Timestamp #153: The Happiness Patrol

Doctor Who: The Happiness Patrol
(3 episodes, s25e05-e07, 1988)

 

“Happiness is nothing unless it exists side by side with sadness.”

A woman walks down a melancholy corridor and is approached by a man who offers to help with her suffering. He invites her to a secret place where people share their sadness, but when she accepts his offer he reveals himself: Silas P of the Happiness Patrol, Undercover Division. As the “killjoy” is arrested, the Doctor and Ace arrive in the TARDIS, musing about the invasion of the dinosaurs, unimpressed with the “lift music” and artificial happiness filtering through the city.

Silas P is awarded for his stellar work, but his superior is also suspicious about his ambition. Elsewhere, our travelers explore the city and encounter Trevor Sigma, a man thoroughly unimpressed by the Doctor’s college nickname of Theta Sigma. Ace wanders off and finds a bench riddled with bullet holes, prompting the Doctor to get them arrested. They find members of the Happiness Patrol painting the TARDIS pink, and are apprehended for lack of identification. The Doctor is taken away as a spy while Ace is forced to audition for the Patrol.

The Doctor and Ace find a killjoy named Harold V, a terrible joke writer formerly known as Harold F (minion to colony leader Helen A, the superior from before). Their guard warns the Doctor that while this place isn’t a prison, he would be killed if he crosses the perimeter line. I simply love the sight gag here as the Doctor guides his foot away from the line with his umbrella.

Helen A rules a society where sadness is outlawed. Under her rule, any emotion other than happiness (even in clothing) is punished by the Kandy Man, an unseen party who experiments on the captives. As an example, a killjoy is executed by being enclosed in a metal pipe and drown in strawberry-flavored fondant. As Ace and the Doctor plot an escape, planning to take Harold with them, Helen kills her former servant by remote fatal electric shock. They locate a go-kart, disarm the bomb that would have prevented their escape, and use it to (slowly and comedically) drive away. Ace is re-captured, providing a chance for the Doctor to escape.

Ace meets Susan Q, a secretly depressed member of the Patrol. After a heart-to-heart discussion, Susan gives Ace the key to their room, allowing her to escape. Unfortunately, she is captured again soon. On the streets, the Doctor encounters an undercover Silas, but a blues player named Earl Sigma – the appellation “Sigma” means visitor – helps the Time Lord to escape. Unfortunately, the Patrol finds Silas in his dark garb and executes him accordingly. The Doctor and Earl infiltrate the Kandy Man’s lair, but they too are captured.

Ace is marched by gunpoint back to her audition while the Doctor and Earl are strapped down for torture. The Doctor appeals to the Kandy Man’s insecurities, learns about his methods of executions, and traps him in a sticky puddle of lemonade. The Doctor and Earl escape with a quip into the pipelines and encounter a gang of creatures. These creatures, driven underground by human settlers, lead the duo to safety and Trevor Sigma. Earl splits off on his own as Trevor and the Doctor visit Helen. The Doctor learns all about Helen’s population control measures and confronts her.

Ace is reunited with Susan after the Patrol discovers her duplicity. Susan is taken away for execution and one of the pipeline creatures frees Ace. Helen releases her dog-creature Fifi into the pipeline to deal with the annoyance, but Ace subdues the threat with a can of Nitro-9. They then travel through the pipes to Susan’s execution.

The Doctor reunites with Earl and learns of a protest and the snipers that have them pinned down. The Doctor confronts the snipers and disarms them with their own morality. He then returns to the kitchens to deal with the Kandy Man, unsticking the being from the floor in exchange for a flow diversion that saves Susan’s life. The Doctor then resticks the Kandy Man and escapes.

Helen puts Ace back on track for Patrol auditions, and the Doctor is drawn to the show by posters in the streets. The Doctor asks Earl to bring the protestors as a citizen comes to mark another audition poster with “RIP.” It seems that the penalty for failing the audition is death. The Doctor retires to a set of stairs in the Forum with Trevor Sigma (before the auditor leaves the planet) to discuss a list of disappearances under Helen’s rule.

Helen sends a freshly healed Fifi into the pipes to chase the people who live there. Back at the stairs, Ace and the Patrol arrive and the Doctor defeats the Patrol with happiness and joviality among the protestors. The Doctor, Ace, and Susan take the Patrol’s security vehicle, leaving the Patrol to fight among themselves, and enter the pipes to deal with Fifi. The Doctor rallies the pipe-dwellers and lures Fifi with Earl’s harmonica, using the howls and music to stop Fifi with a crystalized sugar collapse.

Helen orders the Kandy Man to find the Doctor, but the odd being reports that the Doctor and Ace have just arrived. Together, they force the Kandy Man into the pipes as Susan and Earl start destroying loudspeakers across the city. The pipe-dwellers infiltrate the kitchen and flood the pipes with fondant, destroying the Kandy Man.

Watching her empire topple, Helen packs a bag and prepares to flee the planet. Unfortunately for her, her shuttle is stolen by her husband Joseph and the Kandy Man’s former assistant Gilbert. Helen tries to escape into the city, but the Doctor confronts her. All Helen wanted was for her people to be happy… for her society to be happy. The Doctor challenges her, explaining that happiness and sadness are two sides of the same coin and must live side-by-side for the health of society. Helen starts to storm off but sees Fifi’s corpse on the bus bench where the whole adventure began. There, she breaks down in tears.

With Earl and Susan in charge, Ace and the Doctor board the freshly repainted TARDIS and depart, knowing that now happiness will truly prevail.

 

First, we have a fun adventure with good acting from our heroes and a pastiche of villainous tropes from the bad guys. The Kandy Man is, well, something else.

But, let’s carve away the candy coating veneer.

Setting aside the commentary against Margaret Thatcher and her politics – there are a plethora of reviews that discuss this parallel – this is a decent discussion about governments and seats of power trying to quell dissent and unrest. All too often, we see leaders (world, community, religious, etc) trying to head off complaints about social justice by claiming to the public that everything is fine and pressuring protestors into silence.

The lesson we learn here from the Doctor is that happiness is important, but it’s not free. The price is strife through conflict and every emotion that goes with it. Happiness isn’t a guarantee, but rather something we all must work for.

 

Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Silver Nemesis

 

The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Timestamp #153: The Happiness Patrol

  1. I think about this story so often now as I see the vitriol on the internet against anyone being seen as “negative”.

    This one I think has a lot of good ideas that work better in the novelization than the actual story. The Kandyman in particular worked better with the original idea of a man made entirely of candy rather than the robotic looking thing (that was apparently a caricature of a candy company’s mascot) that the director decided to change it to. I also really like the Doctor staring down the sniper and asking him to do it at point blank range. That was some fantastic acting on his part.

    You are in such a wonderful point in Doctor Who now that I really envy you for experiencing for the first time. While this isn’t my favorite by a long shot, I love the experimentation of this era and so much of it is great.

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