Monday, September 7, 2015

The Happiness Patrol - "A man after my own soft centre."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - The Happiness Patrol - Details

Season/Series 25, Story 2 (Overall Series Story #153) | Previous - Next | Index

How Doctor Who works behind-the-scenes, as best I can deduce, in its death throes:
"Guys, I've got this idea for a story where the Doctor goes to a planet where people are forced to act happy. It's a statement about Thatcherism, and it's going to tie our current political landscape to its ideological forebears: fascism and totalitarianism. We're going to shoot it like a Kafka-esque nightmare in the noir style. Think Vienna in The Third Man. In the end, the Doctor will turn help the local dissidents and labor activists overthrow the government!"
"That's brilliant! Who are the villains?"
"The main baddie is going to be a woman who goes by Helen A., she's our Thatcher. Shades of Hitler and the Third Reich, she's got a demented state security apparatus that includes a scientist who thinks of murdering people as experimentation." 
"Love it. Noir, anti-fascism, a satire of Thatcherism. We're really on to something hear. Design team, what have you got for me?" 
"Let's see ... noir, Kafka, anti-fascism. Did someone mention sweets? No? Well, I've got in mind a scientist whose experimental method of killing people involves fondant, and his lab is actually a candy kitchen ..." 
"Whoa, whoa, what are you ..?" 
"He's the Kandyman, with a K, see? And he kills you with ..." 
"I don't think you've ..." 
"Gentleman, I give you, the Kandyman!"

"Also, we're going make sure we light the shit out of all the interior scenes so there are no shadows anywhere. The secret police are going to be gorgeous women in impossibly short skirts with pink wigs that suggest taffy heads. And I've got a line on some go-karts we can get cheap, they don't go very fast but ..."
For all that's wrong with it though, there's just enough of the well-conceived satire of conservatism making it to the screen. While the camp aspect doesn't work for me, I can appreciate the willingness to think noir, but pull the conventions through a funhouse mirror by replacing long shadows and canted cameras with harsh lighting and gaudy colors. It's fucking audacious is what it is.

Not surprisingly, the end result is ... what it is. Six more stories will make it to air after this one. As much as I favor its left wing politics and can forgive the taking of big risks aesthetically, I think we all agree this wasn't executed in a way that made the taking of risks likely to result in big rewards. Hard to imagine viewers seeing this and saying, "Doctor Who is back, baby!"

The Kandyman is one more nail in the coffin. The coffin lid, at this point, has so many nails in it, it's like saying there are a lot of swords in the Iron Throne.


The Doctor tells Earl (the harmonica-playing, med student/bluesman) he'll find him by listening for "the brandy of the damned," a reference to a George Bernard Shaw line from Man and Superman, and as good a reason as any to listen to Nickel Eye's hypnotic song again.

It's probably a bridge too far to suggest Graeme Curry wrote this one with Shaw's notion of women as the agents of selection that are guiding the evolution of mankind towards Nietzschean ├╝bermenschen in mind. But it sort of plays nicely with roles of women in the society on Terra Alpha. If you squint hard enough at it.

Little easter eggs for the hardcore fan in this one include the Doctor telling Ace how the Brigadier encountered dinosaurs in London, and a reference to Theta Sigma nickname the Doctor had at school. Because if you're going to make reference to past stories, it might as well be "Invasion of the Dinosaurs" and "The Armageddon Factor," I guess.

The final scene, with Helen A. crying over her Fifi (vicious rat-dog monster) while the Doctor watched was an odd note to end on. I suppose Helen A. had to learn to experience genuine grief, so maybe we can imagine she's going to feel remorse for all the people she disappeared as well, but it's still odd.

Additional Resources:

Tardis Wikia entry transcript

Sandifer post

Shabogan Graffiti (Jack loves this one and makes a strong case for its politics...)
Like 'The Sun Makers', 'Happiness Patrol' notices the fundamental synergy and compatibility and similarity of Stalinism with 'market Stalinism', of authoritarianism with psuedo-libertarian neoliberalism. Helen A likes Silas P's "enterprise and initiative" as a murderer of dissidents. Thatcher admires the 'law and order' inherent in the criminal attacks (by government or police) upon miners, while always speciously excoriating the "moaning minnies" and preaching personal freedom, i.e. the personal freedom to stamp on the poor and powerless as long as you own the bought virtue that comes with wealth.
And it's a union of displaced/oppressed natives, dissidents, foreigners and striking/demonstrating workers that brings down the government.  Helen loses control of the state, factory by factory.  It ain't quite Leninism for kids... but it's getting there.

Wife in Space post

TV Tropes page

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