5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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THE LEISURE HIVE
"Remove that alien trash!"
All change: new season, new producer, new script editor, new music, new titles, new costume. Unfortunately, though, The Leisure Hive's not all that good.
Let's take it from the top. The earlier Baker titles and theme music were completely perfect: the best in the series's history. From there, we move on to uninspired titles and music that's unpleasantly wibbly. (And got wibblier and wibblier, with poor old Sylv copping the worst of it.)
From there, though, we go to what's probably the styliest shot in all of Who: that remarkable, audaciously long track down Brighton Beach, with the TARDIS amongst the bathing huts. Absolutely brilliant. Romana's costume is great, the Doctor's (horrible question marks aside) is stunning and K9's out of the story in the first five minutes. What's not to like?
Sadly, Leisure Hive can't keep up the pace. New producer John Nathan-Turner scrabbled round amongst the leftovers of the last season and picked a David Fisher story (good) then proceeded to strip all the humour out of it (bad). Graham Williams sometimes erred too much on the comedy side, but this lurches entirely too far in the other direction. It's so grim and lifeless it belongs on a slab, and unfortunately, this makes the unintentional humour of Pangol's "nothing can stop us now" ranting stand out like a bison at a bus stop. It's a noble aim trying to make Who into heavyweight science fiction, but it's possible to do this without stifling all the life out of it in the process.
The plotline's an intriguing one, or would be if it all weren't quite so earnest. The plight of the surviving marbleheads, er, Argolins is touching and their efforts to foster galactic understanding commendable. On the other hand, we can certainly see why the hive is going bankrupt, since with its low-rent tachyonic parlour tricks and its worthy-looking edutainment it looks like the holiday from hell. (It also looks remarkably familiar. Are we sure Argolins aren't behind the Epcot Center?)
There's a nice little lecture in there about prejudice, hilariously instantly undermined by dragging in scary knitted monsters but reinforced in the end by some of them being good guys. The story's got some enjoyably complex layers in that regard: both the Argolins and the Foamasi are mixtures of good and bad individuals, which makes a change from the usual white hat/green scale divide. And while the cloning aspect of the plot looks a bit tired today, all those (not-very-identical) Pangols probably made quite an impression at the time.
The device of aging the Doctor is remarkably effective. It's an incredible makeup job, and Tom Baker's sombre reaction really brings the horror of it home in a way The Time Monster can only dream of. (He does move a bit too spryly, though. And isn't it interesting how very different he appears from how he actually looks now that he's getting on a bit?)
So it's not all bad, not by a long shot. The slightly impressionistic style makes an interesting change, the incidental music for once really makes a contribution, and the plot's more grown-up than the standard cowboys and Indians. Overall, though, it's all so dull and worthy that it never fully catches the attention. What's more, the sporadic attempts to lighten the tone come to a sticky end, what with that embarrassing trip through the squash court and the cutesy scarf play.
Then there are the irritating plot holes. Why does the fake Brock, keen as he is to run down the value of the hive, get all excited about the commercial possibilities of the generator? Why, when Time Lords usually stay well clear of handing out advanced technology, does Romana start helping the Argolins develop time travel? And why does Scientist Guy agonise about the Doctor discovering his experiment's a fake and keep the Doctor away on a pretext, only to let Romana scan the equipment to her heart's content then immediately confess the fake to her? Annoying.
As for the characters, there's some good work here, with strong performances all around. In particular, a young David Haig, better known later on for his comedy performances in The Thin Blue Line and his monologue in Alan Bennett's Talking Heads, does a great job with the ambiguous character of Pangol, although nothing could have saved the cookie-cutter militaristic ranting at the end. Probably the weakest performance is from Romana, who's at her smuggest here and also gives some bizarre line readings, such as her saying "Doctor..." as if he can hear her when she discovers the blown up hourglass.
It's not a bad try. Ultimately, though, it's a failure.
MORAL: Don't repeat yourself.
ROLL UP YOUR SLEEVES
Why does the Doctor take off his coat before going into the generator?
NONE SO BLIND
Why does Stimson suddenly take off his glasses and drop them on the floor when he's running away?
NO SPEAKEE ENGLISH
Why does the Doctor's translation thingy suddenly not work with the Foamasi?