The Happiness Patrol: Doctor Who: Season 25
The Happiness Patrol SYNOPSIS:
The Doctor and Ace land on the planet Terra Alpha where unhappiness is illegal in the human colony. It's ruler is the ruthless and vain Helen A who has her Happiness Patrol hunt down 'killjoys' and has them eliminated. The increasing population disappearances have been noted by Trevor Sigma, the galactic censor.
After the travellers escape incarceration, The Doctor gains an ally in Earl Sigma a wandering blues player and investigate the Kandy Kitchen where they find rebels being executed by fondant surprise at the hands of the Kandy Man, Helen A's robotic executioner made up from confectionery. Ace has befriended Susan Q an unhappy Happiness Patrol girl but both are captured and sentenced to appear at the forum where failure to entertain means death.
The Doctor and Earl make allies of the Pipe people beneath the city who are being wiped out by Helen A and enlists their help to bring down the government. They return to the surface, rescue Ace and Susan Q and successfully ferment active rebellion against Helen A's administration. But Helen still has the Happiness Patrol at her disposal and a showdown is set.
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The Happiness Patrol DETAILS:
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The Happiness Patrol CAST & CREW
Sylvester McCoy (Seventh Doctor)
Sophie Aldred (Ace)
Sheila Hancock — Helen A
Ronald Fraser — Joseph C
Georgina Hale — Daisy K
Harold Innocent — Gilbert M
Lesley Dunlop — Susan Q
Rachel Bell — Priscilla P
Jonathan Burn — Silas P
Tim Barker — Harold V
David John Pope — Kandy Man
John Normington — Trevor Sigma
Richard D. Sharp — Earl Sigma
Tim Scott — Forum Doorman
Mary Healey — Killjoy
Steve Swinscoe, Mark Carroll — Snipers
Philip Neve — Wences
Ryan Freedman — Wulfric
Annie Hulley — Newscaster
Production Staff for Serial 7L:
Writer - Graeme Curry
Director - Chris Clough
Script editor - Andrew Cartmel
Producer - John Nathan-Turner
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The Happiness Patrol REVIEWS
Swingin' 60's London to planet Alpha Minor or something?
Should one be reviewing the Happiness Patrol I ask myself? I had the misfortune of seeing this one twice, the last time was about 10 years ago and I loathed it both times. But the nature of it being bad just sticks too big in the mind.
It seems as though all the great lessons learnt by Rememberance are tossed out of the window for the Happiness Patrol. First of all we get in Cartmel's latest find Graeme Curry. But like a bad curry the taste is a bit off and you're left with burning indigestion, a bad case of the runs and a ring of fire which is what this story did to me - ok it's an original idea for Who to tackle (well actually if you wikepedia up the Macra Terror it's a similar plot) about a society where people are forced to be happy or they die because that's what the reigning tyrant wants, a society that is superficially happy. But in it's current state the series shouldn't really tackle it as it's too different for it to get right when still finding a new style. Reckon they still were finding their feet when the Happiness Patrol script landed on Andrew's desk. Maybe it's good but it's buried by it's execution.
It's just Happiness Patrol falls back into using all the elements that made season 24 excremental, maybe they should've stuck to alien invasions for a season before tackling this idea. It's supposed to be a dark satire based on Margaret Thatcher and people's seeming lack of choice in a benevolent society but comes across as more a badly constructed pantomime. To quote Douglas Adam's " I think comedy comes across best underplayed and straight, some people get a comedy script and think, hey we could put on funny voices and do silly walks and so on I think that's exactly the wrong way to play it", so too this should relate to this satire piece.
There's a message there that being melancholy sometimes is not such a bad thing and people being lawfully forced to be constantly mindlessly happy is just wrong but you're either beaten over the head with it or the idea just disappears entirely. It's sort of like Paradise Towers on acid, let's have a look at the resident tyrant - Helen A. Now who would let a madwoman like this into power anyway especially with that wig? Guess we could say the same about Saddam but if he started painting everything pink and purple he woulda been shot a whole lot sooner. She also has a completely obvious puppet dog as a pet!
Helen A is about as convincingly threatening as a licorice all sort, which is funnily enough what her executioner resembles. He's just an embarrassing addition of the parade of panto monsters over the last couple of years complete with a highly gay voice as well, not that there's anything wrong with that. Then we have the pipe people, again understand the allegory the script was trying to get across but these guys look and sound as convincing an alien as those grub creatures from the web planet. Even Munchins are more original!!
All the human types, Joseph C, Barry J or whoever they're called. None really have a character that stands out from the bright pink jumpsuits most of them wear and say most of their lines as though they're supposed to have a punch line. Come on are they serious? John Normington must have wondered if he was working on the same show as 4 years earlier, he played a memorable heartless villian, now's he's the census guy called Trevor Sigma or something (?) in a comedy without laughs!! Again surreal is ok if it's done well but it's not done well here. It's not well paced, it looks exactly like everyone is in a TV studio with overlit cheap looking sets and proves that Chris Clough the director who brought a bit of style to Trial has by now used up his talent. Who knows? Maybe he was dropping acid as well.
Sylvester and Sophie appear to be just going through the motions and any character build up of the Doctor being darker is suddenly non existent. Lost under the bright paint and confetti, there's more than echoes of Sylv's buffoonish season 24 antics complete to badly crooning the blues on stage to save the day. Has the series become a musical? A camp comedy, I see the point but it's not well done, it's irritating!!!!! It just seems to champion the fact that Dr Who is now shown in the kiddies hour!!
Ok there's one redeeming feature in this bumbling production and that's the fact that the girls in the Happiness Patrol are all hot (Norna from Frontios is back too) and wear extremely short skirts to show off their extremely shapely legs but alas I'm not Grob and can't give it a 10 just for that so I'll knock off the 1 off that figure and make it 0/10 from me. One oddball story per season is enough and only one worked - you can guess which one now.
To take the production side first, on the few occasions I have seen this little story I am always reminded of amateur theatre; I think its Happiness Patrol's artificial sets and the shoddy paintwork. This is always the problem when trying to shoot outdoor scenes indoors on a (very limited) Dr Who budget; it usually ends up looking faint. The outdoor street scenes and the town square just have that "in studio" feel about them and its never really lit properly either, nor are there any outdoor elements like, I dunno, wind, or rain, or anything that would make it look like it was an actual city. Strangely, the interior scenes aren't much better and the black paint that has been streaked across the walls just looks very cheap and tacky. Likewise performances feel very staged and artificial as if we are watching a live play.
If Dr Who is going to work, it needs to be played (queue another email from Tim) "for real". You need to suspend your disbelief and go along with what is happening - BUT that can only happen if everyone on screen is doing it. This is one of the reasons Tom Baker went off-shit with his fellow actors; they refused to play it for real and what was seen on the screen suffered. Remember how Seeds of Doom worked so well? Tom and director Douglas Camfield really pushed for realism in that one. Now Chris Clough is as far removed from Douglas Camfield as Jill Watson is from rational and intelligent thought, but even he should have been able to work that one out!
Most of the performers play it straight down the line such as Sheila Hancock as Helen A and Ronald Fraser and her husband. Leslie Dunlop does a nice turn as Susan Q and even John Normington as the officious Trevor Sigma is okay. The rest are about as fake as the surrounding scenery and that sadly goes for Sylvester McCoy who has reverted back to his season 24 persona instead of continuing on with his Rememberance of the Daleks work. Sophie Aldred is always one dimensional.
Speaking of artificial, that Kandyman monster is pretty bad isn't it? I dunno if it was suppose to frighten the kiddies but I was pretty scared in a sense that I was wondering who was gonna belt me one at college the following day if it got out that I was into watching Dr Who. Its just...embarrassing. A bunch of sweets lumbering around and yelling in a child-like voice. And in true Cartmel style, its origins are never explained properly as to how it came about or what its motives were. There was a brief throwaway line about something but it was so inconsequential that I think Cartmel was secretly hoping that no one would ask any questions.
It seems as though director Chris Clough and his team deliberately moved AWAY from the more scary ideas and concepts that writer Graeme Curry had in mind and presented the script in a more lighthearted and whimsy way. Its quite sad cos there are some interesting things going on in Happiness Patrol. Which brings us to...
...the Script. A lot of parables, parodies and satire. Happiness Patrol is by far one of the more complex and layered stories of the Dr Who mythos. Starting with Helen K and her husband, they are a homage to UK's then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her sexually repressed husband Dennis. The demoralised drones who wander the streets represent the Working Class, while the pipe people represent the unemployed, homeless and the poor. Its also a very nice morality tale as Helen A refuses to believe at the end she is responsible for the demise of her society and thinks she is above everyone else, it takes the death of her beloved pooch Fifi (in a very real scene nicely acted by Sheila Hancock) that brings her crashing back to...well, earth.
Unusually for a script in the Cartmel era of the show, its quite a surprise to see one that actually is quite well written and generates a bit of thought - which in itself again brings into question Cartmel's abilities as a writer and his expertise at his own job? Does he just commission the scripts and nothing more or does he try and work on them and fail? Each script under his era is so wildly all over the place that there is no continuity between each story in terms of style. Anyway, thats something for another day.
With the Happiness Patrol, I felt that the ideas were all there as were a number of performances but it was the production that let it down. In an ideal world, the production team would have put as much care and effort and money into this story as they did the previous one, but they didn't and it looks second rate. Sad, it could have been so much more. 5/10
On the plus side we have a fast moving story, featuring a very dark plot, full of wit and poignancy. On the minus side we have the Kandyman.
The introduction with Silas P capturing a killjoy is great - in fact the first 15 minutes are full of intrigue. Following on from Remembrance, you can't help but think that the show really has come a long way since the depths of series 24. And as Silas P confronts Helen A about his promotion while his latest capture is sent down the tubes, our hopes of progression are shattered as we see the Kandyman.
I really want to like him - but I just can't. It's not even that it's poorly realised - I mean I don't think you can realise something like that well... it's a baddie made out of lollies. I can see where Graeme Curry was going with this - but unfortunately it just doesn't work. I guess the scenes where the Doctor outsmarts it and gets it stuck to the floor are kind of OK... but really, the story doesn't need a big monster thing made out of lollies! Helen A is a great baddie - why doesn't she just drown her victims in fondant or whatever it is the kandyman does herself? Or better still, why doesn't Gilbert M just do it himself? He's the genius that built the thing - surely he could just be running the torture chamber himself? How much better would it have been if say Gilbert had been scarred by one of his own experiments and had to wear some kind of smiling mask? Much scarier than a thing made of licorice all-sorts!
There are still lots of great ideas in Happiness Patrol though. The names for example work really well - especially with all aliens/visitors having "sigma" at the end of their names, which gives a nice reason for us to be re-told about the Doctor's nickname at college... which brings back a little bit more of the mystery to his character. The idea of having to make people laugh to save their own lives is a good one too - although McCoy's performance is very full of ham. The whole parallel between Helen A and Margaret T is very well done... all the way down to her Dennis (Joseph C) - although I'm not really sure why he ran off with Gilbert M in the end. Fifi's OK too. The indigenous population are also OK, but I didn't like the way they were realised... I couldn't understand much of what they said at all... but they fit in nicely to the plot.
That said though, the plot does get a little flimsy towards the end as Happiness Patrol turns into another run-around... still the final scene where the Doctor convinces Helen A that you can't have happiness without sadness is handled well and saves an otherwise dodgy last part.
I don't think there's a bad performance in this (except for maybe McCoy's performance of Time Goes by!). On the whole, the Doctor and Ace are once again very strong and each show nice developments in their characters. Helen A is very good - perhaps Cassandra in the new series should have been more like her, and all of her cronies (both the happy and sad ones) are all played well - especially the one that guards the waiting zone, Priscilla P? Actually the confidante - Susan Q - is really good too. I'm not so sure about Earl Sigma, he's a bit naff, but Trevor Sigma plays the investigator really well.
The three main flaws of Happiness Patrol(Kandyman, pipe creature things and kind of boring last part) could be down to some dodgy direction - but on the whole the look and feel of this is perfect, and most of the dramatic scenes are handled really well. The idea of making this in black and while could well have worked, as the thought was having something like the Kandyman was a bit of a throwback to some of the more silly Troughton era monsters - but I think the bright colours everywhere really plays nicely against the dark undertones of the story.
Or perhaps the errors are something that the script editor should have taken care of? Lets hope he learns from these mistakes going forward like he has from his previous ones... Still, Kandyman aside, it's an enjoyable watch... but could have been much better.