The Leisure Hive
Written by David Fisher
Transmitted 30 August – 20 September 1980
“Searching for a break from their adventurous lifestyle, the Doctor and Romana travel to the Leisure Hive on the planet Argolis. Promoted as a peaceful habitat of galactic co-existence, the Leisure Hive is an offering from the formerly war-mongering race of Argolins. A home to some of the most impressive technological feats directed at recreation, the hive is unfortunately the focus of a revival of the Argolins war-like past. When the Doctor interferes, he pays the price and is his body is aged into senility. With the Doctor incapacitated, who can stop the rise to power of the Argolins?”
When series 18 is talked about, the central point is change. Incoming producer John Nathan-Turner introduced the most change that Doctor Who had seen in 12 year’s time. So many changes were introduced that the long-standing star of the program decided that it was time for him to depart. Assisted by former producer Barry Letts and script editor Christopher H. Bidmead, the final year of the Fourth Doctor is a knock-out. Stylish, slick and modern, this is what it looks like when the right amount of attention and care is given to the program. A new signature tune and opening titles (complete with the revamped neon logo) make it plain that this is a new era for Doctor Who and it is finally coming back into its own. After a lackluster series featuring camp villains and the silliest monsters ever to haunt a sound stage, Doctor Who was about to regain some of its dignity. Tighter scripts, a restrained lead actor and more innovative special effects contributed to the success of series 18. It has its flaws, but all in all, it is one of my favorite eras.
In preparing for the departure of the most beloved of the actors to play the Doctor JNT planned a process of diluting the flair and humor that had been associated with Tom Baker. Accompanied by a muted redesigned costume and synthesized incidental music, there was a feeling of time having passed for the Doctor, who seemed far older and perhaps a bit senile. Visiting reader Zeno has commented on the drastic shifts in Tom Baker’s performance from series 15 to 16 where the Doctor became far zanier and mad. That change is even more drastic here as the manic Doctor is replaced with a kind of tired old man. Intentional or not, it’s a marvelous touch that has only been seen in the character in one other occasion with Sylvester McCoy as the ‘older’ Seventh Doctor in the 1996 TV Movie.
Along with a more retiring leading man was a shift in Lalla Ward’s performance who had previously been shown to be just as silly as the Doctor. Her more sensible traits are played up in this series as she appears to be humoring a madman while also looking out for his well being. Traveling to Brighton Beach. the Doctor purposefully bypasses the randomizer (a device introduced two years back) that prevents the Black Guardian from tracking down the TARDIS to exact his revenge on the Doctor for thwarting his attempts to assemble the Key to Time. It’s a very strange act on the Doctor’s part and finally bears fruit two years later when the Black Guardian finally makes his move against his foe. But here it’s a bit of a flaw in logic. Certainly, de-activating the device is a very very very bad idea and hints at a kind of mental instability on the Doctor’s part. It’s as if the zany madcap character that we had fallen in love with has grown crazier, but the appeal has worn off and what we are left with is a worrisome personality that is a danger to himself… and the universe.
No worries, though. This story proves that the Doctor is still the genius that we know him to be, even if he waits until the last moment to show it.
The Leisure Hive has a fantastic cast with Laurence Payne (familiar to Whovians for his earlier appearance in the Gunfighters and later as Dastari in the Two Doctors) as the aged Morix, Adrienne Corri as the fiery Mena and David Haig starring as the young and caustic Pangol. The Argolins are presented as a culture on the verge of collapse. Sterile and dying, their only concern is to be remembered for their scientific genius instead of their dreadful atomic war. For many Whovians they are remembered as the weird green-skinned aliens who drop seeds from their heads as they die.
Stylishly realized with very simple costuming by June Hudson (who also redesigned the look of the Fourth Doctor), the Argolins make for a believable, if slightly ‘Star Trek’ alien race – in which an entire people are defined by a specific trait.
It must have come as quite a shock in 1980 to see the new Doctor Who so modernized. For Americans, it was startling and roused interest from a younger audience, eager for science fiction to accompany Star Wars and the recently reborn Star Trek films. In the UK, there was a great fear of competition from the program Buck Rogers… which still makes me shudder to this day. Honestly, just try watching the series and ask yourself why anyone would be afraid of it stealing Doctor Who’s audience. In any case, it was a drastically altered look that welcomed audiences in the Summer of 1980.
The Leisure Hive is author David Fisher’s fourth offering to Doctor Who (preceded by the Stones of Blood, the Androids of Tara and the Creature and the Pit). Of the five total, I have to say that I prefer this one. It lacks a lot of the charm and humor seen in his other works, but it is so polished and well-structured that I am more impressed with each viewing. It is certainly helped by Bidmead’s insistence on a reliance on ‘real science,’ specifically the tachyonics, but it is the story of Pangol and the Argolins that make this a real success for me.
The dreaded Famosi
Surviving a deadly war with the Fomasi, the Argolins have attempted to embrace a lifestyle of peace and understanding, but there is the awkward truth of doing business with financial backers to support the Leisure Hive and its many endeavors. In the opening sequence, the aged leader of the Argolins meets with a pair of representatives Brock and Stimson who wish to buy out the Argolins completely, something that the young Pangol is directly opposed to. Ironically, the desolate atmosphere of Argolis is only useful to the former enemy of Argolis, the Fomasi. During the proceedings Chairman Morix dies, demanding that a replacement be found.
Involved in deep research concerning the tachyonics technology pioneered by the Argolins, incoming Chairwoman Mena arrives with new hope for her people. An Earth scientist promises that the tachyonic generator can be used to remove the impurities from the Argolins, giving them a new lease on life. However, the proposal is a sham. While investigating the device, the Doctor is aged several hundred years, reduced to a fragile old man. Mena is of course understanding to the Doctor’s plight as she herself is near death (as are all Argolins). The Doctor and Romana are determined to discover if the tachyon generator could indeed work as mysterious murders begin to occur and unseen forces move through the corridors of the Leisure Hive. It appears that the Fomasi are enacting their revenge, but is that really what is going on?
When the Doctor is suspected of murder and Earth scientist Hardin is imprisoned, it seems that all is lost. Then Mena begins to die, giving the cue to Brock to more aggressively make his play for power. In the confusion, Pangol makes his move. Revealed to be a child created by the generator itself, he is the viceroy of a new violent era. Rejecting any move toward compromise or defeat, Pangol uses the generator to clone a massive army and once more raise Argolis to its place as a galactic super power.
The story of the Leisure Hive seems steeped in the politics of the time as well as being obsessed with the rising importance of leisure technology and imperialism. A people sedated by convenience and bright shiny entertainment are hardly likely to question the aiming of nuclear arms at other countries or the invasion of other nations in the name of world peace. It’s also interesting that young Pangol wishes to reignite the flames of war and conquest rather than the elders of Argolis, something that would come to pass in popular society when the drum of patriotic pride was hammered to draw in new recruits for the armed forces. I may be delving too deep into this aspect of the story, but as Barry Letts was involved and his previous stories in the Pertwee era were so heavily influenced by political and social concerns, I wonder if any of this was intentional or if it’s just something that I bring to it as a teen of the 80′s.
The revamped and remodeled Doctor Who took time in gaining support from its audience. Already suffering a drop in viewing figures from previous years, the opening story only garnered just over 5 million viewers. However, there was a massive shift in the target demographic from this point onward. While the program had relied on fantasy, humor and monsters, the new program was more intelligent and stylish. It was a smarter, more refined program that took time to grow on the British public. It can be said that both the 18th and 19th series are among the more adult of Doctor Who’s 26 year run before it mutated again into something very different. At the time, it was a call to arms for High School nerds all over the planet and they answered in kind.
The new opening sequence is still controversial as it jars so much with the previous model. It took me a while to appreciate it, but this documentary really sheds some light on the hard work that went into its creation.
The story behind the new opening credits by Peter Howell and Sid Sutton
A brilliant and inspired story, The Leisure Hive isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Slow moving in pace, it also attempts drastically new direction using hand-held camera angels by director Lovett Bickford, some of which are less successful than others. The incidental music, inspired by Holst’s ‘The Planets,’ paired with very long shots of models may also put you to sleep. The plot is also quite convoluted with business deals involving masquerading large reptiles and several scenes set in a board room.
There are several stand-out moments in this story including the Doctor being torn apart and then aged as well. Off the rails in the previous series, Tom Baker is in fine form here, even though he was bristling with frustration at the time.
One of the more impressive adventures of the 1980′s, The Leisure Hive is often forgotten as an actual story as it is remembered instead as the beginning of so many changes. That’s a shame because for the beginning of something new, it was a very bold first step.
Doctor Who: The Leisure Hive