THIS STORY TAKES PLACE BETWEEN THE TV STORIES "REMEMBRANCE OF THE DALEKS" AND "SILVER NEMESIS."
THE CROOKED SMILE
'ACE ADVENTURES' DVD BOX SET (BBCDVD3387) RELEASED IN MAY 2012.
ON THE PLANET TERRA ALPHA, BRIGHT FLUORESCENT LIGHTS AND GARISH CANDY-STRIPED COLOURS ABOUND. THE POPULATION CONSTANTLY DISPLAYS HAPPY SMILES. THERE'S NO SADNESS ON TERRA ALPHA. ANYONE FEELING REMOTELY GLUM DISAPPEARS. QUICKLY. HAVING HEARD DISTURBING RUMOURS, THE DOCTOR AND ACE ARRIVE TO TOPPLE THE ENTIRE REGIME OVERNIGHT.
BUT THEY HAVEN'T RECKONED UPON THE VARIED PUNITIVE MEASURES ENFORCED BY COLONY LEADER HELEN A. THERE ARE MANY DELICIOUS WAYS TO VANISH ON TERRA ALPHA - YOU CAN BE HUNTED DOWN BY THE OMNIPRESENT HAPPINESS PATROL OR MAULED BY HELEN A'S RAVENOUS PET, FIFI. BUT AN ESPECIALLY UNLUCKY FEW WILL FIND THEMSELVES IN THE SWEETIE FACTORY MANNED BY HELEN A'S PSYCHOTIC HENCHMAN - THE KANDY MAN.
THIS TIME, HAPPINESS WILL PREVAIL.
The Happiness Patrol
2ND NOVEMBER 1988 - 16TH NOVEMBER 1988
The Happiness Patrol is a sterling example of Russell T Davies-style Doctor Who, seventeen years ahead of its time. Graeme Curry’s topical piece blends crippling satire with tried and tested series staples, frightening its viewers with a monster made of candy while stirring their thoughts with bubblegum pink cheerleading villains intent on enforcing happiness and glee. As thought-provoking as it is garish, this three-part serial seeks to invert the theatrical status quo, rallying its viewers to champion its hero as he fights for the right to be fed-up, and urging them to be wary of the sweet tastes and sounds that threaten to strip them of their humanity.
Since it was first broadcast in 1988 the media has made much of the patent parallels between former UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher and this story’s smiling despot, Helen A. And indeed, with the miners’ strikes still fresh in the memories of many viewers and actress Sheila Hancock keen to mirror as many of the Iron Lady’s mannerisms as possible in her performance, The Happiness Patrol certainly stands out as one of Doctor Who’s most unabashed allegories. But this story is far more than a simple indictment of Thatcherism - its themes explore the differences between mellifluous but artificial ‘muzak’ and music that moves its listeners; the abyss between a painted smile and sincere melancholy. At its strongest, Curry’s kitsch dystopia is as well-drawn as anything ever explored by George Orwell, and it’s enhanced by a sinister, fairy tale undercurrent that I think is largely responsible for its continuing resonance today.
“Our feeling was that Margaret Thatcher was far more terrifying
than any monster the Doctor had encountered.”
As with many late 1980s Who serials, The Happiness Patrol is sadly let down by its realisation. Until I watched this DVD, I had always believed that Terra Alpha’s cities were meant to be enclosed within some sort of dome as its exteriors appear to be anything but, bathed as they are in characteristic 80s’ flood lighting; and, quite ironically, creatures like the ‘Pipe People’ and Helen A’s pet dog, Fifi, somehow manage to look even more synthetic than the Happiness Patrol’s grins. However, whereas it’s difficult to look past such flaws with a lot of the cut-price studio-bound bumph churned out during the 80s, they’re barely perceptible here because the script is so sharp and the performances are so very good. Like many, though, I do lament the decision to abandon the initial plans to shoot The Happiness Patrol as a monochrome, film noir homage. Whilst it might seem irrational to suppress all the colour in such an ostensibly gaudy tale, this DVD’s ‘making of’ documentary, Happiness Will Prevail, presents the opening moments of Part 1 as they would have looked as film noir, and the result is jaw-droppingly exquisite.
Above: The Happiness Patrol as a monochrome, film noir homage
For me, The Happiness Patrol marks Sylvester McCoy’s finest performance as the Doctor on television. Of his twelve broadcast stories, this is the one that walks the tightrope between his Doctor’s eccentricity and brooding inner-self with the most finesse, showcasing not only his newfound proactive approach to righting wrongs, but also his inimitable knack for winning with words. The notorious scene in which he talks a sniper out of shooting him by highlighting his paymaster’s immoral instructions is one of the seventh Doctor’s most memorable moments, and possibly the most effective rebuttal of the Nuremburg defence in televised drama.
“I want to make them very, very unhappy!”
Sophie Aldred also acquits herself admirably. Although The Happiness Patrol is still early days for Ace, we continue to see that there’s far more to her character than just a penchant for explosives and insurgence. She shares some terribly poignant dialogue with dejected Happiness Patrol member Susan Q that encapsulates both characters’ ubiquitous disenchantment, and she seems to understand better than anyone else in the story that sadness is something to be experienced, not obliterated – without it, there can’t be any true happiness. I was pleased to hear in the DVD’s enthusiastic commentary track (which also features writer Graeme Curry, script editor Andrew Cartmel, composer Dominic Glynn, director Chris Clough and Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf / Running through Corridors’ Toby Hadoke) that Aldred holds this serial in such high regard, though as she now spends her days practising Tree-Fu, that’s probably to be expected.
Above: The Happiness Will Prevail documentary
Together with the Happiness Will Prevail documentary and commentary referred to above, this release also boasts an extensive collection of edifying deleted and extended scenes and an aptly-placed forty-five minute feature written by Nicholas Pegg that looks at Doctor Who’s contentious political undercurrents (or debatable lack thereof) entitled When Worlds Collide. It’s a captivating programme, produced with the range’s usual panache, and boasting contributions from the likes of erstwhile script editor Terrance Dicks and new series writer Gareth Roberts. The latter makes a number of intriguing points, noting that despite Andrew Cartmel’s polarised left-wing views, which during his term as script editor were barely camouflaged, his trigger-happy Doctor acted like George W Bush, wilfully blowing up entire worlds if he felt that it served the greater good - but not killing any being whose eyes he had to look into. Indeed, this programme makes no bones about criticising the series’ eponymous idol, who is far from being a “slow, careful policymaker” and, in fact, can be viewed as something of a socio-political menace. When Worlds Collide doesn’t limit itself to just the classic series, either – Harriet Jones in particular is singled out for close scrutiny, as the programme charts her journey from an idealistic back-bencher to world leader corrupted by harsh reality.
Above: Doctor Who “can’t help but be political”
The Happiness Patrol itself features a magnificent cast of supporting characters. Harold Innocent’s weary Gilbert M, for example, is so cynical and blasé a baddie that one can’t help but root for him – especially when he’s showing the terrifying Kandy Man no fear. By the same token, Trevor Sigma (played by John Normington, better known to Doctor Who fans as the cold-hearted Morgus in The Caves of Androzani) is a wonderfully-crafted bit of satirical whimsy that, unless I knew better, I would swear came from the mind of Douglas Adams. Rachel Bell’s Daisy K is far less quirky, embodying all the loathsome qualities that make a person abhor the establishment. As she tears into Priscilla P, another reprehensible member of the Happiness Patrol, berating her for never having “joined in”; been “part of the team”; or having possessed the “right attitude”, it becomes painfully clear that the Happiness Patrol wouldn’t be all that out of place in the world that we live in. They are inane platitudes and buzzwords gone mad.
Most memorable of all though are the story’s principal villains. The Kandy Man is, in my firm view, the most chilling monster ever to appear in the classic series, particularly to a candy-guzzling and chubby-cheeked child. I nearly shat myself every time that he appeared on screen back in ’88, 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 blood-curdlingly fearsome because he’s a deranged sadist. Earl Sigma labels him a “schizophrenic obsessive”, but that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the Kandy Man’s psychoses. Interestingly though, Curry’s original script didn’t give Bassett’s any cause for complaint. As he would later appear in Curry’s novelisation, the Kandy Man was conceived as a humanoid scientist with powdery skin and candy-cane glasses – a far cry from the close to copyright-infringing cartoon villain that would subdue a generation’s craving for sweets.
One of the things that I love most about The Happiness Patrol is its rewarding resolution – Helen A’s low key comeuppance is a joy to watch. Most people would argue that her actions warranted imprisonment or worse, but instead she’s made to weep over her dearly departed dog, the Doctor’s point that happiness is nothing “unless it stands side by side with sadness” more than proven.
Possessing all of the pace and political passion of Russell T Davies’ tenure, the fairy tale and fancy of Moffat’s and the cartoon camp of Nathan-Turner’s, The Happiness Patrol is one of the cleverest, and I dare say one of the finest, Doctor Who stories of all time. This DVD does a first-rate job of highlighting not only these three episodes’ brilliance, but their significance too. Almost fifteen years on, The Happiness Petrol still prevails – and if you don’t believe me, just ask the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2008, 2012
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design
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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