The Leisure Hive: DVD Special

Written by:
David Fisher
Directed by: Lovett Bickford
Starring: Tom Baker
Year: 1980
Video Availability: Try

I hated this stuff when I was young. All gloss, science and pomposity. Where was the fantasy, the humour, the daftness? Now I'm older and ... ahem... wiser, I love seasons 17 and 18 equally... albeit in different ways.

There's lots of flashy direction here, such as an opening 92 second tracking shot of Brighton Beach* before we even get to see the Tardis or the Doctor. One of JN-T's first acts as producer is to stylishly undermine K-9, then switch to a panning shot of space. Ironically, as JN-T trashed Douglas Adams quite a bit, lots of season 18 can be very Hitch-Hikerish at times. The man who was behind more poor productions than any other comes up trumps with his first season. It's staggering to think this would one day turn into The Twin Dilemma.
* = And they wonder why Doctor Who has so many gay fans, part two hundred and fifty-eight.

It's a confident production, with gorgeous music, sophisticated special effects and swagger. With the neon pink design and lime green aliens it does have the whiff of tacky, but this is more of a faint seed within rather than a fully-developed component. From here JN-T could have capitalised on the strengths of this story, or its weaknesses. Which one he did is open to debate. (I also love the way the science of this story is pronounced "Tackyonics").

The newly-marginalised fourth Doctor is unveiled, he and Romana having a minimal (just six minutes, 42 seconds, Anorak fans!!!) screentime. Most notable is some music towards the end which preshadows that of the Doctor's fall in Logopolis. You feel that this serious, non-kid friendly, hard SF approach perhaps isn't what Doctor Who should be, but there's no denying this is a stylish episode.
* * * *

Three minutes in and the "unidentified visitors" of the Doctor and Romana are allowed to advise on the failed experiment of the generator. Pretty fortunate to be trusted like that.

Doing these "episode by episode" reviews does give a perspective you'd previously been unaware of sometimes. Little things, like an episode three being the best (Invisible Enemy, Underworld) or whatever. So too I'd never really noticed before what a coasting episode part two is, with very little plot advancement at all. It's still nicely done, however, and Tom is surprisingly flippant for the period.
* * * ½

Tom emerges from the generator looking like... well, like he does nowadays, really. The illusion is somewhat compromised by Tom not doing an "old" voice, though the make-up is very good. Again, the narrative progression of this one is slower than I remembered. It's another decent episode, though, even if, as is often said, the "Foamasi in human disguise" scene is silly...
* * * ½

There's a weird bit of exposition in this one which involves Lalla talking to herself. The introduction of the Randomiser is also an indication of JN-T's later continuity obsessions. And I guess the helmet of Theron is a convenient - if necessary - plot device.

While the man behind The Creature from the Pit and The Androids of Tara may seem compromised here, his humour still emerges, if the "forgive me, but I didn't quite catch your name" scene is anything to go by. (I wrote the story review many months before the DVD bit - which explains why it's sparser than my usual rambling - and found out from said DVD package that the coda was by Bidmead) Maybe this episode shows up all the shortcomings of the story - for, despite all the class direction, great performances and stylish incidentals the dramatic impetus turns out to be nothing more than the bloke from The Thin Blue Line painted green and remaking himself a multiple number of times. For the eight-year-old version of me, Buck Rogers was suddenly an attractive prospect, and one I (the shame!) gave into during the middle of Full Circle.
* * * ½

A smashing little story, well told and beautifully designed. It lacks the warmth and charm of Who at its best, but it must have been wonderful to watch this as an adult the first time... Doctor Who's final season of sustained greatness.
* * * *


A low-key story, as is most of season 18, some have said that The Leisure Hive is an unusual choice of DVD release, particularly as well-regarded Tom tales such as City of Death and Genesis still go unreleased. Certainly, the interlinked nature of season 18 does make it an uncomfortable stand-alone (though not as much as a solo State of Decay release would be) and its release now means that only one of five Tom UK DVDs has him doing the commentary on it. All this said, I welcome its issue, and the Restoration Team have done their usual fine work.

Commentary/Info Text: While the info text is the expected fine work (though they should have maybe not used the phrase "Lovett Bickford recalled his approach…" so often), the commentary is unexpectedly striking. For the first two episodes it's possibly the coldest, most clashing commentary ever recorded. We get script editor Chris Bidmead pointedly bitching about Lovett Bickford's ambitious direction, while a disappointingly haughty Lalla Ward (she obviously toned down the snootiness for the part) snipes in the background. It's part unmissable, part excruciating, as two old technical luvvies get snotty with each other about the validity of a tracking shot, and Lalla tries to keep her digs at Tom to a minimum. She fails, though she's not the only one to criticise Tom's acting. Pure car crash listening, until the third and fourth episodes, where suddenly they all develop a warmer sense of humour and rapport. It's a relief, but strangely less compelling.

With four specially-recorded features and some archive material the extras for this disc run to over an hour. In order, they are:
A New Beginning (30'18m) An interesting and well-made clips-and-talking-heads documentary about the start of the JN-T reign. The highlight has to be a section on Tom's on-set clashes, including behind-the-scenes clips of his dummy spitting.
From Avalon to Argolis (14'19m) Ostensibly a look at the writing of the story, this feature opens with a brilliant title sequence then merges into a no-holds-barred slag-off fest, with Fisher and Bidmead taking pot shots at any subject they can think of. Is Bidmead well up for a ruck or what?
Synthesizing Starfields (9'13m) Subtitled "Redesigning the Titles", this sees Peter Howell and Sid Sutton discussing the new titles and theme for the 80s, which is better than it sounds.
Leisure Wear (6'49m) Toothy old granny June Hudson talks about her time designing the costumes on the show, including discussing the fabrics polyester jersey and dyed lycra. Stop me before I get an erection.
Bue Peter (3'56m) The usual bit of annoying tat from posh kid's magazine show Blue Peter. This time fronted by Tina Heath, (the most useless and forgettable BP presenter of all?) it's interesting to see a JN-T at the start of his Who career before he became jaded.
Picture Gallery (5'59m) 63 images from the story, all very samey. Then again, the photo gallery is always the least essential part of a DVD package for me personally, though most of these are "behind the scenes".
Lastly, there's an Easter Egg (Spoiler!, 3'35m) that includes deathly dull but essential to nerds broadcast idents. Wasn't £3.99 really expensive for photos back in 1980? The BBC don't change, do they? Oh, and let's not forget two alternate audio options - one an isolated music track, the other Dolby 5.1 stereo.

A solid DVD release, refreshingly free from silliness and indulgence amongst the extras. Yet what really elevates it is the painfully strained atmosphere on the commentary, which is sure to shatter anyone's belief that Lalla is the fun-loving, likeable character she portrayed on screen.

* * * *