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18x
1. 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)


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