Friday, 20 April 2012
The Leisure Hive
The Leisure Hive has always divided fan opinion, mainly because it featured the introduction of the aesthetics of Doctor Who demanded by new producer John Nathan-Turner. The prevailing view these days seems to be that there is nothing very special about this story. My own view is that The Leisure Hive is a very good story and that its strong production values are a breath of fresh air after the sloppiness of Season 17.
It's hard to imagine what it must have been like for a viewer in 1980, seeing the new title sequence and hearing the revamped music for the first time. This title sequence is followed by a disconcerting long shot of Brighton beach. People say its too long and pointless, but it creates such a wonderful sense of eeriness. There are few things as bleakly enchanting as a British seaside in bad weather. Then we get the temporary destruction of K9. That irritating entity who plagued the Graham Williams era is thus removed from the story. JNT had the right idea getting rid of the robot dog.
One of the most striking things about The Leisure Hive is the strong visual quality of it. It has great camerawork, strong and impressive sets and some well conceived video effects. While the Foamasi do look like walking beanbags, the other costumes are very well designed, especially those of the Argolins. The popping of the pods as they age is a great idea. The yellow of their robes adds to the strong sense of colour in the serial, contrasting with the bold burgundy of the Doctor's new costume. The Leisure Hive is a serial that is meant to look good and succeeds.
There is a striking change in tone too. While The Leisure Hive has its moments of humour, there is none of the silliness that dogged the previous season. It is played straight and every actor is taking it seriously. Tom Baker is no longer joking around and acting more like a stand-up comedian than a lead actor. There is a sobriety to his tone. The Doctor also now comes across as vulnerable. When he turns into an old man, he really does seem ancient. We are made to feel that he really could drop dead. However, my favorite moment in The Leisure Hive is when the Foamasi agent is trying to communicate to the Doctor in it's own language. The Doctor taps its arm affectionately and says "I wish I knew what you wanted, my friend." There is just such a sense of warmth and kindliness in that gesture and line that is a testament to the skill of Tom Baker as an actor.
As ever the Fourth Doctor and Romana II make a great team. Their disdain and lack of awe in what they see of the leisure hive make up for the heavy-handed technobabble and sciency stuff going on. Lalla Ward was never the greatest actress in Doctor Who and her screaming fit at the climax comes across as a bit weak, but she always makes an impression when she is on screen. The sailor suit is another of those great Romana outfits. She looks adorably cute in this.
As I said, everybody is taking this story seriously, unlike much of what we saw in Season 17. The guest cast do some great work. Meena is definitely the best and her subtle relationship with Hardin is a nice touch. There are plenty of authoritarian lunatics in Doctor Who, but the young Pangol is definitely one of the most compelling and believable. As for the lawyer Klout, not only does he have a fantastic, Dickensian-style name, but despite not saying a single word, he conveys such a sense of menace in every scene he appears.
Fans ought to look more kindly on The Leisure Hive, for it was an excellent opening for a new era of Doctor Who.