Out Like Apathy

Review of The Leisure Hive (#109)
DVD Release Date: 07 Jun 05 (Out of Print)
Original Air Date: 30 Aug - 20 Sep 1980
Doctor/Companion: Four, Romana II, K-9
Stars: Tom Baker, Lalla Ward, John Leeson
Preceding Story: The Horns of Nimon (Four, Romana I, K-9)
Succeeding Story: Meglos (Four, Romana II)

It's the beginning of the end for the Fourth Doctor, as he takes one final victory lap around the universe before handing over the keys of the TARDIS to a younger, blonder version of himself. By this point the Four/Romana II team functions like a well-serviced TARDIS, comfortable with each others' foibles and confident in each others' roles in the partnership as much as their own.

As usual, I find Romana's quiet competence to be one of the highlights of the story. The Doctor is mostly watchable as well, since Baker has yet to decide he's So Done With the role, though the spring is certainly gone from his step. The guest cast also performs well—only as campy as the script requires.

The script, though... Well, it could be worse. In fact, I remembered it as being worse before I re-watched it for this review. But it's certainly not a shining star in the oeuvre, either. Remembering that this is the season opener makes the director's choice of spending nearly a full minute on an establishing shot panning across an Earth beach scene (Brighton) feel even more questionable; why would you think that would entice your audience to stick around for more?

Poor K-9 doesn't stick around for long, either. Romana tosses a ball toward the shore in a moment of frustration, causing the hapless metal hound to chase after it to the point of self-destruction. Having thus gotten an unfavored character out of the way, the writer uses Romana's dissatisfaction with their vacation spot as the impetus for sending our heroes off to the leisure planet Argolis—now without the randomizer fitted into the TARDIS's guidance system for the first time since Romana's regeneration.

Of course, the TARDIS knows what she's doing, and brings her Time Lords to Argolis just when they're needed. The Argolins as a race are dying out, some decades after their 20-minute nuclear war ("As long as that?" marvels the Doctor) with their enemies the Foamasi. An Earth scientist has completed a new experiment in tachyonics (the Argolins currently use "recreational tachyonics" in their leisure hive, having apparently not advanced the science any further in forty years) that holds promise for saving the Argolins from extinction.

Intrigues both political and scientific ensue, and our heroes are hard pressed to keep themselves out of serious trouble. In fact, the Doctor doesn't escape entirely unscathed. At one point he is aged some five hundred years in a malfunctioning tachyonic experiment. Here, at least, is one thing The Leisure Hive does well—even better, in my opinion, than the modern era.

While the age makeup for David Tennant's Tenth Doctor, who suffered extreme aging in The Sound of Drums, is eerily realistic—complete with age spots and sagging jowls—Baker's aged Doctor looks more like he stepped out of a time warp, à la Rip Van Winkle. His whiskers have grown long and his famous curls have loosened as they lost their pigment, but they're still present.

Images ©BBC 1980 / 2007

Obviously, this state doesn't last (the Doctor's way out of it is typically convoluted and doesn't necessarily hold up under close scrutiny), but it's visually diverting and ultimately helps the Doctor ferret out some of the secrets floating about the hive.

Though my suspension of disbelief wasn't always very willing, there were plenty of twists (of varying degrees of appeal and plausibility) to keep me engaged. The Fourth Doctor himself is already flagging a little. There's nothing concrete or blatant to point to, but as mentioned above, the spring is gone from his step.

Baker doesn't appear to be taking as much joy in the work as he used to, a state of affairs that only worsens over the course of this season; his performances seem to my eye more and more listless, as if depression and indifference were weighing too heavily for even his bright personality to break through. By the end, it's almost a relief to see the handoff as a new incarnation takes over the TARDIS.

Baker's stamp on the role was indelible, and one doesn't have to look very hard to see echoes of the Fourth incarnation in his later selves. But between his giddy debut performance to the opening of his last season nearly six years later, some of the magic has gone. Leisure Hive is a perfectly serviceable story, with some of the hallmarks of intrigue and wacky science that so often suffuse Doctor Who; it simply doesn't have that indefinable "it" for me.

So it was that Four came in like absurdity and went out like apathy. At least we'll always have Paris...

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Comments

Even to this 1979 13 year old's naive eyes, the silliness, as I saw it, of Season 17 had left me with a jaded pallette.

I wasn't therefore going out of my way to watch the programme on a Saturday night when it returned in 1980 and for some reason the change to the theme tune seemed to be the last straw for me. Consequently I barely watched another episode that year until the last episode of Logopolis. My loss I guess as there is plenty to like about TB's final run in.

Over a decade later when I finally watched this I was pleasantly surprised at how well the technobabble stood up, not withstanding how do you squeeze a Foamasi into a human skin suit and what the hell happened to the Tardis translation circuits?

Teenagers! We thought we knew it all

By Wholahoop
mrfranklin's picture

Argh! I didn't even mention the change in theme music!

That is certainly something that affected my viewing experience. It was jarring after the rest of T. Baker's seasons; I had a hard time settling into the story because the music kept pulling me out. :P

By mrfranklin

.....and in contrast to my pimply teenage fickle self, I now love the Howell version, although I still wonder why it had to be a different key to the Derbyshire version (so still somewhat fickle!)

By Wholahoop
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