Doctor Who: The Happiness Patrol

doctor who hapinness patrol

Doctor Who
The Happiness Patrol
Season 25
Story 149
Originally Aired: November 2-16, 1988

Sylvester McCoy does not get a lot of love for her tenure as The Doctor. On the whole, his stories are not as good as some of the other actors, and he tends to get knocked for being The Doctor that got the series canceled. But I quite like his performance in the stories I’ve seen and I don’t really think you can blame him for the cancellation. The series was in serious need of retooling by the time he got on board, and the BBC was not willing to do what was needed (mainly give it a decent budget).

Which is why I’ve now watched three of his stories in a row.

“The Happiness Patrol” is a good example of the best of Doctor Who and some of its worse excesses. The Doctor and Ace (Sophie Aldred) land on a human colony on the planet Terra Alpha which is run by Helen A (Sheila Hancock) who is obsessed with happiness. So much so that she has outlawed unhappiness and has unleashed the Happiness Patrol (made up of a group of women with big hair, big makeup, and short skirts) to find anyone even the slightest bit sad and kill them. Naturally, The Doctor and Ace stage an unhappiness revolution.

That’s a cool idea for a story and one they would revisit in 2017 with “Smile”. Helen A is a great character. She is someone who probably started out with the best intentions – she simply didn’t want her people to be unhappy – and then she allowed things to go very extreme.

And in Classic Doctor Who fashion almost everything goes extreme. Helen A’s henchman is Kandyman, a killer robot made entirely out of candy. The Doctor thwarts Kandyman a couple of times by throwing a liquid at its feet, melting the candy, and making it stick to the floor. Helen A has a crazed wolf-dog hybrid. It is all wonderfully batty, completely silly, and a bit excessive.

The original inhabitants of the planet now dwell underneath the city in a series of pipes. There is a man who wanders about playing the blues on the harmonica, at least until he spies the Happiness Patrol at which point he plays a happy tune. There is an undercover agent who pretends to be just a little bit sad by which he coaxes other people to admit their own sadness and then sicks the Patrol upon them. There is a census taker from another planet who notices that a whole lot of people have gone missing since his last census.

That’s a whole lot of stuff for one story to be doing, and with only three episodes and a run time of 75 minutes, there isn’t enough time for the story to do everything it wants.

There are folks out there, smarter than me, who dig deep into these things. Those folks note that Helen A feels a whole lot like Margaret Thatcher and the entire story seems to be commenting on her reign as Prime Minister at the time. I don’t know about that, but I do know that this story is a whole lot of fun.

Doctor Who: Remembrance of the Daleks

doctor who remembrance of the daleks

Doctor Who
Remembrance of the Daleks
Season 25
Story 148
Orignal Air Date: October 5-26, 1988

In watching Classic Doctor Who I really do have a tendency to skip around. In this, case I recently watched this story which if the first part of Season 25, then went back to watch Dragonfire which was the last story of Season 24 and after, that I watched The Happiness Patrol which is the second story of Season 25. Normally I skip around a lot more than that but I liked this story quite a lot and as it was clearly early days for Ace, I wanted to watch her intro. But whatever, here we are.

The Doctor and Ace landed on Earth in the year 1963. They are after the Hand of Omega, a Time Lord device The Doctor left at Coal Hill School during his very first visit to Earth. They find the device but also discover two warring factions of Daleks. He must enlist the help of the military to stop the Dalek’s war from destroying the world.

As this story begins the series 25th year there are lots of references to previous stories. The series began in 1963 and the very first story too place at Coal Hill school. The Daleks were some of the first villains he fought in the story (and they remain a fan favorite). They return to seveal locations The Doctor visited early in the series and there are loads of little Easter Eggs hidden throughout, like when Ace picks up the very same book that Susan had handled in the fist story.

As such this story is a delight for old fans who can delight in all of the throwbacks and references, but its also a very fun story on its own. It is packd with action and there are some good bits of humor. Sylvester McCoy, who laned the role just a few short weeks before Season 24 began shooting finally had time to actually think about what he wante to do with the character and he seems to fully inhabit it here.

All around it is a very fun story and one of my very favorite late-era Classic Who tales.

Doctor Who: Dragonfire

doctor who dragonfire


Doctor Who
Dragonfire
Season 24
Story 147
Original airdate: November 23 – December 7, 1987

While we do watch the new Doctor Who series every Friday I periodically watch the Classic Series. I do that pretty randomly – jumping around from story to story, Doctor to Doctor, whenever the mood hits me. Since I’m planning on writing about NuWho every Friday I thought I’d write about the Classic Stories as well.

Dragonfire was the final story in the 24th season of Doctor Who. It saw the end of Mel (Bonnie Langford) as the Doctor’s companion and the beginning of Ace’s (Sophie Aldred) run. She would be the last companion of the classic series.

The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and Mel land the TARDIS on Iceworld, a trading colony on the dark side of the planet Svartos. At an ice cream parlor, they run into Sabalom Glitz (Tony Selby) whom The Doctor had run in a previous story (Trial of a Time Lord). Glitz has a map that purportedly leads to a treasure buried under the colony. A treasure that is protected by a dragon. As it happens Ace is working at the ice cream shop as a waitress. She was accidentally transported to Iceworld from her home on 20th-century Earth while she was toying around with some homemade explosives. She is totally keen to follow our heroes, battle a dragon and capture the treasure.

Our main villain is not the dragon, but rather Kane (Edward Peel), a great evildoer who was exiled to Svartos some 2,000 years ago. He hopes the treasure will help him return to his home planet. The trouble is his natural body temperature is super cold and any conflict with a fire-breathing dragon would kill him. He’s been waiting for someone courageous like the Doctor to get the treasure for him.

Not knowing that they are unwittingly doing Kane’s bidding The Doctor and his companions venture underneath the city in search of the dragon and the treasure. They find both, but as these things usually go Kane gets the treasure which is an energy source he can use to pilot his spaceship and return to his home. Naturally, he is thwarted and The Doctor wins.

As a story Dragonfire is pretty lacking. Kane is straight-up evil. He enslaves the people of Iceworld to do his bidding and generally doesn’t care if they live or die. The sets are actually pretty great with lots of plastic sheeting used to create the ice world. There the usual caves and what-not, but they use them to good effect. There is one giant room that must have been built on a massive sound stage that gives the place a more expansive feeling than most Doctor Who stories.

Mel has never been my favorite companion and she’s not given much more to do here but complain and scream in terror. Still, it is always a little sad to see a companion go. Strangely, throughout the story she makes no indication that she plans to leave and then in the last five minutes she’s like “well, I’m off, see you around Doctor” and leaves with Sabalom Glitz. I haven’t seen the previous story so maybe she indicated this was going to be her last adventure there, but it seems so quick here.

Ace is naturally then invited to go on more adventures and she gladly accepts. I’ve come to like her as a companion with her adventurous spirit and willingness to jump right in (and blow things up).

So not the best story, but not the worst by a long shot.

Doctor Who: The Visitation

doctor who the visitation

I originally wrote this review in 2013. It is fun to read my thoughts on this story as it was pretty early days for me and Classic Who. This was my first time watching Peter Davison in the role and I wasn’t thrilled with his performance (I’ve since come to love him). It is also funny that I note that Adric seems pretty useless and Tegan does nothing but complain (my opinions on them have remained the same).

As a side note my current cat is named Nyssa.

Anyway, you can read the review here.

Doctor Who: “42”

doctor who 42

My local college television station used to run Tom Baker-era Doctor Who stories on Friday nights. I’m a fan and so I would often slip over to my bedroom (which is upstairs, the only place we get decent antennae reception) and watch them. My wife is also a fan and so she would eventually come up and join me. My daughter was maybe six or seven at the time and so she would follow my wife. The daughter never really got into those old classic stories, but she would sit and play with her dolls while we watched.

For unknown reasons the local station played Tom Baker-era Doctor Who and nothing but Tom Baker-era Doctor Who. They would start with his first story, “Robot” and run them through in sequential order ending with his last story “Logopolis,” at which point they’d start them all over again. Eventually, we got tired of just watching Tom and we began watching some of our favorite NuWho stories. Then that turned into us starting at the beginning of the new series and working our way through every story chronologically, then once we were finished we’d start again. I think we are now in our third run-through.

What started as a bit of a lark, me watching Tom Baker whenever I remembered he was on, became a full-fledged tradition. Now, every single Friday night we go upstairs and watch Doctor Who. So, I thought it would be fun if I started writing about the episodes as we watched them. I’d like to promise that this will become a weekly feature, but I’ve made too many promises in the past and broken so many of them that I’ll just say I’ll write them as often as I find it enjoyable to do so.

As most of you know by now, after watching Doctor Who I go downstairs and watch a horror movie on Friday nights. Since I’m already writing that weekly post I’ll be moving Doctor Who to another day, probably Saturdays. Unless Saturdays wind up being filled with family activities at which point I’ll move it to another day.

I won’t be making my family start at the very beginning so I’ll start this series with the episodes we watched last night, “42: the seventh episode of the third season. It was written by Chris Chibnall, who was at the time the head writer for Torchwood a Doctor Who spin-off series, and would become the showrunner for Doctor Who starting with its eleventh series. This was his first time writing for Doctor Who and it feels very much in tune with his time as showrunner. There are a lot of interesting elements going on in the episode, it gets a tad bit sentimental, and it never quite coheres into a cohesive whole.

The story finds The Doctor (David Tennant) and his companion Martha (Freema Agyeman) landing on the spaceship SS Pentallian which is currently on a crash course with the sun (not our sun, but the sun in a distant system). It will do so in 42 minutes (hence the episode, which is also the episode’s run time and a cute reference to Douglas Adams – who was a writer for the classic series).

The small crew explains that the ship’s engines mysteriously shut down just before The Doctor and Martha arrived. They hurry to the engine room and find it has been completely destroyed – sabotaged by somebody who knew what they were doing. There is an auxiliary engine room, but to get to it they will have to pass through 30 deadlocked doors which can only be opened by answering a series of questions. Questions which were thought up by a drunken crew, many of whom are no longer aboard. Martha and Riley(William Ash) set themselves to opening the doors.

Meanwhile, The Doctor tries to find out who sabotaged the engine controls. Before he gets far they are alerted that crew member Korwin has taken ill with a body temperature on the extreme rise. Soon enough he begins hunting down the crew member one by one while asking them to “burn with me” just before he burns them to ash with his glowing eyes.

So, Martha must get to the auxiliary engine rooms before the ship crashes into the sun and The Doctor must find out what has happened to Korwin and stop him from killing everyone.

At some point, Korwin finds Marth and Riley who quickly lock themselves into an escape pod. Korwin (or whatever is possessing him) jettisons the escape pod sending them straight toward the sun. Riley assumes they are doomed while Martha believes The Doctor will save them (spoiler alert: he does). While stuck in the pod the two characters have a bit of a heart-to-heart and then Martha calls her mother to tell her she loves her.

The Doctor saves them, figures out who, or what has happened to Korwin, and saves the day.

If I were to rate this episode is would get something like a C+ or a B-. It isn’t bad, and there are some things I quite like, but as a whole, it does nothing special to really make it interesting. The Doctor and his companions often find themselves stuck on a ship headed to its doom, or a space station on an isolated moon, or some such thing. Since The Doctor is able to travel through time and space the series necessarily need him to land in places that aren’t Earth (famously he does have an awful lot of adventures in Cardiff, Wales, as that’s where the series is produced). But budget-wise it is difficult to create an alien landscape-looking set for which the characters to act upon. So, we wind up with a lot of generic-looking spaceships.

This interior of the ship in “42” looks an awful lot like the interior of the ship in “The Satan Pit” and it will look a lot like the interiors of various ships the show will place The Doctor in future episodes. Whereas in Classic Who the interiors of ships were usually well lit bright, and sometimes colorful, here the set design takes its cue from Alien (1979) with bland steel walls, generic instruments, and dark lighting.

I do love the idea of the characters having to answer pub-quick-style questions in order to turn on the engines. The script has some fun with this making Martha call her mum to look up who has the most #1 hits – The Beatles or Elvis – and getting The Doctor to look smart by being the only one to recognize a series of numbers are happy primes. But then the episodes just basically drop the idea. I fully expect there to be some questions that were personal to a crew member who was no longer there. That could have created some interesting tension.

The main plot is interesting, although it does bear a surprising resemblance to Danny Boyle’s 2007 film Sunshine (both were released that year which is weird). I won’t spoil the ending but I did enjoy the reason that Korwin and others were possessed. Overall it works perfectly well, but it doesn’t have that special something to make it excellent. Again this pretty much sums up my feelings on Chibnall’s run as showrunner.

And that’s it. That’s my review. I really do like the idea of reviewing each episode as we watch them. Really I like the idea of having reviews of every Doctor Who story ever. But like I said we’ll see how it goes. It will take me some time to figure out how I want to do these reviews. With television episodes, you can either do a complete recap – breaking down everything that happens in the plot which makes it full of spoilers while also discussing what you liked and didn’t like – or you can do something a little more generic which doesn’t spoil the plot but gives an overall opinion of it. I suspect I’ll do something in the middle as I did here. Where I discuss a lot of the plot, but maybe not in minute detail.

Again, we’ll just have to see.

The Christmas Monkey

doctor who monkey

My brother-in-law, Matt, always buys my daughter a stuffed monkey for Christmas. This year he outdid himself. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts we are big Doctor Who fans in my house and this one is perfectly dressed up as David Tennant’s version of The Doctor.

I’ve already commandeered it for my office 🙂

Doctor Who: The Aztecs

doctor who the aztecs

I am a very big fan of Doctor Who, both the new series and the original. That wasn’t always the case. My wife grew up watching Tom Baker as The Doctor on PBS when she was a kid, but that was a series I never paid much attention to back then. When the new series came out she would sometimes watch an episode, but we weren’t in a position where she could watch it every week. Whenever she would watch it I would try to watch it with her but it never took. It just seemed so cheesy to me then.

But when our daughter was born we were constantly looking for series to binge watch and eventually, we landed on Doctor Who. It took me a few episodes, but I did get into it. I’ve come to love the cheesiness. Over time we’ve gone back and watched many of the old stories which are even more cheesy.

The Aztecs was one of the first of the Classic Who stories I ever watched, it was definitely the first I ever with William Hartnell playing The Doctor. It is really fun for me to read my review of that story as I seem a little confused by the low budget and cheesiness of it all, which I now know is part of the show’s charm.

This was also an early review for me for Cinema Sentries and you can tell I was out of practice as I mostly just regurgitate the plot.

But whatever you can read my review here if you like.

Actually, if I may make a small request. Cinema Sentries is a small site. It is run by my friend Gordon and is a labor of love. I don’t know the stats but I know he’s not getting the traffic the big sites get. So, even if you don’t want to read my review of this Doctor Who story (or any review I write) I’d appreciate it if you’d click on those links that will take you to Cinema Sentries, and then stay there for a minute or two. That will help his numbers and help him grow the site. Thanks in advance.