The Leisure Hive is the first “1980s” Doctor Who Story.
Now of course, it’s not really in a number of ways.
Horns of Nimon is the first story to air an episode in the year 1980.
And of course, if you are one of those decade pedants who thinks that decades only begin with years ending in “1”, then Warrior’s Gate is the first 1980s episodes.
And of course there’s a vague tendency to call Tom Baker a 1970s doctor and say that the Peter Davison era is when the 1980s catches up with the Doctor.
But actually The Leisure Hive represents the moment when 1980s stylings and 1980s concerns dominate a story. The title sequence is redesigned for this series and Peter Davison merely inherits it. The music is not mainly electronic, since Dudley Simpson has been effectively laid off. (He is still writing music for Blake’s Seven around this time, mind.) Peter Howell’s electronic music never quite managed to create a signature sound for the Doctor. 1980s Doctor Who music changed, but it changed to sound more like the music all around it.
The mood is sombre, but not actually scary. The story begins on Brighton Beach at the wrong time of year. K9 is disabled early on by salt water while attempting to retrieve a stick. (Romana wears Edwardian beachware for the remainder of the adventure.) Romana and the Doctor arrive on Argolis hoping for a proper holiday, but they discover that this particular resort is on the brink of bankruptcy and the Argolins are dying and sterile in the wake of their disastrous twenty minute war with the Foamasi.
This being the 1980s, villainy is expressed not in terms of a hostile invasion fleet so much as a hostile take over. Shady insider trading and dodgy business practices dominate. The most dangerous person turns out to be Pangol – a very young David Haig – who attempts at the end to clone himself into a military force. This very familiar character actor is presented to us as the youngest person on Argolis. And his punishment is to become at the end an even younger Argolin.
Meanwhile, Doctor goes into a machine and comes out really really old. There is no discussion of whether he has aged merely as a Fourth Doctor or whether he has somehow aged in absolute terms. He doesn’t really like being really old.
The Bidmead era is hard to love. Or hard for me to love. I admire many of the stories from this era, in somewhat formalist terms, without really cherishing warm and fuzzy feeling about them. Tom Baker had worked rather more happily with Douglas Adams. Bidmead attempted to restore some seriousness to proceedings, but worked well with neither Baker, nor John Nathan Turner. The scripts seem solemn without being memorable, and neither the music nor the design appear very creative nor original. When the whippy-headed Argolins start to die – it’s hard to care.
In fact, the recessionary mood of the early 1980s is well reflected in this episode which describes a society in which the service sector has overwhelmed a manufacturing sector. There is much squabbling and little sense of hope.
So it is, very 1980s. And like many other things that are very 1980s, it’s not really very good.