The Happiness Patrol

Written by:
Graeme Curry
Directed by: Chris Clough
Starring: Sylvester McCoy
Year: 1988
Video Availability: Try

I reacted badly against The Happiness Patrol the first time I saw it, thinking it the worst Doctor Who story ever made. I was wrong, of course, but the camp dialogue, artificial sets and Bertie Bassett villain really took some getting used to.

With Who's pseudo-reality it's difficult to key in to the avant garde nature of events on display here. The incidental music is loud and unsubtle, but Dominic Glynn's score still excels greatly. And let's thank God it's not Keff McCulloch.

There's some fannish nonsense with the Doctor referencing Invasion of the Dinosaurs and rewriting "Theta Sigma" as a "nickname", yet with the pink Tardis the story explodes the series' most iconic tenement far more irrevocably than The Mind Robber ever did.

What makes this story so strong is that it has so much to say. There's the Thatcher-baiting, obviously, but also homosexuality*, beaurocracy, unemployment, demonstrations and terrorism. It's a really good episode, actually. The two leads underplay, the dialogue is sharp and snappy, and the pace is punchy without distorting the narrative progression. The Kandyman, whom I initially hated, is a tremendously demented horror-comic villain. In fact, when a man is murdered by drowning in sweet mixture, this is probably the nearest the series ever came to being The League of Gentlemen. Shame about Fifi, which is utter plastic crap, but I was on the verge of giving this episode full marks. Also interesting is how Earl Sigma forgets he's supposed to have an American accent when he's in the Kandy Kitchen...
* This is debatable, however - certainly The DisContinuity Guide's assertion that a man is seen sporting a pink triangle is false.
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More of the same, really, though the impetus has dissipated a little. The lemonade scene is contrived but amusing, while Sylvester getting a spear up his ass brings a smile to your face, if not his. The Pipe People are fake looking, and the "melancholy" theme is overstated, though generally this is still above-average television. The Fifi chase scene is pathetic, but the sniper scene, while a little angsty, is impressive.
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Hmmmmm.... a bit of a mess to be frank. The messages have become overstated, the plot progression's in freefall and Sylvester's too self-amused. Helen A's one-note Maggie act is now a little tiresome, though of course the Kandyman is the real star of the show. "I have to bow, however reluctantly, to your logic." is another class line, only just behind "What time do you call this?" and "I can feel one of my moods coming on."

Also unnoticed (by me, at any rate) before is the Doctor's promise to the Pipe People that "you'll be back in the sugar fields." So they're a racial analogy, and the Doctor seeks to return them to slavery? He also, as is often noted, restores the planet to abject misery. Decent stuff, but the Doctor explaining the moral of the story to Helen A is pure Trek. This isn't a good thing.
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After Ghost Light, this is the best McCoy three-parter. It's not perfect, and could have been so much better. The idea of political satire in 80s Who was a good one, though this isn't accessible to a wide audience. Like the New Adventures, it smacks of undergraduate angst, and is in turns silly and genius.
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