Monday, 14 September 2009
Doctor Who: The Leisure Hive
“Why can’t we do something constructive?”
It’s actually quite a shock to see a new title sequence after six solid seasons. Not to mention a new theme tune for the first time in fourteen! It all looks and sounds very much of its time. Not sure what I think of it yet. Not that it’s anything I’m not extremely familiar with, obviously, but the marathon does sort of put it all into context.
Anyway, the opening shot, panning across Brighton beach for about six hours, is quite bizarre. It’s not a bad idea in principle, but about half the actual length would have been quite enough. Personally it helps that I happened to visit Brighton earlier this year and actually recognise bits, but I imagine a lot of people back in 1980 would probably have… what did they used to say? Ah yes, tuned the television set to the other side. Not a good way to start a new series.
There’s clearly a new broom being wielded- the Doctor’s wielding (rather fetching) new clothes, Tom’s performance is being reined in, and what happens to K9 in this episode might just, at a pinch, indicate a teeny weeny bit of an anti-robot dog agenda. This scene might also be seen as symbolic- after the season-long holiday of Season Seventeen, suddenly holidays are no fun any more. What does this portend?
There’s talk of bypassing the randomiser and the general nastiness of the Black Guardian, all of which actually gives a sense of continuity to the regime just departed. And the Doctor and Romana are both the same as ever. There are many obvious changes here, but on present evidence the sudden change in this story is overstated. There’s a lot of new stuff here, but Spearhead From Space it ain’t.
Anyway, this story is all about Argolis, a sort of intergalactic Butlins with added technobabble. One of the Argolins, Pangol (you’d almost think this story was script edited by someone to do with computers…) is played by Inspector Grim himself, David Haig, but unfortunately it’s now the 80s so we have to put up with some rather dull boardroom scenes. It all looks very good, but underneath the story is little more than competent. I’m not sure what to make of the incidental music either, now that Dudley Simpson has been replaced by the Radiophonic Workshop.
Still, the middle eight’s back in the closing theme tune at least…
“How long did the war last?”
“As long as that?”
It’s an odd one, this story. The plot itself is sound, giving us a steady stream of revelations about things like the Argolins’ stability. There are good character bits too, like the relationship between Mena and Hardin and our knowledge that Hardin is actually lying to her about his experiments. There’s a nice scene where he confesses to Romana- he’s a believably weak yet sympathetic character.
And although this story has a sense of seriousness that’s been missing for a long time, there are still lots of examples of the type of humour that you’d expect from a David Fisher story, especially the visual gag of the Doctor’s scarf leading to a dead body (“Arrest the scarf then!”). It also looks very good indeed. But in spite of all this there’s something unengaging about this, and you imagine the kids must have been bored.
“I’m sick of being old.”
It’s fascinating comparing Tom’s performance to the last few stories. He’s still playing the same character, with the same humour (and lots of funny lines, in spite of what people say) but still, there’s a bit more discipline to his performance, and his use of facial expressions in a serious way is better than it’s been for ages. He’s brilliant as the suddenly aged Doctor, with the shock to the audience being conveyed far more by his performance than by the make-up, excellent though it is. And we’re left to think this might be permanent.
Once again I’m not entirely sure why I’m not enjoying this more- the revelation that Pangol is the only young Argolin, born long after the war forty years ago, is a real twist- but there’s something fundamentally po-faced here, as though David Fisher’s script had had al the fun neutered out of it.
“This time I must try to bring him up properly.”
That’s a very long reprise, uncomfortably so, in fact. But it’s an effective resolution to an effective cliffhanger, that our main human protagonist and his lawyer minion have been Foamasi, er, Mafiosi all along. But that also makes me wish I’d seen the fun Fisher originally had with this idea before Bidmead strangled it to death. Still, there’s one familiar fisher motif that’s in evidence here; the syndrome of the story ending right at the start of Part Four, just as in The Creature From the Pit.
Still, this time the filler that takes us to the end of the episode is actually quite good, and it’s been built up enough as a subplot to get away with it, just. And Pangol ends up with a second chance, getting to relive his childhood again. Good idea; they should give it another go sometime. Perhaps in, say, twenty-five years time? It’s a good ending to a story which looks great and has pretty much nothing wrong with it production-wise.
Overall, though, in spite of the fact it looks great, and deserved an awful lot of praise for looking as though it has a much higher budget than anything we’ve seen recently even though it probably hasn’t, already on his first story I have concerns about the direction in which Bidmead’s taking the show. Where was the fun? What was there for the kids to enjoy? 2/5.