Back in the late 1980’s, I edited the newsletter for the local Doctor Who fan club, TARDIS (or the torturously named “The Arizona Regional Doctor Who Interest Society.) Amongst other things, I wrote reviews of Doctor Who episodes. A collection of these old newsletters has come into my possession. Here then is my December 1988 review of The Happiness Patrol.
The Happiness Patrol was better the second time I saw it.
My initial reaction was that The Happiness Patrol was easily as bad as Delta and the Bannermen. Upon reflection, I think it falls into the second level awful category, along with the other legendary awful episodes: The Gunfighters, The Horns of Nimon, Time and the Rani and Paradise Towers. (Please note: Until Delta and the Bannermen came along, these WERE the first level awful episodes.)
Briefly, the story goes something like this:
The Doctor arrives on Terra Alpha, a lovely little planet where they play “Lift Music” (Muzak to Americans) from all the loud speakers. True, this is a great evil anywhere in the Universe, but it’s not the evil the Doctor has come to remedy.
I think I should note here that the Doctor specifically states that he is here because of an evil. In Remembrance of the Daleks the Doctor goes to Earth specifically to deal with “unfinished business,” in this episode, he is purposely seeking our wrongs to right. Seldom, if ever, in the Doctor’s past has he started out aiming for trouble. Why this sudden change? Could this be the direction that the producers and writers have set out for Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor? If so, it makes him a far more “serious” Doctor than any who have preceded him.
In any case, Terra Alpha is in the grip of a tyrant (and her pet dog [?]) who insists that everyone be happy. (One wonders if the author of this episode had just listened to that insipid song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” prior to writing this episode.) With the aide of her evil henchman, the Candyman, she is actively eliminating all the “Killjoys.” One of her favorite forms of execution is smothering people in Strawberry Fondant. Of course, her band of vicious, but smiling thugs, the Happiness Patrol, with this Fun Guns, are also an effective means for dealing with those pesky Killjoys. Oh, did I forget to mention that the Candyman is made entirely of candy, caramel, chocolate, etc? Created by a not fully explained character names Gilbert, who escapes at the end, making us worry about the possibility of a sequel. (Who said Doctor Who was no longer frightening?)
Sounds too stupid to be true, doesn’t it? Sounds to me like John Nathan-Turner refuses to turn down a script no matter how bad it is.
And let’s not forget Fifi. Fifi is a creature (technically very good for a Doctor Who episode) which looks like a cross between An American Werewolf in London, the little creature that gets split in two in the Star Trek episode, The Enemy Within (Not Kirk, the other one) and a Pekingese. Fifi is an incredible beast which can take an exploding bottle of Nitro-9 in the mouth, and come out with only a few bandages (which get removed later in the same episode.)
Plot Synopsis? Nahhhhh, why bother? They didn’t.
Ace and the Doctor do have a nice rapport in this episode, and so far this season, Ace is proving a well-matched companion for the Doctor. I’m going to predict that they’ll try to keep Ace in much the way they kept Jamie during the Troughton era: a long time.
The Happiness Patrol deserves a first look, and it does improve some on the second viewing, and every Doctor Who collector should have it, but how often do you show your friends The Horns of Nimon?