The Kandy Man Can't

Review of The Happiness Patrol (#153)
DVD Release Date: 08 May 12
Original Air Date: 02-16 Nov 1988
Doctor/Companion: Seven, Dorothy "Ace" McShane
Stars: Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred
Preceding Story: Remembrance of the Daleks (Seven, Ace)
Succeeding Story: Silver Nemesis (Seven, Ace)

On the one hand, Seven and Ace always make me happy. On the other, Happiness Patrol is, umm... not the best executed story of all time. I'll admit the premise is interesting enough (a planet where it's illegal to be unhappy), but wow...

It's disappointing not least because it actually starts out quite well, with a scene that completely creeped me out, as someone who has herself struggled with clinical depression. There's enough of a stigma associated with mental illness in our society as it is, but to have even the slightest hints at one of the most common of them (depression) lead to one's "disappearance"... It's truly chilling.

Even the poor TARDIS isn't immune. She ends up painted a "cheerful" shade of pink which actually prevented me from noticing her presence in the background of any of the scenes until I was watching the extras. It's a nice little touch, though, reminding us that the TARDIS somehow does blend in, even when she doesn't.

Sadly, the rest of the execution on this one, like so many before, is fettered by its budget. The effects are all-around rather poor, including the bizarre form of the Kandy Man and the pathetic excuse for a go-cart (even a child could have outpaced that thing on foot). And the lighting was atrocious. It's like they decided that if it wasn't going to be film noir (reputedly once the intention, or at least hope), then at least they could light it like crap to make it "dark."

To me, it also felt like two or three story ideas smashed together into one. I never really understood what the sewer critters ("drones"?) were all about, and the Kandy Man added nothing but a slightly ludicrous method of execution for dissidents. Then there was Helen A and the Happiness Patrol itself (who, with their cotton-candy-pink wigs, constantly had me flashing back to the Kangs of Paradise Towers). It all fits together if you squint just right, but the initial impression is one of haphazardness.

On the other hand, some of it I truly enjoyed. There are several nice little references back to previous adventures, including mention of pterodactyls and the Doctor's nickname (Theta Sigma). Even the Kandy Kitchen put me in mind of the truly odd "security kitchen" from 22 years before. And I loved that first Ace and later the Doctor played spoons (the latter with vastly more success than the former). My favorite part of all, though, was that sniper scene. That's what the Doctor is all about.

DVD Extras (highlights)
Happiness Will Prevail
Perhaps the key point to come out of this "making of" is that the character of Helen A was heavily modeled on Margaret Thatcher. I suppose Brits who were around during Thatcher's time (or are otherwise familiar with her administration) would have picked up on that instantly, but it had gone right over my clueless, American head.

Deleted/Extended Scenes
As usual, these are a testament to an editor's skills. The only one I actually liked included more of Seven's spoon playing than made it into the version that was broadcast.
When Worlds Collide
As long as the other two extras combined, this piece explores Doctor Who as political commentary. Based on the premise that the show, or indeed any work of fiction, is "fundamentally political," it goes through various eras - including post-Hiatus - and draws parallels between current events and the stories produced. There are some thought-provoking ideas here, though I can't say I agree with all of them.

Though it certainly has its faults, certain facets work well enough. There's a nice bit at the end where we get the classic rationalization of a dictator, proving once again that evil ones are not evil in their own minds. If I focus on such details instead of the weird summary exposition, outlandish battle with the Kandy Man, or unexplained plot holes, then happiness can still prevail.

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