Review [DW]: “The Happiness Patrol”

25×2. The Happiness Patrol
Writer: Graeme Curry
Director: Chris Clough
Script Editor: Andrew Cartmel
Producer: John Nathan-Turner

Synopsis: The Doctor and Ace arrive on Terra Alpha, a futuristic human colony where the tyrannical Helen A. and her “Happiness Patrol” ruthlessly suppress any expression of sadness or melancholy, aided by the sinister robotic Kandyman. The Doctor and Ace team up with blues musician Earl Sigma, a group of discontented workers, and a native alien race to overthrown Helen A.’s regime.

Review: I have to praise the creative team behind “The Happiness Patrol” to some extent simply for having the nerve to put something this unabashedly weird on television. The design is first-rate, between the overly gaudy hairstyles and costumes of Helen A. and the Happiness Patrol to the darker look of the streets that put the lie to Terra Alpha’s pretensions of universal happiness, and the Kandyman in particular – a robot with a body made of sweets whose marshmallow feet get stuck in place due to a lemonade spill – is a memorably odd creation. We also see the Seventh Doctor emerging as a more enigmatic figure again, having traveled to Terra Alpha because he’d heard of “something evil” happening there and even purposely getting arrested as part of a plan to engineer Helen A.’s downfall. Where the serial doesn’t hold up so well is where many of the previous season’s entries tripped up: the premise is somewhat strained and underdeveloped. In particular, Helen A’s obsession with “happiness” and failure to understand the role that sadness and melancholy play in everyone’s life is borderline delusional, and I have trouble imagining how someone with her predilections would have risen to power in the first place. We learn that Terra Alpha is one of several colonies in a common system when a census agent turns up, and yet the only time she’s cited for breaking any sort of rule is when she tries to implement the same execution method for the same prisoner more than once (apparently killing people for being unhappy is A-OK in this system as long as you do it the right way?!). As for the notion that this is a satire of Thatcherism, I’m not British and didn’t live in Britain under Thatcher, but it strikes me as satire of the broadest possible brush – maybe there’s some vague parallel to superficial materialism here, but Thatcher’s own persona always seemed rather austere to me and quite unlike that of Helen A. Still, it’s refreshing to see the series experimenting with its stylistic palette and with a unique cast of characters even if the experiment isn’t an entirely successful one.

Rating: **1/2 (out of four)

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