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Recap / Doctor Who S18 E1 "The Leisure Hive"

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Even when rapidly aged 500 years, the Doctor still doesn't look a day over 760.
Brock: His scarf killed Stimson!
The Doctor: Arrest the scarf then.
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The one where Doctor Who goes full '80s.

Written by David Fisher. This four-episode serial first aired from August 30 to September 20, 1980.


The Doctor, now in burgundy, and Romana are in the mood for a holiday. After trying out the English seaside — shown during a 2-minute pan across a deserted beach — during the off-season, when the weather's bad and everything's shut, and it turns out that K-9 isn't waterproof, they head for the Leisure Hive, a famous resort on the planet Argolis in the 23rd century.

After Argolis was devastated in an interplanetary nuclear war, the survivors founded the Leisure Hive as a contribution to peace: a place where different races could mingle and get to know one another in laid-back surroundings. Not every Argolin, however, agrees with the Leisure Hive's peaceful mission statement. Also, Romana doesn't take long to notice that some of the Leisure Hive's technology is more advanced than it should be. And then the Doctor gets entangled in a murder investigation. Oh, and there's some kind of green scaly critter with great big claws lurking about, that's obviously up to no good...

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"The Leisure Hive", and by extension Season 18 as a whole, brought Doctor Who into the 1980s in full force, with new Show Runner John Nathan-Turner, a new look, and a new title sequence (complete with a new electronic synthesizer version of the theme tune and a bright neon-tube logo). Let's see what else is new to this era:

  • Per his 'new broom' approach, Nathan-Turner dismissed the series's longtime mainstay composer Dudley Simpson in favour of producing the show's musical scores in-house at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, then chiefly equipped with a Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer in lieu of the amalgam of electronic and orchestral elements long used by Simpson. The scores, particularly within this serial (arguably overwhelmingly, to composer Peter Howell's admission), also become noticeably denser and more prominent than the sparser and more theme-based structures of prior scores, lending serials such as this one a more forthrightly sombre, futuristic atmosphere.
  • The Doctor wears a heavier (and more aesthetically subdued, in line with Nathan-Turner and Bidmead's revision of the character) burgundy & purple version of his hat-coat-scarf ensemble for the rest of the season, and his collar is now adorned with a question mark on each side; the question mark motif would become a staple of later Doctors' costumes for the remainder of the show's original run. The scarf is also much longer and he's donned a pair of riding boots.
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  • K-9, having been deemed too overpowered by the new regime (to say nothing of the myriad of production issues caused by the difficult-to-control prop), gets put through the wringer in every serial before his departure (ironically done just as a user-efficient version of the prop was finally developed), with the exception of "State of Decay", in which he gets one last chance to laser people.
  • The show gets a new script editor in Christopher H. Bidmead, a former journalist for computer-centred periodicals. Under his brief tenure, he would noticeably overhaul the show's tone and approach to storytelling, emphasizing more concerted and cohesive worldbuilding (in an attempt to curb the more theatrical elements of the Williams era) and plotting and concepts more firmly grounded in hard science (or at least things that look like hard science) than it was in the past. Don't know what a tachyon is? You're not alone.
  • The comedic elements of the Graham Williams Seasons (15-17) have been considerably toned down, making this season much more sombre and funereal in comparison to the six preceding it, even in comparison to the (oft-pulpier) Gothic-horror stories of the Philip Hinchcliffe era.note 
  • The Doctor is himself more sombre, less disposed for fun and frolic and more weary at the universe than his Williams-era incarnation (or his Hinchcliffe-era form, to a lesser extent). The general feeling appears to be that he knew his time was near, and he wanted to get as much done as possible before his regeneration. Reality Subtextinvoked seemed to play a role in this, given how the unusually long amount of time spent in the role, combined with his own mental issues, led Tom Baker to take a significant dip in well-being that had noticeable effects on his physical health; among other things, his trademark curly hair started to deflate to such a degree that he actually had to get it permed for "State of Decay". Similarly, Nathan-Turner's brief to rein in Tom Baker's Spotlight-Stealing Squad tendencies and creative control (and thereby reduce his erratic behaviour during production, an issue that had plagued the show with increasing intensity since Season 14) led to the season's scripts noticeably reducing both the proactivity and trademark comedic quipping and gestures of the Fourth Doctor, further contributing to Baker's more subdued and funereal performance.
  • The production competence and budget of the show undergo a conspicuous boost with this story. Following the largely-unconvincing special effects, awkward set design and aggressively utilitarian cinematography plaguing much of of the Williams era's output, this story's visual sensibilities are (to a jarring degree) noticeably more cinematic, employing greater use of perspective and creative staging, lengthy, ponderous scenes focalizing a more 'visual' form of plot exposition, use of rapid cutting for dramatic effect (partially thanks to Nathan-Turner's own gifts as an editor), atmospheric miniature work, extensive use of digital special effects (including the Quantel Paintbox, in its maiden use for TV effects) and more detailed and bombastic design and costume work (particularly for the convincingly-alien Foamasi) than Seasons 15-17, arguably more so than even the remainder of the higher-budgeted Season 18. Conversely, this serial's director, Lovett Bickford, was subsequently blacklisted for the BBC due to running over budget, rendering this serial more of a visual anomaly than necessarily intended by Nathan-Turner at the time.

Looking back from post-2005, the serial's villains are also noteworthy. There's a plot twist where it turns out that the alien monsters, rather than being part of a hostile racial monolith, are a bunch of profit-motivated criminals regarded as renegades by their own society. Another plot twist is that several apparently-human characters are actually the villainous aliens in skin-tight disguises, even though undisguised (as represented by an actor in a bulky monster suit) they're clearly larger than any of the humans they impersonate. There's even a scene involving a horrified bystander and a discarded skin in a closet. Does anything remind you of this?


Tropes:

  • The '80s: This serial marked the point where Doctor Who hit the decade and where the decade hit it. While Season 17 finished airing in January 1980 (and "Shada" would've aired up to the end of February had it been completed), that was still decidedly rooted in the late '70s; from here on out, the show would take on a sleeker style grounded in surprisingly accurate insight on the look and feel of the years ahead, and would only continue to maintain it until the series' initial cancellation in December 1989. As most people agree that the '80s didn't come into its own from a cultural standpoint until around 1981 or 1982, this essentially means that Doctor Who stepped into the '80s before the '80s themselves!
  • Actual Pacifist: Following their war with the Foamasi, the Argolins swore an oath to peace and humility, symbolized by keeping the helmet of Theron (who started the war) on display.
  • Animal Motifs: The Foamasi, with their penchant for disguise, look rather like chameleons.
  • Author Tract: David Fisher wrote the story as a satire on the decline of tourism in the UK in the 1970s.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: The initial problems are caused by the West Lodge Foamasi, whose leader is posing as Brock, as they sabotage the Leisure Hive in the hope of buying it up. However, the hawkish Argolin Pangol becomes more and more of a threat as he plans to lead the Argolins back into war with an army of clones, ultimately serving as the Final Boss.
  • Bigger on the Inside: Brock, seemingly completely human up towards the end, is forcibly unmasked to reveal he's really a Foamasi imposter. Foamasi heads are ridiculously bigger than human heads, but while the other characters are shocked at the reveal that he's really an alien, none of them seem to realize that his mask is Bigger on the Inside, meaning they Failed a Spot Check.
  • Break the Badass: After two seasons of the Doctor being an Invincible Hero, the first episode gives us a cliffhanger of the Doctor screaming in terror as his limbs are ripped off. The Mood Whiplash is massive and suggests a lot about what this season is going to be like.
  • Busman's Holiday
    Doctor: Anyway, there's been enough randomising on this job.
    Romana: Job? It was meant to be a holiday.
    Doctor: Well then, I'm going to be very glad to get back to work.
  • Cloning Blues: Part of the plot involves an attempt to repopulate the Argolins by generating tachyon clones. Needless to say, this does not end well.
  • Crystal Spires and Togas: Argolis.
  • Curse of Babel: A Foamasi detective is presented as a villain until we find that he just lacks a speech synthesizer, which he cribs from one of the rogue Foamasi that are actually antagonizing the Argolins.
  • Dropped Glasses: When Stimson is fleeing for his life, he drops his glasses, which are then Trampled Underfoot by his pursuer.
  • Dying Race: The Argolins were nearly wiped out in a nuclear war with the Foamasi, and the ones that survived were rendered sterile and are subject to fatal Rapid Aging after the first few decades of their life, owed to the leftover radiation on the planet.
  • Eat the Camera: Part one closes with the camera zooming into the Doctor's screaming mouth while he appears to be torn into pieces by the Tachyon Recreation Generator.
  • Evolving Credits: This story introduces a new title sequence, swapping out the time vortex with a starfield, that will be used until the end of the Sixth Doctor era, getting modified three times during its run (twice due to new Doctors, and one final time to update the music).
  • Explosive Instrumentation: K-9 literally blows his top, emitting a quite impressive fireball, the second he enters the water.
  • Faceless Goons: The story features an army of clones with their faces covered in helmets; the Doctor hides among them, and reveals that thanks to the Tachyon Recreation Generator operating on a "first in, first out" system, all the clones are in his likeness.
  • He Who Must Not Be Heard: The lawyer Klout never speaks a word on-screen, which turns out to be plot significant: He's one of the disguised Foamasi, and doesn't have the anatomy to speak English.
  • Heroes Gone Fishing: The story starts out with the Doctor and Romana at Brighton beach.
  • Homage: The opening sequence on Brighton beach was John Nathan-Turner's paean to Death in Venice.
  • Later Instalment Weirdness: An unusual example for the series, given the length of Tom Baker's tenure on the show at large. After starring in three different successive incarnations of the show during the '70s (the tail end of the light, action-based Barry Letts era, the lurid, visceral Gothic horror of the Philip Hinchcliffe era and the stagier, more comedic 'mock-epics' of Graham Williams' tenure), the Fourth Doctor (or a more subdued variation of him) is plugged into a higher-concept, higher-budgeted succession of sombre, cerebral sci-fi plots (albeit tinted with a dark mysticism) with a more cohesive inter-serial continuity and a more sobering depiction of both the multiverse and the Doctor's role in traversing it (a motif continued and accentuated throughout Eric Saward's run as script editor in seasons 19-23) thus resembling the prototype for Peter Davison's first two seasons over the aesthetics of any of the preceding six seasons.
  • Latex Perfection: The Foamasi body-suits — undetectable when being worn, obvious rubber when they're taken off, and able to conceal all of the Foamasi's bulk within a human-sized shell.
  • Leave the Camera Running: The notorious opening shot of Brighton Beach.
  • Liquid Assets: The Doctor is aged considerably, while Pangol is reduced to an infant.
  • Me's a Crowd: Pangol's answer to the question "With what army?". (In the event, the Pangol-clones last only a few minutes — and most of them turn out to be clones of that meddling Doctor, anyway.)
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: The script describes the Foamasi as reptiles, the director wanted insects, the final result is a mixture of both.
  • No Water Proofing In The Future: K-9 short-circuits after going into the sea, in an excuse to not have him in the story.
  • Oh, Crap!: Romana when she sees K9 heading into the sea to fetch the ball that she has thrown. She frantically runs after him but is too late.
    Romana: K9! K9!!!!!!
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: In-story example — when the suave Brock is attacked by a Foamasi, his posh demeanour cracks and he starts screaming at it to keep away from him in an accent several social rungs lower than the one he's been speaking in up to that point.
  • People in Rubber Suits: It's some kind of textured fabric, rather than rubber, but it's definitely a suit, with a great big seam down the front and visible stitches at the neckline. Nice try, though.
  • Pleasure Planet: Argolis keeps its lights on by acting as a tourist resort for other civilizations.
  • Raise Him Right This Time: Mena says this word for word when Pangol is reduced to an infant.
  • Rapid Aging:
    • As a side-effect of the radiation, Argolins remain youthful for decades and then all their age catches up with them over the course of a few hours.
    • The Doctor is suddenly aged 500 years by the Tachyon Recreation Generator during an experiment in rejuvenation gone wrong, turning him into a senile old man with flowing white hair. He eventually gets de-aged back to his regular self when he sabotages Pangol's attempts at using the generator to create an army of clones.
  • Rearrange the Song: This story marked the debut of a new, radically different "80s synth" arrangement of the Doctor Who theme, replacing the second Delia Derbyshire arrangement that had been in use since 1967. The new theme would last five seasons, encompassing Tom Baker's last season, the entire Peter Davison era and the first Colin Baker season, its last appearance coming in"Revelation of the Daleks".
  • Royal "We": Pangol begins referring to himself in the plural when he takes over Argolis. (That's not the only reason, though.)
  • Scooby Stack: The Doctor and Romana, when they're trying to escape to the TARDIS.
  • Shock Collar: When the Doctor and Romana are murder suspects, they're put in collars that will "become uncomfortable" if they go out of bounds or attempt to remove the collar.
  • Significant Anagram: "Foamasi" is a tweaked anagram of "mafiosi".
  • Sterility Plague: The Argolin race were rendered sterile by their twenty-minute war with the Foamasi. That's why Pangol's looking into cloning.
  • The Unintelligible: The Foamasi have insectoid mouthparts and speak in mixed of chirps and clicks that nobody (not even the Doctor and Romana, for some reason) can understand without a translator device.
  • The Unpronounceable: At the end, Mena asks the Foamasi ambassador his name, and it turns out to be (like the rest of the Foamasi language) a string of clicks and chirps not replicable by human anatomy.
  • Two of Your Earth Minutes: Romana refers to "relative Earth date 2250" when talking to the Doctor, to explain why two Time Lords are talking to each other in Earth years.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Pangol, when things start going against him.
  • Walk-In Chime-In: The Doctor and Romana walk into a room and comment on the techyonics demonstration that was taking place before they entered.
  • We Need a Distraction: When they're trying to get a closer look at the Hive's Tachyon Recreation Generator, Romana notes that "What we need is a diversion", and the Doctor provides it by soliciting the Generator operator's opinion on a knotty problem in warp mechanics (which is so complicated that it causes the operator to make choking noises and faint).
  • We Will Not Use Photoshop in the Future: A piece of video evidence turns out to have been faked by editing together footage from two different events. The Doctor and Romana spot it straight off; he explains loftily that he'd noticed subtle interference patterns at the point of the edit, she adds that also, of course, the woman in the video was suddenly wearing a different necklace.

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