"Don't cross your bridges before they're hatched."
When producer John Nathan-Turner and script-editor Christopher Hamilton Bidmead (as he prefers to be called) took over Doctor Who for season 18, they took a good hard look at the show and considered it to be old fashioned, overly silly and an embarrassing parody of its former self. Nathan-Turner wanted to sweep away the past and bring the show firmly into the new decade. Unfortunately, that decade was the 1980s. What was modern and stylish in 1980 often quickly became outdated and tacky by 1981.
A load of big changes were ahead. When 'The Leisure Hive' aired it featured a brand new title sequence along with a remix of theme tune, which I quite like, but don't think suits the Fourth Doctor. New special effects techniques were brought into play. Tom Baker’s previously iconic costume was ditched in favour of some ghastly burgundy horror complete with idiotic ‘?’ on the collars for added mystery. The Doctor and Romana stopped exchanging witty barbs with each other and instead spewed endless drools of incomprehensible technobabble. It was a stylish makeover, but ultimately a cold and hollow one, lacking substance and warmth.
Even without the new look, 'The Leisure Hive' would still be a very dull story. The are way too many scenes that consist of nothing but people standing around talking about tacheons or corporate takeovers. The plot seems to have been lifted wholesale from an episode of Scooby Doo. Think about it, it's set at an old amusement park where someone in disguise (in this case an alien disguised as a human rather than the other way round) is sneaking around, causing all sorts of trouble, so they can take over the park. And they would haven gotten away with it too if it weren't for those meddlesome Time Lords.
There have been worse script-editors but there’s something about Chris Bidmead (which is how I’m going to call him because I know it would irritate him) that just gets on my nerves. Maybe it’s the fact he created Adric, or his arrogant assumption that his way is the best (and only) way to make Doctor Who. But I think it has to be the fact that he sucked the fun and magic out of the series, turning it into a one long boring science lecture about entropy.
Bidmead took the show too seriously. He wanted Doctor Who to be proper science fiction with the emphasis firmly on the science rather than the fiction. That’s all right if you're writing for Star Trek, but this is show about a mad man with a magic box that's bigger on the inside. Calling Doctor Who silly is a redundant accusation. Of course it’s silly. It’s meant to be silly. Silliness is an essential part of the show. It’s absurd! Bonkers even. And that’s why we love it. But the silliness should be kept firmly on a leash, not sent off to a farm in the country. Hard science has no place in the Doctor’s world. Frankly, it’s boring and no one loathes boring more than the Doctor.
It wasn’t just the fans who didn’t appreciate what the new production team were trying to do. By phasing out the humour and upping the scientific lingo, JNT and Bidmead alienated the show’s stars. Lalla Ward had already decided to leave, unhappy with the direction the show was taking since Williams and Adams' departure. And she wasn't the only one. Due to a mixture of illness and boredom, Tom Baker couldn’t be arsed to give it his all any more. He wanders through most of this season almost half asleep, eager for the director to call cut so he can nip off to the BBC bar for a quick one. Baker wasn’t happy with the material he was being provided with or that Nathan-Turner was less willing to listen to his suggestions for improvements. This would all factor into his eventual decision to leave the series.
Notes and Quotes
--John Leeson returns to provide the voice of K-9. For all of five seconds before the metal mutt is written out of story. He barely dips his wheels in the water before he explodes. So much for 51st century technology.
--Episode 1 opens with a long panning shot of the deserted Brighton beach that is nice in concept, but goes on for too long.
--The old age make up for the Doctor was a lot better than more recent efforts.
--It was rather foolish of Romana and whathisface to just run off and leave their experiment running.
--The Foamasi costume was later reused in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy as the leader of the G'Gugvuntt.
Mena: "Have you ever experimented with time?"
The Doctor: "Well, yes, but in a purely academic way of no interest to anyone."
Pangol: "How did you get out?"
The Doctor: "Through a hole in the back."
Pangol: "But there isn't one."
The Doctor: "There is now."
Brock: "His scarf killed Stimson."
The Doctor: "Arrest the scarf then!"
Two out of four Scooby snacks.
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.