Chapter 146. Doctor Who – The Happiness Patrol (1990)

Synopsis: Helen A presides over the colony of Terra Alpha to ensure her citizens are happy. She even has a squad of enforcers to guarantee that everyone complies and her factories create sugary treats created by her chief scientist, the mysterious Kandyman. Yet some people – killjoys – will insist on being miserable! Helen A has very clear policies for such behaviour. The killjoys must not spoil things for the majority. Happiness will prevail.

Chapter Titles

Numbered One to Fifteen.

Background: Graeme Curry adapts earlier drafts of the scripts from his own 1988 serial.

Notes: The killjoy at the start of the story has lost her husband and son to the ‘disappearances’; she responds to Silas P’s approaches after he gives her hope of joining the resistance. It’s the Doctor who suggests a triceratops in his discussion about dinosaurs – Ace can’t remember their names. Conversely, the Doctor doesn’t appear to know what ‘lift music’ is. They discover the Kandy Kitchen, attracted by sweet smells in the air, and briefly explore. Ace went to a pantomime with her parents when she was a child and had been disappointed when she saw backstage to see the artifice that Terra Alpha now reminds her of.

The Happiness Patrol use jeeps to travel through the city and they are each equipped with ‘fun guns’ and bomb detectors. Helen A is the governor of Terra Alpha. Once a year, on Liberation Day, she addresses the population from Forum Square, where she’ll ‘inspect the Happiness troops and lead the singing of the patriotic song’. Trevor Sigma met Gilbert M on a previous visit to the planet, where he failed to interview ‘a certain person’: The Kandy Man differs significantly from his appearance on telly:

He was tall and powerfully built, dressed in a white lab coat and white trousers. He wore red-framed spectacles and a red bow-tie. Several red and white striped pens protruded from the pocket of his coat. His skin was pale and was covered with a soft white powder. As he moved towards them there was a soft, sucking sound as his feet touched the floor.

Later, we’re told that his teeth are black. 

Harold V’s brother, Andrew X, is the man we see on TV being executed. He’s a political writer who managed to get his work published under a pseudonym on nearby Terra Omega, where his nomme-de-plume became something of a celebrity. Terras Alpha and Omega had only ceased their long and bloody war relatively recently and an Alphan agent on Omega eventually uncovered Andrew X’s identity. He was imprisoned for six months prior to his execution, which is officiated by Joseph C while wearing a rainbow-coloured cap. A glowing skull on a shelf in the Kandy Kitchen signals to the Kandy Man to begin the execution. While chopping strawberries, the Kandy Man cuts off his own thumb, which he has to put back on himself. Helen A’s pet, Fifi, is a Stigorax, a species native to Terra Alpha that has been hunted to extinction; Fifi is the last survivor. Helen A captured the vicious creature on ‘the foothills of the mountains of Claffam’ and the pair ‘liked each other instantly’. The Doctor recognises the species and is surprised by the relationship between Helen A and her savage pet.

Susan Q tells Ace that she used to have a collection of old records, but now only one survives, ‘Lucille’ by Big Joe Turner (which does indeed contain the lyrics ‘I woke up this morning’). When this disc was discovered, she was demoted. Young girls are press-ganged from remote areas of the planet into auditioning for the Happiness Patrol. Susan Q had been a singer and dancer before she was press-ganged and had scored the highest ever marks in her audition. It’s now one of her duties to coach audition hopefuls. The noise made by the Kandy Man’s feet sticking to the kitchen floor reminds the Doctor of a visit to Peru where he heard the sound of leeches being removed from human skin. After being captured by Daisy K, Ace is presented to Helen A, where she encounters Fifi and discovers that Susan Q has been arrested. 

Sugar beets grow naturally on Terra Alpha, which makes it a valuable resource for exporting as none of the other colony planets have natural sugar. Generations ago, huge processing factories were built, with a labour force consisting of dissidents, who became known as drones. As the drones became more politically aware, one of their leaders began to speak out against conditions, a charismatic poet called Edward Z; when he ‘disappeared’, the drones began to organise protest marches that slowly came closer to the main city. The indigenous Terra Alphans are the Alpidae; Wences is an Alpida who, like Wulfric and the rest of their people, was forced underground to live off the sugar deposits in their pipes (hence why Helen A calls them ‘pipe people’). The Doctor apparently taught ‘a youthful Houdini’ how to escape from being tied up.

There are only two small groups of males in the Happiness Patrol, one team who are unarmed and physically strong, another consisting of snipers – two of whom are David S and Alex S. The snipers do not get along with each other and are fighting when the Doctor arrives. The Doorman at the Forum is called Ernest P. Susan Q and Ace both appear together on the poster outside the Forum. Priscilla P knows one joke, involving the word ‘polygon’ and the phrase ‘a dead parrot’ – she mangles the delivery deliberately to entrap Forum attendees into becoming drones in a remote sugar refinery. Helen A watches an old Earth sitcom involving a middle-aged woman, a man with no trousers and a vicar. Susan Q urges Ace to ‘look cute’ for their act at the Forum, but en route and under Happiness Patrol guard, they come under fire by a drone who’s taken control of the sniper’s discarded gun; Daisy K shouts directions to ‘Lucy O’ and ‘Jane M’ to provide covering fire. 

Seeing the peeling and cracked paintwork on the Forum, the Doctor is reminded of Venice at the end of the 20th century, ‘before it slid slowly into the sea’. Gilbert M leads the patrol that intercepts Daisy K’s miserable squad, who declares ‘Weltschmerz!’ – clearly happy to witness Daisy K’s misery. Back on his home planet Vasilip, Gilbert M had enjoyed a ‘friendly rivalry’ with another scientist, Seivad. When the pair were sentenced to death, they fled their home but were traced down by a vigilante who left Seivad for dead. Seeking refuge on Terra Alpha, Gilbert M’s true identity had been uncovered by Helen A, who forced him to build her a ‘monster’. He used the only resources available, which was how the mind of his old friend Seivad ended up encased in the sickly body of the Kandy Man, ‘his mind twisted with anger and injustice’. In the morning light, Helen A’s regime at an end, Ace suggests they pursue Gilbert M and Joseph C, but Susan tells her it’s not worth it as the Kandy Man had been the real danger. 

Cover: Alister Pearson’s cover positions a stern Doctor at the top of a textured triangle (possibly a letter ‘A’), with Fifi underneath. The texture of the triangle is the same as the Kandy Man’s face on TV. Very clever.

Final Analysis: Sylvester McCoy has often said that he’d wished The Happiness Patrol had been made as a film noir and coincidentally, that’s how I saw it on transmission, consigned to a portable black-and-white TV. In the novelisation, without the distraction of the slightly too artificial sets and gaudy costumes on telly, Graeme Curry successfully builds a believable world, where decisions made generations in the past have led to the present situation. The flawed logic of Helen A’s obsessions seem much more credible, where the paranoia in the aftermath of war has turned already restrictive politics into a terrifyingly oppressive regime that’s ripe for toppling. Curry doesn’t dwell on describing our central heroes, assuming the reader already knows who Ace and this Doctor are, but it’s the focus on smaller details, like this depiction of Helen A’s palace, that help to create a sense of the scale of an entire civilisation on the brink of collapse:

In common with most Alphan buildings, from the outside it looked as if it had seen better days. The Doctor could see that once it would have been most imposing, as it was a large building set back from the street. But now the garden wall was crumbling and the whole edifice needed a coat of paint. A couple of the attic windows were broken. 

All of the enforcers of this corrupt regime are shown to be grumpy, frustrated and angry – a far cry / smile from the mandatory happiness they try to inflict on the general populace. 

I do have to wonder why The Kandy Man is so radically different to his TV counterpart; is it just a case of the author reinstating his original scripted intentions or if he were dodging the issues about the similarity of the TV version with the mascot of a disgruntled confectioner. Alister Pearson’s pencil sketch for the cover had originally included a portrait of the Kandy Man but the finished artwork represents him merely as a bubbled background detail, so clearly someone was mindful of Bassetts’ complaints. Even so, Ace calls him a ‘pimplehead’, an insult that doesn’t match the book version of the Kandy Man.

3 thoughts on “Chapter 146. Doctor Who – The Happiness Patrol (1990)

  1. Ahh, “The Happiness Patrol”. I always found a terribly interesting contrast between the eras of the Sixth and Seventh Doctors, respectively. Specifically with how they approach corrupt(ed) power structures. I think the Target publication order has helped make the differences more pronounced, actually.

    Often when the Sixth Doctor arrived in an oppressive society, it was strikingly Orwellian. That sense of power was absolute (very “Blake’s 7”-ish). Places like Varos, Karfel, Thoros Beta, all feel brutally robust. Very 1984. It took a serious, often quite violent, shove to topple them over.

    Whereas with the Seventh Doctor, he often showed up as things were hovering on the brink of collapse. Terra Alpha, Paradise Towers, (Iceworld?) and similar, all buckling under their own weight. They’re self-cannibalising (sometimes, literally). “The Happiness Patrol” feels like the story (the novelisation, especially) that most readily engages with the idea of the Doctor flicking the dominoes and watching them tumble.

    I enjoy both approaches, but it’s interesting to see how much change in emphasis there was — in terms of a similar idea’s execution — in just a handful of years.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I LOVED the Happiness Patrol, both book and TV. The novel is the “Big Screen” version of the tale, the TV version is so unusual, the cheap set and black background gives it an eerie, almost Sapphire & Steel atmosphere.even as a 13 yr old I could easily see the political allegory. It’s not exactly subtle, is it?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Yes, it’s definitely the letter A on the cover illustration. Strange that the Doctor taught Houdini, since in Planet of the Spiders on TV he makes it clear that he learnt escapology tricks from Houdini.

    Liked by 1 person

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