‘Tonight’s the night.’ It looks like we’re back in Paradise Towers, complete with dismal corridors, bewigged women talking in strange jargon, and terrorised residents. And I thought Paradise Towers was the best story of Season 24 so you can imagine how I feel about The Happiness Patrol.
Still, before I get too carried away with how this is evidently great, I’ll try to pick out the bits that don’t quite work. The big one is the same issue that haunts a lot of McCoy stories: the scripts were over-written (40-45 minutes per episode, according to InVision), had to be hacked down, and the end result can sometimes feel like a collage rather than a flowing storyline. For example, Susan Q goes from coaching Ace to audition for the Happiness Patrol to deciding she might as well die (come on Susan, Ace isn’t that bad) with no obvious progression from one to the other. And the scenes in the waiting zone are incredibly choppy. Also, the decision to flip the set design from a fast-food restaurant aesthetic to noirish backdrops makes a nonsense of Ace’s immediate judgement that the place is ‘too phony, too happy’.
None of that bothers me very much because I’m completely sold on the imagination of the story. It’s like an Emma Peel Avengers episode, with its obsessive focus on exploring one theme, and tying back Helen A’s entire villainous regime to her monomaniacal quest for happiness to prevail: executions with fondant, deadly sweets, electrified video games, chunky toy guns that shoot real bullets (as the Killjoy’s murder scene attests). The creepy toyshop look of the Kandy Kitchen is like one of the twisted playroom sets from The Celestial Toymaker.
The Doctor and Ace don’t stumble into this artificial happiness, they go there deliberately to put a stop to it in a single night. There is a bit of capture/escape, but it’s all instigated by the Doctor and Ace, who want to get caught to speed up their investigations. The Doctor isn’t sent to the Kandy Kitchen as a victim, which would be the norm, he goes there to meet the Kandy Man.
Oh, the Kandy Man. Helen A is great, but she’s not unique: the same sort of satire of Thatcher, complete with henpecked husband, that was done in loads of 1980s stuff including the 1985 Lenny Henry seventh Doctor sketch. The Kandy Man, though, is jaw-dropping. A moody, malevolent Bertie Bassett in a gay relationship with Harold Innocent, whose job as Helen A’s chief executioner is a distraction from his real interest in perfecting his concoctions. He’s as astonishing a creation as Lady Cassandra, and might just be my favourite ever Doctor Who monster.
All this, plus a plangent score, John Normington as a fussy bureaucrat trying to account for the half-million Terra Alphans who have been routinely disappeared by Helen A, and the TARDIS painted pink. This all makes me very happy indeed.
Next episode: The Happiness Patrol – Part Two