The Leisure Hive

Novelization by: David Fisher
TV script by: David Fisher
Episode aired: August/September 1980
Novelization released: July 1982

Overview: The year 1982 alone saw the novelization of six of Season 18’s seven stories; The Leisure Hive, the season premiere, was only the 4th story to be released in print.  Not counting the just-released audio-only novelization of The Stones of Blood, this is David Fisher’s final contribution to the Target range.  The basic story is about strange goings-on at a scientific research facility slash intergalactic tourist resort on the planet Argolis.  However, there’s far more to this story, as it turns out, than just the strange goings-on…

The original episodeHive appears to have been conceived as a broad Season 17-style satire on British tourism, with the name of the reptilian bad guys, the Foamasi, being a near-acronym of the word “Mafioso”.  The Foamasi, old enemies of the Argolin, try to take over the Hive using, shall we say, less-than-legal maneuvers.  Wasn’t there a Joey Foamasi as a small-time bad guy on Season 5 of The Sopranos?  It’s the same tactics.

However, as filtered through the new Season 18 production team, with producer John Nathan-Turner and script-editor Christopher H. Bidmead, Hive turned into a glossy meditation on the science of tachyon particles.  With brilliant (and vastly over-budget) directorial flourishes from Lovett Bickford, and with Peter Howell’s incidental score easily washing away the aftertaste of years and years of mostly-homgenous Dudley Simpson compositions, to watch this story on TV is to be dazzled with the moving image.  There’s good acting there too if you look carefully enough.  Bonus points for the DVD audio commentary, in which Bidmead and Bickford blame each other for various things that either didn’t work or cost too much money.  It’s one of the TV series’ finest reinventions of itself, but you can still imagine David Fisher at home, scratching his head and shouting at the TV, “What happened to my reptile mobsters?”

In print: The first twenty percent of the novelization of The Leisure Hive is filled with seemingly irrelevant tangents that didn’t make it close to air.  The opening chapter retells the Brighton Beach prologue from the point of view of two concessionaires, with a baffling aside about Japanese tourists.  A couple of journalists on Earth take over most of Chapter 3.  We get numerous anecdotes about the violent past of the planet Argolis; if you can stomach “the Saga of Herell the Hapless and Mako the Mighty”, you’ll learn about more severed legs than in most other books marketed to children.  Later on we learn about Professor Igor Shebunken of the University of New Caledonia, and someone named Hyperion C. Blackadder, “an Irish missle research engineer working on Tethys (holy mackerel…).  Not to say that this stuff isn’t funny; it is.  But if the original scripts submitted by Fisher contained similarly-veined humor, it’s easy to see why Bidmead and Bickford so heavily altered them.  The Doctor’s discovery that his own scarf has been used to strangle one of the Hive guests is staged much better on TV than as presented in the book, for example… There is, at least, some sharp observational humor buried under all the asides.  After the Doctor’s been aged near to death by tachyon particles, he observes:

So this is what it’s like being old[…]. Everyone thinks you are a candidate for the funny farm just because you have a few white hairs and are a bit forgetful now and again.

The Regulars: As on TV, K-9 is sidelined by an unfortunate dip into the sea in Chapter 1.  The rest of the book is taken up mostly by the Doctor and Romana.  Considerable emphasis is placed on the Doctor’s aging, a subplot that took up most of Parts Three and Four on TV.  In another sharp bit of writing, Romana reflects that the old Doctor has “the face of a tired old man who barely knew where he was”.  Romana also has a moment of introspection when she suspects that she, too, will be aged near to death by the tachyon chamber.  The real main character, however, is David Fisher’s third-party narrator, eavesdropping on conversations between Brighton concessionaires or washed up reporters, and giving us more Argolin and Foamasi back-story than was ever needed for TV.

The Chapter Titles of Death: Surprisingly functional, considering the tongue-in-cheek nature of the rest of the book.  Most titles are reserved for locations or character names; the Table of Contents begins with the staccato recitiation:

  1. Brighton
  2. Argolis
  3. Brock

The Cliffhangers: Thanks to Fisher’s asides and digressions, Part One takes up nearly the entire first half of the book, and a full five of the first nine chapters.  The Part Two cliffhanger is slightly restructured; where Part Two ended with a close-up of the Doctor’s old-age makeup, here Chapter 6 ends with characters gasping in horror at his off-screen face, and the actual discovery that he’s aged 500 years isn’t made until several paragraphs into Chapter 7.

Good prose/bad prose: Most of the satire is actually spot-on.  The Argolin warrior-turned-chairman of the board observes that “the knights of Argolis were totally unsuited to commerce.”  But, when the good Foamasi cops show up to arrest the bad Foamasi mafiosi (try saying that five times fast), the humor intrudes on the narrative when we learn that they’re from the “Foamasi Bureau of Investigation”.  There is better wordplay elsewhere in the book, such as the aged Doctor’s mangled proverb about “Let’s not cross any bridges until they’re hatched,” an expression now so deeply lodged into my own lexicon to the point that I’ve nearly forgotten the correct sayings…

Personal memories: Back when I was 12, and rather obsessive about such things, I wanted novelizations to be direct transcript of the TV episodes and was surprisingly intolerant of creativity or originality.  Chapter 1 thus had me pretty confused.  I know, I know, I had issues at age 12.  Without them, this blog wouldn’t need to exist.  What struck me most at the time, though, beyond the writing, was the cover art, which still looks great (although the Hive taking up the lower half of the picture is a bit strange).  I used to arrange my novelizations on the shelf in story order, and most of the Tom Baker books featured plain white spines, drifting into the muted dark greens and purples and reds for Season 17.  The Leisure Hive had thay bright yellow spine which stood out nicely on the shelf; you’d have to move your eye all the way down the shelf into Season 22 before another white spine would appear.

Final analysis: This one is a bit special, because you can see what David Fisher had in mind when he submitted the story to the production office.  It’s a light-hearted Season 17 romp, with comic villains, and violence so over-the-top that it becomes funny, but without the chance to be ruined by the real Season 17’s crummy production values or Tom Baker’s wandering attention span.  Even so, with the TV version of The Leisure Hive so dominated by Lovett Bickford’s imaginative visuals and Peter Howell’s lush score, it’s impossible to read the book and picture anything else but that glossy Season 18 look…

About drwhonovels

An incredibly languid sojourn through the "Doctor Who" canon, with illustrations from the Topps 1979 baseball card set.
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