Well here we are, the era of Doctor Who that I grew up with. Today's viewing began Tom Baker's final season as the Doctor, and ushered in a completely new era to the show. New opening credits, new logo, a new arrangement of the theme music, completely different incidental music, a new costume for the Doctor all in burgundy (including the iconic scarf), and the first appearance of the question marks on the collar. There hasn't big this big a change in the look and feel of the program since almost exactly ten years earlier when the dawn of the 70's ushered in the Jon Pertwee era in color.
So how is it? Well, let's talk about that.
The Leisure Hive - Parts 1 & 2
(TARDIS Data Core recap)
Right off the bat, the first episode launches into the brand-new electronica arrangement of the theme song as stars fly by and the new "neon tube" logo fades in, seeming to announce that grainy pantomime days of the 70's are over, and it is time to leap into the bright and shiny 80's.
I have to say, after so many months of living with the classic "time tunnel" intro, I thought I was going to viscerally hate the new sequence. Funny thing, though: once I got past the jarring change in style, I really appreciated the upgrade. I'm not sure I am a fan of the logo (or, frankly, the next one coming in a few more years), but I don't hate it either. It certainly gets bonus points for being distinctive. As for the musical arrangement, it's not so much the opening credits but the closing ones that really sold me on it. Ron Grainer's iconic them still shines through, and although Delia Derbyshire's original arrangement will always be my favorite because if its haunting etherealness, this one comes a close second in that it is upbeat and driving without being overly bombastic.
Getting past the opening credits, the story opens with an absolutely brilliant and extremely long camera shot, with a slowly traveling pan across a cold and windy Brighton Beach complete with empty chairs and lonely changing tents. The shot seems to go on forever, clearly inspired by the opening Star Wars sequence with the rebel ship fleeing the massive star destroyer. The camera just pans and pans until it finally finds the Doctor snoring in a beach chair, wearing a new outfit that is identical in cut and form to his classic look, but all done in burgundy. It looks nice, but it also contains John Nathan-Turner's (JNT) first perversion of the Doctor's costume -- a question mark on each of the shirt collars. If he had stopped there it would be a completely unremarkable tweak, but with hindsight I know that this is the first tiny assault that leads to the atrocity that is the Sixth Doctor's costume. And make no mistake, this is the exact moment when the Doctor stops wearing clothes and starts wearing a costume.
With JNT it's all give-and-take. The new logo and new theme: awesome. The question marks on the collar: first sign of trouble. His next net negative is that he started writing K9 out of the series. John Leeson is back to voice the beloved tin dog, but he is knocked out of commission almost immediately by rolling into saltwater chasing a ball in a very undignified manner. That blows his circuits and sidelines him for the entire story. He'll be back for a couple more, but by this coming weekend I will be saying goodbye to K9 as a series regular. He'll show up again in his spinoff, and one Tenth Doctor story, but for Classic Who he is nearing the end of his time in the TARDIS. Boo. K9 is a great character, a perfect foil for the Doctor, and a convenient way for writers to provide quick info-dumps without burdening the Doctor himself to explain everything. I understand there were issues with the practical robotics of the time, but it still makes me sad.
Anyway, there is actually a story going on here as well. Romana is not impressed with Brighton Beach, what with the Doctor's timing being off (as usual) such that the vacation spot is gray and dreary in the off season. She convinces the Doctor to take her to the planet Argolis instead, to the titular Leisure Hive. It turns out to be a resort location run by the last survivors of a planetary holocaust, providing rest and recreation and also promoting peace and understanding between alien races so that future generations might be spared the terrible fate of their own planet. As you might expect, there is trouble afoot.
The Leisure Hive is failing financially, and the very race that caused the devastating war, the reptilian Foamasi, are trying to purchase not only the hive but the entire planet. There is a human scientist performing experiments with a Tachyon Recreation Generator, which also has some kind of potential time-reversing application. Finally, the last surviving Argolans are both infertile and dying off at a rapidly accelerating rate. Oh, and some kind of alien (presumably a Foamasi) has infiltrated the hive and is committing small but targeted acts of sabotage to hasten the financial collapse of the enterprise. Drama!
Throughout the story, the incidental music is entirely synthesizer based. It feels like the whole thing is scored by a poor man's Tangerine Dream. It's a bit aggressive for my tastes, but once you get used to it it's not bad. It is certainly of a piece with the entire new direction of the show. With all of these dramatic changes, I am kind of surprised that Tom Baker stayed on for another season. It really feels like it should have been a complete new change. That being said, Baker was at the height of his popularity at the time and I can see where he didn't' want to let go, and the BBC didn't want to lose their cash cow. Still, the writing is on the wall. By the end of this season Romana and K9 will be gone, three new companions will be added, and the Doctor will regenerate into his youngest form ever in the classic era. Good times!
Companion(s): Romana, K9
Episode(s): The Leisure Hive - Parts 1 & 2
Steps Walked: 7,361 today, 1,830,131 total
Distance Walked: 4.09 miles today, 925.43 miles total
Weight: 249.68 lbs (five day moving average), net change -57.62 lbs