We kick off 2015 with another Tom Baker adventure … well, there are rather a lot of them! The Leisure Hive has the distinct advantage that I hated my first viewing on VHS and therefore (in the recurring theme I am sure you are spotting) I could only enjoy it better than I expected when I bought the DVD. As with other DVDs that fall into this category, I was pleasantly surprised by how well the story held up when I had the chance to watch it again – I imagine in part because by this stage I had watched the entirety of the preceding Season 17 and had a better appreciation of how the show had got to this point – I think when I first viewed this story, I was judging it through the prism of classics such as Pyramids of MarsPyramids of Mars and had predictably unrealistic expectations!
The Leisure Hive is a relatively straightforward and familiar tale, insomuch as the Doctor and his companions (in this case the lovely Romana and the irrepressible k9) end up on an alien planet to discover skullduggery at work. In this case, they arrive at the titular Leisure Hive run by the Agrolin – a species devastated by a short but lethal war with the Formasi. With the planet no longer turning a profit, there is an offer to buy the planet – but it is from the hated Formasi! The Doctor and Romana arrive looking for a holiday (rule 1 – the Doctor never gets a holiday) unaware that there are two diffferent games on the go – the youngest Agrolin, who is determined to overcome the impotency affecting his race by duplicating himself to create a new warrior race – and a faction of Formasi disguised as humans aiming to sabotage the sale and cause a war – nice and simple eh?
It is therefore a serial that benefits from the slightly more relaxed attitude Baker shows to playing the Doctor in Season 18 – when the character ages considerably at the end of episode 2 it very much plays into the lack of interest Baker was showing by this stage – but the story is so busy, and Lalla Ward so excellent as Romana, that a more diminished role for the Doctor doesn’t impact the story as much as one would expect. There is also plenty of misdirection and uncertainty, without the plot being too complicated – which makes for an enjoyable if unspectacular episode. I did not think 12 months ago that I would ever say this, but The Leisure Hive is a worthy first story for Tom Baker’s final season, setting the scene for the melancholy build to the E-Space Trilogy, and the ‘Return of the Master’ trilogy.