01/02/2012. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
region 2 DVD: pub: BBC BBCDVD 1351. 1 DVD 86 minutes 4 * 25 minute episodes with extras. Price: about GBP 4.50 (UK) if you know where to look)
(UK) if you know where to look). cast: Tom Baker, Lalla Ward, Adrienne Corri, David Haig, John Collin and Nigel Lambert.
check out website: www.bbcshop.com
The start of the eighteenth season and a shorter opening. Then again, the series has nearly five minutes shaved off each episode. It was the start of John Nathan-Turner’s tenure as producer and he wanted to bring ‘Doctor Who’ more into the 80s and get rid of various things for better or worse.
After arriving for a second time in Brighton and missing the Grand Opening of the Pavillion, after K-9 short-circuits by getting a dip into the sea, Romana (actress Lalla Ward) talks the Doctor (actor Tom Baker) into going to Argolis. This is the leisure planet for alien races where its inhabitants, with the help of a human scientist Hardin (actor Nigel Lambert) are working on a tachyon gadget that will rejuvenate them. After a twenty minute war with the reptilian Foamasi, the Argolisans are sterile and dying. They see the tachyon device to prolong their lives but it doesn’t work, something the Doctor and Romana couldn’t fail to notice.
While Romana sorts out the device’s problems, the Doctor’s scarf is found tied around the dead body of Hardin’s assistant and he is tried for the murder. However, a reprieve is on hand he offers to become a guinea pig for the tachyon device, only instead of becoming ten years younger he becomes very much older. Some five hundred years older. It’s amazing that his body didn’t regenerate but I guess aging isn’t seen as damage.
Although there are Foamasi present and a murder mystery, this ends up being a side issue to the new Argolisans and being cloned off a megalomaniac. That should be close enough without going too spoiler as to whom. In many respects, ‘The Leisure Hive’ is very much a game of misdirection. This also appears to be the only time (sic) that humans played around with time travel but stopped short with making people younger.
The audio commentary is divided between actress Lalla Ward, director Lovett Bickford and script editor Christopher Bidmead. I don’t know if it just applies to my DVD recorder, but this isn’t on the second but third channel, just in case you try switching directly to it without using the DVD’s menu control. I’m surprised none of them thought the Brighton Beach scene was a reference to departing script editor Douglas Adams as it had some similarities to one of the scenes from the TV version of ‘Hitchhiker’s Gude’. At least no one turned into a penguin.
Bidmead explains that he and producer Barry Letts used the scene to remove K-9 and later the use of the sonic screwdriver deeming it made the show too magical and new producer, John Nathan-Turner’s desire to make the show more adult. Seems an odd contradiction as this was also the first time K-9 was equipped with a caterpillar tread even though a remote control fault meant it had to be pulled along on a piece of string. Ward points out that actors liked ‘Doctor Who’ because it allowed them to be changed in make-up and it was also not wise to ask questions about plot detail. Considering how few SF shows that were made in the UK at the time, this was probably the only one.
Bidmead points out that a lot of the comedy in David Fisher’s script had to be taken out but considering that it had been commissioned by Douglas Adams why was he surprised at that? Both Bidmead and Bickford thought that Tom Baker in his aged appearance and non-smiling would have made for a better Doctor. I doubt if they can go back in time and change that but I suspect the Doctor had more co-operation by going in with a smile than looking if he was depressed all the time. Ward notes that Baker would scene-steal a lot by getting in the way of the other cast. There was some discussion on the clones and only three were actually used in the final episode. It looks like neither Bidmead or Bickford know much about the history of clone usage in Science Fiction.
I was also surprised no one spotted a superficial resemble of the Argolisans to the later ‘Babylon 5’s Minbari. In profile and shadow, they had some of the pose and certainly the triangular crystal technology does.
The extras are varied. The longest at thirty minutes, ‘A New Beginning’, examines all the changes mentioned above, including Nathan-Turner’s flaw in thinking he knew something about everything but nothing about story plotting. He was also responsible for the question marks on the Doctor’s shirt. A rather pointless thing in mine and others’ opinions. This was also my first time hearing Nathan-Turner speak which was quite quiet compared to the boisterous look he had at the time of production with a beard and interviews at the time saying he was quite bubbly. I also learnt that K-9’s make-over cost £20,000. I do wonder if it wasn’t just the seaside salty air that messed up its electrical systems.
‘From Avalon To Argolis’ examines the writing of the story with Christopher Bidmead and David Fisher. Is it me or does Fisher look like a much older Terrance Dicks? Bidmead was still puzzling over just what a script editor was supposed to do. I would have thought it obvious that like any editor that it was to keep writers on track and sort out any problems.
The look in ‘Starfield Simulation’ shows how Peter Howell re-made the theme and Sid Sutton re-designed the opening sequence for the new season. A look at a Doctor Who Museum and its monsters for the ‘Blue Peter’ TV programme. With ‘Leisure Wear’, designer June Hudson examines her Agolisans costumes being made looking so glorious but yet so simple to pin together on a budget. With Romana in a somewhat Victorian looking bathing suit and coat, it is the Doctor who ends up with a plum suit. This is also the first time that he had a shirt with question marks although Hudson makes no mention of this.
If I had to be critical about the story then it’s a shame that as much attention as given to the Agolisans wasn’t given to the Foamasi but I guess the budget got in the way of that. When I watched the series in its original run, regardless of change, I just took everything in its stride. Watching them in succession, it became a little more jarring this time. Back then, there wasn’t anything like the fan analysis that goes on today and what there was could be avoided as need be.
Whether it was a mistake to move away or forget the children audience is hard to say, let alone change now. People grew up watching ‘Doctor Who’ and I suspect they would have accepted whatever was offered. The only thing that I’m still puzzling over is what kind of leisure did the Agolisans offer as we never really saw what these serious looking aliens offered. Brighton it wasn’t.
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