9 July 2014

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

Day 555: The Leisure Hive, Episode Three

Dear diary,

I can’t decide whether I’d be enjoying this episode so much without the sense of ‘new’ that pervades it. The plot isn’t particularly grabbing me, I’m still not entirely sure just what’s going on, and a lot of it seems to be a bit… dull. I think that if it were just another story from Season Seventeen, with that same design style, and the Doctor wandering around in what I’d still term to be his ‘usual’ attire, then I’d have probably been scoring a fair bit lower by now.

That said, I think today’s episode has been my favourite of the bunch - now you see where my uncertainty is coming from! The shock of everything looking a bit different has broadly worn off now, because I’ve had a few days of it in the new style, but there’s a few things in today’s episode which really stand out for me.

For a start, there’s the Doctor in his ‘old age’ form. In the ‘making of’ special feature on this DVD, Christopher Bidmead tells a story that Tom Baker wasn’t keen to keep this look up, and wanted to be reverted to his regular appearance as early as possible into this third episode. Supposedly, they talked him out of it by pointing out that the resolution to massive cliffhangers always comes really early on into the next episode (you can take the cliffhanger at the end of Episode One of this story as a great case-in-point of that), and that the real impact this time comes from keeping the Doctor ‘aged up’ for as long as possible.

All the same, I didn’t realise that he spends this entire episode (and, therefore, some of the next, presumably) in this form! Not what I expected at all. It’s quite good make-up, too - or it’s certainly working for me (I’ve seen it described as very poor elsewhere), and it’s quite nice to see Baker modifying his performance a little, too, to make a point of the fact that he’s now 1200 years old.

Then you’ve got the reveal of the Fomasi properly… and it’s a friendly one! The costumes for these creatures are another thing that’s come in for a bit of stick over the years, but I actually really like them. It helps that they’ve spent much the first two-thirds of the story only being seen in close ups or in shadows, haloing to build up a bit of suspense about how they actually looked. That one is finally shown in full, and he’s helping out heroes is just great, and it feels like an age since we’ve had anything like that happen. Still, large green aliens, who hide themselves inside human skin-suits? Had Russell T Davies been watching this one before the Slitheen were created?!

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Ray Bayly