Thursday, March 21, 2013
The way The Happiness Patrol starts is almost in complete, and deliberate, contradiction to how a "normal" Doctor Who story would begin. Usually The Doctor lands on a planet, sees that not everything is as it seems, gets captured, learns more as the story progresses, discovered who the oppressors/antagonists are, defeats them. In Happiness, The Doctor emerges from the TARDIS telling Ace that he's heard of Terra Alpha already and how he needs to take down the government there - tonight. And, to further turn things around, The Doctor and Ace have to go out of their way to get arrested, even when threatened by a trigger happy bunch of gun toting aging cheerleaders.
This approach lends itself so well to how the Andrew Cartmel era was starting to take shape at this time with it putting The Doctor front and center as the catalyst that makes everything happen. It also is a great example of how to properly exploit the new three-episode format. More stuff happens in the first few minutes of this episode than would in almost any other four-parter. It's been said quite often that a new series episode of Doctor Who is essentially a four-part classic story cut and edited into a tight, 45-minute episode. The three-part stories of the 1980s are like a transition into that way of storytelling. There's enough going on in stories like The Happiness Patrol, and enough characters to support the storyline or storylines, that it could easily be filled (or padded) out into four episodes (as the deleted scenes on their accompanying DVD releases would attest), but everything is so tightly written and edited that there is seldom room for a stray line or superfluous scene that doesn't advance the story.
The setting for this story is also very bizarre, and the abrupt ends to scenes that were brought on by judicious editing actually help in setting an overall tone of unease. Just when you think you're getting to grips with this weird place and its cheerleader security squad, the scene changes to a crazy robot made out of licorice all sorts, then to a grotesque parody of Margaret Thatcher, who appears to be running the whole place. It's all so unsettling so early on, and that's what always compels me to watch it even more.
Posted by Steven at 3:06 PM