The Cartmelian comic book sensibilities of McCoy Era Who, as regular readers will know, make that iteration of the show my least favourite of them all. For me, the Cartmel take on things makes this version the least like the Who I knew and loved, a stylistic and tonal mis-step and not the way it ought to be done. But then they’ve been getting it wrong in one way or another since Mary Whitehouse nobbled those cowards on the Sixth Floor, so it’s a testament to how much they got right in the period from Lambert to Hinchcliffe that it took as long as it did for the show to lose its way and finally get cancelled.
The Happiness Patrol is, in many ways, yer typical flawed production where the ambition of the writer outstripped the budget and various people made the wrong call. But I discovered that you can hide a lot of the story’s design flaws, like the flat, theatrical sets, by doing the whole bloody thing in Black & White. It’s amazing the difference going from colour to monochrome makes to this story, as the whole thing suddenly becomes more watchable, flat sets don’t look so flat, Fifi looks less like a puppet and the whole thing has a lot more atmosphere, like the Film Noir that’s struggling to surface from underneath the weight of dodgy design choices piled on top of it.
As I did with Ghost Light, I’ve reinstated as much of the DVD’s extended material from parts one and two as possible, giving part one twenty-two minutes of footage in the finished edit. That makes it the first fan edited episode to come out at transmission length, which makes me wonder why the Beeb didn’t cut it like I did!
Even a blind spielsnape can see that Helen A is meant to be Maggie T and it’s also blindingly obvious to me that this is a story about Gay Rights, and not just because everything is pink. Everyone on Terra Alpha pretending to be “happy” when they’re not looks to me like a code for homosexual men pretending to be straight in the face of pressure to conform. Both the Thatcher and Blair Governments, with their massive majorities, were both regarded as Elective Dictatorships and Graeme Curry has some not-so-subtle things to say about that, eluding to the infamous “Disappeared” with Trevor’s list and, with Fifi, that Hitler was nice to his dog.
Having the Kandyman made of sweets is just bonkers, and a prime example of the failings of the Cartmel approach to Who. The Kandyman is exactly the sort of character that would work brilliantly in a comic strip in 2000AD but on TV? Not so much, at least not in this set up.
Against a cast of equally bizarre characters he would have fitted right in but as it is the juxtaposition of such an off-the wall character against a cast of humans gives the show an uneven tone that means it doesn’t know whether it’s being realist or impressionist. Even if you try to justify the design of the Kandyman as an “inspired homage”, for my money I think the writer’s original idea of a Mad Scientist type chracter, like Dr Nefario from Despicable Me only minus the Minions, would have been a hell of a lot better and a lot creepier too, like The Childcatcher – “Ice cream, Lollipops!” Mind you, maybe Minions instead of Pipe People isn’t such a bad idea…
Once the Doctor takes up with Earl Sigma, we stick with his half of the narrative during part two so that when he finds out that Ace is “auditioning” so do we. With some additional music cues to cover the joins for both the cuts and the material inserted into the first two eps, we hit part three at thirty-six minutes in. Sixteen minutes later it’s all over and the Doctor has done a Cartmel and overthrown the Government in a single night. Hooray!
Helen A might not look tired but she remains a not-so-subtle satire by the Left on a polarising political figure of the Right, picturing Terra Alpha as a substitute for Britain under Dictatorship. Of course the irony is that Britain isn’t East Germany or North Korea, and it’s only here that the Left have the freedom to complain that it is. Which makes me think that maybe this might work better as a stage play than a telly, all set in the Kandy Kitchen with not one villain but two in Maggie T and Dr Nefario. Hmmm… someone really ought to suggest that to Graeme C…