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The Leisure Hive
In search of a holiday, the Doctor and Romana travel to the famous Leisure Hive on Argolis, a planet ravaged by a nuclear war with the reptilian Foamasi years earlier. The main attraction of the Hive is a device called the Tachyon Recreation Generator, but when things start to go mysteriously wrong with the machine, the Doctor realises that evil is afoot in the Hive. He and Romana begin to unearth a tangled conspiracy which may lead to a new, deadlier war between the Argolins and the Foamasi.
Throughout Season Seventeen, the outgoing Doctor Who production 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 had to rely on veteran Doctor Who contributors, while also leaving few viable scripts in development for Williams' successor, John Nathan-Turner. Nathan-Turner, too, decided that he wanted to attract both new writers and new directors to Doctor Who. However, he and executive producer Barry Letts were also keen to downplay the programme's humorous and fantastical tendencies in favour of a renewed concentration on more legitimate science. This was out of keeping with those few scripts -- such as Pennant Roberts' “Erinella” and Alan Drury's “The Tearing Of The Veil” -- that remained under consideration for Season Eighteen.
At this point, Nathan-Turner had no script editor to aid him in the commissioning process, so he too was forced 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. On November 7th, soon after Nathan-Turner took over the producer's chair, Fisher wrote him with another idea entitled “The Castle Of Doom”. Nathan-Turner, on the other hand, preferred an idea of Fisher's called “The Argolins” that Adams had rejected in early 1979, which was set in a futuristic holiday camp. With Letts' help, Nathan-Turner developed a more detailed storyline which was then despatched to Fisher so that he could flesh them out into full scripts. These were commissioned under the title “Avalon” on December 20th.
Initially, Fisher strived 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 took the name Foamasi from 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 Nathan-Turner and Letts' vision of a more serious Doctor Who -- had come aboard as script editor. Fortunately, Fisher had done some research into tachyonics via the New Statesman, and so could supply the element of hard science that the new production team wanted.
The opening scene of “Avalon”, set on the beach at Brighton, was added at Nathan-Turner's request. No one in 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 write him out of stories. Nathan-Turner also thought that the robot dog's surprise near-destruction would come as an intriguing shock to viewers. “Avalon” was pegged as the first story in both broadcast and production order, and was designated Serial 5N.
One aspect of Doctor Who that Nathan-Turner keenly wanted to focus on was its visual style. The producer felt that there was a lot of money to be made by marketing the programme correctly, and to this end he decided that it was time to overhaul several aspects of the show, beginning with the title sequence. The current “time tunnel” version had been used, with minor changes, since The Time Warrior in 1973. Now Nathan-Turner tasked Sid Sutton of the BBC Graphics Department with the development of a completely new sequence. To date, the Doctor Who titles had been disorienting and claustrophobic, so Sutton decided that he would instead introduce a starscape-style animation. He also devised a new, neon-tube Doctor Who logo.
In the same vein, Nathan-Turner thought that Doctor Who characters would be more marketable if they wore the same clothes in each 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 Serial 5N -- to come up with a new outfit for Tom Baker's Doctor. Hudson maintained the same basic design (most notably the lengthy scarf) as had previously been used for the Doctor's garb, but selected a predominantly burgundy colour scheme in place of the original brown. Question marks were also added to the Doctor's shirt collar, at Nathan-Turner's request.
After some experimentation, the producer also decided to use electronic compositions by the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop as incidental music -- something which had not been attempted on Doctor Who since the early Seventies. In recent years, Dudley Simpson had been writing the score for virtually every serial, which he then recorded with the help of a small number of musicians. Early in 1980, Nathan-Turner took Simpson out to dinner to inform him of the new status quo, bringing to an end the composer's fifteen-year association with Doctor Who. Nathan-Turner also asked Peter Howell of the Radiophonic Workshop to devise a new arrangement of the familiar Doctor Who theme music. This was not a new idea, but the previous attempt in 1972 had ended with the rearranged tune 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”. Bickford was a former production assistant who had worked with Nathan-Turner on The Pallisers; he had also been an assistant floor manager on Doctor Who in the mid-Sixties, working on The War Machines and The Moonbase. More recently, Bickford had served as a director on programmes such as Angels and The History Of Mr Polly (which had been produced by Letts). Bickford was eager to record “Avalon” in the style of a feature film, replete with unusual camera angles, single-camera takes and the use of a handheld camera.
By the start of March, Serial 5N had gained its final title of The Leisure Hive. Work on Doctor Who's eighteenth production block 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, as had been employed when Doctor Who debuted in 1963. The TARDIS had sported a flat roof since the mid-Sixties.
Unfortunately, Baker was unwell as recording got under way, and his mood was further affected by a downturn in his relationship with Ward. The two had decided to end their romantic liaison at the conclusion of shooting 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. The star's attitude was at least mollified somewhat by his cordial working relationship with Nathan-Turner -- a marked change from the acrimony that had passed between Baker and Graham Williams.
The first studio session for The Leisure Hive took place in BBC Television Centre Studio 1. Originally, this was scheduled as a two-day block, but Bickford lobbied for a third day so he could experiment with cutting-edge Quantel image processing equipment. Work began on April 2nd with effects shots for the visidome screens. These were completed the next day, when material in the Great Hall and the boardroom was also shot. This included 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 April 4th, along with those in the shuttle and the effects shots of 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 now caused The Leisure Hive to fall 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. The Great Hall, boardroom and laboratory sets were in use on each of the first three days. April 18th also saw material in the cabin and the long corridor taped, followed by scenes in the Tachyon Recreation Generator and some model shots on the 19th, and further sequences in the long corridor on the 20th. Finally, April 21st dealt with material in the Generator, Brock's cabin, the long corridor, and the Hive exterior, as well as the remaining model shots.
The severe cost overruns on The Leisure Hive ensured that Bickford would never again be assigned to Doctor Who. His subsequent credits included The Olympian Way before he became a producer; Bickford passed away on July 29th, 2018. Nathan-Turner himself was reprimanded by his BBC superiors for allowing the situation on The Leisure Hive to get so desperately out of hand. This was also Fisher's final Doctor Who serial. He later wrote episodes of Hammer House Of Horror and Hammer House Of Mystery And Suspense, and collaborated with former Doctor Who script editor Anthony Read on a number of non-fiction books. Fisher died on January 10th, 2018.
The Leisure Hive part one marked the start of Doctor Who's eighteenth broadcast season when it was aired on August 30th. Unfortunately, despite Nathan-Turner's efforts to revamp the show, it 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 such figure since The Smugglers led off Season Four. 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 throughout the Eighties...
|Updated 13th September 2018|
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