I just can't review this as a mere story. The behind the scenes for its development are far more considerable, and knowing the context of the time is as relevant as anything else. So please bear with me.
In 1980, the media was endlessly criticizing "Doctor Who" as becoming more silly and repetitive. Incidental music was recycled, and the whole thing needed a revamp. My intent in this review is to adumbrate the details of the time and why "Doctor Who"'s format was shaken up considerably, while at the same time critiquing this first episode under the new producer's reign.
John Nathan-Turner, who had worked on the show in various aspects as far back as 1969 (floor assistant for "The Space Pirates"), was promoted producer.
Noting how silly the show had become, he sought to make it more serious - but allowing the Doctor to retain his wit for when it fit in the story, rather than the element of making jokes at the audience. One such joke where silliness was out of hand was in the previous year's story, "Nightmare of Eden". Cornered into a wooded alcove by some monsters, the Doctor is heard yelling "My arms, my legs, my everything!" as if he's addressing the audience rather than the scene the character was in. Fast forward to "The Leisure Hive" and such silliness is gone. But the humor remains. In one of the show's best moments, a murderer used the Doctor's scarf to strangle someone to death. The prosecutor states "His scarf killed Stimson!" The Doctor retorts, "Arrest the scarf then!" We know he's being funny, but the humor flows with the script and with the characters rather than the actor making a joke just for the audience.
John was a shrewd man, in ways. With Romana, he saw in "The Horns of Nimon" she could be a very vocal, moral person who wanted to fight wrongdoing. As "The Leisure Hive", and later stories, prove, this trait was expanded upon and works to GREAT effect. (Indeed, Romana's swansong features this element of her persona as well...)
By 1980, Dudley Simpson's music felt worn out and recycled. John wanted to update the music to fit the new decade society was entering. Dudley, who had worked on the show for roughly 15 years, was let go. John brought in artists from the (now defunct :( ) BBC Radiophonic workshop. It was modern, it was pacey, yet at the same time it had the flair worthy of "Doctor Who". And it works beautifully. The Radiophonic workshop was used as far back as the show's very start in 1963. A brilliant move.
John also felt the show deserved some more educational value; albeit not in the form of history but in science. More children of the time preferred watching the glossy and equally vapid American show "Buck Rogers" (you know, the guy is frozen in 1987, wakes up 500 years later thanks to sexy aliens and has to teach the dumb humans how to boogie their booty to disco and make friends with an oddly shaped robot...) Their loss; WHO now managed to incorporate some science and engineering ideas into its format. While it's true "The Leisure Hive" takes these new ideas heavyhandedly, with later episodes being more even tempered, there's still a lot of detail that holds value over time. How many series and stories of the time (or now!) that deal with nuclear conflict, sterlization, farewell gestures, and so on, with the depth sci-fi should allow by default -- and not being an exception to.
Even the direction; JNT was ambitious early on and the directors he brought in has it showing. Feature film techniques, depth of field, and angles were brought in when possible to help give an updated look. It's visually stunning, in its way.
The show simply HAD to change, to meet the call of the critics and the call of the future. To fade away would be unworthy of such a show (ironic as the BBC ultimately let that happen, deliberately) and, more to the point, WHO's audience was growing up and John felt the show should grow and grow up with it. And "The Leisure Hive", warts and all, is the first example of this change. Subsequent episodes are much more worthy of representation, but there's still a lot in this first story under the new producer that really shows just how much change was in store. It's impossible to critique one without the other, and despite the story's failings, it's still an overall success for where JNT wanted to take the show - as later episodes instantly prove (check out "The E-Space Trilogy" and "New Beginnings" box sets for much more).
"Doctor Who" was reborn and it showed. It had the looks, it answered critics' complaints, it still had great monsters, it had a new and deeper insight on sci-fi concepts (some using real science again), and was intelligent. Did it grab viewers of the time? Depends on the child, but the existing ratings figures showed WHO's revamp wasn't much noticed. Not until the 5th Doctor's arrival did anybody really look. Was it because of the new producer, or was it because people were tired of the show's silliness and other criticisms? Perhaps both, and as I am a rabid fan of Tom Baker's final year, I still want to be objective about this story: Most kids won't understand high school or early-college concepts. But then, WHO's new audience was supposed to be older, more intelligent teenagers. I just don't see a problem with that; mainstream shows are typically banal to begin with, but it's not like anybody in the media gave a fair warning about the changes that were taking place.
But the only real negative on the general revamp of the format is one simple question...
"The Leisure Hive" featured the Doctor's outfit now showing question marks on the lapels. There are numerous reasons for this, from character-centric (the Doctor's symbol, like how Superman (Kal-El) had the funky letter "S") to pragmatic marketing; a "?" symbol being more readily recognizable as a logo. The ? mark is partly shrouded in the costume with similar colors, not to mention the scarf... but later eras make prominent use of the ? symbol, it sticks out, and that's when the real arguments begin. Check out another "Doctor Who" story, "Delta and the Bannermen", where I describe just how ridiculous the ? symbol was overused...
And now, because I want to be objective and, besides, it's more fun to complain, the story is far from being perfect:
One of two real problems I have with the story is simple: No explanation for the Doctor's changes in persona. Looking back, I think it can be pieced together. Between "The Horns of Nimon" and "The Leisure hive" is "Shada". Meant to be a season ending extravaganza where the Doctor has to stop one of his own from traveling to the Time Lord prison planet and wreaking havoc, this story could be the epiphany that saps the Doctor of his more comedic nature and makes him more brooding. With "Shada" being scrapped thanks to a strike, the story was never made and viewers were shocked to see the Doctor's new, more serious nature. The story doesn't acknowledge or reflect any event(s) that humbled the Doctor, but with hindsight we can piece enough together and get on with life.
The other is: Episode recaps to the previous episode's cliffhanger often are a minute in length. Episode 4 takes two minutes. I have to blame this on lack of story material/empty padding, as several scenes in the story have no purpose except to waste time (e.g. just how many times we need to see the shuttle arriving bit when it looks like a close-up of a radio microphone circa 1950 instead of a spacecraft from the docking port POV.)
I suppose I should also bleat over the fact the alien Foamasi, big fat lizards with huge honkin' eyes, can squeeze into human skinsuits (unless they're the carcasses of humans, but that would be too grizzly and that level of grim violence wasn't yet introduced into the show...)
And, of course, for kids and casual viewers, they're not going to care about aliens blowing each up in war and making farewell gestures. A shame; this is the stuff that really makes good sci-fi. Allegory without being direct, without being obvious, without being patronizing, and without being preachy. And it's storytelling based on fictional events. We know what nuclear war can do but we don't need to live it in order to understand it and feel for the Argolin plight. The story takes the idea of nuclear war and actually DOES SOMETHING with it, with sci-fi concepts, instead of taking the idea and regurgitating it on itself in a continuous drunken stupor and taking place on Earth circa (insert today's year) because apparently only modern day audiences can fathom what happens to people on Earth in the here and now. Or so modern day producers keep telling people... hmmm...
Rest in peace, John. I saw what your intentions were and most of them were genuine and good. Your era (1980-1989) has some of the most creative stories the show ever had, thanks to the level of detail the show offers by default. Except the ? mark and how it became a parody of whatever intentions were initially devised, but nobody's perfect...
Romana on Argolis: "It's the first of the leisure planets. In relative Earth Date 2250, there's a hideous war against some reptile people called the Foamasi. Most of the planet gets wiped out by two thousand interplanetary missiles, but the survivors build a recreation center called a Leisure Hive. And there's something called an experiential grid. Cells of different environments designed to produce physical, psychic, and intellectual regeneration."
After not only missing the opening of the Brighton Pavilion but also getting the century and season wrong, the Doctor and Romana go to Argolis in 2290, forty years after that terrible war, and become involved in the intrigues of the native Argolins. Bookings to their hive are disastrous, as other leisure planets have anti-gravity swimming pools and speed learning. Brock, the initially pessimistic Earth agent who advises the Argolins to do something about their cash flow, accepts the position on the Board, but recommends they sell the planet and hive to the Foamasi, their ancient enemies, of which the Argolin survivors still have bitter memories. After all, selling them their own planet would be the ultimate defeat. Things have a chance when Hardin, an Earth scientist and lover of Argolin Chairwoman Mena, claims to have found a better use of tachyonics--to manipulate time.
The main attraction of the hive is the Tachyonic Recreational Grid, run by the youthful Pangol. The science of tachyonics, the manipulation of faster-than-light particles, involves temporary duplication of any physical object, and the manipulation of the duplicate object without harming the original, demonstrated by Pangol going into the TRG and his tachyon duplicate's arms and head coming detached while it's talking. Soon, the TRG becomes the site of sabotage, accidents, and later murder, as Hardin's assistant Stimson is found strangled by the Doctor's scarf. And guess who's suspected?
There's wonderful exchange when the Doctor, Romana, and Mena are gazing at the glowing red sands of Argolis. "Radon 222 decays rapidly." says the Doctor. Mena says, "But not the heavy metal dust. It won't be habitable for three centuries. ... Now you understand the purpose of the Hive. ... to promote understanding between life forms of all cultures and genetic type. There must be no more such wars. Each race learns to understand what it is like to be a foreigner." And the Argolins have the helmet of Theron, a golden hooded helmet resembling a curved KKK hood as a reminder of what happened to them.
Adrienne Corri (Mena) is best known in Clockwork Orange as the ill-fated Ms. Alexander, the author's wife. David Haig does a good job as Pangol, being charming presenter, scientist, and Argolin patriot at the same time.
The first story of John Nathan-Turner's turn at producer heralded some changes that had some great consequences. He toned down the silliness of his predecessor, Graham Williams, and tried to rein in Tom Baker, whose hat, long coat and scarf are red instead of the familiar brown. In trying to get a Star Wars-style image to Dr. Who, he had the new digital Quantel special effects used, as well as an electronic revamping of the theme music. And he even recruited Barry Letts, who had produced Who in the Jon Pertwee era, as Executive Producer for Season 18.
The opening titles are changed, where instead of the bluish time tunnel, there was a galaxy of stars coming towards the viewer, with some in the center gradually forming the Doctor's face. The diamond logo was changed as well.
A story on the horrors of nuclear war and the necessity for cultural understanding between races, with stylish designs (the Argolins' beehive hairdo, flowing yellow robes, goatees for men, and plastic statues) and concepts, how Argolins turn from green to human colour when they grow older. A pity that this and the final season story, Logopolis, are the two best stories in Tom Baker's last season as the Doctor.
Dr. Who enters a new epoch with John Nathan Turner at the helm, and I thought the changes REALLY cool as a kid. The first couple serials under this new regime, however, are pretty forgettable. I remember liking THE LESURE HIVE when I first watched it, but in terms of what makes an adventure one of the best, this really does fall short (although no where as bad as the next serial, MEGLOS).
Turner, in his sudden burst of changes, perhaps went too fast in bringing Dr. Who into the 80's and the exciting digital technologies becoming available, falling into the exact same trap that crushed the previous producer's, Graham Williams, first season: focusing way too much on the special effects as a critical aspect of the production value. As the 4th Doctor's first producer, Philip Hinchcliffe, wisely said, "When you rely on a guy in a rubber suit to sell the show, the show is going to suffer." Rubber suit or burgeoning recording techniques, the principle is as strong as ever. No matter how good the effects are, it's still all about story when it comes to the best of Dr. Who. In the excitement of this very first serial (and the next), it's far too much like a hungry, enthusiastic kid in a candy store that gobbles too much at once and becomes sick.
Now I must admit, the makeup on Tom Baker as a decrepit old man and his ensuing performance (although he personally hated being in the getup) is quite well done, and the story showcases qualities I had always cherished the most: strong scientific foundations and complex, even byzantine, storylines that really give certain serials some chewy depth that lingers far after the show's final credits. But having the same 1 minute long shot of a model shuttle entering the docking bay, not once, but many times, as well as other repeated (and meaningless) special effect scenes (and that nearly 3 minute long pan shot of an empty Brighton beach...), as if the production team was boasting, "Hey, look at we can do now! Isn't that cool?! We are SO different, aren't we?!", continuously interrupts the plot flow in a disruptive, exasperating manner.
Too much focusing on the "guy in a rubber suit".
on January 15, 2006
"The Leisure Hive" was the start of John Nathan-Turner's run as Producer of Doctor Who. JNT made the show more serious and mature (or at least teenage). Depending on your point of view, he either saved it from its slide into farce and self-parody, or took away the sense of fun and whimsy that made it a delight.
"Leisure Hive" is right on the cusp, a JNT production but with a story and script conceived and written before he arrived, with traces of the old style. The DVD highlights this with special features (commentary, "information text", and some short making-of films) that show the transition. For instance, it's interesting to learn that some of the more obscure details of the story (such as the villains' names and aspects of the costumes) are actually vestiges of the original, more light-hearted version.
"Leisure Hive" isn't a story I would use to introduce Doctor Who to those who have never seen it. It's not as fun and a bit hard to follow and not as coherent as other stories. Other Tom Baker-era releases on DVD ("Talons of Weng-Chiang" or "City of Death" in particular) are better and more enjoyable. But if it's not the best of the Tom Baker-era episodes on DVD, it's still tremendous entertainment and for the fan, definitely worth adding to one's collection.
Three stars compared to other Who DVD releases -- but Five-plus compared to anything else on television.
on June 3, 2007
With this storyline, "Doctor Who" embarks upon its tumultuous trek through the 80's with a bang. Starting of course with a new opening sequence complete with a revved-up version of the theme music. I still remember how this surprised me when I was watching the show on PBS in the late 1980's; it seemed excitingly up-to-date, and, well, like most things that are self-consciously up-to-date, it's rather dated now. Pleasantly so, like a hit song by Duran Duran that you haven't heard in ages, but in any case it's rather emblematic of a fairly noticeable shift in the show's long history.
In fact, it's extremely difficult to evaluate "The Leisure Hive" on its own terms instead of as the starting point of John Nathan-Turner's extended tenure as producer. For one, because his fingerprints are all over it. He seems madly intent on redesigning and reinvisioning everything from the Doctor's scarf (toned down to burgundy) to his pet (K9 is written out in what seems like a rather malicious joke). Sometimes he seems almost prophetic; his emphasis on prominent instrumental music with a greater variety of texture and his insistence that the special effects be as top-notch as possible is very much something taken for granted in television today and can readily be seen to great effect in the new "Doctor Who" series now running. But then again, sometimes he seems to be working at cross purposes, toning down the wonderful "undergraduate humor" that Tom Baker brought to the role and which tends to appeal to adults while attempting to make the show more sophisticated by incorporating undergraduate astrophysics (tachyons in "Leisure Hive"). Anyway, at least Romana's still around, so we are given some modicum of continuity.
Now, as for "Leisure Hive" itself, it's lots of hits with a few misses. Again, as with the new opening, the first thing that catches your eye is that it's eye-catching. This is a visually rich storyline with intriguing sets full of exotic colors, and the make-up for the Argolins who run the Hive is aesthetically pleasing and convincingly alien. A clear "Cold War" ambiance informs the tale's historical background: a very brief but extremely devastating war leaving a planet (Argolis in this case) infertile and its people sterile. Similarly to "The Armageddon Factor," it's really fascinating to see how the anxieties of the nuclear arms race translated into a science fiction idiom so that the dire absurdities and fearsome consequences of the situation could be explored without hitting too close to home. The story itself intriguingly deals with serious issues of xenophobia and fascism as well as cultural heritage and corporate exploitation--unfortunately, where these two story elements converge the plot tends to blur somewhat incoherently, as if one more round of editing was needed to tighten up the script just so. However, the directing is creative and expertly evokes depth and tension while the acting is quite excellent, especially Tom Baker's perfect rendition of the Doctor prematurely aged 500 years older.
It must be said too that the extras on this DVD are unusually interesting, especially since they're on the very same disc as the episodes (so as not inflating the wallet damage). In lots of DVD extras out there today, the cast and crew all describe each other as geniuses and go on about how they were all like one big happy family. Which is both unbelievable and boring. Not here, though. the interviewees are delightfully frank, straightforward, opinionated, and critical (in the true sense of the word), and listening to them discuss the significant shift in "Doctor Who" marked by "The Leisure Hive" and their involvement in it is a real eye-opening experience. Their candor is appreciated. So kick back and enjoy this reasonably fine "Doctor Who" moment at your leisure.
on December 28, 2005
As far as Doctor Who shows go, this one always confused me. I saw it 3-4 times when it was on PBS originally and there I always felt like I missed something.
Now that I'm older and watching it on DVD, I see the problem. This is one disjointed story with a false Faimosi storyline in order to distract the audience from the material about fascism. The ending really makes no sense but the fascist dreams of the dying race do give a marvelous ending, even if the doctor goes and thwarts them and makes them all peaceful again. I found the material a trifle preachy and the writer gave the villain the best lines, so by the end one wonders if a multicultural leisure hive preserve thwarting a conquering ambition really represents a happy ending.
The extras are good. I didn't know that John Nathan Turner had died. I liked how they couldn't put an entirely happy spin on the change the show made beginning with Tom Baker's last season. Everyone is honest about the tension. Lalla Ward (without giving too much details of teh marriage and divorce) tends to view Tom Baker's material with an affectionate exasperation (more affectionate presumably because she's not married to him anymore) and the script editor and director have a great argument at the beginning concerning the director's long tracking shot.
So overall, this is a good storyline and the extras are more fun than most Doctor Who shows, but it's not the greatest. On the other hand, it's probably the last of the Tom Baker episodes before he got very angry with everything (which you can really see in Logopolis - and not just because Adric was annoying)
on January 17, 2000
John Nathan Turner took over the reins of the series as producer and he showed viewers what was in store for the future of Doctor Who; better special effects, a great opening and stronger performances by future Doctors. The problem with this story is one that is featured in many future stories, plot. Nathan-Turner was more concerned with the flash of the series and not the substance. He went for the hype, the gimmick and left many a story that could have been great flailing to the side. The Leisure Hive is a strong example of this. A great idea of a planet used for pleasure being faced with extinction, but there are so many gaps in the story, you're left scratching your head and saying, "HUH?" The three stars are for the good points and for the intentions of the author.
on September 22, 2005
This is definitely a classic "Who" story, starring fan favorite Tom Baker as the Doctor. What makes this story so special is that many changes took place when "Doctor Who" entered the '80s.
One of the coolest changes is certainly the new opening sequence and theme music. On this DVD, the audio and visuals of the opening sequence are excellent. Another important change is the Doctor's costume. The DVD has a special featurette that explains this costume change from the costume designer of this story. Other extras include featurettes on the writing of the story, the new changes to "Doctor Who", and the construction of the title sequence. I feel one of the downsides of the DVD is the commentary. Although it is cool to hear Lalla Ward (Romana II) make her commentary debut, she constantly whines about Tom Baker with the script editor and the director on the commentary track. It is a shame that Tom Baker himself did not contribute to the commentary, even though he is briefly featured in one the featurettes. It is a good story, with the silliness of Baker's Doctor being toned down and showing a slightly more serious Doctor. This DVD is a must for any "Who" fan, old or new.
on September 21, 2000
That's what makes this season so cool. Tom Baker who always steals the show(unlike his sucessors) and good flashy special effects to boot. There is only one setting throughout the whole show and it is the hive which can get boring(like a lot of so-called sci-fi shows nowadays which are single setting soap opras). But thier was that bit about the Doctor growing old which I thought was very well done. He appeared 103 but acted like a wize old 1250 year-old traveler of the universe. This wasn't Tom's best show(excellent acting though on his part) but it wasn't bad either and I had a feeling when I first watched it that things were only going to get better. I still think this season got progressively better, especilally the E-space Trilogy(another story).
I started watching "Doctor Who" during airings of Season 20 on my local PBS station in 1984. For me, even after so many incarnations of "Doctor Who", including the dynamic new BBC edition, it's still the opening starburst and surging Peter Howell theme music from 1980 through 1985 that get my pulse running. "The Leisure Hive" is a spectacular, if imperfect, kickoff of the show's renaissance under new producer John Nathan-Turner.
The story itself is a bit of a mismatch. David Fisher's script called for mafioso reptiles in business suits trying to bust out an alien holiday resort, and would not feel out of place in the comedy-at-all-costs ethos of the Douglas Adams-helmed Season 17. However, under the supervision of JNT, and new script editor Christopher H. Bidmead, this aspect of the script is toned down, and quickly disposed of in the first minute of the final episode.
What's left is a more science-oriented story about a race of noble aliens, sterilized by war, attempting to prolong their race by use of tachyonics. The seams reveal themselves on repeated viewing, as Pangol's sudden emergence as the bad guy in Part Three strikes me as out of left field, and the hidden Foamasi agents never really work when relegated to decoy villain status. The supporting cast is uniformly excellent, especially David Haig as Pangol, John Collin as the oily agent Brock, and Adrienne Corri (a million miles from "A Clockwork Orange"), even thoough her Mena gets nothing to do but repeatedly faint in the Argolin boardroom for most of the story. Lovett Bickford's direction elevates even the story's slow moments through sheer force of will, employing special effect imagery not possible in earlier seasons of DW. Peter Howell's instrumental score provides a refreshing change after years and years of Dudley Simpson, and even for early '80s electronica, is still worth a listen on the isolated music-only track.
If the story is a four out of five, the bonus features on the DVD improve the story to a five, at least. The commentary track kicks off with an immediate assault by Bidmead on Bickford's direction, overlaid on the show's 90-second opening pan of Brighton. Lalla Ward sits in between, taking sides only when she's not busy harshing on ex-husband Tom Baker. Most "Doctor Who" DVD commentaries fall into the trap of having septuagenarian actors trade anecdotes while ignoring the story on screen. I much prefer having the behind-the-scenes folk tell me what went right and wrong -- preferably with as much sarcasm as possible. "Leisure Hive" enters the audio commentary rankings at least in the top five. More Bidmead and Lalla Ward, please!
The documentaries also cram in plenty of information delivered with wit, especially the 45-minute look at how "The Leisure Hive" ushered in the JNT era of "Doctor Who". Although the show's ratings decline, and subsequent removal from the Saturday night schedule at the end of that season, are not mentioned, this DVD caters to the fans who didn't stop watching the show, and provides lots of meaningful insight. I loved the raw studio footage (Baker snapping at Bickford; Bickford unsuccessfully trying to order new takes after the 10 PM studio shut-down), and Howell's take at re-scoring a scene previously rendered by Simpson. Also excellent is the script-writing featurette, showing Fisher and Bidmead alternating thinly-veiled potshots at each other.
A closing word about Tom Baker. Much of the extra material is devoted to Bidmead and, posthumously, Nathan-Turner, explaining how they hoped to rein in Baker's over-the-top humor (and script trampling) of previous seasons in order to take the show in a more mature direction. Baker's performances for most of Season 18 remain extraordinary, especially his extended turn as an aged Doctor in the second half of this story. While the next story, "Meglos", remains a Season 17 throwback that the production team didn't salvage, the following five stories are all wonderful ("Full Circle" through "Logopolis"), and I can't wait to see the deluxe DVD editions whenever they hit the shelves.