DVD Review: Doctor Who, "The Happiness Patrol"
Release Date: May 8, 2012
Distributor: BBC Video
· Chris Clough
· Sylvester McCoy
· Sophie Aldred
· Sheila Hancock
by Dennis Russo
Published: June 30, 2012
"The Happiness Patrol" was originaly a 3 part episode that aired on BBC television November 2-16 1988. This episode features Sylvester McCoy as the infamous time traveling Doctor, who along with his current traveling companion Ace (Sophie Aldred) find themselves on the planet of Terra Alpha. They are not there long when they notice that there is something going on here that they've not encountered before, and in a way different then we have ever seen before also. You see, on Terra Alpha it is considered a crime if you are not happy -- a crime punishable by death.
The planet is governed by the macabre looking Helen A (Sheila Hancock) who is obsessed with everyone on the planet being happy. She goes to such lengths as to even have undercover agents bent on seeking out people who are sad or depressed. When found, the sad and melancholy people are taken into custody by the happiness patrol. The most severe offenders are sentenced to death at the hands of Helen A's executioner the sinister "Kandy Man" (David John Pope) who kills his victims by drowning them in strawberry syrup (among other ways).
This is a different scenario that what we are used to in watching Doctor Who in that when the Doctor and Ace come to a planet, they usually find sadness and oppression running rampant and then they set about to free the populace from that. This usually leaves everyone happy, not the other way round. Here, they are fighting for the people to have the right to be sad.
I found this a very interesting and refreshing change and one well-acted at that (especially Helen A and members of her "happiness patrol" such as Susan Q (Leslie Dunlop) and Priscilla P (Rachel Bell), just to name a couple). The only thing I did not like was the character of the Kandy Man -- not in the role itself or the way it was acted, but in his appearance. He was just way too fake looking. In space, on a planet with obviously high technology, I did not expect to see something made to look like something out of Hansel and Gretel and made out of candy. I think the cheesy spinning circle eyes made it look just to over-the-top fake for me. The other aspect I did not like were the go-carts used in the show that were supposed to be their transportation vehicles. The scenes were shot such that instead of looking like vehicles going down a road, they looked more like go-carts being driven down a hallway. And the scenes were shot so that there was no perceived concept of speed. Instead of being shot to make them look like they were going fast, they looked like the were going the five miles-per-hour they were actually probably going.
In all it was a mix of some special effects that worked well, and some that didn't. Conceptually everything worked fairly well together, given that Doctor Who did not have a very large budget at this time of its life.
I find it funny to hear the language of Ace as she has been developing in the series. In 1989 I did not expect to hear a girl utter what sounded like the derogatory name of "scumbag." It was a shock because I don't know if you can say that on US television today. And for a show that was cutting edge and futuristic, I found it a bit disconcerting on how the use of stereotypes to convey a style of music would be used so far in the future on a distant planet.
I will admit I am pretty naive sometimes when I watch sci-fi shows. I get lost in the show and don't often think about how, if at all, it relates to today's society. What I learned from watching the extra features included in this DVD was that this was in a way a parody of the political atmosphere in England at the time, and that Helen A was a sort of a Margaret Thatcher figure. The special features (listed below) do a wonderful job of showing you what went on not only in the production of the episode, but also give a snapshot of what life in England was like then. I found this most enjoyable and after viewing the extras I watched the episode again. It made an already enjoyable episode even better, and almost gave it a second life if you will as I watched it from a totally different perspective.
I must say again, how I have come to really enjoy this incarnation of Doctor Who with Sylvester McCoy. While this is not my favorite time period of the show, and I do believe there were other Who series that were better written and over all better acted, I definitely feel that it holds its ground on the story and acting front. Throughout the show there is some discourse between the Doctor and Helen A, and with several members of the Happiness Patrol, where we are treated to seeing a serious side of the Doctor. This discourse is among the most poignant, well-written and acted of any I have ever seen anywhere. I easily recommend this episode and this series to everyone. If you stayed away from this series because you thought it couldn't be any good, because it was the last series before it was taken off the air, and it was taken off because of poor writing or acting, then -- like me -- you missed out on a fine series. But now -- like me -- you are given a second chance to relive it, and quite possibly enjoy it more than when it first aired.
Happiness Will Prevail: A 23 minute long "Making Of" of the Happiness Patrol with members of the cast writers and crew.
Deleted Scenes: There are quite a lot here, some without color and some that are just retakes of ones that made it into the final edit. Still other are gems and give a better insight to some of the characters.
When Worlds Collide: No, nothing to do with George Pal's classic sci-fi movie. This is an excellent 46 minute mini expose' on the politicalness of Doctor Who from this episode in question, but inclusive of Doctor Who through the years.
Info Text On/Off: Production notes that appear on screen as the show plays, similar to "Pop-Up Video.
PDF Material-Radio Times Listing.