Doctor Who: The Happiness Patrol (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Bros take on The Kandyman with this much-maligned McCoy story...
Doctor Who was in one of the darkest periods of the history of the show; it had unwisely been put up against that televisual morphine for the easily-amused (otherwise known as Coronation Street) and had predictably came off the worse out of the two. For many, the writing on the wall had been visible quite a way back and fans will have differing accounts of exactly when they perceived the rot to have set into Doctor Who. The adventures of the time-travelling exile from the planet Gallifrey had survived Michael Grade's initial attempt to kill the show, but the shadow of the axe was still hanging over it and the last thing that they needed was a story, a premise and an adversary that could be easily misinterpreted and taken out of context, leaving Doctor Who open to ridicule by all and sundry...
After the destruction of Daleks' home planet of Skaro, the TARDIS materialises on the planet Terra Alpha, where The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and Ace (Sophie Aldred) quickly discover that the sadness has been outlawed and that happiness is enforced by the appropriately monikered Happiness Patrol. This band of fascist, overzealous, jollity-enforcers hunt down and kill anyone who is seen to be anything less than jovial; The tyrannical ruler of this society is Helen A (Sheila Hancock), along with her companion Joseph C (Ronald Fraser) and The Doctor and Ace decide to help sow the seeds of rebellion in the oppressed populace, but they have to encounter the dreaded Kandyman along the way...
The premise of the story is most interesting as it's fairly obviously a satire of Thatcher's Tory government; the mid-to-late seventies saw a recession, crippling inflation and general discontent within Britain and Thatcher's election seemed to provide a boom for the UK (unless you were a miner or in some sort of union), not to mention that the eighties brought about garish, brightly-coloured clothing that seemed to reflect the perceived general well-being of Britain at the time. The luminous colours of the members of the fascist Happiness Patrol seem to reflect (or should that be 'radiate'?) and enforce superficial geniality in such a way that you could easily have envisaged Timmy Mallett has their chief henchman. Helen A is clearly modelled upon the Iron Lady herself, with Hancock bringing a certain evil charm to her role, issuing hollow, non-heartfelt dictates to the unfortunate denizens of planet Terra Alpha; the fact that Helen A does not personally practice what she preaches doesn't bother her in the slightest - she just wants to have total control of her subjects. There is a scene during episode three that sees Helen A effectively spelling out her political agenda and it eerily mirrors - almost certainly intentionally - Thatcher's "where there is discord..." speech that she made when she was she won the 1979 election.
It's always good to see dependable character actor Ronald Fraser, and his turn as Joseph C acts as an amusing contrast to Helen A, essentially playing Denis to her Maggie; Fraser plays Joseph C as a vaguely likeable buffoon who is perfectly happy to profit from her partner's unjust rule and watches footage of people being killed to amused himself, much to the displeasure to Helen A, who reacts in a disapproving manner that is usually reserved for someone being seen stamping out a cigarette on a white fur rug. It is established in the second episode that there are bigger problems with their relationship than just the standard marital indifference that sets in around 20 years into a relationship - as The Doctor covertly flicks through Helen A's photo album, there are no pictures of her husband, but plenty of images of Helen A and her beloved pet Stigorax, Fifi.
To say that The Happiness Patrol only targets Thatcher in it's satirical script is not entirely fair - other more brutal regimes are in the sights, such General Pinochet's dictatorship that saw large numbers of people disappear, and the reference to the destruction of an entire township can be applied to numerous oppressive governments over the years. The "population control programme" that Helen A has been operating brings to mind any number of attempts at ethnic cleansing, from the Holocaust during Nazi Germany to the actions of the Khamer Rouge and Slobodan Milosevic.
In an environment where sadness is outlawed and happiness is mandatorially enforced, the nice little touch of having occasionally having a harmonica playing in a melancholic manner over the soundtrack is a lovely little touch; the harmonica is something of a staple of blues music and not only adds atmosphere to the story, but also acts as a subversive "fuck you" to Helen A's oppressive government.
Then there's The Kandyman - what might have seemed like a good idea in the mind of writer Graeme Curry (despite his original Kandyman being very different) and even looked like a good idea on the page didn't translate amazingly well to the screen. Clearly modelled upon a certain Liquorice Allsorts front-man, the Kandyman is has the appearance of Bertie Bassett after he has been bitten by a zombie, with oversized Liquorice Allsorts making up his body and liquefied parts of these confectionaries dripping down the torso. It's no surprise that the CEO of Bassett foods was none-too-happy when he saw the more than passing resemblance between the evil, psychotic Kandyman and their product's jovial mascot. Though it was eventually decided that the Beeb hadn't infringed upon copyright, it is easy to empathise with the confectionary company as to why they were more than a little miffed at seeing something that could potentially turn consumers off their product. David John Pope manages to instil a sense of cartoonish menace into such a ridiculously wacky character, but a character that can be rendered immobile by squirting lemonade at his feat doesn't really allow for THAT many possibilities in terms of being seen as an implacable or invincible enemy. It might just be us, but there is something fundamentally amusing when you hear an immobilised Kandyman frantically calling for help from his assistance "Gilbert! GILBERT!". The Kandyman's ultimate fate is handled fairly poorly, but there are still a few great lines at his expense when confronted by The Doctor on a couple of occasions, especially the last thing that is said when they part company for the final time - we defy you not to laugh.
What's interesting in this story is the decision to have the TARDIS painted pink; when Sylvester McCoy was announced as The Doctor, many newspaper hacks were immediately critical of him - we remember an article in the Daily Mirror, which head the headline "Doc's Too Diddy To Duff-Up Daleks", which went on to unsportingly describe Sylv as a "pint-sized pratt" and said he would be too busy "munching on muesli and wondering what colour of pink to paint the TARDIS" - perhaps doing just that was a way of the production sticking two fingers up at the Mirror.
Speaking of pink, there is a surprising gay subtext in The Happiness Patrol; Silas P (Jonathan Burn) is an undercover agent who targets possible glum subversives and tells them that there is somewhere they could go to be miserable - when they accept, he reveals his true identity and kills them. This form of entrapment was fairly common in the dark days before homosexuality was legalised in Britain and whilst including such a thing here was a couple of decades too late as far as striking a blow for homosexuality was concerned, it still makes for a fairly chilling method of a police force weeding out those considered undesirable. Adding to this, pink triangles are on display, not to mention Joseph C ultimately deciding that he's had enough of his wife, dumping Helen A to go off with another guy.
Sylvester McCoy was, by this point, in full swing as far as being able to portray his Doctor how he originally envisioned; the Seventh Doctor was cunning, occasionally brooding and always thinking several moves ahead in the galactic game of chess that was playing out in his head. One of the best and most dramatically intense scenes in Sylv's Doctor Who career occurs in The Happiness Patrol - The Doctor has escaped the clutches of Helen A and sneaks up on a couple of snipers and even though one of them has a rifle pointed at him at point blank range, The Doctor manages to coldly talk him out of firing. It's a wonderful scene and is brilliantly scripted, shot and acted, especially by McCoy - it should have been played to anyone who has ever accused Slyv of being too lightweight to play The Doctor. At one point, McCoy find himself in front of a microphone singing As Time Goes By, which is one of the quintessential depressive songs in cinema history and musical accompaniment is provided by wandering harmonica player Earl Sigma (the appropriately-named Richard D Sharp) and makes for an amusing and vaguely poignant scene.
Sophie Aldred's Ace appears to be more militant here than in any other story, hating the oppressive atmosphere of the environment that she has found herself in; being a streetwise "yoof", Ace is more tuned-in to the more ugly aspects of social exclusion and she almost immediately allies herself with the native inhabitants of the Terra Alpha, known as the Pipe People (subterranean workers who are oppressed by a ruthless female dictator - sound like the miners to us) and sets about helping them. In many ways, Ace was a blueprint for New-Who's Rose Tyler, but Ace was always more gung-ho and prepared to beat or blow things up in order to help the forces of good prevail.
Sheila Hancock is particularly good as Helen A, bringing a degree of gravitas to the role, but also bringing a not inconsiderable amount of humour to the part of a power-crazed dictator who seems sure that the genocidal policies she has implemented are for the greater good. Hancock also augments the duplicitous nature of those in power that was present in Graeme Curry's script, reminiscent of Hitler's drive for having a Master Race comprising of blond-haired, tall Aryan physical perfection when he was essentially a dark-haired short-arse. Hancock's final scene is unexpectedly touching and the actress appears to grab hold of the chance to do something poignantly dramatic which shows that Helen A - unlike Hitler - couldn't bear to lose her beloved pet as her empire crumbled around her.
There are a couple of faces from the Peter Davison era who pop up in The Happiness Patrol; the gorgeous Leslie Dunlop, who appeared in Frontios here plays Susan Q to great effect and John Normington (the voice that launched a thousand vending machine adverts), who so memorably played evil corporate bastard Morgus in The Caves of Androzani is Trevor Sigma in this story, managing to be completely different form of system-enforcer, in the shape of a pen-pushing box-ticking official. Though Normington's role in this story is relatively (Androzani) minor, the sheer class that he brings to things adds a great deal of gravitas to what could have been a fairly bland part.
During episode two, the story begins to switch into another one of those Doctor Who tales that sees The Doctor rally the lower order in a society to rise up and overthrown the oppressive ruling minority. As mentioned earlier, the Pipe People are a clever play on the miners who were subject of Thatcher's ire during the eighties and The Doctor seems to being doing his Arthur Scargill and getting them to rebel. If this was the case, Graeme Curry's decision to depict the Pipe People as not particularly intelligent subspecies might indicate that he was a member of the general public who was caught in the crossfire during the Miner's Strike.
Director Chris Clough brings some impressive moodiness to The Happiness Patrol, with plenty of shadows that conceal what lurks in the darkened corners and the underground netherworld of Terra Alpha, contrasting with the brightly-coloured areas controlled by Helen A and her Happiness Patrol. Helen A's offices are you standard eighties Doctor Who gleaming white, but in this case it seems to work in context of the story. Clough also manages some interesting high angles and some occasional use of hand-held cameras.
Opinion has always been divided on the subject of Helen A's pet, Fifi; there are those who look upon it as an annoying animatronic addition that seems to take the story even further into the realms of the ridiculous, but we see it as an interesting plot device showing Helen A to have more love for her pet that most (if not all) of the population of Terra Alpha. Helen A allows Fifi to hunt the subterranean Pipe People and the photo album full of pictures of her and Fifi just show how little genuine affection she has for her husband; the departure of her hubbie in a geographical and nuptial sense, along with Fifi's departure in a mortal sense leave Helen A a broken woman and finally able to feel the negative emotions that she had so ruthlessly rallied against during her time as ruler.
The switchover to inferior videotape that occurred toward the end of the Davison era meant that the resulting image was softer and less detailed. As with all of the Sylvester McCoy era, the original one-inch masters were all archived properly and, as such, means that you are getting the best possible image that the format allows.
The Happiness Patrol looks fine, with a level of detail not seen since the original broadcast back in 1988. The colours are as fine as the videotape will allow - whilst not being as vivid and well-defined as anything recorded on the old Quad tapes, it still doesn't look bad on DVD.
No problems here - the Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack serves Dominic Glynn's score very well and there are no issues with the dialogue or sound effects.
Audio Commentary: Once again, Toby Hadoke is your genial moderator for this commentary track, which features actor Sophie Aldred, writer Graeme Curry, script editor Andrew Cartmel, composer Dominic Glynn and director Chris Clough all giving their thoughts on this most controversial of stories. With so many distinguished actors in this story, it's a pity that one person who appeared in front of the lens has participated in this commentary, but Sylvester McCoy is a busy man and has recently made a Hobbit of not being available for DVD-related extras due to work commitments.
Anyway, this is a fairly lively track with Mr Hadoke always more than happy (appropriately enough) to step in an pep things up when the pace shows signs of flagging; Cartmel is on good form here, making some interesting points about his infamous appearance on Newsnight a while back, stating that at the time of the production of The Happiness Patrol, Doctor Who had no real influence within the BBC because the show was regarded by the BBC as "a pariah" and "the lowest of the low", so it was not seen as trying to covertly push a socialist agenda, but Cartmel admits that he egged on writer Graeme Curry to rip the piss out of Thatcher.
Director Chris Clough addresses some of the issues that he had with the shoot, but these were mainly budgetary, rather than anything to do with the story, including the usual suspects of not having enough time, not having big enough sets and also - not a usual occurrence in Doctor Who - having motorised vehicles that were so underpowered that they could only allow The Doctor and Ace to have a slow getaway.
Contributors come and go between episodes and although Dominic Glynn only sticks around for the first episode, he speaks warmly of his own contribution to this story and how the music added an atmosphere to the thing. There is much love for the design of The Kandyman, with writer Graeme Curry admitting that he has grown to love the design, which was a complete departure from what he originally envisioned; Sophie Aldred reveals that her son also loves The Kandyman.
Happiness Will Prevail: This is a 23 minute look at the making of this much-maligned Doctor Who story and features several members of the cast and crew, who all reflect upon what was - at the time - considered one of the worst stories of the McCoy era. Andrew Cartmel comes across as genial and tells how writer Graeme Curry fired off numerous pitches for story ideas until in desperation, he hit upon the concept of a planet where it is illegal to be unhappy. Cartmel also spins and amusing tale of his reaction to seeing The Kandyman for the first time ( "we are so gonna get sued!"). It's great to see The Kandyman unmasked as we are treated to an interview with actor David John Pope, who recalls how he got the gig and also goes into detail about how painful his elaborate costume was.
Though there are depressingly few members of the cast interviewed (we know that it's standard policy for every living participant to be chased-up, and it would seem that those who don't appear either declined because they didn't want to talk about it, or because they had work commitments or quite possibly they were asking for too much money) and it's a pity not have see Sylv, Leslie Dunlop or Sheila Hancock, but those who are interviewed, along with the members of the crew, make up for those who don't appear. This documentary finishes with some cute moments with the cast all messing around on-camera and there are some very sweet pieces with Sophie Aldred and Sylvester McCoy.
When Worlds Collide: This is a pretty hefty 45 minutes documentary that looks at the numerous times when the fictitious world of Doctor Who intertwined with the very real world of politics. Presented by broadcaster Shaun Ley, things get off to an amusing start when the chimes of Big Ben are used to punctuate some of the subjects in a manner awfully similar to News at Ten and cutting to the famous (reversed) shot of the wing of an alien ship obliterating it from Aliens of London.
Politics quite frequently found it's way into Britain's longest-running sci-fi show - from the tried-and-trusted "actors-dressed-in-garish-alien-outfits-and-make-up-passionately-shouting-bollocks-at-each-other-across-tables" as seen in stories such as Revenge of the Cybermen, to the endless fountain of sly wit that is The Sun Makers, Doctor Who has not shied away from dipping it's toes into the polluted waters of politics.
There are interviews a-plenty and a plethora of clips to illustrate and underline the various times when Doctor Who took jabs at governments both at home and abroad. From the dangerous advice given by William Hartnell's Doctor about overthrowing the establishment when it doesn't suit the populace in An Unearthly Child, to the increasingly fascist actions of Harriet Jones in New-Who, few - if any - of the satirical swipes are passed over.
Contributions come from Doctor Who luminaries like Andrew Cartmel, Terence Dicks, the late Barry Letts and New-Who writer Gareth Roberts, amongst others. Whilst watching the various clips of Doctor Who continually regenerating into various forms of political animal over the years, you get the impression that the Pertwee era saw The Doctor (and the production team) at his most politically subversive; whether it was showing the ghastliness of colonialism, tackling the evils of corporate greed and pollution or just belittling bureaucratic pen-pushers the socio-political climate of Third Doctor's era really gave the writers plenty of material to sink their teeth into.
If the Letts and Dicks tenure of the seventies allowed Doctor Who to display subtle political commentary, the Andrew Cartmel period in the eighties was anything but, having all the subtlety of the sharp end of a claw-hammer to the temple; representing the overt shift in sensibilities as far as thumbing one's nose (or even flipping the bird) at the establishment, the political and social references toward the end of Thatcher's 'reign of terror' (ahem) were far more "in your face" than had previously been seen, but were still effective in their own way (apart from the confrontation with the yobbos in Silver Nemesis, which is rightly skewered in this documentary) - the moments when Ace encounters racism and prejudice were particularly affecting, and rightfully so for the time.
This documentary is a joy, being both entertaining and informative, with the 45 minute running time just flying by, so much so that you really wish that more time could have been spent on such a fascinating area of Doctor Who.
Isolated score: Dominic Glynn's eclectic music score for The Happiness Patrol is presented without dialogue or sound effects for your aural indulgence. Glynn's mixture of grand "space-opera" themes and melancholic bluesy tunes make for an entertaining experience and it's great that fans have the chance to watch the story and appreciate Mr Glynn's sterling efforts.
Deleted/extended scenes: For your viewing pleasure, a remarkable 23 minutes of additional footage has been included, which is almost the length of an episode of Doctor Who. Some of the running time is taken up by including pieces that were broadcast (shown here in black and white) to help put the additional material into context, but there is still a hefty amount of stuff here, including some great material from episode one that helps to flesh out John Normington's role of Trevor Sigma and clarifies who is he is and what he is doing on Terra Alpha. As well as helping to boost the significance of John Normington, the additional scenes also help expand the character of Leslie Dunlop's Susan Q and helps to make her a wee bit more sympathetic than in the broadcast version - we have long had a liking for Ms Dunlop (we have a soft spot for The Monster Club), so any extra material with her is fine by us.
There are also additional entrances and exits that were trimmed to make the story pacier, along with some wise deletions, such as the stupification of Earl Sigma at the hands of the Kandyman that seems to conform to Terence Dicks' "up hills and down dales" theory of unnecessary story padding.
There are some interesting behind-the-scenes glimpses here, including a blatant look at the operators of the Fifi puppet, shots of the fruit-machine without the opticals overlaid upon it and a look at the Kandyman's lair without the digital ceiling extensions. You also hear brief snatches of the Kandyman minus the digital manipulation, which all adds to the fun.
It's a pity that some good material with Sheila Hancock also didn't make it into the finished story, as there is a great scene where Helen A and Daisy K about the specifics of the term "disappeared", which, apart from being well-acted, also seems to explicitly reference the lethal aspect in which the term can be applied.
What is interesting is that the original cliffhanger of episode two is included that actually seems to play better than the one they went with; all it really consists of is an additional shot of Sophie Aldred that clearly shows Ace as she is being marched off to almost certain death - this works better than merely ending the episode on a poster with her face upon it.
The quality of the deleted material is great (we can't be sure if it's from the original tapes or a dub from them) and an extended version of The Happiness Patrol could have been possible, but as with many deleted scenes from film and television, just because the material is available to make an extended version doesn't necessarily mean that you should - a couple of scenes aside, they pretty much got it right in the final edit.
Information Subtitles: Once again, Doctor Who fans are presented with an exhaustive barrage of facts, figures and statistics relating to this particular story. The Info-Text for The Happiness Patrol is most handy when it explains about deleted and extended scenes, explaining where they were supposed to be, why they were deleted or truncated and what methods they used to cover potential continuity problems and/or plot-holes.
The Info-Text also helps to flesh out the influences on the story, including presenting some of the Thatcher-related moments and puts them in context, explaining to younger fans who either weren't old enough to remember or simply weren't born during those dark days of selfishness and hedonistic greed.
Photo Gallery: This five minute run through the still images that were taken for The Happiness Patrol. Whilst watching the story, we secretly hoped that some of the images seen of Helen A and Fifi briefly glimpsed in the scrapbook would be included in the photo gallery, and we are pleased to report that they are the first things that feature, and very amusing they are too. The clarity of the images allows the viewer to experience the original intention of the production design in that everything on Terra Alpha was formerly grand, but is now crumbling and that includes the make-up of the Happiness Patrol and Helen A; Sheila Hancock's pancake slap is most certainly cracked and worn, which doesn't come across too strongly in the show due to the medium upon which it was captured. There are also other nice shots of the sets, of The Kandyman and the Pipe People, amongst many others, all set to appropriate sound effects and Dominic Glynn's music.
Coming Soon Trailer: The final Dalek story to be released on DVD is almost here! Jon Pertwee's Death to the Daleks is coming and this cool trailer is the perfect way to announce its imminent arrival.
PDF Material: The individual listings for episodes of The Happiness Patrol are presented here, as per usual and they're always a welcome addition to any DVD release. For episode three, the somewhat bizarre confrontational come-on reads "the blues versus muzak" - who could fail to have their curiosity peaked over that one?
Though intended as a satire, The Happiness Patrol came at a time in Doctor Who's life when it didn't need something that could be easily seen as silly and frivolous; the show was fighting for it's life and many mistook the clever social commentary as silliness and just saw it as further evidence that Doctor Who was going even further down the toilet.
When viewed from a more mature perspective, The Happiness Patrol speaks to an adult audience about the horrors of oppressive regimes and the duplicitous nature of corrupt governments. It was a story that we hated when it was originally broadcast - the show seemed to be getting a kick-in from all and sundry so we were desperate for Doctor Who to do something serious that could restore public faith - but watching it now, we can see just how clever The Happiness Patrol is, being not only a biting satire of dictatorships but also of Margaret Thatcher's tenure as Britain's Prime Minister (same thing, some might say) and the casting of Sheila Hancock is quite possibly the rare examples of producer John Nathan-Turner's stunt-casting working wonderfully well.
Be sure to give The Happiness Patrol another go - we think you will be pleasantly surprised...
Review by Wilson Bros
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 7th May 2012
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: Audio Commentary, Happiness Will Prevail, When Worlds Collide, "Ace" wishes Blue Peter Happy Birthday, Deleted/Extended Scenes, Isolated Score, Information Subtitles, Photo Gallery, Coming Soon Trailer, PDF Material
Easter Egg: No
Director: Chris Clough
Cast: Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, Sheila Hancock
Length: 74 minutes
Follow our updates
OTHER INTERESTING STUFF
Rick Dean DVD Sheldon Hall DVD Simon Heller DVD Bruce Boxleitner Interview: Area 51 DVD | BD Andrew Ellard DVD
Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day UK - DVD R2 Anaconda UK - BD Universal Comedy UK - DVD R2 Horrorfest '07: Nightmare Man US - DVD R1 Norliss Tapes, The US - DVD R1
Stuff, The UK - BD RB Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The US - BD RA Grandmaster, The US - BD RA Adventure Time: Season 3 US - BD RA Gravity UK - BD