Thursday, 11 December 2014

Story 109 - The Leisure Hive

In which the Doctor and Romana have a rather disastrous outing to Brighton beach - K9 blowing its fuses when it ventures into the sea to fetch a ball. Romana suggests an alternative holiday destination - the Leisure Hive on the planet Argolis. Around the year 2290, this world hosts a vast entertainment complex - the Hive - where the science of Tachyonics has been employed to create all of the amusements. The surface of Argolis is highly toxic - the after effects of a war which took place some years ago between the Argolins and the reptilian Foamasi. The conflict lasted only twenty minutes, but the radiation has laid waste the planet and the people are now sterile. Tachyonics are also being investigated as a possible means of securing the survival of the race. Recently, the Hive has seen dwindling visitor numbers, thanks to competition from rival complexes on other worlds and, to make matters worse, a guest dies horribly soon after the Doctor and Romana arrive - one of the demonstrations going wrong. Other faults are appearing throughout the Hive. The Hive's business agent from Earth - Brock - contacts leader Morix with a Foamasi offer to purchase the complex. Fiercely opposed to this is Morix's son Pangol. Morix passes away shortly after, and his wife Mena is recalled to the planet. She arrives and assumes control. She has commissioned a scientist from Earth - Hardin - to develop a means of rejuvenating her race. Hardin is expected to arrive at the Hive - but the Doctor is mistaken for him and taken to see Mena.

He and Romana witness a video of one of Hardin's experiments, and realise that it has been faked. Brock arrives unannounced with his taciturn colleague Klout, ready to press Mena to accept the Foamasi buy-out offer. Hardin's business partner - Stimson - starts to panic that their deception will be found out. He makes ready to flee in a shuttle, but is soon after found murdered - the Doctor's scarf wrapped rather too tightly around his throat. The Doctor is accused of the crime. In reality, the Hive has been infiltrated by a small number of Foamasi. It was they who killed Stimson, and they have also been carrying out various acts of sabotage. Mena insists that Hardin conduct an experiment with the Tachyon Recreation Generator device. The Doctor finds himself having to act as guinea-pig. Thanks to Foamasi sabotage, he emerges from the machine as a frail old man.

Romana realises that Hardin is actually close to success and agrees to help him perfect his experiments. Pangol has been working on a scheme of his own. He points out that he is too young to have been born since the war - when his race was made sterile. He is really a product of the Tachyon Recreation Generator. He is now going to use it to replicate himself a thousand-fold - creating an army which will make Argolis great once more. Mena ages rapidly - her death near. Most distraught about this is Hardin who is in love with her. The Doctor and Romana meet a Foamasi government agent, who reveals that the Brock and Klout on Argolis are imposters - the Foamasi saboteurs in disguise. They are members of the West Lodge crime syndicate, who have been attempting to buy the Hive for a reduced price. Pangol takes control. He blows up the departing Foamasi shuttle, then enters the Generator - unaware that the Doctor has hidden himself inside also. It is the Doctor who gets duplicated and returned to his normal age. The duplicates are unstable and begin to vanish. Pangol re-enters the device, followed by the dying Mena. She emerges rejuvenated, with Pangol now a baby in her arms - thanks to the work of Romana and Hardin, with a little help from the TARDIS' Randomiser unit. It transpires that only the criminal Foamasi, trying to escape, had been killed by Pangol. Mena starts diplomatic talks with the Foamasi government agent - and determines to bring up Pangol a bit better next time...

This four part adventure was written by David Fisher, and was broadcast between 30th August and 20th September, 1980. It was the first story of Season 18, and is significant for a number of reasons. For some years John Nathan-Turner had worked as Production Unit Manager on the show - a role mainly concerned with finance and logistics in support of the Producer. Graham Williams had left after the stresses of the previous season, and JNT was eventually felt to be a suitable replacement. He, and one-time director on the show David Maloney, had stepped in to cover some of the production on Season 16 when Williams had been ill. However, he was inexperienced in many specific aspects of the programme, especially the creative. As such, Barry Letts was asked by Graeme McDonald, Head of Serials, to act as exec-producer for the first year - to help ease JNT into the role. Script editor Douglas Adams had also moved on - to concentrate on Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy in all its myriad forms, and so Christopher Hamilton Bidmead was brought in to replace him (Johnny Byrne had been first choice). He and Letts hit it off straight away - both determined to get rid of the fantasy elements (and under-graduate humour) that had crept in. Letts wanted the series to take itself more seriously, and both wanted more hard science to underpin the drama. JNT concurred, and had no intention of being bossed by his lead actor, and so they all embarked on a collision course with Tom Baker. Baker had a lot of respect for Letts - as he had given him the job in the first place - and quickly realised that the Fourth Doctor's number was up.
JNT had decided on a clean sweep. The theme music was rearranged by Peter Howell - using the Radiophonic Workshop's latest - and more contemporary - technology. Howell and his colleagues would take over all the incidental music as well. Sid Sutton provided a new title sequence - based on a star-field with a more recent image of Baker's face and a neon tube logo.
June Hudson came up with a new costume for the Doctor - in sombre, deep red shades. JNT informed her she could get rid of the scarf, but she decided to retain the basic shape of the familiar outfit.

John Leeson was brought back to voice K9 for its final year - as JNT and Bidmead were determined to get rid of it. The Doctor should get out of trouble using his own ingenuity - and not have his own personal mobile weapon. K9 had actually undergone an expensive refit after Season 17 - including replacing the wheels with caterpillar tracks. On its first outing, however, the shingle beach at Brighton defeated it, and it can be clearly seen on screen that it is the lightweight dummy prop being pulled along by nylon wires. Regular operator Nigel Brackley was not present, as his boss at Slough Radio Control was in dispute with the BBC over the costs of the refit at the time.
That the programme has a new look is evident from the beginning (and I don't just mean the titles). Director Lovett Bickford opens the first episode with a slow panning shot across the beach - taking in a number of brightly coloured beach tents before the camera reaches the similarly shaped TARDIS. "Oh, we do like to be beside the seaside" plays plaintively in the background, with Tom Baker's snores becoming ever louder as we approach the ship. (Baker had actually just flown back to the UK on the morning this was shot and was terribly jet-lagged - so not much acting required).
Stylistically, we had never seen a shot like this before - and it does succeed in stamping JNT's (and Bickford's) mark on the show. Of course the shock of the new only ever works first time, and the sequence is regarded as rather boring now. If it's boring you are after - wait 'til we get to Argolis...
Yes, the actual story isn't that great. There is very little incident. The science (Tachyonics) gets mentioned just a bit too much. The new regime have sucked all the joy out of the programme.
Good things: Lalla Ward's Edwardian schoolboy bathing suit (very Death In Venice), some good video effects, and a very good cast. Musically, I quite like the bombastic shuttle arrival theme.

Morix is played by Laurence Payne, who had previously appeared as Johnny Ringo in The Gunfighters. Mena is Adrienne Corri (a Hammer films stalwart). Pangol is portrayed by David Haig, who has since gone on to great things on TV, film and stage. Hardin is Nigel Lambert, and Brock is John Collin. Usually, non-speaking roles don't get a credit, but Ian Talbot - as Klout -does.
I suppose I should say a word about the Foamasi. That word is "rubbish".
Episode endings are:
  1. The Doctor has gone into the Tachyon Recreation Generator - and on the video screen appears to have had his limbs torn from his body...
  2. The Doctor emerges from the Generator as a wizened old man...
  3. The Foamasi agent attacks Brock - tearing away his face and suit to reveal another Foamasi...
  4. With a rejuvenated Mena taking charge on Argolis, the Doctor and Romana slip away...

Overall, a lot of cosmetic changes on view. It is still the same programme underneath, and Tom Baker is still the Doctor. Great shame the story itself can't live up to the new look.
Things you might like to know:
  • There is a new TARDIS prop - this time made out of fibreglass rather than wood. It doesn't have the flat roof of its predecessor (introduced back in Masque of Mandragora).
  • At heart the story is taken from gangster books and movies. Foamasi is an anagram of Mafiosa. They are running the business down through sabotage so they can buy it up cheap.
  • The off screen problems of Season 17 had not gone away when this story was recorded. Tom Baker and Lalla Ward were in conflict throughout, and there is a lovely out-take on the DVD of this story where we get to see the "controlled fury" of Mr Baker when he is not happy with the time it is taking to film a scene.
  • The Quantel VFX system is used for the first time - allowing for the first ever materialisation of the TARDIS in a moving shot. (Up to this point, roll-back-and-mix always necessitated a static shot).
  • Lovett Bickford went so over-budget he was never asked back. JNT got an official reprimand for the budget issue.
  • Previously, John Leeson had had his voice modulated electronically to portray K9, but for his final series he uses his own, unmodified vocals.
  • ITV elected to launch glossy US TV series Buck Rogers in Britain on Saturday 30th August 1980 - i.e. right opposite part one. It tempted a lot of viewers away from Doctor Who (resulting in episode four dropping out of the top 100 programmes for the week for the first time ever), until people realised how crap it was.
  • The Audio-Go version of the novelisation for this story is another one of those where David Fisher has written it as he would have liked it to have been, rather than how it was.
  • The Randomiser makes its final appearance in the TARDIS. More of this wonderful gizmo shortly...
  • A criticism that has always dogged this story is how could the bulky Foamasi fit into the Brock & Klout disguises. Such a pity Fisher did not think of Gas Exchangers, as RTD would a quarter of a century later. We could have had farting Foamasi...
  • Those bloody awful question marks appear for the first time...

No comments:

Post a Comment