18x1. The Leisure Hive
Writer: David Fisher
Director: Lovett Bickford
Script Editor: Christopher Bidmead
Producer: John Nathan-Turner
Synopsis: The Doctor and Romana
travel to the planet Argolis, where the few survivors of a devastating
war with the Foamasi are running a vacation center themed around
cross-cultural understanding in the hopes of preventing others from
engaging in warfare. There they become involved in a web of intrigue
surrounding the Tachyon Recreation Generator, a powerful piece of
technology that may be key to the Argolins' survival, and a scheme to
buy the planet.
Review: "The Leisure Hive" perhaps marks, in some ways, the most significant changes to Doctor Who
since the exile arc was kicked off with "Spearhead from Space."
Incoming producer John Nathan-Turner had made a decision that the
series should de-emphasize humor and adopt a new style of visuals and
music (including more of a "space-age" credits sequence), while script
editor Christopher Bidmead brought more of a scientific background to
the writing. On the other hand, the changes are mostly stylistic.
"Spearhead" fundamentally altered the premise of the series (at least
for a while), whereas "The Leisure Hive" pretty much picks up where the
previous season left off: with the Doctor, Romana, and K-9 wandering
through space and time and having largely self-contained adventures.
So how do the changes play out? Well, I have to admit that the visuals
and set design are a step up from what we've become accustomed to on Doctor Who up to this point: while no one would mistake "The Leisure Hive" for a Star Wars
movie, the Argolin facilities are fairly impressive and convincing and,
from a contemporary point of view, manage to avoid the slightly dated
feel that was often noticeable in the previous outer-space serials. And
while the music feels slightly overdone at times, it does at least add
some variety - if nothing else, the background music on Doctor Who
had become a bit boring and predictable. As for the scientific element,
frankly I found the technobabble in this serial kind of tiresome - it
may well be that it's more accurate due to Bidmead's influence, but
sometimes it just comes off as arbitrary and confusing, and as such
it's relatively useless to the audience.
As for the story itself, this has to be one of the most curiously
striking examples of "good ideas, flawed execution" in the history of Doctor Who.
If you asked me what "The Leisure Hive" was about, I could certainly
rattle off an impressive list of concepts that pop up in this serial.
We have a dying and sterile civilization (the Argolins) who have chosen
to spend their final years operating this vacation facility and trying
to bear witness to the necessity of intercultural understanding. We
have a satire of corporate greed in the form of the Foamasi who are
trying to drive down the planet's value, and the fact that two of their
Foamasi kin play a key role in foiling their plans further underlines
the theme of racial acceptance and reconciliation. We have the
character of Pangol, an Argolin who has learned all the wrong lessons
and seeks to create "Children of the Generator" who might restore his
planet's military prowess under his leadership. We have the otherwise
well-meaning scientist who's been talked into perpetrating a fraud with
his time-reversal technology. And, of course, we have the generator
itself, which could be the key to the Argolins' survival and which at
one point ages the Doctor by several hundred years.
All of these are worthwhile ideas, and some of them might have even
carried an entire serial successfully. But the pacing is bizarrely
uneven, jumping around from one thing to another to the point that I"m
not sure if it's really "about" any of these things. This is all the
more noticeable when you consider that the serial clocks in at well
below the average running time for a four-parter: edited together, it's
less than an hour and twenty minutes long. At the same time, it spends
an inordinate amount of time on sequences such as the long pan across
Brighton beach at the beginning and a repetitive shot of a shuttle
approaching Argolis. The result is that when, for example, Pangol uses
the generator to create what appears to be a masked army of cloned
warriors, it doesn't have quite the impact that it should because the
script has just been wandering all over the place instead of building
up to this. At one point, the Doctor is even accused of murder because
someone has been strangled with his scarf ("Arrest the scarf," he
memorably suggests), but his trial seems to be over before it starts.
I am giving "The Leisure Hive" a positive rating, as it is still a
thoughtful and entertaining serial despite its structural problems. But
I can't help but think that a better-paced approach, and less of an
"everything and the kitchen sink" mentality, might have made it a great
serial rather than merely a good one.
Rating: *** (out of four)
Back to the main Doctor Who Reviews page.