The Happiness Patrol *****

Sheila Hancock plays a Margaret Thatcher-like bad girl in this brilliant, ultra-pink satire

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Doctor Who story guide
Patrick Mulkern
Patrick Mulkern
The Happiness Patrol *****

Season 25 – Story 149

“Happiness will prevail! And don’t forget, when you smile, I want to see those teeth!” – Helen A

Storyline
Depression and misery are outlawed on the colony world Terra Alpha. Killjoys are tracked down by the mostly female Happiness Patrol and culled in Routine Disappearances. Despotic Helen A rules this warped society, aided by the Kandy Man whose kitchen makes lethal sweets and a fondant surprise for state executions. The Doctor and Ace arrive on the cusp of revolution and, overnight, show the pink-festooned locals that sometimes they do need the blues…

First UK transmissions
Part 1 - Wednesday 2 November 1988
Part 2 - Wednesday 9 November 1988
Part 3 - Wednesday 16 November 1988

Production

Studio recording: July 1988 in TC3 and August 1988 in TC8

Cast
The Doctor - Sylvester McCoy
Ace - Sophie Aldred
Helen A - Sheila Hancock
Joseph C - Ronald Fraser
Daisy K - Georgina Hale
Priscilla P - Rachel Bell
Gilbert M - Harold Innocent
Trevor Sigma - John Normington
Susan Q - Lesley Dunlop
Earl Sigma - Richard D Sharp
Harold V - Tim Barker
Silas P - Jonathan Burn
Kandy Man - David John Pope
Killjoy - Mary Healey
Forum doorman - Tim Scott
Snipers - Steve Swinscoe, Mark Carroll
Wences - Philip Neve
Wulfric - Ryan Freedman
Newscaster - Annie Hulley

Crew
Writer - Graeme Curry
Designer - John Asbridge
Incidental music - Dominic Glynn
Script editor - Andrew Cartmel
Producer - John Nathan-Turner
Director - Chris Clough 

RT review by Patrick Mulkern

Happiness has prevailed! I’ve the dimmest memory of smirking through this off-kilter three-parter when it first aired in 1988, but it blew my socks off when I watched it again the other night. It is brilliant. Graeme Curry’s one and only script for Doctor Who is a clever and very funny satire. 

The terms Orwellian, Thatcherite and Pink Pride soon swirl into view. In her totalitarian society on Terra Alpha, tyrannical Helen A demands that everyone be happy. Any Killjoys are summarily killed. “We have controlled the population down by 17 per cent,” she’s pleased to report. Doublespeak rules OK, as do twisted Americanisms (“Have a nice death”) and piped muzak. 

As a TV production, The Happiness Patrol is pink – extraordinarily pink. The Patrol women wear pink uniforms, pink shoes, pink wigs, pink nail varnish and pink eye shadow. The men have pink overalls. The planet itself has a pink atmosphere. Even the death rays are pink and, of course, the Doctor’s police box (“a miserable-looking thing” in blue) is given a coat of pink paint. 

Murder gets a sugarcoating, as Graeme Curry gives the vocabulary of sweets a sinister spin. Executions are carried out via “the fondant surprise” – a deluge of molten, strawberry-coloured confectionery produced in a Willy Wonka-like Kandy Kitchen. 

It is run by the Kandy Man, who “makes sweets that kill people”. Semi-robotic, semi-sentient, composed of “caramel, sherbet, toffee, marzipan, gelling agents” but predominantly liquorice allsorts, the Kandy Man is a dead ringer for Bertie Bassett. At first sight you gulp in dismay: what the hell are they thinking? He’s ludicrous, yes, but simultaneously nightmarish. 

Director Chris Clough gets the tone right throughout, with a balance between garish and noir-ish, while John Asbridge has designed excellent sets, even if the “streets” and forum square never once look “exterior”. 

Clough has also gathered an astonishing cast, helping to distract from Sylvester McCoy as he wavers between Doctor Dweeb (goofing and playing spoons) and Doctor Deadly Serious (talking down two gunmen). Sheila Hancock presides over all like a fearsome maiden aunt, with Ronald Fraser as her sidekick Joseph C – a smallish part for a biggish star sounding like he’s got the wrong teeth in.

John Normington and Lesley Dunlop quietly excel – but acting everyone else off the screen, even Hancock, are two trigger-happy, middle-aged broads in the Happiness Patrol. Rachel Bell gives Priscilla P a sadistic, schoolmarmy edge: “This isn’t a prison but cross that line and you’re a dead man”; her usherette’s tray contains a handgun. While Georgina Hale as Daisy K wins my award for the most outrageous performance of the 1980s.

 

She gives a masterclass in how to chew and spit out even the most mundane line, making it hilarious. The only other actress I’ve seen do this is Maggie Smith. “I’m GLAD you’re happy, but what are you doing here, hmm? You don’t look like locals. IN FACT, you LOOK like killjoys.” You have to hear it to believe it. Her sneering delivery takes arch to a higher level.

Amazingly, this ultra-arch, ultra-pink satire largely steers clear of blatant camp, as it sharpens it teeth for more obvious political targets. But homosexual overtones do get in under the radar. Let’s not forget that 1988 was the year the Conservative Party pushed though its Clause 28, which banned local authorities (and, by default, schools) from “promoting” homosexuality. 

Thus Priscilla P ends a scene with the line: “I am what I am.” (Thank you, Gloria Gaynor.) The hissy-fitting Kandy Man’s first line is “What time do you call this?” while his creator Gilbert M is an exile from planet Vasilip – I ask you! Gilbert eventually flees in an escape shuttle with Joseph C, two tubby old dears in pink overalls, abandoning Helen A – just like many of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet ministers would almost exactly two years hence.

“I hate Mrs Thatcher with a deep and venomous passion,” Sheila Hancock told Doctor Who Magazine in 2001, and she seizes upon these scripts, determined to play Helen A like the controversial British prime minister.

The Doctor teaches the Terra Alphans (and us) that happiness is nothing without the counterbalance of melancholy. It’s a positive message. Ultimately, he cracks the sugarcoating of control freak Helen A. When her rubbery pet, Fifi, dies, she cannot control her heaving sobs. “Tis done,” says the Time Lord, and even we, despite ourselves, must sympathise as an iron lady grieves for a dead dog. 

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Radio Times archive

RT billings  part one  part two  part three  RT picture

A gallery of rare Radio Times images taken on set in 1988

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Available on BBC DVD

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