Wednesday, March 11, 2009

the leisure hive

01-03-09 “The Leisure Hive”

“You don’t cross your bridges before they’re hatched.” --The Doctor

“The Leisure Hive” by David Fisher has a reputation as being one of the duller Doctor Whos and even though I had hoped to debunk this seeing as how I liked David Fisher’s other work, I can’t say that “Leisure Hive” was particularly exciting. It had some interesting ideas and clearly some boundaries were trying to be pushed in terms of design and direction by the likes of Lovett Beckford, but it didn’t quite gel.

Jamie had warned me that it began with the “long-ass panning scene” set on Brighton Beach in off season, which is true. I rather liked it. Was Fisher or Beckford or both commenting on a Sartre-esque look on the Existentialism of contemporary (ie 1980) life? Or is the Existentialism of the Doctor and Romana’s existence, or a comment on the fact their relationship, and indeed the Fourth Doctor’s tenure, is coming to an end? Am I reading too much into it? Is just a comment on how boring the Doctor can be if he takes Marry-the-Girl to the beach in the wrong season? I would tend to think it does actually have some kind of meaning—one forgets when one doesn’t watch these bits in sequence that this is the first story to feature the new Peter Howell theme tune, the new starfield title sequence (I can deal with that with Davison, I much prefer the time tunnel one for Baker though), and a new costume for the Doctor. (I really rather like the burgundy scarf. So sue me.) Considering “Horns of Nimon” was also the story that preceded this one, the Doctor definitely seems to feel “Logopolis”’ approach (or at least the writers do!).

Bringing all that thought and gravitas . . . you’d think they wouldn’t include something as silly as K9 being pulled on strings across the beach and then jumping into the ocean and short circuiting! Really, Romana, that was STUPID! I guess if I was a writer I would try to find ways to write around K9, but really. Romana is, naturally enough, dressed in a seaside outfit, but when you consider Lalla Ward’s costumes were in general really cute, this one’s a bit dull. For some reason, one that must be deeply rooted in my childhood, when I hear the words “leisure hive,” I think of the pool on Lakertya in “Time and the Rani” where the bees get released when the Rani wants to kill them all (that story’s been seared onto my brain, whether I wanted it to be or not). In point of fact, the Leisure Hive on Argolis is something different.

The Argolins, fancifully costumed with large wig-like structures to which small ball-bearings are attached (and when they fall off, heralding their deaths), inhabit a world of board meetings and “escalating negative cash flow.” Their Tachyonic Recreation Generator produces games for tourists to play in order to keep Argolis lucrative (reminds me of Snowglobe 7, slightly). After a twenty-minute war with the reptilian race the Foamasi, the surface of Argolis became uninhabitable and the Argolins sterile. (All of this a sobering thought. It isn’t dwelt upon, but a twenty-minute war that has nearly killed off an entire race? A scary thought.) “There will be no future generation.” At the moment the Doctor and Romana arrive, an Earth buyer named Brock is putting pressure on the aging Argolins to sell their world out to the Foamasi. Mena, the Argolin leader, puts up a brave front: “My termination is proceeding normally.” I really rather liked the fact that the Earth scientist, Hardin, who had communicated with Mena but never met her in person, seemed to have a slight crush on her when they actually met. Hardin has been brought in to modify the Generator but is terrified he will be found out as, not exactly a fraud, but having not yet actually produced the results he claimed he was capable of.

As usual, the Doctor and Romana’s presence is questioned—“His scarf killed Stimson!” “Arrest the scarf, then.” Romana is useful because her grasp of all the technobabble endears her to Hardin and together they seem to modify the Generator to be able to help Mena before she shoves off the mortal coil. The Doctor goes into the Generator to test it and comes out looking like . . . Christopher Eccleston! No, really! (Er, that is, if Christopher Eccleston had a long white beard!) I must say, though the quips aren’t coming fast and furious like in, perhaps, “Morbius,” the Baker does a good attempt at acting 500 years older (much better than Dobby-Doctor). He also produces an Argolin faint, as Jamie put it, by scrawling graffiti on the TARDIS for no discernable reason.

Pangol, Mena’s supposed son and the youngest of the Argolins, has been going through the entire story smirking and generally giving off the vibe he knows more than he’s saying (still—I am a bit curious as to what the actor looked like without all the make up). He reveals that he is “the child of the Generator” and in the midst of his eccentric plans to recreate an entire race of clones of himself in order to repopulate Argolis and go to war against the Foamasi, the Foamasi, er, show up. They look like low-budget parrots, by the way. Actually, Brock and his assistant are actually Foamasi, but a rival faction. The reveal was not one I was expecting, but in retrospect, I’m not really sure what that whole thing accomplished.

In order to kill two birds with one stone, the Doctor removes the randomizer from the TARDIS and reconfigures it in the Generator. What we get is baby Pangol—“This time I might try to bring him up properly” says Mena—and a strange early echo of the TARDIS deus ex machina from “Boom Town.” Strange how that works!

I wonder if “Leisure Hive” was one of those episodes that looked good on paper—visually, with all the direction, costuming, etc, it doesn’t look bad. It just causes you to look at your watch and go on to the next thing.

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