Doctor Who – The Leisure Hive

Doctor Who Story 109 – The Leisure Hive

Written by

David Fisher

What’s It About

The Doctor and Romana go on vacation to The Leisure Hive, a recreation facility on the dying planet Argolis. The Argolans, after being nearly wiped out during a twenty-minute war with the Foamasi, have dedicated themselves to a study of tachyonics and recreation. The Hive, however, is on the verge of bankruptcy and the only monetary backers willing to purchase the planet are the Foamasi. The situation grows worse when a tourist is killed during one of the tachyonic demonstrations. The Doctor and Romana must figure out what went wrong during the experiment while Mena, leader of the Argolins, must determine the path for her people.

Don’t cross your bridges before their hatched
I don't like this new Doctor. He's too old.
I don’t like this new Doctor. He’s too old.

The Graham Williams’s era was a struggle; it was an attempt to keep life in a show that looked to be dying. And while there were some jewels in Williams’s run, the era ended on a rather depressing note: a shoddy production followed by a strike. JNT didn’t need to do much to breathe new life into the show. And when “The Leisure Hive” begins, it is clear that Doctor Who’s aesthetics have changed. The camera work is different. The music is different. The Doctor’s costume is different. The humor has, by and large, been toned down. I recommend reading Philip Sandifer’s analysis of “The Leisure Hive” because he discusses how, with JNT, understanding of Doctor Who became paratextual—Doctor Who was influenced by the critical analysis of fans. The show became the focus. Doctor Who was less about adventures in time and space, it was about Doctor Who itself. This is a trait which never left the show.

One of my new-Who friends wants to watch more of the classic show. (Hooray!) She enjoys talking about Doctor Who with one of her co-workers, but since he is a fan of both eras, she occasionally feels lost in his references. She wants to borrow DVDs to help her understand some of what he talks about. But herein is a problem: watching “The Horns of Nimon” and then “The Leisure Hive” doesn’t tell the viewer a thing about what happened to the show. It doesn’t tell the viewer why these stories contrast with one another, nor does it tell the viewer this contrast was a big deal. And so, the commentary of Doctor Who, by which I mean the paratext, becomes important to the understanding of the show. There are layers upon layers upon layers of fan understanding of Doctor Who, which can seem virtually impenetrable to the fan of new-Who. In many ways, it is like debating theology. There isn’t any one right way to interpret Doctor Who. The text (the show) is important, but it isn’t conclusive. Our hero’s name is either the Doctor, or he is Doctor Who. You can use the text to support either view. The UNIT stories took place in the 1970s or the 1980s. Again, the text supports both. And the debate goes on and on through many issues: how many regenerations do Time Lords have; who came up with the name TARDIS, and what does it actually stand for; was Hartnell the First Doctor or just the first Doctor that we have seen; how old is the Doctor; and so on. So, as in theology, the commentary on the text is as influential (often more influential) than the text itself.

Looking at “The Leisure Hive” as a text, it really isn’t anything too different from what we’ve seen before. David Fisher is always a good writer for taking real-world events and translating them to a science fiction setting. In this story, we have nuclear holocaust combined with shady Mafia dealings. It isn’t a space epic on the scale of Star Wars or even on the scale of Underworld, but it attempts to tell an interesting story while taking a few shots at how our political climate is shaping up. Fisher has done this before, but without Douglas Adams to script edit, many of the jokes were removed.

But while the last year of Graham Williams’s involvement on the show was marked by struggle and growth, this first story of JNT’s era took a huge step forward. There is only one problem left, and it is a big one: Tom Baker. This story sees the Doctor ripped apart in the tachyon chamber and later aged a few hundred years. He spends quite a few scenes just sitting off to the side, not taking part in the action. In the final episode, tachyon clones are made of the Doctor, but they quickly vanish. The Doctor is not saving others, he is becoming the victim. He saves the day, not by being Tom Baker, but by being the Doctor. In many ways, the character is being put back into his place. It isn’t about Tom Baker, it is about the Doctor. And who better to rein this in than JNT—who is focused on Doctor Who as paratext, Doctor Who as a show—and executive producer Barry Letts—who directed Patrick Troughton, produced much of Jon Pertwee’s stories, and cast Tom Baker. Both men looked at Doctor Who’s success over the years, not just at what was currently working.

My Rating

4/5

Doctor Who: The Creature from the Pit

Doctor Who Story 106 – The Creature from the Pit

Written By

David Fisher

What’s It About

The Doctor and Romana arrive on the planet Chloris. It does not take them long to be captured by the power-hungry Lady Adrastra, who controls the metal-mining industry on the planet. A mysterious shell in the forest has captured her attention, and she demands the Doctor’s help in studying it. But the Doctor soon discovers that the shell is connected to a creature that is in a pit, a creature that eats those who cross Lady Adrastra.

She tipped the ambassador into a pit and threw astrologers at him

creature I’ll go ahead and state outright that I don’t really care for this story, and, apart from a few funny lines of dialogue, I was largely bored by it. It is obvious Lala Ward is trying to refine her portrayal of Romana (as this was her first filmed story). Eratu, while getting points for not being a humanoid creation, is rather odd and hard to take seriously in some of its more phallic moments. And the pace is a bit of a mish-mash. Christopher Barry, while generally a good director (at least, I like him in the First and Second Doctor eras), doesn’t seem to find a good pace for this one. Part four especially seems uneven.

These things aside, there is an interesting idea at the center of this story. The first time I watched it, I largely read it as a “the monster is really quite civilized and the humans are really not” story. We’ve had this in Doctor Who in the past, “Galaxy 4” being a notable example. But what struck me about the story this time around was that the savages, characters who the Doctor would often ally himself with in other stories, were no better than the oppressive regime of Adrastra. Fisher is subverting a Doctor Who trope here, and when the obvious villain has been defeated, the savages and an advisor quickly attempt to fill the power vacuum. And so, this story isn’t really about a misunderstood monster; it is about power structures—in this case, economic since the entire conflict was initiated by an attempted trade agreement. Eratu was attempting to offer the people of Chloris a mutually-beneficial trade agreement that would bring prosperity to both planets. It just happens to upset the balance of power on Chloris. So, “The Creature from the Pit” is actually high-concept science fiction, and it is certainly a theme worth exploring.

And yet, for me, it is hard to watch. The story certainly looks good in many places: the costumes are great, the sets are well-realized. But the pace and directing don’t really emphasize the ideas in this script, and much of the silliness, while helping to maintain interest in the story, doesn’t really bring attention to the ideas lurking beneath the surface of the story. For me, this story was an ambitious failure, which is a shame because I normally enjoy David Fisher stories. But while I may not enjoy the execution, I admire the ambition.

On the whole, and I may have more to say about this in a future post, I feel sorry for the Graham Williams era. Sure, there are some great stories in it, but I feel that this era of the show is one of identity crisis. Doctor Who is trying to find its place in a post-Star Wars world. Williams had the unenviable position of producer when these films came out. He was producer when Doctor Who had to move from gothic horror to light-hearted science fiction. Season seventeen is the season where this identity crisis comes to a head—the very first scene is Romana trying on different regenerations, searching for a new identity. And “Creature” fails to find its voice, unable to find the balance between the high concepts in Fisher’s script, the silliness of Tom Baker and Douglas Adams, and the directing of Christopher Barry.

My Rating

1.5/5

Doctor Who – The Androids of Tara

Doctor Who Story 101 – The Androids of Tara

Who Wrote It?

David Fisher

What’s It About?

Continuing their search for the segments of the Key to Time, The Doctor and Romana arrive on Tara. Romana goes in search of the segment; the Doctor goes fishing. But both soon become embroiled in local politics as the evil Count Grendel has a master plan for deposing the good Prince Reynart.

Would you mind not standing on my chest? My hat’s on fire.

ImageSpring Break and Spring Holiday are over. I’m in the down-hill stretch of my semester, which has really interfered with my blogging pace. Papers on redaction criticism and comparative criticism have dominated the past couple of weeks, and the next two weeks have two document design projects which are demanding my attention. And I was making such good progress in “The Key to Time.”

I finished “The Androids of Tara” two weeks ago, but I didn’t have a lot to say about it. While the first three installments of the “Key to Time” season had some interesting, and often masterfully-handled thematic material, “The Androids of Tara” is just flat-out fun. It is an adventure story. In fact, it could be argued that “Tara” is a retelling of “The Prisoner of Zenda,” an argument that I’ll let others engage in since I have never read or watched “Zenda.” But the bottom line is that this story is fast-paced and a lot of fun. In atypical Doctor Who fashion (atypical at this point in the show’s history, at least) this is a story where monsters are not important; only one monster appears—the dreaded Taran bear—but it is entirely incidental to the plot. The real monster is Count Grendel, a thoroughly human character. He is plotting to seize the Taran throne. Thus, “The Androids of Tara” is a swash-buckling adventure story. It is full of humor and the pace is tight, making it a good story to introduce new viewers to Doctor Who. “The Androids of Tara” is a fun romp and a nice break from some of the heavier thematic material this season.

My Rating

4/5

Doctor Who – The Stones of Blood

Doctor Who Story 100 – The Stones of Blood

Who Write It?

David Fisher

What’s It About?

In their continuing search for the Key to Time, the Doctor and Romana arrive on Earth and investigate a Bronze Age stone circle that holds the fascination of a local archaeologist and a neo-Druidic cult that worships an ancient Celtic goddess.

Erase memory banks concerning tennis.
The Cailleach
Source: BBC Website

With The Stones of Blood we have a return to the gothic horror that has been a defining feature of the Tom Baker era. Graham Williams has touched upon this genre a couple times before with Horror of Fang Rock and Image of The Fendahl. Horror isn’t a defining feature of Williams’s era, but it is interesting to see how he approaches it when it does come up. In fact, I would say that the gothic horror of Graham Williams is more in line with the supernatural horror genre defined by writers like Poe, Lovecraft, Stoker, Crowley, and so on than Hinchcliffe and Holmes. Sure, H&H did the gothic horror, but they geared more toward gothic-horror-adventure. The horror of the Graham Williams era deals more with tension, fear, suspense, and cosmic dread. The Stones of Blood is occult gothic horror with a twist, namely that it successfully switches genres halfway through. Parts one and two are excellent suspense pieces, while parts three and four are fascinating, and hilarious, sci-fi pieces.

The Doctor and Romana arrive at Boscombe Moor in Cornwall. They trace the third segment of the Key to Time to a stone circle called the Nine Travelers. They meet Professor Amelia Rumford, an archaeologist, and her assistant Vivien Fay. In conversation with the two women, The Doctor and Romana learn about a local cult that imitates Druidic rituals. Naturally the Doctor must investigate. Of course, it seems the Doctor’s coming had been foretold by the Cailleach, the Druidic goddess of war and magic. Plans are made to sacrifice the Doctor at the Nine Travelers. And as the story progresses, we learn that blood awakens the stones, which are really stone creatures called Ogri, Vivien Fay is an alien criminal, and just out-of-phase in hyperspace is a prison ship that has been shipwrecked for a few thousand years. The way in which David Fisher handles these elements is magnificent. He plays fairly with the gothic horror tropes and completely subverts them as we move to the prison ship. This story keeps the viewer guessing and that is a wonderful thing. The ominous tone soon gives way to humor as the Doctor is put on trial by the Megara, justice machines which operate a judge, jury, and executioner, for a rather trivial offense.

The Key to Time season has been a wonderful journey so far. We have had three very different stories, each blending a variety of genres (Ribos—historical fiction/sci-fi/caper; Pirate Planet—sci-fi/pirate adventure; Stones of Blood—supernatural, occult horror/sci-fi legal drama/comedy). This season has been a genre blender which has deftly handled everything it has set out to do. The overarching plot is somewhat inconsequential (the Doctor doesn’t really need a reason to travel), but neither does it get in the way of the storytelling. The only complaint I have about this particular installment is the resolution, which is much too quick. The resolution isn’t allowed to breathe, which is too bad. But the journey was excellent and the script is excellent, so I can live with a rushed ending.

My Rating

5/5