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
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.