18: Change and Decay
Part 1: The Leisure Hive
By Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore
Originally published in Celestial Toyroom Issue 313
"The Leisure Hive", as the first story of Season 18, introduces many of the themes and ongoing ideas which would characterise Tom Baker's final year as the Doctor, and John Nathan-Turner's first as series producer. Although the story itself contains a number of logical holes and flaws in the script, it allows Doctor Who to set off in a disturbing new direction which would culminate in the regeneration of the Doctor and the departure of an actor who had very much made the role his own.
Productionwise, there is little to complain about in "The Leisure Hive". Director Lovett Bickford favours nicely atmospheric low-angle shots and, although the sets seem a bit postindustrial for a leisure facility, some of them actually have ceilings. It is also the first story since "The Sea Devils" to feature specially composed music from the Radiophonic Workshop (in this case by Peter Howell, who was responsible for the new arrangement of the title theme). The Argolin costumes and makeup are also a case when June Hudson's fondness for rococo, OTT design works well; the original idea was for the costumes to imply that the Argolins are actually plants (with the green-and-yellow motif, and the dying Argolins shedding seeds from the tops of their heads), but even though this effect doesn't entirely read, their appearance is still attractively alien. The Foamasi look good when seen as a series of shots of claws and eyes, although it must be said that when seen full-on, the overall impression is unfortunately reminiscent of a man wearing an ill-fitting chameleon suit. The performances are good, with David Haig (Pangol) and Adrienne Cori (Mena) being worthy of particular mention.
The general premise of the story, and its background, are quite well-developed. The idea of a war which lasts twenty minutes leaving effects which endure for 300 years rings true to a post-nuclear audience; similarly, the idea of making the planet on which the war took place a leisure facility with the aim of educating people about peaceful cooperation resembles the postwar declaration of Hiroshima as a World Heritage Site in order to ensure that the lessons of WWII are not forgotten. The behind-the-scenes aspects of the leisure industry are also cleverly referenced, with the Argolins' calm and friendly demeanour with the tourists contrasting sharply with their private dickering about how they're losing customers to other facilities (the initial reason the Argolins are upset about the Doctor and Romana's presence, of course, is that they haven't paid to get in). Considering what they have to offer, as well, it's not surprising that the company is in financial trouble: the Generator really is just a cabinet of illusions and, as Visitor Loman says (in a nicely ironic reference to the low-budget production), it looks just like an edited recording.
There is also evidence of considerable thought having gone into working out which of the Foamasi are where at particular points in the story. The Brock seen over the communications channel is clearly the real Brock, but the Brock who turns up shortly thereafter, having apparently had a change of heart, must be a fake (implying, since he knows all about Morix's conversation with the real Brock, that the West Lodge are monitoring Argolin communications). The Foamasi seen outside the Hive must therefore be the Government Foamasi, as Brock and Klout are in the Hive and in disguise (making the slightly sinister presentation of the Foamasi outside the Hive into a nice piece of viewer misdirection, implying as it does that these are the villains). It is also clear, although not directly stated, that Klout is the Foamasi behind the attempted murder of the Doctor and the real murder of Stimson; the Government Foamasi have no motivation for either crime and, although Brock is in evidence shortly after the first incident, Klout takes longer to turn up. In the second incident, Klout's costume and mask are found by Stimson in the wardrobe, giving a clue to the identity of the naked Foamasi whom he then encounters. Also, following the attempt on his life, the Doctor does not retrieve his scarf from its position around the neck of the Argolin statue, where it will later be acquired by Klout and used to imply that the Doctor murdered Stimson (although it is more likely that Klout strangled Stimson through some other means, and tied the scarf around him later), and to create a nice parallel between Romana's discovery of a statue on the end of the scarf in the earlier scene and the Doctor's subsequent following of the scarf to find a corpse. The sequences with the Government Foamasi, and those in which Brock tries to persuade Mena to sell the Hive, tell us quite a bit about Foamasi political economics: the Government, it seems, is in charge of all enterprise, but criminal elements, engaged in private enterprise, do occasionally flourish. In the last two episodes, Brock's concern for Mena's health is not due to a sudden development of humane feeling, but because he knows that it would be impossible for him to buy the facility with the ascerbic and fanatical Pangol as Chairman. Pangol himself was obviously created using a different technique to that which he uses at the climax of the story to duplicate himself: it is stated that he was grown from a cell and raised from childhood until he came of age (making him not much older than 20, since there's been a moratorium on the use of the technique for 20 years), whereas the duplicates seen in the stories final episode replicate the adult Doctor and all his knowledge.
Although the script shows an occasional tendency to fall into clunky infodumps, it does also contain some excellent black comedy (as when the Argolin looks at the Doctor's equation and collapses, and the Doctor remarks, "do you know, I had a feeling he wasn't ready for the rigors of warp mechanics"). There are some good lines, as when the Doctor explains to Pangol his escape from the generator ("How did you get out?" "Through a hole in the back." "But there isn't one!" "There is now"), and when the Doctor, accused of murder because of the presence of his scarf at the crime scene, exclaims "Then arrest the scarf!" There is an implied pun in the purpose of the facility: it is not only for the "recreation" of the public, but for the "re-creation" of the Argolin race, and there is also a nice symbolic touch in the presence of the Helmet of Theron, who united the Argolins in war, being used to unite them in peace as a reminder of the evils of conflict. Fibreoptics, a very cutting-edge development in communications of the early 1980s, are not only seen but name-checked (and the Doctor implies that the Tardis is non-fibreoptic when he admires the efficiency of the Hive's communications). The tagging system used on the Doctor and Romana (reminiscent of a similar one used in the near-contemporary Blake's 7 story "Bounty") is much like that in use for criminals today. Certain aspects of the story (an alien disguised as human, time experiments and a leisure-facility setting) are interestingly close to David Fisher's proposed Season 17 story "A Gamble With Time" (which later formed the basis of "City of Death"). There is a rather charming implication in both the script and the actors' performances that Hardin and Mena are quite fond of each other.
Unfortunately, there are also some problems with the story (possibly due to the nature of its commissioning: Fisher was encouraged to develop the story by John Nathan-Turner after the remaining stories from the previous production team had been considered and all but "State of Decay" rejected; as "The Leisure Hive" was to precede it in the story order, and as the team were under considerable time pressure, Bidmead was consequently unable to give it particularly rigorous script-editing). The sheer amount of padding is painfully obvious: the slow pan across Brighton Beach takes a minute and a half, Mena's shuttle takes 45 seconds to dock, and all of the cliffhanger recaps are very long (with the first-episode recap, for instance, taking a full sixty seconds). There are also a lot of significant plot holes. For example, why does Klout continually take off his human disguise to commit murders: surely this would take up needless time as well as exposing his true identity to the ever-present surveillance cameras? Although this does work as an attempt to throw off the audience, it makes no sense within the story. It also begs the question of how Brock and Klout fit into the costumes- not to mention how they see out of them, as Foamasi eyes are on the side of their heads while the eyeholes in the suits are on the front. It is also not explained why the Doctor and his companions have trouble understanding the Government Foamasi, when the programme conventions normally allow them to understand alien languages. The scene at the end of the story with the Doctor putting on his usual clothes appears to imply that he kept them in the Helmet, which is physically impossible (although the idea is nicely surreal enough for one to want to let it pass).
There are also some actual mistakes within the story. The Doctor and Romana, for instance, discuss the hologram of the old lady being turned back into a girl, despite the fact that they don't come into the room until after it is has been played (due to the lines having been added in a late edit to the script by the director). Romana and Hardin, similarly, display criminal irresponsibility in rushing off to use the Doctor as a live guinea-pig without observing the conclusion of the time experiment. The statement that "reptiles are impervious to radiation" can be proved wrong by simple reference to any biology textbook; although bad science is not unknown in Doctor Who, in this instance it means that a large portion of the Foamasi's motivation is based on a scientific inaccuracy (in fact, there's no reason for the Foamasi to be reptiles at all, meaning that the story is basically pandering to the clichéd idea that Doctor Who must have monsters). Stimson, furthermore, does not go back to pick up his glasses after dropping them (which, as any glasses-wearer knows, makes no sense at all). "The Leisure Hive" thus is a stylish story which is let down by an unfortunate number of plot holes and errors.
The story's real significance, however, is its introduction of a series of thematic threads which will run through all of Season 18 in one form or another. Throughout "The Leisure Hive", there is a sense of tiredness, aging, the decay and destruction of familiar objects and a growing dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs. K9 is put out of action right at the start of the story, beginning the season's trend of blowing up, bludgeoning, kicking and otherwise attempting to destroy the robot dog; the Foamasi later use the Doctor's scarf- a trademark item of Baker's wardrobe- to frame him for murder. The Argolins are an aging oligarchy kept alive through artificial means (recalling both the Time Lords and the general sense that the Baker years have passed their sell-by date). Baker also appears for the first time wearing what is clearly a costume; previously, Baker used to play the role wearing his street clothes with the addition of a coat, scarf and hat, but now, the control over his appearance has been taken from him and placed in the hands of the production team. The Doctor is also turned into an old man: it is a common device (as noted in our article on "The Faceless Ones",) when a production team starts to become dissatisfied with a particular actor, for him/her to appear physically changed or as a doppelganger. The aging of the Doctor, however, also serves to highlight the sense that the programme is becoming stale and falling into decay: "I'm sick of being old," he moans, and he urges Romana to get on with things as there isn't much time. The initial setting of the story in Brighton (new producer JN-T's home town), is a reference to the Doctor's decision to go to Brighton in "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" (which was then followed up by his failure to reach that destination in "The Horror of Fang Rock"); consequently, the fact that the Doctor has now finally arrived suggests an erasing of the entire Williams era. At the end of the story, the Randomiser is removed from the Tardis, in another resetting of the series' premises. The whole story thus has a general subtext of a growing weariness with Tom Baker (and perhaps a weariness with the series on Baker's part), a sense that things are getting stale, and a desire for change.
The bottom line of "The Leisure Hive" is that it is a triumph of style over content: although it looks nice, and has some memorable moments, the story itself is fatally flawed. It is more significant as an indicator of the feelings of the viewers, production team and actors about the state of the series, and as a harbinger of things to come.
Effects courtesy of Fiona Moore