia was (Windhoek since you ask nicely) and even at that age I knew my baroque from my gothic perpendicular. I should have been the natural audience for The Leisure Hive but I really can't get worked up about it. Why? Why don't I rave about it like other reviewers. Granted, I do like it but after it seems too good to be true, too A+, too bright and shiny. It's like a show-flat that looks good because no one lives there. There is something about The Leisure Hive which doesn't impress me.
Now that it has been released on DVD I can give it a second go. Back in 1980 I saw the first episode and missed the middle two, coming back at the end totally perplexed at the climax. In 2004 I sat down and gave it my most rapt attention. The narrative is tough, the direction and script do not always make sense but it is a highly original tale. However, it is the production undercurrents which entertained me the most.
Oh that terrible preceding season! Oh that awful mechanical dog! Oh that terrible Doctor who wickedly would never stick to his lines! These are enemies who must be eradicated! All traces of the previous regime must be erased! Round up that humour and take it to the cellar to be beaten by the rubber truncheons! The jelly babies are a threat to society! That Douglas Adams undergraduate humour will undermine the fabric of what we are trying to achieve!
The conflict between magical Williams humour and JNT scientific puritanism is head on in this adventure. And unfortunately not only the humour has been removed but the cause-and-effect plot as well. In the interests of better production design and plots based squarely on real sciences something else was surgically removed in the interest of the patients own good.
Someone else shares my opinion. This exchange from the DVD commentary.
Lalla Ward: "How could you get rid of K9 and the sonic screwdriver. You removed all the fun from the show!"Anyway, what is it like? From a technical viewpoint it is excellent. The direction, costume and sets are top notch. The cast give their all and it whizzes along in no time at all. It truly is glitzy, the sets are extraordinary, enhanced by imaginative lighting and decoration. Even a simple set like Brock's quarters is enhanced by blue light. The model work of the faintly gothic looking Hive is impressive surrounded by its swirling radioactive dust. The special effects, for the time, were state of the art and there are some highly stylised images - the Doctor's limbs being torn off in the Recreation generator, the clones being replicated, and the Doctor being prematurely aged. All good stuff. As is the direction by Lovett Bickford. The Fomoasi themselves are the usual cliched clawed reptilian monster. But Bickford wisely keeps them in the shadows occasionally revealing an eye or a claw. Only in episode three are they fully revealed as is their real reason for being on Argolis.
Bidmead "Exactly, now the Doctor has to use his wits instead a gadget.."
Lalla Ward: "The TARDIS is a gadget.."
Bidmead "Ah, yes, but that is unpredictable.."
Lalla Ward "Exactly my point. Magic."
June Hudson's costumes and Dorka Nieraziks' make-up are also worth a mention. The robes for the Argolins are nothing less then beautiful with a kind of sweeping yellow beauty. These compliment the green make up and wigs devised by Ms Nieraziks to create a highly convincing alien species. One of the more impressive facets of the adventure is their backstory. Writer David Fisher created a doomed race still haunted by a nuclear war forty years before. The conflict between the 'young Turks' led by Pangol and the 'Old guard' is impressively done. Both elliciting sympathy in a performance showing a race literally dying before your own eyes. Laurence Payne is exceptionally good as Morix, the Argolin Leader, giving the same weighty pained performance he would give as Dastari seven years later.
The regulars are as good as ever. But one gets the impression that the new regime was just as much a shock to them as it was to the audience. To start with K9 is treated with contempt. Subject to indignities and blown up in the first few minutes - the robotic dog disappears from this adventure with a flick of the pen from Chris Bidmead. Lalla Ward seems to be the only one who comes through unscathed and gives her usual formidable performance. I love the fact she messes up twice in this adventure (K9 in the water, the experiment with the Doctor) but in character doesn't apologise onece. Oh thats' so wonderfully Romanan. Tom Baker is reined in tightly. He sneaks in a few ad-libs here and there but we are watching a more careful thoughtful performance almost as if he is up for parole if he behaves himself. Everyone comments on how good he was when he is aged. The actor hated it and just wanted it for one episode while the writer and producer wanted it to continue for the entire season - that way he wouldn't be tempted to resort to his trade mark grins and puns. It is like watching an old lion being finally tamed.
That goes for the writer as well. I rather like David Fisher's work, granted The Creature from the Pit was a clunker of the first order, but I adore Stones of Blood. Fisher wrote the original story for the lighter Williams era then found himself under the scrutiny of the new JNT puritan Commonwealth. All humour was jettisoned from the script but what we are left with is a highly original story with good characters and an interesting scientific premise but few laughs. But somewhere between script and transmission the story became incomprehensible. Why did the Doctor not get torn to pieces by the Recreation Generator? Why does he loop his scarf around those jelly-like Argolins? Why did that Foamasi spacecraft explode? How does he return from being 1530 years old back down to 750 without anyone noticing? I think like the Schleswig Holstein question only three people understand it - and each of them are dead.
Plus there are some pretty incomprehensible shots. From that angle the shuttle landing is baffling and why does the Doctor walk outside, turn around and walk back in again? Is it to break up a scene? Don't get me wrong I like The Leisure Hive and as everyone says it is a good competent effort to start off a season. It ticks all the right boxes and allows repeated viewing. But there are some pretty unpleasant undercurrents once you know the politics of the time. It reminded me of Animal Farm, the old regime was so fervently eradicated the new regime became as bad as the old.
A good lively effort, I'll be watching it again. This time with a pad and pencil trying to work out the way the plot fits together. It's that kind of story. 7/10.
The beginning of the end by Antony Tomlinson 30/11/04
I had, until I recently saw this story, always maintained a certain view of the John Nathan-Turner era. Firstly, I accepted that many of the later seasons that he gave us were awful. However, I also maintained that, like Letts, Hinchcliffe and Williams, the first couple of years of Doctor Who that he produced were - if not perfect - still an interesting, fresh vision of the series. I thought that (as with Letts) it was only after this vision had run out of steam that things started to go awry.
Perhaps however, I gained this notion because I tended to watch only the best, or at least the most interesting stories of Seasons 18-20 - stories like Logopolis, Kinda and The Five Doctors. For, after watching The Leisure Hive, his first (broadcast) story, I have come to realise that pretty much all the factors which made mid-1980s Doctor Who unwatchable were already present in this early tale. Thus, I suspect that my previous analysis of the Nathan-Turner era may have been overly generous.
The main problem with mid-1980s Doctor Who, it always seemed to me, was the needless sacrifice of the main characters to the plot - particularly given how awful some of these plots were. For there seemed to be a belief in the production office that, as long as there were as many plot strands, settings, and odd personalities washing about as possible, the audience would stay turned on.
However, what actually happened (particularly to poor Peter Davison) was that (a) the main characters ended up getting very little time in a story to interact with each other and to develop themselves, and (b) the audience, having lost sympathy with the main characters, ended up losing their emotional connection with the story. Thus, they had no reason to keep up with the highly-complex plotlines and so became bemused and bored.
Now this is also exactly what happens in The Leisure Hive. There are simply too many plots. For four episodes we get involved with alien stalkers, scientific conmen, a space leisure centre project, an interplanetary business deal, the Doctor being accused of a crime he didn't commit, weird experiments with time and something being odd about people's ages. While each of these plots would offer enough on their own to keep us interested, together they create such a jumble of strands that you lose sight of what constitutes the main story - and you just turn off altogether.
"Oh" you think, "the lizard. What's that got to do with anything? Oh, the man with the moustache - who's he again? Why has the Doctor turned old - I can't remember. Oh, I don't really care any more." Thus, when it thankfully ends (histrionically), you just find yourself shrugging in apathy. It's a far cry from the carefully paced simplicity of stories like The Horror of Fang Rock, The Robots of Death or The Ark in Space.
But worse than this, it seems that the clashing plotlines are actually given priority over our favourite character's development in this "new Nathan-Turner regime". Tom Baker is given very few good lines. In fact he is silent for a lot of this story, whenever the plotlines do not require his presence. And he is almost deliberately slowed down by its "aging" device (though at least he didn't end up exploding in the first five minutes like K9). Thus, he is given almost no chance to entertain us with his performance and wit (the exception being the beautifully delivered: "your scarf killed him Doctor", "well, arrest the scarf then"). Incredibly, however, Tom Baker almost becomes a cipher.
It is clear that Nathan-Turner did not realise that Doctor Who was a character-based drama. People watch Doctor Who because they like the Doctor (that is why they turned on for three years of varying story-types in the Hartnell era). They do not watch because they are interested in notions like the Foamasi-Argolin war or tachyonics. This was as true in 1980 as it was in 1963. But Nathan-Turner failed to note this. And I think this misconception of the series led to all the major problems which Doctor Who faced in the mid-1980s (and arguably to some rather poor casting decisions).
Of course over-complicated webs of plot, setting and supporting characters were not new to Doctor Who in 1980. The Graham Williams era was full of them. However, looking at a story like The Armageddon Factor or The Invasion of Time for instance - even if their plots are ridiculous and over-complicated, at least we get to enjoy the Doctor and his companion's reactions to the events. And this is usually FUN. In The Leisure Hive, however, it seems as though any time available for character exploration was immediately ordered to be filled up with some nerdish sci-fi plot device or technobabble, or pointlessly ponderous line like: ALIEN 1 -"the Greeks on Earth believed in moderation"; ALIEN 2 - "yes, and they were defeated by the Romans".
Another problem with this story, in line with later John Nathan-Turner efforts, is that it is painful to look at. Pre-1980 stories may have been cheaper, but at least they weren't this damn over-lit, and this damn pink. For ten years everything would be pink - whether it was the Mara snake, the Vervoids' faces or the TARDIS in The Happiness Patrol. It hurts the eyes and turns the stomach. And, as with stories such as Warriors of the Deep or Terror of the Vervoids, there is almost no attempt here to create dark spaces for monsters to lurk in. Rather, the director seems keen to show off how many lights he's got.
And finally, a more abstract, but real problem with this story - as with the rest of the Nathan-Turner era - is the lack of any real "culture" to its vision. What I mean is this: most previous seasons played on some powerful, usually already existing fictional world-vision to give their stories emotional impact. So, the Troughton era absorbed the paranoia and claustrophobia of B-movie "base-under-siege" stories; the Pertwee years had an exciting, cosy, action-thriller theme borrowed from spy and war stories; the Hinchcliffe era had a gothic feel to many of its episodes; and Williams's tales usually had a "mock epic" style to them.
But in the Nathan-Turner era there was no such "feel". The Leisure Hive merely "feels" like a lot of people running around a leisure centre. Later stories would also have an equal lack of power in their stylistic vision (people running around a futuristic tower block, around Spain, around a funeral home etc.). And it all became very bland and tasteless.
In all then, this story could have featured any of the 1980s Doctors with no changes made to it at all. Given its look, its plot, and its use of character it could have been made between 1984 and 1987 with Davison, Colin Baker or McCoy - with each actor struggling to get decent lines in during the garish chaos of the pink plot crash.
Thus, I no longer think that the John Nathan-Turner era went wrong after 1983. It was not the continuity-obsession following Season 20, the violence following Season 21, the acting in Season 22 or the lightweight tone of Seasons 23-25 that finished off the series. The Nathan-Turner era was rather always poor in general (punctuated with rare good stories that succeeded in spite of the overall direction of the series). Thus there was always something rotten in the heart of Nathan-Turner's vision. I'm just amazed that his series lasted as long as it did.
Drivel by Mike Morris 8/2/05
Watching The Leisure Hive is a bit like looking at a bad piece of modern art by a Jackson Pollock fan. The colours are bright and there must be a whole lot of thought gone into it, but I'm damned if I can make out anything other than random blobs of colour.
Anyway, here's a recipe for making a story like this. Take one script about gangster lizards; add a script editor with a completely different vision; and then add a liberal sprinkling of a director who has yet another vision and sod-all resources to achieve it. Result? God knows.
I mean, what is The Leisure Hive supposed to be about? There's just nothing to it. Not only are the episodes about seven minutes long, they're all padded out with the same footage and model shots. It opens with a five-minute interlude on Brighton beach that looks nice, but has absolutely nothing to do with the story at all. We then segue into some technobabble chat about tachyonics, showcase some uneven special effects, and have fat lizards waddling around for a few episodes. Finally someone goes nuts and suddenly starts making on army of himself with a magic machine, which then magically sorts things out. Oh, and somewhere in the middle, the Doctor is made older, than makes himself younger again. Somehow.
Gaaaarrrgghhh! What? Sorry, what? What the hell is going on?
Okay, things that are wrong. And by golly there's a lot.
First up; the tachyon stuff. The generator. The experiments. I mean, what's the deal here? Does the bloody thing work or not? First, Hardin says it's all faked and it doesn't work. Then Romana decides it can work, and they sort out all the problems (apparently). Then they bugger off before discovering that it doesn't work after all, but it does work in a way, because the Doctor gets older. Then, at the conclusion of the story, the thing does work, even though nothing's been done to it since it didn't! Uh?
Not only that, it can also copy people, but it can't, because they all vanish. The guy behind this is rather shocked, even though he's supposed to know all about the machine. And he was actually made by the generator, so actually it can make people after all. And somehow all the people are the Doctor - who's been made younger again - and... oh cripes, what is this thing? How does it work? Or is it, as some might suggest, a magic box that makes everything better or worse as the story requires? For all Christopher Bidmead's protestations that the tachyonics is "real" science, and heavily researched, it doesn't come across that way. There's no proper explanation of exactly what a tachyon is (bar some throwaway comments in Part One, which basically only tell you they exist), or how they do what they do. It's just scientific gobbledygook at the centre of the story.
The subplot with the Foamasi is better, but nowhere near enough time is given over to it. It's not helped by the fact that it's impossible to tell which Foamasi is which, so that the Foamasi outside the Hive - presumably the government agents - are confused with the Foamasi that kill Stimpson. Obviously, the costumes are kind of crap anyway, and they're so bulky and inelegant that it's hard to swallow them silently stalking the corridors as they do in this story. The plotline of them running the Hive down isn't a story as such; it basically involves the lizards prowling round for the first few episodes, and is then all explained and wrapped up at once, in the first few minutes of Part Four.
There are some good characters, and the cast are largely excellent. Laurence Payne is very good, although badly underused (probably related to the tinkering with the story structure); Mena and Pangol are also good characters, and Hardin is sensitively portrayed. However, there tends to be a problem with balance, and the characters often act against their motivations to push the plot along. Pangol, so effective when brooding with suppressed anger, goes completely bonkers in Part Four in a very unbelievable way; Hardin drops completely out of character for the "warp mechanics" scene; and we don't see anywhere near enough of Stimpson before he's killed off. Other elements are also very hurried. The Doctor's impromptu "trial" is very silly - why is it that alien races can't even scrape a jury together? - and the outcome of it, where he's "sentenced" to test the Generator, is a risible piece of scripting.
And as for the design - well, quite where it gains the reputation for being stylish is beyond me. The Argolins wear absolutely ghastly yellow pyjamas and are blessed with snot-green beehive haircuts; gorgeous or what? The (ubiquitous) corridors appear to be made of plastic garage doors, and everything is tinted a truly hideous dayglo pink for some reason. If all that isn't enough, there are giant plastic jelly babies in the main hall. Apparently, this is exemplary design. My own opinion would be that it's like being trapped in a giant plastic blancmange. Watching this story makes me want to claw my own eyes out.
Then there's the direction. This, to be fair, is the story's most interesting aspect, it's extremely brave and some of the shots are gorgeous. Bickford's careful framing of so many shots is great and makes the sets look far more detailed than they really are. The opening tracking shot on Brighton beach is simply marvellous (although entirely superfluous, but it's a lovely way to open a season), and some of the shots - for example, a tracking shot that moves from the outside of the Hive to the inside - are wonderful. But...
...but dammit, while it's nice that he went single-camera and all, Doctor Who has historically been shot on multicamera for a damn good reason - there aren't the resources for anything else! So huge amounts of shots look hurried or rushed (say, the establishing shot of the Helmet is far too perfunctory, and the Foamasi stepping on Stimpson's glasses needed a retake), and the same damn bridging shots are used over and over again. We're treated to that crap shot of the docking spaceship three times, we consistently cut to a shot of the sun (which looks like a lightbulb), and there are far too many establishing shots of what is obviously a miniature of the Hive. Some of the visual effects are really, really good - the zero gravity squash looks fantastic - but the Generator itself just looks like a screen, so it's hard to be wowed by the shots of people being pulled apart. I wouldn't normally focus on visuals - it always seems a bit unfair within the context of Doctor Who - but the fact that this story features its visuals so heavily, indeed it tries to use them to disguise bad plotting at times, means that in this case it's fair game. Lovett Bickford's philosophy of telling the story using visuals is breathtakingly cinematic, but to do it successfully you need a big budget and a lot of time. This is Doctor Who; you cut your cloth according to your fabric, and if your philosophy will inevitably make the damn thing look half-baked, you've got to swallow your ego and produce a story that makes sense.
So, here goes; it looks crap. It's cheap and plastic. It's tacky and bad. The colour scheme is reminiscent of Battenberg cake. And the direction, while brave, is so uneven that, at times it looks as amateurish as a student film.
And all that would be okay if the script was good. However, it's got four different themes bouncing around and none of them are developed with any clarity. There are some isolated scenes of brilliance - the revelation that the war lasted twenty minutes is beautifully handled - but they never come together to tell a decent story. There are some direly rushed threads; great emphasis is laid on the collars that are applied to the Doctor and Romana (they have tagging in the future; funky!), and then in the next scene they're just taken off again. And there are plot holes you could drive a truck through; the Doctor and Romana discuss the faked experiments at great length when they didn't actually see them. Not to mention dimensionally transcendental skinsuits.
The performances are all damn good, though. Tom's in good form here, and subdues his performance beautifully when he's aged. Lalla Ward is also... oh, look, Tom and Lalla are just Tom and Lalla, they're as blissful to watch as ever, and they adapt to the change in tone between the seasons with breathtaking ease. They almost make this story worth watching.
Almost. But not quite. Sometimes categorised as a triumph of style over substance, it's difficult to see where the "style" comes from. Watch this story. Then watch Warriors' Gate. Then we'll talk about style.
By contrast, The Leisure Hive is dire. It bubbles along nicely enough for the first couple of episodes, but it falls to pieces as it progresses, and by the time Part Four is nearing its conclusion it's nigh-on impossible to tell what's going on.
I'd like to say nice things about The Leisure Hive - it tries hard and it's occasionally pretty good. But - well, you could say the same thing about Matthew Waterhouse, couldn't you? Sadly, The Leisure Hive isn't much more appealing.
So, sorry to break up the party and all, but quite how this gibberish has acquired an even half-decent reputation is beyond me. As far as I'm concerned, it's a shiny, technobabble-ridden, illogical mess. And dammit, it's coloured pink and yellow.
Oh - and could that helmet look any more like... erm... you know...
A Review by Finn Clark 26/3/06
Who remembers what I said about Revelation of the Daleks? I'm going to say it here too. The Leisure Hive is an impressively directed but appallingly structured story that doesn't begin until the halfway point. I'm not suggesting that JNT or Christopher Bidmead should have had an epiphany as previous production teams did with Planet of Giants and The Dominators and edited two episodes into one, although that would have been a start. No, they should have wiped the tapes of the first two episodes and started Season Eighteen with part three.
Despite the inertia of fan thinking on the subject, there's nothing magical about the four-episode structure. Here that's doubly true. We'd all have a far better opinion of The Leisure Hive if a BBC strike had killed parts one and two. Storywise, they're dead air, albeit stylishly directed and not without charm. After that, ironically part four wraps things up in a tearing hurry and wastes perfectly good material that's crying out for further development. For example it doesn't do anything with the sweetly understated Hardin and Mena love story.
Most impressive is Lovett Bickford's direction, which is overwrought but fascinating. You've got to admire that deranged tracking shot on Brighton beach, but that's only the start of it. Look at, say, the shot of the Earth shuttle arriving. We've seen that shot a million times in Doctor Who and the other 999,999 times are all indistinguishable. This once it's imaginative. For further visual touches check out the startling part one cliffhanger which sucks us into the Doctor's mouth, or our look at the murder victim in episode two. That must be the corpsiest corpse in Doctor Who.
Overall the production is good in all other respects but one. The sets are pretty, the music kicks arse and the Argolins look absolutely fantastic. The Foamasi... well, no one's perfect. The story goes that they made a two-layered costume in an attempt to recreate the slithery look of leather skin, but in fact they recreated the look of hessian sacks painted green. I don't mind their heads, though. More monsters should have budgie beaks.
The TARDIS crew are fun, albeit underused at the beginning. Another similarity with Revelation of the Daleks! I watched this story back-to-back with The Ark in Space and was startled by how little Tom Baker had changed between the two stories. Only six years had passed, which compared with the aeons since then is nothing. (The gap between Patrick Troughton's first and last Doctor Who stories was three times as long.) Tom's still alert and compelling, not slowing down by any means even if he's no longer running riot as he did under Graham Williams. His old-age make-up looks awesome too, much better than the real Tom Baker today!
Romana is fascinating, especially in part one. The Doctor never had another companion on this level. Even the Doctor-Master relationship was different... they have the same profound mutual understanding, but even their chattier moments had an edge that precluded this much casual intimacy. Does it even need saying that Lalla is cute?
I like the other actors too. David Haig paces his performance nicely as Pangol, building up towards his convincingly played mania in the final episode, while John Collin looks terrific as Brock. Mafiosa may be an Italian word, but for me Brock's the very embodiment of an American gangland boss. It's the moustache.
However that script... gyaaah, you'd think it was a BBC Book. It has fantastic ideas: tachyonics, the superannuated Doctor and above all the tragedy of Argolis and the Argolins. Underneath the recycled Graham Williams era bollocks, this is the story of a race who can't have children and thus face extinction on the radioactive remains of their homeworld. One might even spare a thought for Pangol, who'd probably expected to end up the sole survivor on a dead world, walking its deserted corridors for lonely decades and eventually dying among the bones and ghosts. I can just imagine the pigheaded idiot living out his life like that, too.
However good ideas are a pale substitute for a story. The script is a deformed mutation that should have been strangled at birth. Part three is great and part four is okay, but you can't excuse parts one and two. They're empty SF runarounds without real human drama. Even Tom Baker can't save the day this time.
I quite enjoyed The Leisure Hive, but an important part of that was having half an eye on the superior re-edited version in my head. The director busts his nuts to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear and so there's much to admire throughout on a purely technical level. Close your eyes and you'll find a poignant tale being told. What happened to Argolis is tragic. (The novelisation also expands considerably on the on-screen events.) Overall, this story is an oddity. Some people adore it, others loathe it and a few can't see what all the fuss is about. Strangely, I agree with all three points of view.
New Wave by Matthew Harris 6/12/16
The 21st-century series has made hay out of the notion of "fixed points in time" - moments so crucial that history solidifies around them and they can't be changed without creating an even more obvious plot device and collapsing the fabric of the storytelling continuum altogether. The series itself has had many of those. Stories that laid down a marker reading "what's past is prologue" and announced a new era or even just a moment unlike any other before or since. 100,000 BC, obviously. Spearhead from Space. The Power of the Daleks. Rose. The Day of the Doctor. The TVM. And perhaps the most unlikely candidate for the title of "watershed", The Leisure Hive.
The show went away at the dawn of 1980, six weeks earlier than planned, with a story introduced by an awesome but increasingly tatty time-tunnel, now six years into its service (seven if you count the prototype version of Pertwee's last season) and starting to become cosily familiar where it should have been eerie and alien. The story itself was based on a Greek myth, set in a cardboard maze and written and acted largely for comic effect, with no one really attempting to play it as if it were really happening (Graham Crowden in particular wheeling around like a man hell-bent on picking a fight with Stanislavski himself).
It came back eight months later, sleek, electronic and dynamic. The title sequence was a now a how-on-earth-did-they-do-that starfield. The logo had regenerated from a seventies-looking diamond into a single-line abstraction. The theme tune was still alien, wailing and haunting but updated for the age of the Tubeway Army. And Tom's outfit had apparently been washed with a red sock. (On the subject of the question marks: I couldn't give a flying one. Never could.)
But some things hadn't changed. As was inevitably the case, the new team inherited a couple of the previous administration's commissions. The midwife for the new era was therefore to be David Fisher. Fisher was one of the Graham Williams era's torchbearers, responsible for three stories in two seasons and the original pitch for a fourth. His scripts had tended to be high on the comedy, low on the substance; here is a writer whose best story is probably The Androids of Tara. That was when he'd had the sympathetic Anthony Read and Douglas Adams editing him. Now, he had Christopher H. Bidmead, a solemn, bearded mathematician and technology journalist, plucked from (and soon to return to) non-fiction computer magazines. Under Bidmead, his script was injected with the hardest SF they could manage before the tissues started to reject it (while the other Williams hangover, Meglos, was so soaked in its Season Seventeenness that no such operation could have been performed without killing the patient).
Suddenly, every high concept had a painstakingly thought-through SF justification - DO NOT explain tachyonics or how the Recreation Generator worked to me, I beg you - but underneath it's still a David Fisher script, another semi-comic runaround from the creator of The Creature from the Pit. Every multisyllabic technical term thrown in (presumably) by Bidmead just made those moments of humor a little more awkward.
Casting the likes of Nigel Lambert (also the narrator of Look Around You; note that down in your copybooks now), the late Adrienne Corri and a shockingly young David Haig - proper, experienced actors who actually played it for real - had much the same effect and gives the overall impression of a Silent Running-style highbrow SF production that accidentally got a few script pages from Spaceballs mixed in. Not that it would be a laugh riot if Fisher had been left to his own devices. The Leisure Hive is easily the grimmest story he ever wrote, after three and a half relatively insubstantial high-concept runarounds. The stakes never seemed terribly high in The Androids of Tara or The Stones of Blood. (Admittedly they did in City of Death, but he only came up with the idea for that one; Douglas Adams did most of the heavy lifting). The Leisure Hive is the only one of his stories where what's going on seems to matter, and it's the script as much as the production that's responsible. Admittedly, Chloris in The Creature from the Pit was pretty good, especially by late seventies Who standards, but that was still just a single jungle. Argolis is the first planet he's created that's really seemed like an entire planet and not just some BBC props and flats scattered about the place - although ironically this is achieved by having the entire thing blown up long before the story begins. But that's why it feels substantial: the Argolins are a dying race resigned to their death by slow-motion sui-genocide.
Then it was given to Lovett Bickford, a production assistant on several previous episodes who was now branching into directing. And it was Bickford who really made the story memorable, and right from the start: he opens the story (and the season) with an astonishing, seemingly endless tracking shot along a grey, wind-blasted Brighton beach, which goes on for over a minute and a half. That's a long time for a 25-minute TV show to be showing essentially nothing at all. But Bickford doesn't care. He's not one of those baffled sitcom and soap opera directors who Graham Williams kept hiring to helm Doctor Who just as if there was no practical difference between an episode of Mixed Blessings and a story set partly in a hospital orbiting Saturn in the fifty-first century and partly inside the body of one of its main characters. And that's before you factor in Tom at his the peak of his megalomania. He had already scared off at least one talented, imaginative and strong-willed director in Paddy Russell, who, after Horror of Fang Rock, would sooner juggle wolves than work on Doctor Who again in a hurry. So we ended up with the likes of Derek Goodwin, Norman Stewart, Alan Bromly and Gerald Blake. For these poor souls, their only coping mechanism was to nail a camera to the ground and vaguely command their actors to act in front of it. Bickford is an artisan. He is as one with his medium, god damn it! He'll open with ninety seconds of slow panning to the right like Peter Greenaway on a sugar high if he likes, no matter how utterly demented it is. And it is: totally insane and unnecessary, but at least it was something.
He also gives us three terrific cliffhangers. Part one climaxes with the famously nightmarish crash-zoom into Tom Baker's uvula as he's seemingly torn apart - his scream starting half a second after the cliffhanger's and blending into the theme tune. Part two's cliffhanger is similar but inverted: an queasily unsettling zoom into Tom in his old-man make-up, accompanied by a throbbing synthesized siren courtesy of Peter Howell. The final cliffhanger is the least memorable, but it still manages to improve immeasurably on what's written by cutting so fast that it's actually ambiguous at first as to exactly what you just saw.
So The Leisure Hive looks and sounds great. Shame about the story. Thin? If it wasn't facing you, it would be invisible. Part One sets up the basic premise - leaving the regulars little to do - while Part Two runs in a circle and Part Three largely consists of a pair of conversations, intercut at appropriately dramatic moments, that are both wonderfully exciting and well-acted but basically just setup for Part Four, a confusing climax with a disappointing comedy ending that doesn't tie up the plot threads so much as wrap them in an elastic band and drop them down a hole.
The frustrating thing is that, while the plot is thin, the setting and characters are rich. Rich enough to support a real story. There's genuine power in the fate of Argolis and its people that is only mined to a quarter of its potential, if that.
Had it been made in Season Seventeen, directed by Norman Stewart, it would very probably be barely watchable. As it is... the cast and (especially) the director rise above a script with some nice lines and ideas but a perfunctory plot. It's definitely worth watching, especially if you want to learn something about television direction, but just imagine if it had a story.
"Ten reasons to leave, a hundred reasons to stay" by Thomas Cookson 22/1/19
In 1980, JNT became the show's new producer. Largely on his predecessor Graham Williams' recommendation. But JNT made no secret his disdain for the Williams era's 'undergraduate humour', and his agenda to emphasise the show as 'proper drama' again.
The Leisure Hive was his season opener, and as first efforts go, it's a mess, which significantly saw ratings fall to the bedrock. That's partly why many fans now feel Season 18 got overpraised by a 1980's fandom simply relieved it wasn't another Williamsy 'comedy' season. Many now regard script-editor Christopher Bidmead's hard-science emphasis that season as a clunky, abominable, demonstrably repellent affront to the show's family entertainment roots, largely eliminating its fun, humor, whimsy. Near-killing its popularity.
Bidmead worked exceptionally long and hard on incoming scripts, but wasn't always in tune with them. State of Decay was only a success because someone vetoed Bidmead's rewrites and demanded Terrance Dicks' original script back. Similarly, JNT was more enthusiastic about this script than Bidmead, who preferred jettisoning it in a complete break with the past. It's very much a Williams holdover, which JNT chose to launch his jarring new vision.
After randomly choosing this with Carnival of Monsters in Forbidden Planet's 2-for-1 offer, I barely got beyond episode one before giving up and switching off. I'm almost certain had I watched on broadcast, this would've repelled me into giving up on the show. It's unclear how the wider public felt. Hugh Sturgess argues that Season 17's ratings were artificially boosted by ITV's strike, that Season 18 didn't chase away viewers because The Leisure Hive started on a five million low, so viewers could hardly be alienated by what they never saw.
Maybe Season 17 left viewers seeing Doctor Who as old hat, lightweight and behind the times, especially when ITV returned with a vengeance with Quatermass, which was scary and apocalyptic in ways Doctor Who hadn't been since 1976. Viewers starting on Season 17 might've taken for granted Doctor Who was a comedy. But older fans recalling The Deadly Assassin might've been left slightly wanting, wondering where the show's edge went.
I can't imagine at age 11 ever missing another episode after Genesis. But perhaps The Armageddon Factor would've bored me into finally drifting away, treating the show as far more trivial and throwaway. At 11, this show about Daleks slaughtering entire galaxies was never trivial, and I'd be dismayed at a version of it that was.
Jeremy Bentham argues children are shrewd and don't want pandering with slapstick, jokes, robot dogs. They know when the makers are treating their favourite thing mockingly, and will lose interest.
I remember the fear of Genesis and Planet of Evil engendered in me. Even when Tom was cracking jokes, the surrounding story was deadly serious. His comedy in contrast to the menace (something this story never recreates).
Comparatively watching The Ultimate Foe's comedic moments at 11, part of me felt something had been taken away. That the fear I relished was being casually diminished. The show had lost confidence in maintaining its serious atmosphere. It started to feel less real, less like Doctor Who, and more like some trivial comedy. The show seemingly didn't know what it was anymore. If asked, I'd have said those stories were great and I'd enjoyed them. But deep down I'd have felt at least conflicted, if not outright disappointed. Perhaps Season 17 likewise left fans confused whether to take the drama seriously anymore, to the point of exhaustion and apathy.
The Leisure Hive seems the belated, last-ditch attempt to turn things around and make audiences excited again. Sadly, ratings suggest it came too late or succeeded in actively doing the opposite.
The problem is it doesn't offer a significant talking point that'd generate schoolyard word of mouth about being a must-see. Destiny of the Daleks had the Daleks' return, Horror of Fang Rock's title promised chilling suspense. What can be said about The Leisure Hive except it's about tachyons, there are less jokes and Tom seems bored? Full Circle or State of Decay would've made better season openers.
What's saddest is David Fisher penned Williams' best gems (Androids of Tara, City of Death), and JNT, to his credit, retained Fisher alongside his 'new blood'. But Fisher found working with the demanding, ever dissatisfied Bidmead a gruelling experience which put him off ever writing for Who again. That's why we never got another City of Death masterwork again. Why JNT's era never even aspired toward it.
It's tempting to think City of Death was ahead of its time, or didn't find its audience. But we know that's untrue. No Classic Who story found more of an audience. Unfortunately, it wasn't that audience which was gauged, but JNT's fan cult who wanted a glorified clips show.
Damningly this story's everything Fisher's elegant, inviting writing usually isn't. Cold, incoherent, impenetrable, lacking Fisher's usual romantic spirit. It feels tarnished beyond repair. It's a Williams script envisioned by completely the wrong production team in regards 'getting' it. Feeling indelicately, excessively chiselled at, but never 'nurtured'. If Williams' scripts tended toward rambling art/philosophy student indulgence, then this seems directed by a pretentious film student whose visual indulgences pull incoherently the other way.
The much commented on, drawn out Brighton beach opener, seemingly was only filmed because JNT ruthlessly edited the script's talkier moments and ended up with under-running episodes. Admittedly some Williams stories (Underworld, The Armageddon Factor) could've used more judicious editing.
But, typical of JNT, it's the failure, having removed Williams' contentious elements, to replace them with anything substantial.
I see how JNT's new vision offered tantalizing promise. Where the show's universe wasn't just studio sets or quarries the TARDIS parks in, but a sophisticated interstellar network of spaceports for business/leisure trips. As Mike Morris alluded, this is almost Seeds of Death's spiritual successor.
There's concerted effort this season, right till Logopolis, to justify the new starfield opening by emphasising a greater cosmic feel. Something only really Enlightenment did again. But with that sense of an interconnected universe came despair at seeing the Doctor becoming such a hopeless, dysfunctional part of it. Making the surrounding universe no longer complement or serve his journey or moral mission, and ultimately rendering the show fatally directionless.
Under JNT's shrewd budgeting, Season 18 enjoyed stronger directors and a high-tech, glossy look. The directing exhibiting the vastness of sets, feeling like part of a mapped network of a larger colony, unlike Nimon's chat-show sets. Aspiring to make the show look cinematic like it had under Hinchcliffe but (City of Death aside) hadn't since.
Unfortunately, with Classic Who's budget, each boom quickly ends in bust. The Talons of Weng Chiang's extravagance quickly gave way to Underworld. Likewise, when directors like Lovett Bickford ran over budget and weren't invited back, we ended up instead with leaden efforts like Terminus.
This increasingly high-concept era lives or dies on its directing. Here Bickford was wasted on a lousy, incoherent script. Conversely, Peter Moffatt could make well-crafted Terrance Dicks scripts shine for less.
The Leisure Hive doesn't feel daring, but rather desperate, with a sense of ultimately copping out. It doesn't feel the show's evolved, but rather mutated out of control, which doesn't really stop hereon (occasionally producing cherishably strange, acidic marvels like Revelation of the Daleks).
Because the show has no solid sense what it's about anymore, it becomes obsessed hereon with stealing past iconographies. It becomes a viewing experience leaving our minds racing over dark turns and disordered continuity trivia, rather than one that once made us happy and provided a sense of complete, satisfying entertainment and affirmation of a wholesome philosophy. The thrill of seeing the show adopting a new cinematic look whilst exhaustively cannibalizing its past could only maintain goodwill so long.
It's hard to square this story with seasons prior. The Horns of Nimon at least resembled the same show that produced Death to the Daleks. This doesn't.
We're challenged to keep up in ways Williams' stories rarely demanded. But eventually that feeling gives way to frustration that the story's simply incomprehensible and not interesting or substantial enough to justify its excessive smoke and mirrors. The show should be ambiguous enough to be intriguing and scary, but tonally coherent enough to keep young viewers suspending their disbelief.
The Leisure Hive sets about removing Adams' humour, establishing a more overtly serious tone. Yet if anything, it's a more confusing, incoherent watch than anything beforehand. Exhausting viewer patience quicker than Underworld. It's not a story punctuated by dramatic moments. It's just unbearably, meaninglessly loud throughout.
The utopian ideal of the Hive facilitating cross-cultural understanding, mixing and peace in ways the Israel-Palestine partition was designed to make impossible gets completely lost to Bidmead's technophilia. The Foamasi sabotage frustrates us like it frustrates the Argolins, but it also increases our frustration at being sabotaged in our efforts to get a lucid grasp what's going on.
Somehow, the directing completely runs away with, and even from, this story. Trying to be too clever in its shot composition and cutaways to other scenes that the effect's disorientating rather than helping to better articulate the story.
Comparatively, Death to the Daleks, with its seemingly pedestrian directing, settled on and allowed each scene to slowly relay the story and highlighted the Doctor's instinctive morality. When seeing Sarah facing sacrifice, he doesn't hesitate to violently rush to save her.
But if you've prior familiarity with Tom's Doctor, not only does the show seem unrecognizable and ring false here, so does he. Once he lands on Argolis, he doesn't feel the same Doctor at all. He's restrained, lethargic, feckless and negligent in ways he never was before. In ways we'd only imagine Tom being when on downtime from the part, or under more control-freakish new management. Either way, this isn't the same hero. And if that doesn't matter, then frankly why does the show matter enough to make at all?
It's especially disheartening seeing him being summoned away from the dismemberment accident when the injured man needs his help. Season 17's Doctor would've never abandoned him, nor been stupid enough to sneak out of the meeting he was summoned to, making himself look as guilty as possible. The problem is, the story keeps building dramatic, dark moments - only to drop and discard them as irrelevant afterwards until you cease caring.
Lawrence Miles argued these mistakes should be treated forgivingly for trying something new after a long routine slew. That the first leap forward's usually the most difficultly disaster prone. He praised the cliffhangers involving Tom's near fatal accidents in the re-animator, restoring the menace and threat. The first time since 1976 we'd seen him vulnerable and in believable danger.
But seeing our heroes in jeopardy or pain is partly so they don't become insufferable, though mainly we're seeing them suffer for a greater, worthier cause, undergoing punishing trials in order to succeed. What Tom does here to supposedly solve the death trap is keep going into it, which makes him appear stupid, getting us nowhere closer what he's up against.
There's a poignant idea this technology represents the dying Argolin's goodbye gift to the universe. But regarding how good sci-fi is about mankind's relationship with his technology, there's almost nothing here. All we learn about the Re-animator is that it doesn't work, existing only to create SFX set-pieces, fake-out cliffhangers and eventually a pointless, fake-out climax where Pangol's clone army, after much dramatic fanfare, completely self-disintegrates. You can either give up on this early, or struggle to the end and regret the whole incoherent experience.
The novelization does better justice to Fisher's original vision. Nailing Pangol more believably as a rambunctious Tybalt than David Haig's bland performance ever did. His machinations for war feel more organic, believable and unforced. Also, I cracked up at the 'FBI' gag. But it's ultimately trivial, saying little about mutually assured nuclear destruction that 1963's The Daleks hadn't said better.
Finally, Pangol's rebirth in the Re-animator, a la Blon Slitheen, is ridiculously flippant and jarringly pantomime, and probably inspired RTD's worst deus ex machinas.
I guess the Doctor Who I hate really does begin here.
Please Don't Worry, This Is Quite Normal by Jason A. Miller 5/9/21
In late 1978, Superman: The Movie came to theaters in the United States. I was a little more than five years old, and my parents took me to see the film with them because they were too cheap to hire a babysitter. We got to the theater about 30 minutes late, so caught the last 2 hours of the movie, and then stayed in the theater during changeover, and stayed again for the entire next showing (because my parents were too cheap to nip back out and purchase tickets to that next showing).
The movie changed the way that I saw the world. Before that, all my TV experiences were cartoons and PBS. After that, all my TV experiences would be science fiction... and PBS.
The visual language of Superman: The Movie was something that set my five-year-old brain alight. The opening curtains pulling back to reveal a comic book. A child reading the comic book. The visual dissolving from a comic book panel to a live visual, and then a pan up through space, and then a flight THROUGH space, set to John Williams' urgent, questing score.
I became a Doctor Who fan about six years after this, first watching bits of Season 20 and 21 on PBS, and then cycling back around to Robot and seeing the entire Tom Baker run. The visual language of the first six years' worth of Tom Baker's era was safe and predictable. Trippy opening credits, already dated in 1985; Dudley Simpson's reliably monotonous brassy scores.
And then one night, at 7 PM, I tuned in for Part One of The Leisure Hive, not knowing that the Season 20/21 credits that I remembered from my first weeks of fandom had their origin in Tom Baker's final year (and JNT's first year, and Chris Bidmead's only year).
And, O! Lovett Bickford. Who takes a two-minute opening pan of Brighton, which should in theory be the most boring visual since it took Carole Ann Ford and Jacqueline Hill SEVEN MINUTES to walk down a corridor in The Sensorites. Seven minutes! Remember that Lime Grove D, where The Sensorites was taped, was so small that Dr. Roger Bannister could have run the four-minute mile in 20 seconds if he were in Lime Grove D.
But Bickford makes that opening pan a soaring triumph of the human soul. There's Peter Howell's score, which does to Dudley Simpson what the original Star Wars did to previous science-fiction films. There's the dubbing in of Tom Baker snoring. And the surprise appearance of the TARDIS placed amidst a row of beach huts. And then, as Romana is giving the Doctor a history of the Argolin War, a pan through space, as the Brighton image shrinks into a ball, and we fly backwards through the new opening credits starfield and onto Argolis, with the titular Leisure Hive represented by the best tabletop-model city that Classic Who would ever produce.
And that's not all. David Fisher's scripts are perfectly good. They make a good novelization. But it's an odd duck of a story, isn't it? You have the deadly serious Argolin/Foamasi war, two alien species wiped out in 20 minutes and each one permanently scarred by radiation -- that's the plot of The Daleks, here shoehorned into a B plot. Then you have the odd, jokey bit about the Foamasi trying to "buy" the Leisure Hive out from the Argolin, while committing Mob-style sabotage and murder inside to manipulate the sale price. Foamasi, Mafioso. And then there's the hard-science lecture on tachyonics (via a hapless scientist and his unscrupulous investor, faking experiments), including one of Doctor Who's funniest-ever jokes about the most boring tour guide in history:
"For the next hour and a half, we will examine the wave equations that define the creation of solid tachyonic images."Love that line. Love it.
So the joins are showing here. It's a good story, but most Classic Who was like that -- you had to cram a lot of plot threads in to fill out 90 or 150 minutes of TV.
But Bickford's direction helps gloss over the joins in the story. Which makes you forget the padding. He cuts out a lot of scripted dialogue, so that the story is propelled forward by silent visuals jump cuts and parallel scene structures; Fisher's novelization, based on his original, pre-Bickford scripts, lacks such moments, and you can see there's more duplication of exposition in the book than on TV. Bickford shoots scenes from novel angles: he zooms in from outside to inside the hive during a Hardin-and-Mena scene; he films a reaction shot of Romana from inside the Generator to set up the Part Two cliffhanger; and there's a nice handheld camera angle from the studio floor, of Pangol conspiring with another Argolin over the Generator console late in Part Three. What should have been a dull Part Two exposition scene, where Mena explains the state of Argolis after the war to the Doctor and Romana, Bickford also shoots from odd angles and in odd colors, to keep your mind from wandering.
In fact, Bickford's direction is so eye-catching that you don't realize how derivative this story is, how much it recycles from Season 17. From Fisher's own Creature From the Pit you get the Part Three cliffhanger featuring a villain (rather than a hero) in jeopardy, and the decoy defeat of that villain early in Part Four before another Big Bad emerges. From Fisher's kinda-sorta own City of Death you get the experiments with time through nozzle-shaped projectors and characters being aged near to death. And from Shada, what should have been the last story aired before this one, you get the idea of the villain trying to repopulate a cosmos entirely from himself -- only here, Pangol does it with so much more flair and over-the-top mania than did the comparatively dull Skagra. But it's all so fresh here.
The best credit that I can pay The Leisure Hive is that, in spite of the flaws in the underlying story, it's still got just as much substance as style. While the visual look of this story evolves Doctor Who, the same way that Superman: The Movie evolved superhero movies, the story has lots of neat nooks and crannies that I'm still uncovering after all these years. Take Part Three, for example -- normally, Part Threes in four-part Doctor Who stories are graveyards for plot exposition and padded-out chases. But here, Part Three is largely a series of debates between Brock and Pangol -- the money-minded accountant trying to rescue the Leisure Hive from bankruptcy, and Pangol, the young patriot who wants to rescue the Hive in his own way.
What enlivens those debates? The fact that both Brock and Pangol have secrets to hide, and that they both get unmasked at the end of Part Three (one quite literally). This story is nearly unique for Classic Who in that it has two different hidden villains both revealed late in the story. That's a pretty impressive script. And some pretty impressive direction, too.
And we haven't even talked about the rest of the acting, with Lawrence Payne adding a pained (I'm so sorry) dignity to the dying Morix, John Collin's oily, contract-wrangling accountant Brock and David Haig's Pangol, who goes from sardonic, know-it-all youth to manic boy-general in between Parts Three and Four but never offers anything less than total domination of the camera. Haig is really, really good here.
Bickford was perhaps too good, too ahead of his time. He went way over budget in studio and never got invited back to direct again. But at least we'll always have Argolis.