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The Leisure Hive

Review by Paul Scoones

What utter twaddle The Horns of Nimon was. Rarely do we see such inept acting, ghastly costumes and absurd scripts; even on Doctor Who! If it had one redeeming feature, it is that it was followed by The Leisure Hive. Season 17 was tired and dull; by contrast, Season 18 is a breath of fresh air. The first episode single-handedly restored my flagging confidence in Doctor Who. It is the first serial since The Talons of Weng-Chiang that I have waited for in suspense, and watched from the edge of my seat.

I find it peculiar that it isn't considered to be something of a minor classic, and can only assume that this is down to overshadowing by other stories in this season, like Full Circle, Warriors' Gate and the seminal Logopolis. I would also like someone to tell me why Lovett Bickford hasn't done more than just this one serial, as the standard of direction is quite superb. Look no further than the Brighton sequence for clear evidence of this. I had a clear memory of the establishing shot along the row of bathing tents from when I first saw it back in 1981, but I didn't remember the fade-out shot into the starfield. It absolutely captivated me, and I was immediately reminded of a similar shot used in the splendid Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, currently enjoying a third showing on our screens which was of course made at the same time as Season 18.

After a long spell of bad acting from the guest and supporting cast, The Leisure Hive was endowed with some great characterisations, played by actors who obviously took a lot of care over their parts (unlike Graham Crowden in The Horns of Nimon!). David Haig's Pangol may have been just a little bit over played, but this was more than compensated for by Adrienne Corri, whose role as the aged Mena towards the end of the story excelled that of Tom Baker, faced with a similar task. There were moments when he seemed to forget how old and infirm he was supposed to be, but Corri never let up, and her gradual death, with the neat idea of the spheres falling from her headpiece, was captivating.

The Doctor and Romana took almost back-seat roles, unlike the Doctor's domination of every Season 17 story. Here, much of what happened would have taken place whether the Time Lords had been there or not, and this was a good move; putting the Doctor into a more realistic perspective. They were, after all, just on Argolis for a holiday, happening, of course, to get caught up in the Foamasi sabotage of the Hive. Admittedly, the story was not tightly paced, but the 'slack' periods served very well to introduce the viewer to Brighton, the Generator Hall, the Boardroom, the lab, and most spectacularly, the surface of the planet Argolis. Somehow, the story wouldn't have had quite the same impact had we not been aware of just how inhospitable - yet stunning - the surface actually was. The Hive itself was one of the best model buildings I've seen on Doctor Who, yet I can't figure out where that shuttle was docking!

Which brings me to the grand old tradition of all Doctor Who stories, flaws - yes, there were nowhere near as many as in Season 17, but unfortunately no story seems to be totally immune: how, for instance, did those fat Foamasi creatures fit into the Brock and Klout suits? Why were the Doctor's clothes hidden in the helmet of Theron of all places? How did smashing the viewer screen with said helmet stop the tachyon program running? Pangol knew the Doctor was inside the Generator with him, so why did he go ahead with the replication program? There are others, but to name them would be tedious and nit picking. As I said, no story is free of error, and to look for them only devalues the enjoyment of the thing.

The Leisure Hive was David Fisher's last script for the series to date. It was commissioned by Graham Williams, but extensively reworked by Bidmead, Letts and Nathan-Turner. Just how much it was changed will never be known, but a rough idea can be gained from reading Fisher's novelisation, which is a delight, easily one of the best Doctor Who novels, and even surpasses the screen version. Incidentally, I've just found out that Lovett Bickford was 'removed' for taking The Leisure Hive over budget. I personally think it was worth it!

This item appeared in TSV 9 (October 1988).

Index nodes: The Leisure Hive