THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
THE DALEKS" AND
THE CROOKED SMILE
PATROL' VHS VIDEO
The Doctor has heard
stories of strange
and sinister goings-
on on Terra Alpha.
Believing it is high
time someone got to
the bottom of THINGS,
the Doctor declares
that tonight will be
The Happiness Patrol
2ND NOVEMBER 1988 - 16TH NOVEMBER 1988
Underrated masterpiece. Overlooked gem. If you aren’t a fan of Graeme Curry’s crippling satire, then look away now – it’s soapbox time.
The Happiness Patrol may be the most underrated Doctor Who serial of all time. In 1988, with memories of the Miners’ strikes still fresh in the memories of many, this cruel parody of Thatcherism should have stood out as a topical, intelligent and outstanding piece of telly. It’s a prime example of Russell T Davies-style Who, seventeen years too early.
Those who group this serial together with the likes of Paradise Towers as being cheap and studio bound bumph are making a dreadful mistake. These three episodes possess all the essential ingredients for a textbook Who classic – horror, humour, action; even a little bit of
a pathos. I’d even go out on a limb and say that this serial houses Sylvester McCoy’s finest performance as the Doctor on television. Of his twelve broadcast stories, I think that this is the one that best walks the line between his Doctor’s comic eccentricity and dark, brooding inner-self. Broadcast just after Remembrance of the Daleks – the first television serial to see one of Seven’s trademark ‘master plans’ come to fruition – The Happiness Patrol sees the Doctor deliberately take Ace to an Earth Colony in the future. He is actively seeking out trouble. Actively meddling.
Sophie Aldred also acquits herself well here. Although The Happiness Patrol is still early days for Ace, we continue to see more than just the young and explosive rebel. She shares some emotive scenes with the depressed Happiness Patrol member Susan Q, touching on that underlying teenage anger / frustration: “I want to make them very, very unhappy!”
And for a relatively short serial, The Happiness Patrol also features a magnificent cast of supporting characters. Gilbert M (Harold Innocent), for example, may start out as a baddie, but he’s so cynical and blasé that one can’t help but champion him – especially when he’s showing the terrifying Kandy Man no fear. In the same vein, Trevor Sigma (played by John Normington, better known to Doctor Who fans as Morgus in The Caves of Androzani) is a wonderful little character that, unless I knew better, I would swear came from the imagination of Douglas Adams. Even those that have very little time on screen, such as the unscrupulous Silas P or the mild-mannered Harold B, leave their mark on the viewer. In fact, of the entire cast only Earl Sigma – the letherargic psychology student who loves to play the blues – feels underdeveloped.
Most memorable of all though are the story’s villains. The Kandy Man is probably the most chilling monster ever to appear in the classic series, particularly to a sweet-guzzling child. I nearly shat myself every time that he came on screen in 1988, and to this day I still can’t eat a Liquorish Allsort. It isn’t that he looks like Bertie Bassett. It isn’t that he sounds uncannily like a Tetrap. It isn’t even that he makes sweets that kill people. The Kandy Man is so very blood-curdlingly fearsome because he’s a complete and utter bastard. A sadist. He’s pure evil. Earl Sigma calls him a “schizophrenic obsessive”, but I don’t think that even scratches the surface of the Kandy Man’s psychoses. Tony Todd, stand aside.
And as for Terror Alpha’s head of state, Helen A, she embodies not only all the Happiness Patrol’s repugnant qualities but also ruthlessness, and two-facedness. She made crying in public a crime, and had the word “killjoy” made synonymous with crime. She even made half a million of her citizens “disappear” – there are dictators out there in the real world that can’t claim to be responsible for that much blood. Still, at least she draws the line somewhere - I’ve seen this serial countless times, and haven’t heard any milk-snatching allegations yet.
Sheila Hancock is elegantly contemptible in her performance, a wonderful foil for the gurning Sylvester McCoy. Her ultimate comeuppance at the hands of the Doctor is a sheer delight to watch. As she breaks down weeping over her dead dog, the Doctor’s point that happiness is nothing “unless it stands side by side with sadness” is more than proven.
All the same, probably my favourite character is Daisy K (Rachel Bell). She’s absolutely vile, embodying all those loathsome qualities that makes a person detest their employment or the establishment. Even when she tears into Priscilla P, another reprehensible character, going on about Priscilla never having “joined in”, been “part of the team”, or having possessed the
“right attitude”, it makes the viewer want to be sick. The Happiness Patrol are the leaders in the modern workplace. They are buzzwords and political correctness gone mad.
In the end, my only criticism of this superlative serial would have to be that it’s too short; the quality of the script warranted at least four episodes. However, as it stands The Happiness Patrol has all the pace and the fury of the revived series, and it encapsulates McCoy’s reign as the Doctor absolutely. If you are new to Who and have been put off the late 1980s serials, I’d strongly advise you to at least give this one a try. As long as you can put up with a pink TARDIS and a very unconvincing rubber dog, I promise you won’t be disappointed. This is one of the series’ finest.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2008
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
In this story, Ace wears Flowerchild’s earring on her jacket before she finds it in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. This is a result of the season’s running order being changed so that the broadcast of Silver Nemesis would coincide with the series’ anniversary.
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