The production team that had been working on Doctor Who in the late seventies, Graham Williams and Douglas Adams, had made mostly entertaining adventure stories that occasionally mentioned science as part of their narrative, but they were never really about science in the way that “The Leisure Hive” is. Unfortunately, it’s true that all this talk of tachyons doesn’t make a great deal of sense the way it’s depicted here, but it’s part of how the new team, John Nathan-Turner and Christopher H. Bidmead, wanted to approach the show.
So there are trappings of what we expect from Doctor Who, especially the revelation of a monster in an unconvincing costume. These guys with the breathtakingly obvious collars around their necks are called Foamasi, but, like the next several non-humanoid alien races we will meet, they aren’t an all-out evil bunch like yer classic Daleks or Zygons. There are four Foamasi in this story: two cops and two mobsters trying to shake down a city-sized science museum. Foamasi is an anagram of mafiosa, you see. There will be lots of anagrams in the years ahead, often in the cast list.
But the actual villain of the story is a misguided dreamer who schemes to misuse the science of tachyonics to “clone” his dying race by building copies of them that something something faster than light the original. Like I said, it doesn’t make a great deal of sense, but the villain isn’t quite your typical “I will conquer everything” Doctor Who baddie, either. We’ll see plenty more megalomaniacs and despots in stories to come, but once this character is de-aged into a baby, Adrienne Corri’s character flat out says that she hopes they can raise him right this time around, which is a pretty strong indication that the series wants to try new things.
Pangol isn’t evil in the traditional sense, and neither are some of the other antagonists in stories to come, even though some will do some awful and evil things. There should be more to this show than either the latest unconvincing costume of the monster of the month, or the latest guest star playing a pantomime villain of the month, and season eighteen really tries to come up with new types of foes for the Doctor to fight. So while “The Leisure Hive” is certainly flawed and odd, it really does succeed in being very new and different.
Unfortunately, while the cliffhangers to the first two episodes were both very successful in thrilling our son, part three’s finale just left him confused. The Foamasi are big, fat reptiles which can contort and suck in their bodies to wear human skin suits, much like the Slitheen would do twenty-five years later. It’s almost as though 2005’s Doctor Who episodes were written by fans who read the novelisations of old stories where these points were explained in greater detail than were shown onscreen and debated their effectiveness in fanzines and usenet or something. Hmmmm.
Anyway, so the cliffhanger shows the two police Foamasi, who communicate in a clicking, chirping language that even the Time Lords cannot understand, descending on two human characters, ripping off their skin suits and revealing them to be more Foamasi. Our son had no idea what was happening. He had forgotten the discovery of a skin suit in part two, and thought that the Foamasi had the hideous power of turning people into more reptiles like them. It’s almost a shame that’s not what actually happened, because that would have been a pretty grisly little plot development!
Overall he enjoyed the story. So do I. It isn’t a favorite, but it’s interesting and kind of a shame that the writer and director tasked with bringing the show’s new vision to life were never asked back. The writer, David Fisher, seems to have been passed over in the constant search for new blood, and the director, Lovett Bickford, ignored his budget and overspent so much that he wouldn’t be used again. Getting new talent is always a good and important idea, but as we’ll see next time, there’s something to be said for experienced scriptwriters.