BBC Video // 1988 // 74 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // June 3rd, 2012
"Did you hear about the killjoy who won an outing with the Happiness Patrol? He was tickled to death."
Doctor Who: The Happiness Patrol may have come at the tail end of the Doctor's original run, but it's not exactly a forgotten storyline. It's been in the news in this century as a sign of the Doctor's alleged leftist tendencies after story editor Andrew Cartmel's book came out. It's also been a pop culture reference from the Archbishop of Canterbury when he was talking about government examination of happiness.
Sylvester McCoy hasn't exactly been forgotten, either. As I write, the Seventh Doctor is stranded in space, his TARDIS stolen, in a BBC radio serial.
Somewhere in the commentary, the proud crew members lament that The Happiness Patrol looks especially nonsensical in clip shows and assure you that it looks a lot better if you actually sit down and watch it. That's true. It's got a wide range of influences -- Margaret Thatcher, the blues, Franz Kafka, and The Third Man -- but they all gel.
The Doctor and Ace (Sophie Aldred, Noddy in Toyland) land on Terra Alpha, where leader Helen A. (Sheila Hancock, Carry on Cleo) is doing something about people being depressed. She has the "killjoys" bumped off. Of course, doing stuff like that to depressed people would only make them more depressed, but I digress. Anyway, as the Doctor does something about Helen A, he gets help from a blues harmonica player and hindrance from the deadly Kandy Man and the dreaded Happiness Patrol -- short-skirted women who paint the TARDIS pink during a break from their cheerful spree of murder and terror. Will he avoid death by strawberry fondant and prevent Ace from dying on stage?
Yeah, there are Thatcher jokes in The Happiness Patrol, but writer Graeme Curry and his mates on the production swear it all started with the basic idea of having unhappiness be the happy ending. While Curry might sound like a sourpuss, his story is actually quite funny. Aside from obvious gags like painting the TARDIS pink, there's the inevitable scene where the Doctor must be cheerful like his life depended on it, a gag writer's reaction to his own gag (the one at top) when it's voiced by Helen A., and some fun outwitting of a slow robot, Kandy Man.
It's also a concept that'll haunt viewers for a while. The idea of an undercover informant befriending depressed people to turn them over to the Happiness Patrol is most chilling, but even those gags -- when taken against an undercurrent of...well, death -- could make you a little nervous.
Getting back to those political angles, there's a piece on the political aspects of Doctor Who, "When Worlds Collide." Some of it's interesting. For example, the Brigadier reported to a near-future female PM, and Margaret Thatcher actually turned up in the then-near future. The politics varied: "The Dominators," in the Patrick Troughton era, poked fun at pacifists, and "The Monster of Peladon," under Jon Pertwee, took on a miners' strike. At one point, the Doctor is described as a libertarian. There was one thing I wasn't too sure of, though. When they mentioned the evil corporations turning up in '80s Doctor Who, might they just have been poking fun at Dallas, which was a little popular somewhere in the world back then? Not everything that looks like a political reference must be. On the off chance you don't know who Margaret Thatcher is, there is some mention of her in the info text.
The commentary mentions the recent interest in The Happiness Patrol. It also gives Sophie Aldred a chance to talk about the friendships she made while working on Doctor Who and to note one of Sylvester McCoy's more emotional scenes as a foreshadowing of "the new Doctor." It's a thought that could get you taking McCoy a little more seriously, although I was thinking of David Tennant's Doctor more during McCoy's landing scene in the TARDIS.
The actual production (a fairly elaborate one on the original show's shoestring budget) is discussed in detail in the making-of segment, "Happiness Will Prevail." The standard definition 1.33:1 full frame transfer looks sharp and clear, even with many night scenes. Music has a big role in the episode and the Dolby 2.0 Mono mix plays equally well.
There's some good stuff buried in the deleted and extended scenes: the Doctor plays spoons, accompanied by blues harmonica; puppeteers maneuver a doglike creature; and the Kandy Man lops off a candy finger (maybe not such a good scene for a family show). The doglike Fifi gets screen time in the photo gallery, too. To top off the extras, the Radio Times listings, seen in the info text, are also found on PDF, and there's an isolated score.
In one deleted scene, Ace discusses blues 78s with an unhappy member of the Happiness Patrol in Earth's far-flung future. They're talking about vinyl records, and as I write, people talk about "the cloud." Maybe the cloud won't be able to reach space colonies, and those blues 78s will make a comeback. I do hope those blues 78s will remain a relevant reference, even though I usually listen to the blues on Internet radio myself.
The show ends with Ace painting the TARDIS blue again. Hmmm. Since the shade of the TARDIS was decided by its chameleon circuit and wasn't actual paint (at least in the series' mythology), wouldn't it just go blue again during the next time-and-space trip?
Well, Doctor Who: The Happiness Patrol made me happy for a few hours (including commentary and extras; the actual episode is only 74 minutes). Even if I'm not depressed immediately, I still appreciate the Doctor speaking out for emotional freedom -- which could be more the point than any jabs at the Margaret Thatcher.
Not guilty. Amusement will prevail.
Review content copyright © 2012 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 74 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Photo Gallery
* Text Features