7 July 2014

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start... 

Day 553: The Leisure Hive, Episode One

Dear diary,

Hooray! It’s my birthday! And what better way to celebrate than with the start of a whole new season of Doctor Who, complete with new producer and swanky new titles. I told myself before pressing play on this story that I’d not fall in to the trap that everyone else does when discussing this story, by mentioning that it’s all change and a different show… but, well, it’s all change and a different show!

People tend to hail the transition between Shada (or The Horns of Nimon) and The Leisure Hive as being as big as the transition between The War Games and Spearhead From Space, but I’ve never really been able to appreciate it before now. When I can pick a DVD of pretty much any Doctor Who story off the shelf at any time, and watch the programme in any old order, things just divide up differently. In the past, the difference between this story and anything from Season Seventeen is only as great as the difference between, say, The Web Planet and The Curse of Fenric, or The Green Death and The TV Movie. Doctor Who has been many different things throughout tits life, so the changes just come and go with whatever story you happen to be watching at the time - in short, we’re used to watching ‘classic’ Doctor Who these days in a very different way to the original audience on first broadcast.

But the only ‘classic’ Doctor Who that I’ve watched since the start of 2013 has been the episodes in order from An Unearthly Child onwards, I’ve not seen any of the John Nathan-Turner era since 2012. Although I’d told myself not to bring up all the differences between what had gone before and this story, they really do hit you in the face like a ton of bricks as soon as the opening titles begin. I’ve gotten so used to that ‘time tunnel’ effect (which has been with me in one format or another since only a few days into this year!) that it really does feel like a shake to the system when the star field bursts on to the screen with a whole new arrangement of the theme music. I’ve seen it described (both positively and negatively) as JN-T making a huge announcement that he’s arrived in the producer’s chair, and it has to be said that it does make a very bold statement. This is a new kind of Doctor Who, and that means the rules have changed.

We then move from this striking new titles sequence into… one of the longest tracking shots in Doctor Who history, as the camera pans along the beach, taking in deck chairs and beach huts for about a minute and a half. Eventually, we pan past the TARDIS to find the Doctor slumped snoozing, but it feels oddly juxtaposed to such energetic new titles. The fact that The Leisure Hive opens on Brighton beach is a fact that most people tend to know even if they don’t know much else about the story, but I’ve never noticed how isolated that scene is. It serves to set up the idea of the Doctor and Romana heading off on holiday quite nicely, but it feels as out-of-step with those titles as it does with much of what’s to come through the rest of the episode.

It doesn’t help that the sequence ends with the camera pulling away from the beach, with the shot slowly forming into an oval and drifting away among the stars of the title sequence. It’s a very odd way to transition between scenes (possibly the weirdest that we’ve seen in the show so far), but along with other slightly unusual transitions (wipes and fades among them), it further helps to spell out that you’re watching a very different type of programme.

It’s also a programme that feels scarier than it has in a while. Creatures like the Krargs, the Nimon, and the Mandrels are there to entertain the younger members of the audience, but their almost part of the joke - you know that they can’t really harm our heroes. This episode ends, though, with the Doctor’s limbs being pulled off, and the camera rushing in to Tom Baker’s screaming mouth. Considering the pains the episode went to earlier to show us a character being killed rather painfully in this exact manner, this really does feel like a universe a lot more dangerous than the one the Doctor’s been travelling in for the last few years. 

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