Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Serial 109: The Leisure Hive

Doctor: Tom Baker (4th Doctor)
Companion: Romana (II), K-9

Written by: David Fisher
Directed by: Lovett Bickford

Editor's note: Hey, guys. Just wanted to say that due to busy schedule with life we have a fill-in by friend-of-the-blog Cassandra this week. She'll be appearing regularly (probably about once a month) to do a serial here and there. Standard stuff, really. And who doesn't love a good guest perspective? Especially here, on a serial worthy of snarking. But love-snarking. Anyways! Enough hijacking! I'll see you all next week for a First Doctor Dalek story, but for now let's see what she has to say about some Doctor Who!

Background & Significance: 1980 marked quite a few changes for Doctor Who.

When families sat down together in the evening to catch the opening of the Eighteenth Season of the show, dubbed "The Leisure Hive", not only would they be greeted by a new opening credits sequence (complete with updated mix of Ron Grainer's original opening theme, new logo, and new face shot of Tom Baker), but they would come to find that the Fourth Doctor's trademark outfit had mysteriously turned... burgundy?

These, and other changes enacted in this final season of Tom Baker's run, were indicative of the behind-the-scenes changes that had already occurred; namely, the arrival of John Nathan-Turner (often referred to as JNT) as producer of the beloved sci-fi show.

Now, it's not like JNT mysteriously showed up in a poof of smoke at the beginning of Season 18 and enacted all these sweeping changes with the help of his magical mini minions. He'd been under the employ of the BBC since 1960, and 1969 saw his first work on Doctor Who with the Troughton serial "The Space Pirates". Over the years he climbed the ranks, and ultimately served under producer Graham Williams from 1977 til 1979. Tack on his work as producer til the show's cancellation in 1990, and you have over 20 years on the show.

Holy damn. That's a long time, no?

So by the time JNT accepted the position of producer after Williams' departure, the facts were these: Many people (both on the crew and the audience at large) were not taking Doctor Who seriously. Tom Baker had far too much influence in the direction the show had taken over the years and not necessarily for the better (it's in this era, after our friend Robert Holmes left as script editor, that the show turned from dark Gothic to much more comedic in nature).

Thus, the show needed to be updated--or, rather, brought back to basics. People needed to start taking it a little more seriously again, which ultimately led to the changes enacted in Tom Baker's final season (and the many other decisions over the years following these initial few): new credits sequence, new TARDIS exterior, new costume (including the introduction of the question mark motif that would be integrated into each Doctor's costume until the show's cancellation in 1990), even the offing of a companion (which I'll touch on in a bit). This, by God, would be an era of Who to be reckoned with.

So what about this serial?

As far as stories go, I found it decidedly "meh". Not terrible, but not quite good, either. It's really rather average, and I often found myself just going along with what was happening on screen, not fully committed or invested. However, having never encountered Romana II (called such because this particular Companion happens to be a Time Lord (awesome!) and this is her second of the two incarnations we see on the show) before aside from the cheap little gondola scene we got of the two of them in "The Five Doctors", I loved her and found that she was easily the best part of "The Leisure Hive".

But enough of all that. Let's take a closer look, shall we?


Part One:

We open on a lovely shot of Brighton Beach, the camera panning along the coast slowly to reveal that the beach is deserted. Gasp. Is this the horror that awaits the Doctor and his Companions? Has something eaten all the tourists?!?

Nah. Just the wrong season.

Now, this opening is pretty cool... for the first ten seconds or so. But then it keeps going. And going. And going and going and going... Literally, we're over two minutes into the episode and nothing's happened. No people. No movement. NOTHING. This is probably the most boring season opener I've ever seen.

The Energizer Bunny's got nothing on this sh*t.

Then there's snoring and, finally, the TARDIS.

One of these things is not like the other...

There's a shot of the Doctor busy napping in a lounge chair for a split second (where was this discretion when it came to the opening, huh? Huh?) and then a more lengthy one of Romana and K-9 taking a short stroll along the coast.

And already we come to the first youtube. Because this is too crazy not to watch.

Remember those sweeping changes I mentioned earlier? One of those was getting rid of K-9. Now, I can understand the reasoning behind it (keeping the cute little robo-dog around was probably not the best step toward upping the serious factor of the show) but... Really? Really? He rolls into the ocean and explodes? Come on, man. That's awful.

So Romana trudges up the beach lugging the metal carcass of K-9 and drops him squarely in the Doctor's napping lap, blaming him for screwing up. And that's awesome. I love a Companion who can hold their own with the Doctor, not just whining and annoying and useless all the time (i.e. Tegan, Adric, Susan). He retorts that he "can't get everything right" with a trademark Tom Baker grin.

The two spend a little more time talking about their present situation, and Romana mentions something called "the Randomiser" which will come into play a little later. Long story short, the Randomiser, while the TARDIS is in flight, makes it nigh impossible to have a clear idea of one's destination since it lands the TARDIS at unpredictable times and places, thus making it difficult for the Black Guardian to catch up with the Doctor (we'll meet the Black Guardian next month, so stick around).

Then some crazy blatant exposition shows up and gives the viewer everything they need to know about the planet Argolis, where the rest of this serial takes place. It's like a magical brochure narrated by Romana. Only, instead of pretty pictures of the charming Leisure Palace, this is happening.

If you look closely, Waldo's in the red tent.

Really, all of this exposition is just background that they eventually mention again in later parts of the serial. So why is it necessary? When are slowly receding aerial shots surrounded by stars not necessary? And Romana's voice is nice, too, I guess. Very soothing. She should read to me sometime.

Finally we get off Earth and the first thing on screen after this weird transition with some computer generated stars is some swirly red air through a window and a yellow-clad asparagus person explaining that the atmosphere is toxic. Best not to go outside, then.

So Asparagus Man pimps out of there and into the boardroom, where he's being called for. There, we find an older, more stately asparagus chatting with this guy.

I dunno what's up with the Argolins and triangles, but they're everywhere in this serial.

His name happens to be Brock. Brock starts throwing around a lot of big words like "escalating negative cash flow" which turns out to be too much to handle for Pangol, the Little Punk Asparagus. Instead of deferring to his elders as any good little asparagus should, Little Punk Asparagus sasses the very smart human who gives off banker/investor vibes; not smart when your home is going bankrupt.

Brock is not amused.

There's more boring boardroom talk about financial deficits and amenities rival resorts happen to be offering (robotic gladiatorial games? Doctor, let's go there instead). Little Punk Asparagus continues to be a little punk.

Oh. And someone brings up "Tachyonics" which is supposedly a science developed by the Argolins but I still have no idea what it is other than that. Something about regenerative something or another. You'd think with all the crazy boring exposition happening right now they'd go ahead and run through Tachyonics 101. Almost makes me wish we were back on Brighton Beach napping with the Doctor.

Me as I watch this.

In a moment of good sense, Little Punk Asparagus shuts off the screen with Brock's talking head and gets a scolding from his daddy, Wise Asparagus Morix. There's an exterior shot of the Leisure Hive, a shuttle from Earth docking, and then Brock shows up again, only this time in the flesh.

Oh my god, really? Just go away. Where the hell is the Doctor?

Oh look! There they are.

Now's not the time for the Doctor though, because now is the time for Little Punk Asparagus to show us all what Tachyonics is all about.

Just when things are getting entertaining, the episode kills it and goes back to Brock and Morix in that cozy exposition boardroom. They talk about the Foamasi, reptile creatures that warred against Argolis a while ago. Nothing important happens.

Back to the Doctor and Romana! Little Punk Asparagus still has floaty-head-syndrome. Everyone expositionizes about Tachyonics some more but I still don't get it.

And then something with eyes that look like this breaks into the Leisure Hive from outside.

You may want to change your contact solution, buddy.

Thank god. Something happened.

Oh. And Morix dies randomly. Probably of boredom. Seriously, what the hell is this episode? This is supposed to be a season opener? I'm just mad at this point.

Morix's replacement shows up just in time to take her place as chairman of the asparagus people. She talks obnoxiously and struts down the hallway. Also, she's Little Punk Asparagus' mother.

Work it, baby.

Back with the Doctor, Little Punk Asparagus invites random tourist guy to get into the Tachyon Generator and laugh along with his fellow pleasure seekers at his floaty-head-syndrome on the magic screen. Instead, random tourist actually has his body parts separated from his torso and dies in a horrible screaming fashion in front of everybody.

Awesome. Er... I mean, how terrible.

The Doctor and Romana are escorted out of the room to meet up with Mrs. Chairman by some confused asparagus people who assume that the Doctor is some earth scientist having made a breakthrough in Tachyonics. Common mistake, I suppose. Especially since said scientist has apparently made a breakthrough in time manipulation.

Our intrepid time travelers then attempt to leave the Hive by way of anti-gravity racquetball courts.

When that doesn't work out, they just make for the TARDIS instead.

And now for the second youtube, which is probably one of the most disturbing cliffhangers I've ever seen.

Did you see that? I jumped. Will the Doctor end up like that one guy and turn into a pile of dead kibbles and bits? Tune in next week, kids!

Part Two:

"Oh good lord! Not again!"

We the lovely audience are once again treated to the Doctor getting separated into parts to be sold for screaming scrap metal later on. Reptile creature pimps out of there while Romana freaks out. Little Punk Asparagus and Brock show up to save the day (because they owe us for boring the &*@# out of us last time). They panic and fail at this. It's okay, boys. Maybe next time.

Luckily, the dulcet tones of the Doctor are heard off-screen. He's alive! And in one piece! How did he get out? What the devil is going on?

Apparently the Doctor has never heard the old mantra about a magician never revealing his secrets.

Sonic Screwdriver to the rescue.

There's some awkward cozy boardroom implication that Mrs. Chairman and her earth scientist (Hardin) are romantically involved while the Doctor and Romana get rounded up and taken away. Their conversation continues on a more business-like level, and Mrs. Chairman grills Hardin about his experiments with time manipulation. He makes some excuses. On the brief glimpse that Romana and the Doctor got of the demonstration in the last episode, they spotted it was fake, although Mrs. Chairman fully believes that Hardin has succeeded.

Hold up, Hardin. That's not cool. Not a very healthy start to a relationship, wouldn't you say?

Just being honest, man. Oh wait...

That's when the Doctor and company show up. Mrs. Chairman questions him about where he's from and how he has such knowledge of Tachyonics and time manipulation. Romana feels the need to show off her mad skillz in the knowledge department, because she's awesome.

The two of them get coerced into helping out Hardin and his experiments with time manipulation in exchange for permission to leave the Hive.

A little later, the Doctor and Romana are taking a gander out at the planet with Mrs. Chairman Asparagus. She expositionizes more about the war and how the planet's surface is radiated and how the purpose of the Leisure Hive is to promote cross-cultural understanding and tolerance.

Aww, Mrs. Asparagus, stop. You're giving me warm-fuzzies.

I should probably mention that sandwiching this scene on either side is footage of those scaly things with funny eyes sabotaging more things.

And then it's revealed that the Argolins are sterile because of the war.

Keep up, Nyssa. Not only are they asparagus people, they're radioactive as well.

So, wait, if that's the case, then where did everybody's favorite Little Punk Asparagus Pangol come from? He looks to be a young whippersnapper, not forty years old, surely?

Ah, but I'm getting ahead of myself. More boring needs to happen first.

Mrs. Chairman suddenly begins to undergo the same process that Morix underwent at the beginning of the first episode. In other words, she slowly begins to die.

Yeah. Sorry about that.

Meanwhile, in the laboratory of the Hive, Brock pesters Hardin about his experiments. Hardin continues to make excuses, because he's just that sort of guy.

And then this creeper shows up.

Who the f*ck is this guy?

Apparently he's the funding for Hardin's project and the person responsible for talking Hardin into faking the whole thing. What a douche.

Plus, I don't trust those glasses of his.

The Doctor, Romana, and Mrs. Chairman Asparagus show up then, hopeful about the experiments and what it could mean for the sterile, aging Argolins. Hardin's jumpy, trying to get the thing to work, hoping beyond all hope that it does.

And that's when Romana steps in to help him out. Hardin spills the beans about faking the experiments, and his buddy Glasses Creeper decides that it's time to gtfo.

Check out that Spock brow.

Unfortunately for Glasses Creeper, all the shuttles to Earth are booked... Unless he can get special permission from one of the directors.

So he heads to Brock's room (somewhere in all the boring that happened in the first episode he was accepted on the board of directors).

But what our friend Creeper doesn't know is that something nastier than he is lurking in the hallway.

Knock knock, Creeper calling.

When Brock doesn't answer the door, Glasses Creeper invites himself in for a look around. The room is weird and green and not well-decorated. No wonder this place is going bankrupt.

He opens a closet door and finds this thing.


Oh crap. Isn't that Brock's lawyer's skin? This isn't going to end well, is it.

Glasses Creeper books it out of that room and back down the hallway. And randomly, deliberately ditches his glasses.

And then lizard creature proceeds to step on them with gusto before following down the hall. Good on ya, mate. Those things were a blight against humanity.

No-Longer-Sporting-Glasses Creeper escapes into the Tachyon Generator room, now empty and rather dark. The lizard creature must not be too far behind... Hide, man! Hide!

Terror. Now 33% more effectively shown by not wearing glasses.

But he's too late and the lizard creature eats him. Cool.

Back in the lab, Romana and Hardin mess around with time.

"Is it supposed to be doing that?"

Elsewhere, the Doctor gets his scarf back from Brock. As well as a lovely surprise.

Huh. There appears to be a corpsified Creeper wearing your scarf, Doctor.

Apparently this is grounds enough to be put on trial for murder on Argolis? Because that's what happens. So. Random. Mrs. Chairman expositionizes some more about the planet's history and how helmet hanging in the cozy boardroom serves as a reminder to not commit violence. Because it's bad or something. So the Doctor has to swear his innocence to a helmet. This helmet.

Helmets. 100% more awesome than swearing on a book like normal people.

Tension rises in the lab as Hardin and Romana approach a breakthrough in their work. This involves copious amounts of Hardin playing with triangular blocks, Romana staring at an hourglass, and liquid in a tube slowly rising. Great stuff.

The sand in the hourglass starts going backwards! They've done it! The two of them run off to let the others know how awesome they are. But once they've gone, the hourglass explodes and starts glowing a lovely shade of neon green. Not too sure it's supposed to be doing that....

Back to the Doctor and his trial. Brock insists the Doctor is guilty. Little Punk Asparagus hasn't been a punk in a while and comes back in full form with some quip about letting the elements test him. Last time I checked, this wasn't a witch hunt. In a great moment after that, the Doctor suggests imprisonment in the little blue box downstairs, which would certainly solve everyone's problems, especially mine right now. But alas, no one goes for that idea, and the episode continues on.

I know, right?

Just then, Romana and Hardin come bursting into the cozy boardroom, interrupting the trial proceedings with their magical news: it worked! They can run time backwards! Oh thank christ, does this mean I can get my time spent watching this serial back?

Nah. Just cellular rejuvenation.

Mrs. Chairman is ecstatic about this news and volunteers herself for the process immediately. But then Hardin says there needs to be one more test, and Little Punk Asparagus smells the whiff of a grand scheme in the depths of his little asparagus brain.

Wipe that smirk off your face, you little punk.

Thus, the Doctor becomes a Tachyonic guinea pig. He steps into the Generator. Hardin fires it up, all systems go.

Romana heads back into the lab, sees the busted hourglass, and realizes how stupid a move it was to put the Doctor into the machine. She runs like hell back, telling them to stop the Generator.

Too late, though. Cuz now the Doctor looks like Gandalf.

"You shall not pass!"

And that's how the episode ends. Which is essentially how they ended the last one, only this time the Doctor's all wrinkled in awkward places instead of potentially cut into bits. I dunno which is worse.

Moving on...

Part Three:

The Doctor as an old man is scary as frak.

He seems to agree with me.

Now, while watching this, it occurred to me that this wasn't the first time I'd seen the Doctor aged like this. It reminded me a lot of the recent Series 3 finale "The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords" when the Master gains control of the Earth for a while and wreaks havoc as only the Master can.

But Tom Baker doesn't get turned into a 900 year old potato of cuteness.

So that was cool. Good on them for using a great concept and reminding me of one of my favorite finales ever. Now let's see if they follow through and use it effectively, shall we?

The Doctor struggles to remember something not-quite-right that he spotted while inside the Generator, but since he's old I guess his brain's not quite functioning like it should. Nevermind that he is already obscenely old as a Time Lord. I guess brains are dependent upon looks with them.

Little Punk Asparagus insists that the Doctor and Romana are confined, since he's still on trial for murder. What did Romana do to deserve confinement as well? Hell if I know.

And what exactly are you so smug about, hm?

Mrs. Chairman and Hardin head back to the cozy exposition boardroom for some more exposition and awkward implications of romance. And the whole time this is happening, she's slowly dying.

She talks about the war some more and how technology seemed to offer some hope directly after, but when Hardin asks about it she says they don't talk about it with outsiders. Oh, come on. We're in the cozy exposition boardroom! Now is the time for exposition! You can't just leave us hanging like this.

In some other room, the Doctor and Romana get collars that get super uncomfortable if they try to escape or if they're removed at all.


What the blurg? This is children's programming! What happened to family values?? I am shocked and appalled. Also strangely turned-on, but we don't talk about that in this house.


Little Punk Asparagus is in the Generator room messing around with the controls and otherwise being a little punk. He murmurs to himself about something or another needing to be fixed before dawn.

Then he goes to bug his mother and Hardin in cozy exposition boardroom.

He outs Hardin as a fraud and Mrs. Chairman flips a bitch for a second but gives in to Hardin's pleas for a second chance to prove himself a respectable scientist.

Frowny Asparagus is frowny.

Meanwhile, in their room, the Doctor remembers what was so off about the Generator: there are two [mumble something what huh? technobabble] shields in there. The Generator has a function other than Tachyonic something or another. And it finally occurs to them that Little Punk Asparagus Pangol is super young. Dun dun dun. What could this mean, I wonder?

Elsewhere, Brock and his toadie lawyer are out and about, lookin for mischief. But wait! Wasn't that lawyer's skin we spied hanging in Brock's closet last time? By Jove! There must be conspiracy afoot.

This guy has not spoken a single word this entire time. I wonder how much he got paid for this.

Pangol and his mother share a moment in cozy exposition boardroom. Mrs. Chairman waxes eloquent on moderation. Little Punk Asparagus waxes eloquent about how much that fails.

Then Brock and his toadie lawyer show up and they all party hard like it's 1999.

Nah, just kidding. It's the cozy exposition boardroom! What else happens in there but exposition?

Oh. I guess this does.

Sexual tensionnnnnn.

Hardin liberates Romana and the Doctor from their lovely collars because he needs their help to be an awesome scientist again. They ponder about the Recreation Generator for a bit. What could its second secret function be? Re-creation. Creating things again. Or, as the Doctor says "or people!"

This is his epiphany face.

Brock pesters Mrs. Chairman about accepting an offer from the Foamasi (remember them? the reptile things? Oh, I guess they've been sneaking around the Hive the whole time? weird) to buy the Hive and solve the bankruptcy problem.

But Little Punk Asparagus Pangol has other ideas. Dreams of glory and war and Spartan helmets shaped for asparagus heads.

Stop. Helmet Time.

The Doctor and friends sneak around the Hive trying to get to the Generator. Pangol finally outs himself as a cloned asparagus. A "child of the Generator". The Doctor scribbles all over the TARDIS for some reason. Hardin takes out one of the Argolin manning the Generator.

Romana sneaks in to try and figure out what's up. Pangol sees and sounds the alarm. But look out, Romana! There's a lizard thing behind you! (I would screencap it, but the shot was too dark.)

Pangol scurries over to the controls and fires up the machine with Romana inside. Oh noes. She's going to be aged horrifically too, if she hasn't been eaten by the lizard thing already. But wait. What??

Idk, my bff Foamasi.

Apparently he got her out of there before Little Punk Asparagus could do any damage. Whew. That's a relief.

They have an exposition party in the lab and try to communicate with the Foamasi. For some reason the TARDIS translator isn't working or something because his voice just sounds like cute little chirps and clicks and the Doctor can't understand what he wants. It's kind of adorable.

Then they book it to the cozy boardroom for some reason. And we get the last youtube. But we're only in the third episode! Yes, I know. But this is insane. And the fourth episode isn't too exciting anyway.

Isn't that glorious? I had to watch it twice because I just couldn't believe what I was seeing. And I laughed muchly both times.

Part Four:

So Brock and his toadie lawyer are actually Foamasi agents in disguise belonging to a dissent group called West Lodge. I love the name. It's classy.

So wait. If Brock was a Foamasi in disguise, why could he speak instead of making clicks and chirps? A voice synthesizer, of course!

After a much extended and even more awkward and quasi-violent unmasking of the two West Lodge agents, Foamasi who helped out Romana takes the voice synthesizer. And, since we're in the cozy exposition boardroom, you know what time it is.

We're told that Romana's new bff is a representative of the legitimate Foamasi government and that Brock and his toadie have been trying to sabotage the planet in order to have a place for the illegal West Lodge group to meet in secret. Well that's cool.

The government agents arrest Brock and his friend with the intention of taking them back for a proper trial, but Little Punk Asparagus feels the need to be a little punk again. Insisting that the whole thing has been a government ploy to infiltrate the planet, he goes after them and refuses the shuttle clearance to leave. He also shoves his dying mother while he's at it.

Man this kid needs to get smacked.

The Doctor, Romana, and Hardin hang out in the lab some more. Something called a random field frame is gone. What does this thing do? I have no idea, really. Apparently it's important and they need a second one because the Doctor suggests taking the Randomiser out of the TARDIS (I told you it'd come into play later. I just wish there were more stakes and I knew what exactly was going on and why it matters).

Pangol loses his mind and starts referring to himself as "we". Mrs. Chairman continues to die.

Little Punk Asparagus, possibly even more of a punk than he has ever been before, calls all the Argolin into the Generator room to witness his great triumph. While he's busy giving a pretentious speech, the Doctor sneaks into the device with the Randomiser from the TARDIS and prepares to fit it in himself.

Pangol then blows up the Foamasi government shuttle and starts the Generator with the Doctor still in there.


Romana freaks out but is taken away by the clone army. God, when did this turn into Star Wars?

But wait. Pangol's not in the Generator. So who's being cloned? I suppose we'll find out soon enough. Now we need to return to cozy boardroom one more time so Hardin and Mrs. Chairman can have a tearful farewell before she dies.

Meanwhile, Romana's getting manhandled in a hallway by clones of this devilishly handsome fellow.

Turns out Little Punk Asparagus' plans went wrong somewhere along the line. But the cloned copies keep disappearing for some reason. Apparently because they're Tachyon images? Huh. That's weird. At least the Doctor's not old and crusty looking anymore.

Hardin takes Mrs. Chairman to the Generator in a last ditch effort to save her.

Little Punk Asparagus throws a temper-tantrum and somehow ends up in the Generator with his dying mother. Turns out the thing is set to rejuvenation, which explains why the Doctor is back the way we know and love him. But it's unstable. Dun dun dunnnnnnn.

They can't get the door open so the Doctor launches the sexy helmet at the screen and makes everything go 'splodey.

And then Mrs. Chairman steps out of the Generator looking like this.

Cool. Apparently it worked. Lookit how cute he is.

Oh, and the shuttle that exploded earlier didn't have the Foamasi government agents on it, so that's a relief. Everyone leaves happy. Yay.

What about The Doctor?: I have to say this up front. I love Tom Baker.

I know I've barely scratched the surface of all the serials the man did in his seven seasons of work on the show, but I find him completely fascinating to watch. It's also interesting, because each Doctor has a sort of trademark air about him that marks his performance and distinguishes it from the others before or after him. Tom Baker's perfomance is unique in the fact that he... he seems to be lacking this one quirk that cements him as the Fourth Doctor (wardrobe aside). But I never fail to believe that he's the Doctor.

This serial is by far not his best performance. In fact, there were some great moments with him, but they were all colored by my boredom with this most of the time, which is too bad. Readily apparent to me, however, is the comedic spin that Tom Baker was going for in prior seasons. It's toned down, surely, but there are moments that are just ridiculously silly, which I appreciated.

All in all, definitely looking forward to more of him. I find him delightful to watch. And if this is your first exposure to Tom Baker, don't judge him by this because this serial was honestly so mediocre it's amazing.

Next Time!: First Doctor! Daleks! Robomen! Knife-wielding wheelchair hobos! And Barbara has a bad hair day! "The Dalek Invasion of Earth"! Coming next Tuesday!

1 comment:

  1. I have watched many Tom Baker episodes. This is the only one I gave up watching. Something didn't click from the beginning. I watched others from this season - like Full Circle - and liked them. Thanks for this review - confirmed what I thought.