Thursday, December 31, 2009

5N1 - The Leisure Hive 1

Within seconds of it starting, The Leisure Hive assures us that it will be just about the boldest step that Doctor Who has ever taken as a programme in its 18-year history. Never before, even with the transition from black and white to colour, from space faring exploration to UNIT-dominated action, from family adventure to Gothic horror, has Doctor Who made such a bold, visual leap from one season to the next.

The main reason for this is the revamped theme tune. The mere notion that the new producer, John Nathan-Turner, was willing to make a wholesale change in the theme music (as well as the incidental music) was enough to show that nothing was sacred with this show anymore. Luckily, it was an experiment that was an unqualified success. Peter Howell's version of the theme tune had so much going up against it, most notably a perfect rendering of the theme that had preceded it for the previous 17 years. Yet Howell made enough of the song his own while retaining the core fundamentals that made the original version of the song so beautiful. The big change was raising the key of the song from E to F#, which gives the song a little more intensity, and the higher pitch makes the melody line really punch in a way that the old version couldn't quite do.

Howell's incidental music score for the rest of the episode (and story) is just as impressive, possibly the most daring and confident score of the Nathan-Turner era. It's also known for it's ubiquity - barely a second goes by without Howell's pulsating synthesizers underscoring the action.

The opening shot of the episode has as many detractors as it has fans. Many see it, and the slightly stoic storyline, as main reasons why people turned off BBC1 in droves to check out Buck Rogers on ITV (the cripplingly low ratings are, as I'll explore in greater detail, the only blemish on what is a superb season of Doctor Who). Personally, that first, slow pan across a dreary Brighton beach is a visual representative of where the show had come from, and where it was going. The camera finally stops on a tired, worn out, shell of a Fourth Doctor - once cocky and confident, now weighed down by the universe, surrounded by much that is new and exciting. His clothes, although similar in silhouette, bear only a passing resemblance to what he has worn for years in the past.

He is, and this will become a theme throughout Tom Baker's final season, a man beyond his time.


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