Thursday, March 21, 2013
The Happiness Patrol is one of the angriest Doctor Who stories every made. It has since come to light that writer Graeme Curry and script editor Andrew Cartmel, among others, had a healthy distaste for then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and were working in ideas, however subtle or blatant, of how to lampoon and protest the Iron Lady. Sheila Hancock, who played Terra Alpha's leader Helen A, says she based elements of her performance on Thatcher. In retrospect, it seems somewhat obvious that this is what the production crew were going for, but at the time, such subversiveness was very uncommon for Doctor Who.
It is a story of anarchy as a solution. The Doctor challenges himself to take down an oppressive government in a single night and succeeds, but has no plans on who should take over in that government's stead. No one - not the Killjoys, the Pipe People, the disenfranchised Happiness Patrolers - are shown any favour in terms of story or by The Doctor's actions as being the right person or persons to lead Terra Alpha into a new age. Earl Sigma stays behind only to teach the planet "the blues". All this is a typical solution for the ultimate punk rock anarchists, the Seventh Doctor and Ace. Both the characters of the TARDIS team come from outside the normal boundaries of their respective societies, just as the actors portraying them do. Both characters are orphans from their pasts, eager to leave their history behind but keeping the rebellious nature that isolated them in the first place. Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred came into the acting profession via less-than-orthodox means, too, and it helps their respective performances. McCoy's Doctor is the Sex Pistols to Colin Baker's Pink Floyd. They're anarchic uprisings against the (perceived) bloated excess that preceded them.
Graeme Curry deserves full credit for writing one of the sharpest and smartest scripts ever seen in Doctor Who, and joins Barbara Clegg as people who wrote only one story for Doctor Who, and both were imaginative triumphs. Acclaim must also go to director Chris Clough, whose previous attempts veered from satisfactory to disappointing, but who shows artistic flair and the confidence to keep the lighting darker and moodier than anything else seen in the John Nathan-Turner era. His initial idea of shooting the entire story as a black and white film noir sounded enticing, too. Fortunately, The Happiness Patrol is strong enough on its own without the need for a gimmick, and is also one of Doctor Who's most underrated stories.
Posted by Steven at 3:34 PM