Doctor Who: The Leisure Hive (Story 110)
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The Doctor (Tom Baker) and Romana decide to forego Brighton beach and take a much-needed holiday on the pleasure planet of Argolis. Ravaged decades before by an interstellar war, Argolis now hosts the Leisure Hive - an ideal retreat for tourists from all over the cosmos. (Episodes 1-4, 86 mins)
The images, colors, and new 5.1 sound are all impressive, as are the abundance of extras. "A New Beginning" features a rare interview with Baker himself, and "From Avalon to Argolis" indulges in some very satisfying back-biting. There's also a nostalgia-inducing clip of an impossibly young Blue Peter presenter looking genuinely frightened by the exhibits of the then-great Longleat Doctor Who Exhibition. --Paul Eisinger
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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...
The Leisure Hive from 1980 is the very first story to be produced and broadcast by the show's longest running producer, the highly controversial John Nathan-Turner. Ghostlight, made and broadcast nine years later was his last and indeed the last of the original series twenty-seven year run. It wouldn't be for another sixteen years that Doctor Who made it back onto UK screens in a regular series.
Seeing both shows again now really highlights quite clearly the long and drawn out demise of the original series and the reasons for the inevitable cancellation. When The Leisure Hive hit the UK's BBC1 on August 30, 1980, it was in many ways the dawn of a new era. The previous three years under the aegis of producer Graham Williams had seen the show degenerate into a rather slapstick version of itself with strong storylines often let down by weak production values, design and tongue-in-cheek performances from the assembled cast, including the lead actors themselves. With the departure of both Williams and script editor Douglas Adams (on his way to greatness with The Hitchhiker's Guides) a new broom literally swept through the programme and brought some much needed seriousness and higher production values to the show. The commentary by actress Lalla Ward (Romana), Lovett Bickford (the director) and Christopher H. Bidmead (the script editor) recalls many of the changes taking place at this time and other contributions from the costume designers, graphics, special effects gurus and musicians who worked to give the show a much needed overhaul, share in this sense of excitement and regeneration. But already the signs of the problems with the new producer are evident. As everyone involved with this DVD reluctantly admit, Nathan-Turner had a great eye for visuals and PR, but had very little regard for storylines or scripts. Or at least a sense of what would or wouldn't work. Indeed, the fact that the scripts for The Leisure Hive barely fill the required four twenty-five minute episode slots is indicative of his inability in this area.
Three Doctors later and Ghostlight features Sylvester McCoy as the Time Lord in the final death throes of a once great show. Here the problem is that the scripts are too long and far too complex for their intended broadcast length and savage cuts along the way during production only add to the show's mess. Again, the commentary (this time by actress Sophie Aldred (Ace), script editor Andrew Cartmel, musician Mark Ayres and author Marc Platt) goes a long way to revealing the behind the scenes problems in getting the programme to air.
But that's not to say there isn't a lot to enjoy in both of these stories. Ghostlight in particular has a lot going for it, as long as you don't try too hard to understand what's going on! The writer and editor are perplexed as to why anyone should be confused, whereas everyone else contributing to the DVD, including all the lead actors, make it clear they haven't a clue what's going on! The set design, acting and direction is really first rate and was a good example of Cartmel's vision for the show, trying to bring more mystery back into the character of the Doctor and the stories themselves. It's in many ways a shame that it proved to be the end of the road. The optimism of The Leisure Hive also makes for enjoyable viewing and again the design and guest cast make it a very watchable adventure.
For me, the most interesting, but also the saddest part of The Leisure Hive DVD is Lalla Ward's commentary. Opening her second season as Time Lady Romana, the show was made just months before her ill-fated and short-lived marriage to her co-star and Doctor number four, Tom Baker. Clearly, nearly twenty-five years later, she has a great deal of ill feeling towards her former husband and this spills out repeatedly as she describes the show for the DVD audience. Thankfully, the Ghostlight commentary helps explain what on Earth is going on, but in all honesty, I'm still none the wiser!
Great to see the Doctor Who collection growing on DVD and if you're a fan of the show, these will be invaluable additions to your collection. If you're not, there's a lot to enjoy here and it's well worth the entrance fee! As always, the effort put into the extras is in no way diminishing with various sound options and a slew of new interviews and out-takes available. But is it just me, or are the DVD covers for the Doctor Who series getting cheaper and nastier with each release?
Top international reviews
The Doctor and Romana go to the pleasure planet called Argolis but soon discover that instead of the much needed rest and relaxation they went for discover a host of secrets when accidents start occuring and investigate.
This stars a very young David Haig as Pangol who was only born to take over Argolis and rule as he sees fit, but has to wait for previous leaders to die first, most people will be more familiar with David for his role as the tough officer in the hit drama Soldier Soldier with Robson and Jerome but here he looks completely different.
This is notable for the way that they age the Doctor and Tom Baker looks incredible with the white hair, aged makeup and long white beard, kind of reminds me of Fagin in Oliver Twist but here he plays it as if he was an old man that is slowing down with not much time left.
This is the first outing for the new costume and those wretched question marks on the collars that John Nathan Turner insisted on putting on the shirts worn with Peter Davison and Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy with the Jumper and really was not necessary, also the main theme was jazzed up and a new title sequence was made to bring into the 1980's.
We have commentary from Lalla Ward (Romana), Lovett Bickford (Director) with the new script editor for the start of this new seachange Christopher H Bidemead.
All the usual extras are on are including footage from Blue Peter and a documentary marking in the changes for the new era of who and is very interesting.
This is one I would go back and rewatch over the New Who that declined from 2010 onwards!
The story starts with a breathtaking sweeping camera shot of Brighton beach which ends with the iconic sight of the Doctor asleep on a deckchair with his hat over his face. It is an indication of the contempt the new production team had for K9 that in the very first scene of their very first story at the helm they blow him up, he has no further role in the story. It is admittedly true that the Brighton scenes don't really have an impact on the rest of the story but they're executed so slickly that it doesn't really matter.
Argolis is a very impressive alien world thanks to some very nice set design, brilliant costumes and make up for the Argolins and stunning camerawork. The monsters for the story are the Fomasi, reptilian creatures. The costumes aren't brilliant, but the manner in which they are shot for much of the story (you often only see a shadow or an eye or a tail or a foot) means you aren't aware of the shortcomings for the most part. Lovett Bickford's direction is superb throughout. Peter Howell's incidental music is very good and there is certainly a lot of it. It marks a very nice contrast to Dudley Simpsons' scores.
The performances are also of a very high standard. Tom Baker gives his most focused performance in quite some time and Lalla Ward is fantastic. Of the guest cast Adrienne Corri is terrific as the increasingly frail Meena. Pangol is a good villain, well portrayed by a young David Haig. Going back to make up, they do a fabulous job of making Tom Baker appear wizened and Baker's performance as the aged Doctor is outstanding.
Refreshingly there is an absence of the silliness and smugness that had characterised the previous season. There is still humour present but it is more restrained and appropriate. Having said that, the basic idea behind the story, reptilian gangsters on a leisure planet, wouldn't have seemed out of place in season seventeen, but the story takes itself seriously.
I felt that the ending, with Pangol regressing to a baby and getting the chance to live his life the right way and the Argolins and the Fomasi cooperating was very effective.
It has been argued that this story is all style and no substance, but I believe it has a great deal of both.
There are some very impressive special features. The main extra is 'A new beginning' a superb 30 minute documentary about the changes John Nathan-Turner made upon becoming producer of Doctor Who. The feature includes footage from a 1994 interview with Nathan-Turner as well as interviews with script editor Christopher H Bidmead, Tom Baker, John Leeson and others. K9's removal is covered; "The Dog, yes! I wanted shot of that!" Nathan-Turner says with glee.
'From Avalon to Argolis' analyses the writing process of the story. There are interviews with David Fisher, Christopher H Bidmead and John Nathan-Turner. 'Synthesizing starfields' is about the excellent title sequence and theme music designed by Sid Sutton and Peter Howell respectively. In 'Leisure Wear' costume designer June Hudson talks about the excellent costumes she designed for 'The Leisure Hive'. There is also a short clip from Blue Peter which includes a short interview with John Nathan-Turner.
On the down side we get the first hint of dreadful things to come as the question marks appear on the Doctor's collar. If Tom Baker had quietly taken John Nathan-Turner off into a broom cupboard for a talk on the nature of cheese so much misery could have been avoided. The title comes to seem odd, as we never actually get to see much in the way of leisure going on, and the idea that a Foamasi could be disguised as a human being by wearing a rubber suit seems a little unlikely. In one of the excellent documentaries that come with the story it is said that Nathan-Turner wanted to do away with "magic boxes that can do anything" in favour of a more "sciencey" approach. Ironically, in this, his first story, the Generator fills exactly the role of a a magic box that can do anything through the power of "tachyonics".
Much is made of this being Nathan-Turner's first story and of his "new-broom" approach. Part of this approach is visible in the new title sequence which was intended to be more up-to-date. Unfortunately nothing dates faster than "up-to-date", and to these eyes they seem cheap and naff.
The rest of the adventure, however, is pretty spotty. The story, concerning trouble at a leisure complex involving time manipulation and a group of mysterious reptile-people, moves at quite a slow pace. There's the occasional effect which doesn't quite work. For example, I wasn't certain what that docking ship was supposed to be the first time I saw it. It looked more like the inside of some machinery. On the plus side, Tom Baker's Doctor is back to being the darker character he was in earlier stories rather than the figure of fun he so often was in the late 1970s. There are also some good cliffhangers. So overall a pretty slow-moving tale which nevertheless has its moments. The interesting documentary, concerning the changes made to the show in 1980, helps make this purchase worthwhile if nothing special.
I was never a fan of 80s Doctor Who and was put off by the more "grim sci-fi," serious take it had on a tea-time adventure serial. However, I was so glad I dipped into Season 18, highly regarded by fans, the beginning of the 80s era and the end of the Tom Baker era.
This story is a little confined, but it has great direction, good SFX for its time and an interesting commentary on extremism and the decay of a society. Give it a try.
This is an excellent serial to add to your Dr Who collection, esp if you never watched this before and getting into classic Dr Who (like I am)