Doctor Who – The Happiness Patrol

Time for another classic Doctor Who DVD post. This one came with Dragonfire in the only moderately random Ace Adventures box[1], and stars Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace. It’s a three-part story (as was more or less standard at the time) and was first shown in November 1988.

The Doctor has quite deliberately arrived on a planet called Terra Alpha – he’s heard Bad Things, and as we know, in this particular incarnation, he just can’t leave that kind of thing alone.

It’s a nicely odd set-up. On Terra Alpha, it’s a crime to be unhappy. Well, to show even the remotest sign of unhappiness, which isn’t quite the same thing of course. This isn’t a government that wants to do anything that might actually want to cheer people up so much as one that just wants people to stop moaning and be grateful for the lovely things being done to them, err, for them.

Any suggestions of it being influenced by British politics of the time are gleefully acknowledged by script editor Andrew Cartmel, but it’s Sheila Hancock’s performance as leader Helen A that really makes it quite clear. She’s played as an even deadlier, if pinker, Thatcher with evident relish.

As if Helen A (“Happiness Will Prevail”) wasn’t enough, there’s also her rather unusual executioner to deal with. Some sort of robot/cyborg/thingy called the Kandy Man, who bore enough resemblance to the liquorice allsorts mascot Bertie Bassett that the BBC had to agree never to use him again. Which they probably wouldn’t have anyway, but hey…

There is, of course, lots of running around, and plenty of the usual fun and games before change comes to Terra Alpha. Not at all bad, actually. Sylvester and Sophie were working well together by this point, and it shows. Fun.

Special features, apart from the expected commentary, information subtitles and bits and bobs, are limited to:

  • Happiness Will Prevail – the more or less traditional look back at the making of the story
  • When Worlds Collide – this is a rather good look at politics and the Doctor, with many of the usual suspects (Terrance Dicks, Andrew Cartmel, Gareth Roberts, etc) talking about how the show has commented on or reacted to the political climate. Unlike a lot of features, this one does include some 21st century Doctor Who bits. I enjoyed it.

[1] Look, I’m going to buy every story they release, so there’s really no need to do these not all that well connected sort of themed boxes…