This story in a nutshell: ‘Tonight’s the night…’
‘Look me in the eye. Pull the trigger. End my life.’
Dreadful Dialogue: ‘I think he got a buzz out of that’ – and people say the gags during the Williams era are juvenile.
‘I want to nail those scumbags. I want to make them very, very unhappy.’
‘How would you describe the Kandy Man’s confection?’
‘Earl give me an A-flat’ ‘Ay?’ ‘No, A-flat!’
‘Impolite guests get to feel the back of my Kandy Hand!’ is a pantomime line if ever I heard one.
- All of Dominic Glynn’s soundtracks are accomplished in one way or another (even his cod-electronic excitement in The Mysterious Planet) but his melancholic score for The Happiness Patrol is in a league of its own. The harmonica is such an emotive instrument and when it is allowed to soulfully drawl in this fashion it speaks of something lost that feels as though it can never be recaptured.
- One of the major strengths of this story is the assembled cast, most of whom are struggling to bring life to some pretty awkwardly written characters (even on the stage characters rarely try and sum up their entire personality in concisely written speeches as they do here). Most of the actors might be pretending as though they are on stage and giving the performance of their life but that is a necessity to inject some realism into a story that is reaching for the stratosphere for inspiration. Georgina Hale and Rachel Bell make a memorable pair of Happiness Patrol nasties, the former speaking every line with a drunken drawl that suggests she was slightly tipsy whilst recording and he latter camping it up to the nines, especially when she is attempting to be nasty. Lesley Dunlop is the only actress that escapes this story with her dignity completely intact and instantly convinces in her role. She has a naturalism about her performance that everybody else lacks.
- When actors state that they are sick of being reminded of a single part they have played in a show like Doctor Who at every stage door they ever walk out of I don’t necessarily think they are being ungrateful. For an actress with a distinguished career like Sheila Hancock it must be galling to be constantly prompted that she was once dolled up like a drag queen and hammed her way through three dodgy episodes of a television show that was succumbing to illness and about to drop dead. I don’t hold it against her at all. Her turn as Helen A is memorable but not memorable enough to get the attention it receives. She’s a purely pantomime character but Hancock brings a great deal of gravity and sensitivity to the part as you would imagine any great actress would. As written she’s nothing special, as performed she just about breaks out of the mould of the standard dictator in fiction and becomes somebody you can believe in. She’s so convincing at the climax that she (almost) manages to make Fifi a persuasive puppet.
- I don’t pretend to have been old enough during the eighties to remember Thatcher’s persecution of gay rights but I have done a spot of reading and there are enough nods to her wrongdoing in this story to suggest a thickly veiled message. A pink triangle is one, men heading out to entrap members of the population who are indulging is another. Of course if you find such political communiqués distasteful then you can filter out the general campness of the production (enjoy trying that) and expose a general message of oppression crushing free will, which is a far more generalised, less personal and recognisable menace.
- Death by Fondant Surprise. A thick sticky red goo that slurps dramatically down a pipe and smothers you with sugary goodness until you can’t take anymore. It’s a blackly comic murder for a blackly comic tale but perfectly fits in with the theme of smothering somebody in sugar until they relent (or die).
- Astonishing moments amongst the dreck: Susan Q’s admission that she isn’t happy, the Doctor confronting the snipers and the Doctor’s final confrontation with Helen A (which is blissfully performed by both actors).
- I once went to a fantastic restaurant in Scotland where the entire theme of the eatery was that the inside of the pub resembled the outside world. Waterfalls, forestry, Georgian houses, teepees, a castle…it was an incredible piece of design and an unforgettable evening. My point is that this pub managed to pull off with far more conviction what the designers at the BBC completely failed achieve in The Happiness Patrol, a convincing exterior location built inside. Immediately we are confronted with polished studio floors, unconvincing lighting and buildings and props that are clearly made out of cardboard. To plunge from the expensive looking Remembrance of the Daleks to this is quite a come down. I’ve heard that it was a deliberate aesthetic, with influences of German expressionism, which all sounds very convincing…but doesn’t change the fact that this world looks and feels fake from the off. The premise of the Doctor trying to bring down the government of a world that is clearly manufactured in a BBC studio gets things off on the wrong foot. At least Ace gets to comment that Terra Alpha is ‘too phoney’ although she seems to be basing that judgement entirely on the musical wallpaper. And whilst the Kandy Kitchen is supposed to by a meretricious set, it confirms your worst suspicions that the show might actually be being filmed in the studio of a Saturday morning kids magazine show ala Number 73 & Wacaday. When they clearly know the value of atmosphere through under lighting (the pipes), why are the sets above ground (specifically the Kandy Kitchen and Helen A’s palace) so floodlit? They make everything look that bit more cheap and tawdry. That might be the idea within the story but (I know I keep saying this) given the show is in over its head at this stage it perhaps wasn’t the wisest approach to produce a story as artificial as this. It all looks so bargain basement.
- The Happiness Patrol are a quirky idea in theory and one which might have been made to work had the designers calmed down a little instead of making a bunch of very attractive women look like a cross between dodgy drag artists and painted clowns. I cannot fathom why they went for such a look but I do know one thing, when they turn up with their oversized guns designed in childish primary colours I wouldn’t be at all surprised if channel surfers turned straight over to Coronation Street thinking that the rumours were right and Doctor Who had gone to the dogs.
- John Normington is a fine character actor and it breaks my heart to see him wasted on a periphery role such as Trevor Sigma. You never get the sense that this character exists outside of the confines of this particular story because we learn so little about him except that he carries out census’ on various worlds. He’s a blank slate throughout, the dialogue deliberately pumping for ambiguity and obscuring any personality that might shine through. It is a most perplexing approach to writing characters. Harold V is another bizarre character, this time one that has to introduce his entire backstory in one great gulp of exposition because he doesn’t last beyond the end of his single scene. Try hard as I might but I have never met anybody who has drivelled on quite this much about their circumstances and previous history in such a concise and plot friendly manner before, informing the Doctor and Ace of everything they need to know about Helen A’s regime. It smacks of fabrication. This isn’t a character, he is merely a plot device and not a very convincing one at that. Early Sigma exists simply to…actually I don’t have a clue why Earl Sigma exists. He’s just wandering about, nonplussed by everything and playing his harmonica. In a story overpopulated by vacuous characters, he claims the top spot.
- I’m not sure what is more humiliating so perhaps you can help me to decide. Fifi the glove puppet with retractable spines in his head (did they learn nothing from the Bandril Ambassador?). The Doctor and Ace’s furious getaway in a go kart chugging along at 5mph. The Doctor’s pantomime conceit that the oven is open behind the Kandy Man and it is going to melt his sugary behind. The Kandy Man being so useless that he is glued to the floor by lemonade twice. The Pipe People who lack even basic conviction from their design to their backstory and habitat. Fifi’s death at the hands of polystyrene boulders and dust that barely touch him. The red hot poker that is just a cardboard tube with the end painted pink. The late night party at the Forum.
- Why on Earth would The Happiness Patrol murder Silas P? How does that make any sense? More to the point wouldn’t the receptionist at the Forum be shot in the face for going about his duties in such a grump?
The Kandyman: ‘I can feel one of my moods coming on…’ Turned up in a ‘50 most shameful TV moments’ compilation show. For once I am so on the fence about an element of a story that I have to give him his own section. From a purely design point of view, the Kandyman is an absolute triumph but how can you take such a creation seriously? I will never forget when my friend Hazel first clapped eyes on this creation, she laughed so hard a little bit of wee came out. His dialogue is comical and sinister, like all the best villains but coming from the lips of a walking sweetie they lose all of their impact. I’m not the sort of person who usually says such things but it is silly and at a time when the show was in dire straits with the populace at large it might have been a step too far into idiosyncrasy. Back in the shows heyday they had the chutzpah to pull off a robotic Pirate Captain and oil rig eating giant squids and skip over them with some confidence but these days the show is living on borrowed time and needed to rein it in a little. Like The Happiness Patrol themselves, a casual watcher might take one look at this implausible creation and reach for the remote. He fits in with the production of this story perfectly but not the tone, which is the problem all the way through. Perhaps Graeme Curry’s original idea of a decrepit man in a suit would have worked more effectively, something akin to the Child Catcher with a chalky white face and squeezed into a funeral suit, pulling at levers and indulging in fondant themed murder. How creepy would that be? All this said and spongy feet aside, it is a marvellous piece of design work. He literally looks as though he is made out of sweeties (I especially like the liquorice allsorts fingers). And the mouth brace is a nasty little touch.