Doctor Who: The Happiness Patrol

"I can hear the sound of empires toppling."

Some people will try to tell you that 'The Happiness Patrol' is an unsung masterpiece, a subversive work of satirical genius that really stuck it to Thatcher and the Tories. Do not listen to these people. 'The Happiness Patrol' is rubbish.

Ask anyone who worked on this story and they will proudly tell you that this was their great attempt to bring down the government, although there isn't much to be proud of. As satire it isn't very funny or insightful. Thatcher and her cronies may be the obvious target of the writer's scorn, but Graeme Curry's script doesn't have anything interesting to say about them besides "Oh, aren't they awful? those poor miners". Squint and you just might see a cry for gay rights (Harold V’s brother is wearing a pink triangle when he is executed, Helen A's husband runs off with another man, and don't get me started on Ace and Susan Q), but it all gets buried in the mix.

In no way would I describe this as a well made story. The sets looks like primary school kids attempting to recreate German Expressionism after hearing about it from some other kids from a posher school in the park after a game of five-a-side. Chris Clough's direction is just as naff as it was in 'Delta and the Bannermen' and 'Dragonfire'. And don't get me started on the "action" scenes. Any time someone tries to make an escape on a Go Kart it suddenly becomes the world's gloomiest episode of Fun House.

The pacing is horrible; even for a three parter it drags terribly. And there really isn't much in terms of plot. The Doctor shows up, figures out the locals are being oppressed within the first few minutes and then runs around for the next three episodes trying to overthrow the government, something he does with surprising ease. As such there is no danger, no tension, you never once think that anyone is any serious risk of harm. Poor Ace is lumbered with little to do except go through the same tiresome capture/escape/capture/escape routine we've seen far too many times already. And what does she get for her troubles? Nothing. She doesn't even get the girl. Despite the obvious spark between them, Susan Q inexplicably goes off arm in arm with Earl Sigma in the end, someone she's barely spoken to. Bloody heteronormativity. It ruins everything.

Of course, what this story is most known for is the Kandy Man, a sadistic sweet maker/executioner who looks like Bertie Bassett, something that had the BBC facing legal action at the time. Like this story, the Kandy Man has a loyal fanbase who will keep trying to convince you that he is one of the greatest monsters the show ever came up with. They are of course wrong. The Kandy Man is crap. Total and complete crap. McCoy's tanktop is scarier than this fiend. I mean how are we supposed to be afraid of someone who can be defeated with a can of Sprite?


Notes and Quotes

--To fit with the story's film noir atmosphere, the production team considered transmitting it in black and white.

--The TARDIS is too dark a shade of blue for the locals and quickly gets repainted pink.

--Ace is doing the spoons now. Damn thing is contagious.

--The letter behind each person's name appears to be a kind of status marker. The leader has an A after her name, and her husband a C. The killjoy Harold V was called Harold F when he was the gag writer for Helen A, but was later degraded.

--The Archbishop of Canterbury once referred to this story in one of his Easter sermons.

--Ace apparently supports Charlton Athletic. Well, no one's perfect.

--Trevor Sigma was played by John Normington, who previously played Morgus in 'The Caves of Androzani', and later appeared in an episode of Torchwood.

Kandy Man: "You see, I make sweets. Not just any old sweets, but sweets that are so good, so delicious that sometimes, if I'm on form, the human physiology is not equipped to bear the pleasure. Tell them what I'm trying to say, Gilbert."
Gilbert M: "He makes sweets that kill people."

Gilbert M: "Created as you are out of glucose-based substances, your joints need constant movement to avoid coagulation."
Kandy Man: "What do you mean?!"
Gilbert M: "You're turning into a slab of toffee. I saw this at the planning stage, and then I realised what the solution was."
Kandy Man: "And what's that?"
Gilbert M: "... I've forgotten."

Trevor Sigma: "Galactic Census Bureau, I ask the questions."
The Doctor: "You ask the questions?"
Trevor Sigma: "I'm sorry, that's classified information."

One and a half out of four episodes of Fun House.
--
Mark Greig needs a hero, he's holding out for a hero 'til the end of the night More Mark Greig

3 comments:

Mikey Heinrich said...

I'm actually terribly fond of Happiness Patrol. It's one of only two McCoy stories I have any time for.

The other is Ghost Light, in case anyone was wondering. Looking forward to your take on that one :)

FlopHairedWuss said...

Agreed on pretty much all of this. Reminds me a little of 'The Long Game' in terms of being cluddingly obvious satire with little to say about what it's sanitizing.

Mark Greig said...

Mikey, I'm looking forward to my take on Ghost Light too because even after 29 years I still have no idea what to make of it.