The Leisure Hive was probably the most traumatic 25m of my young fanboy life back in the dark days of 1981. Shocking. Horrific. Traumatic. Terrible. Dreadful. They’d changed everything and I didn’t like any of it – title sequence, theme music, logo, incidental music, costume… and I still bloody don’t! Apart from getting Tom to take it seriously once more, they got that right.
Remember when the Doctor was left dangling over a cliff in The Deadly Assassin? With only his scarf stopping him from falling? That’s where the show has been during the tenure of Graham Williams, a man unable to stand up to Tom Baker and his over-inflated sense of his own importance, a quality he still possesses in abundance to this day. But now the Samurai is here with his dirty great big sword and he’s going to chop the scarf in half and the Doctor’s going to plummet to his doom. And that Samurai is JNT.
It all goes wrong right from the very first shot of his very first story, which starts at 37s in and runs until 2m 17s when we finally see the Tardis and Tom in the deck chair. One minute and forty bloody seconds for a panning shot with nothing in it but deck chairs and beach huts! Nuts! Which pretty much sums up the JNT Era – overlong and devoid of anything of interest until it’s almost over.
So naturally this fan edit starts with the Tardis arriving on Argolis, and “Bugger Brighton” to paraphrase King George V! And just to show you how much there is going on in this first episode, we hit the end of part one just 5 minutes later, and Tom gets turned into Fagin just 10 minutes after that!
They really do stick it to Tom in these first couple of episodes, literally tearing him apart at the first cliffhanger, ageing him to decrepitude at the second. And come the next story, they’ll be turning him into a cactus as well… Looks like everyone thinks the prickly old man has been around long enough, and, given that JNT must have seen first hand how Tom treated his predecessor, he must have been determined to let Mr Baker know from the off that the rules of the game have changed.
Perhaps it was the dead hand of Bidmead, or maybe it was JNT taking the blue pencil to anything remotely funny or witty, or maybe it was just David Fisher himself not being inspired, but the script for this story is pretty weak on incident. There’s very little story, very little threat, and a lot of scientifically-accurate gobbledygook over tachyons. Yawn. This is Doctor Who, not the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures!
The knock on effect of thin, boring, scripts lacking in drama is that it allows for far too much self-indulgence on the part of director Lovett Bickford. Quite aside from that infamous panning shot of his on the beach, there are several more scattered throughout the remaining episodes, adding up to several minutes of screen time where nothing at all is happening except the camera crawling around the set as people walk across it, which always makes for riveting telly. Even the unmasking of Brock as an Argolin takes ages, with cut after cut of reaction shots, compared to Count Scarlioni taking his mask off just the year before, which was a far quicker affair and infinitely better visually.
For me, this was where it all went wrong and the show I loved changed into one I didn’t. The trauma would probably have been lessened if JNT had introduced his changes gradually instead of all at once. He should have finished off Shada for a start, the only reason he didn’t is because he didn’t want to and didn’t want it going out on his watch, and never mind the fans. Cheers, John. Dudley went from twiddly synthesisers to a mini-chamber orchestra, but JNT wants to “modernise” the show so he sacks him and instead takes us back to the time of twiddly synthesisers. Cheers, John.
If the Doctor’s costume had changed for a reason, if we had seen him deciding that maybe it was time for a change then that would have been fine, but to just change it without explanation sucks and shows a complete lack of care for a show that he says he loves. Cheers, John. On the evidence available I’d say he loved the show more for what it could do for his career, so serves him right that this wasn’t a stepping stone to what he really wanted to do – variety shows – but a trap, a creative cul-de-sac from which there was to be no escape. He’d never get away with it nowadays – if we’d had anti-social media back in 1980, Twitter would have exploded!
So when it comes to the divisive figure of JNT, a producer of unparalleled ineptitude, there’s very little sympathy I can extend to someone who got it so wrong so often. Hive showcases his vision of what Dr Who should be like and it’s totally at odds with everything we’ve seen since 1963 – this isn’t a developmental continuation, this is a declaration that everyone before him got it wrong. The evidence, and history, suggests otherwise.
From here on in, with only nine more years left to it, there’s no disguising that this is where the fallout from the folly of the Sixth Floor’s intervention over The Deadly Assassin really starts to manifest itself. The Suits removed Philip Hinchcliffe, replaced him with Graham Williams and with him the focus shifted from drama towards Tom. And with Baker off the leash, and Williams unable to control him, the show had nowhere to go except where Baker wanted it to go, into the land of Red Dwarf and Douglas Adams. But even The Tom Baker Show had a shelf life, with the result that new Producer Jemima Nathan Turdburger instigated a Variety Revolution as a reaction against the old regime, changing absolutely everything to get himself noticed.
I looked at what he had done to my favourite TV show that terrible Saturday August 30th 1980 and hated it, all of it. I still hate it to this day, including his penchant for terrible titles, the one word nonsense ones – Logopolis, Frontios, Castrovalva etc – being the worst. So this gets retitled as the much more dramatic The Hive of Death. I think that’s a much more appropriate and self-aware title, as this is the point where Doctor Who itself starts to die.