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The Leisure Hive
The Doctor and Romana travel to the Leisure Hive on Argolis, a planet ravaged by a nuclear war with the Foamasi years earlier. The Argolin leader, Mena, explains that her people are now sterile and the Hive is their legacy, intended to bring different races together in the spirit of peace. The main attraction is a device called the Tachyon Recreation Generator, but it is experiencing mysterious faults. At the same time, Mena's son, Pangol, becomes increasingly militant; the scientist Hardin conducts fraudulent temporal experiments; an Earth businessman, Brock, behaves very oddly; and mysterious creatures prowl the Leisure Hive.
Throughout the incubation of Doctor Who's seventeenth season, the outgoing team of producer Graham Williams and script editor Douglas Adams had tried unsuccessfully to attract new writers to the programme. As a result, they had found themselves relying on veteran Doctor Who contributors, while also leaving few viable scripts in development for Williams' successor, John Nathan-Turner. Despite these struggles, Nathan-Turner was eager to attract not only new writers, but also new directors to Season Eighteen. However, he and executive producer Barry Letts were also keen to rein in the programme's humorous and fantastical tendencies, in favour of a renewed emphasis on more legitimate science. This was out of keeping with those few narratives -- such as Pennant Roberts' “Erinella” and Alan Drury's “The Tearing Of The Veil” -- that remained available for consideration. With no script editor in place when he took over as producer in December 1979, this forced Nathan-Turner to turn to a familiar Doctor Who name: David Fisher.
For Season Seventeen, Fisher had written The Creature From The Pit, as well as a set of scripts which had evolved into City Of Death. More recently, he had been discussing an idea called “The Psychonauts” with Adams and, on November 7th, had offered Nathan-Turner a storyline entitled “The Castle Of Doom”. Nathan-Turner, on the other hand, preferred an idea of Fisher's called “The Argolin” that Adams had rejected in early 1979, which was set in a futuristic holiday camp. With Letts' help, Nathan-Turner reworked Fisher's original proposal, and returned it to the writer to flesh out into full scripts. These were commissioned under the title “Avalon” on December 20th.
Initially, Fisher strove to maintain some of the same comedic elements that he had invested in his earlier Doctor Who adventures. He envisaged “Avalon” as a pastiche of gangster movies, and even formed the name of the alien Foamasi as an anagram of “mafiosa”. However, more and more of Fisher's humour was winnowed out during the story's development, by which time Christopher H Bidmead -- who shared the producers' vision of a more serious Doctor Who -- had come aboard as script editor. Fortunately, Fisher had done some research into tachyonics via the New Scientist, and so he could supply the desired element of hard science.
The opening scene of “Avalon”, set on the beach at Brighton, East Sussex, was added at the request of Nathan-Turner, who lived nearby. No one amongst the new production team was fond of K·9 -- whose departure from Doctor Who was planned for later in Season Eighteen -- and the producer was eager to diminish his role as much as possible. Nathan-Turner also thought that the robot dog's surprise near-destruction would come as an intriguing shock to hook viewers at the start of what was now intended to be the season premiere.
One aspect of Doctor Who which Nathan-Turner felt was in need of an overhaul was its visual style. The producer believed that there was a lot of money to be made by branding the programme correctly and, to this end, he decided that it was time to implement several changes, beginning with the title sequence. The “time tunnel” version had been used -- with only minor changes -- since The Time Warrior in 1973. Now Nathan-Turner tasked Sid Sutton of the BBC Graphics Department with a complete redesign. To date, the Doctor Who titles had been disorienting and claustrophobic, so Sutton introduced a starscape-style animation to provide a significant contrast. He also devised a new Doctor Who logo which was styled in the manner of neon tubes.
In the same vein, Nathan-Turner thought that Doctor Who characters would be more marketable if they were clothed consistently from story to story, like a uniform. This would also save money on new costumes for each serial. Although Lalla Ward, playing Romana, was insistent that she continue to have a substantial say in how her character was dressed, Nathan-Turner asked June Hudson -- the designer assigned to “Avalon” -- to come up with a new outfit for Tom Baker's Doctor. Baker mooted the possibility of a completely different silhouette, but Hudson ultimately maintained the same basic design, such as the lengthy scarf. The major change was the predominantly burgundy colour scheme, in place of the original browns and greys. Question marks were also added to the Doctor's shirt collar, at Nathan-Turner's request.
To this point, the score for each Doctor Who episode had typically been performed by small ensembles. Freelancer Dudley Simpson was the composer most often employed for the programme but, early in 1980, Nathan-Turner took him out to lunch to explain that he was opting for a new approach. Simpson's fifteen-year association with Doctor Who would come to an end, while members of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop would now compose the incidental music and realise it electronically. Peter Howell was the Radiophonic Workshop member assigned to “Avalon”, and Nathan-Turner also asked him to engineer a completely new arrangement of the familiar Doctor Who theme music. In 1972, a previous attempt to replace the original Delia Derbyshire version had wound up being rejected at the last minute.
In keeping with his desire to bring new directors onto Doctor Who, Nathan-Turner secured the services of Lovett Bickford for “Avalon”. Having developed a reputation for achieving distinctive visuals, Bickford was eager to record “Avalon” in the style of a feature film, replete with unusual camera angles, single-camera takes and the widespread use of a handheld camera.
By the start of March, the season premiere had gained its final title of The Leisure Hive. Work on Doctor Who's eighteenth production block then began with two days -- March 20th and 21st -- at Brighton Beach. This saw the introduction of a new fibreglass TARDIS prop to replace the battered wooden version in use since 1976. The opportunity was taken to reintroduce a more historically-accurate stacked roof. This feature had been present on the original TARDIS in 1963, but a flat roof had been employed since the mid-Sixties.
Unfortunately, as recording got under way, Baker was unwell following a long flight from Australia, and his mood was further affected by a downturn in his relationship with Ward. The pair had decided to end their romantic liaison when shooting ended on Season Seventeen in December. Now, however, Baker yearned to rekindle their affair, while Ward was content to leave things as they were. As a result, both stars were soon refusing to speak to one another. Baker's attitude was at least moderated by his cordial working relationship with Nathan-Turner -- a marked change from the acrimony that had brewed between the actor and Graham Williams -- although he was unenthusiastic about several of the changes introduced by his new producer.
The first studio session for The Leisure Hive took place from April 2nd to 4th at BBC Television Centre Studio 1 in White City, London. This was originally scheduled as a two-day block, but Bickford lobbied for a third day so that he could experiment with cutting-edge Quantel image processing equipment. Work on the first day concentrated on effects shots for the visidome screens. They were completed the next day, which also encompassed modelwork and material in the Great Hall. Amongst these shots was the sequence of the TARDIS arriving on Argolis; thanks to Quantel, the time machine could now be seen materialising while the camera was moving. More scenes in the Great Hall were completed on the final day of the block, alongside footage in the boardroom and the corridors. Bickford also recorded more model shots, as well as the effects sequences for the squash game and the faked hologram. The baby Pangol was played by Alys Dyer, whose mother was production unit manager Angela Smith.
Unfortunately, Bickford's avant garde approach had resulted in The Leisure Hive falling catastrophically behind schedule. The second studio block, originally intended to span three days, now had to be extended to a fourth day to ensure that all the necessary scenes would be captured. In the event, this session took place in TC3 from April 18th to 21st. Scenes in the corridors were on the agenda throughout the block, and those in the boardroom on all but the last day. The 18th additionally saw Bickford tape material in the Great Hall, the laboratory, and the cabin where the Doctor and Romana were held. The lab set was also in use on the 19th. Sequences in the Great Hall and the courtroom were completed on the 20th. This left scenes in the laboratory, Brock's cabin and the interior of the Tachyon Recreation Generator for the 21st.
In spite of the decision to extend the second studio block by a day, Bickford still had to schedule extra recording during the mornings, and obtain permission for overruns in the evenings. All of this added up to The Leisure Hive going substantially over-budget, earning Nathan-Turner a reprimand from his superiors and ensuring that Bickford would never work on Doctor Who again. The Leisure Hive was also Fisher's final contribution to the programme. This was partly due to his unhappiness over the efforts of Nathan-Turner, Bidmead and Bickford to cut a significant amount of Fisher's material which they deemed to be superfluous, in order to augment the pace of each episode. As a consequence, all four installments were quite short, even with lengthy reprises grafted onto the last three parts.
Because the Season Seventeen finale, Shada, had been cancelled due to industrial action, the hiatus between the 1979-80 and 1980-81 seasons was the longest in Doctor Who history to that point, at more than seven months. In the interim, the programme's timeslot had largely been filled by the American superhero adventure Wonder Woman, then What's On Wogan? from the late spring, and finally a series of Cliff Richards films towards the end of the summer.
Season Eighteen launched with Episode One of The Leisure Hive on August 30th. The show's nominal timeslot was 6.15pm and, for the opening installment, it was preceded by another American import, The Dukes Of Hazzard, plus the news, and followed once again by Larry Grayson's Generation Game. The next week, Episode Two was scheduled at 6.20pm due to its brevity. On September 13th, the BBC's broadcast of The Last Night Of The Proms brought Episode Three forward to 5.55pm. The Duke Boys were rested that night, so Doctor Who followed directly after Grandstand, with the exception of an intervening animated short and news update.
Unfortunately, despite Nathan-Turner's efforts to revamp the show, Doctor Who fared badly against ITV's glossy American import, Buck Rogers In The 25th Century. Fewer than six million viewers showed up for the season premiere -- the smallest debut audience since The Smugglers led off Season Four in 1966. To make matters worse, Doctor Who's audience declined over the course of The Leisure Hive: by Episode Three, the programme had fallen out of the Top 100 programmes for the week for the first time since its very first story, 100,000 BC, back in 1963. Although no one could know it at the time, it was an early sign of the tumult that awaited Doctor Who in the Eighties...
|Updated 17th May 2021|
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