The Happiness PatrolBookmark and Share

Monday, 30 June 2003 - Reviewed by Gareth Jelley

Following on from the excellent 'Remembrance of the Daleks', 'The Happiness Patrol' features Sylvester McCoy still on top form, and the Doctor here has too many good lines to list. One glorious moment sees him turning the questions back on the questioner, Trevor Sigma, while another is his confrontation with two guards (a classic Who moment). There are many more good moments, and only two lapses into bad-McCoy territory: the first, at the end of episode one, where McCoy really doesn't manage to pull off a plausible reaction to the Kandy Man's threat; and the second, a moment where he tries to sing the blues, and just looks silly. The latter, however, is saved by the context of the scene, where atmospheric and subtle support is given by Richard D. Sharp, playing Earl Sigma, a wandering medical student, who happens to be an ace player of the blues harmonica.

The score of 'The Happiness Patrol' is, of course, one its very best traits. Layered on top of the usual incidental music is a carefully judged combination of blues guitar and harmonica playing. In tune with the score is the set design, mixing together (with no lack of irony) the hard-edged industrial paintings of Fernand Leger, imagery from Lang's 'Metropolis', and the colour pallete of a children's sweet packet. Of course, as we know, good set design in 1980s Doctor Who stories was often ruined by boring, flat lighting. Pleasingly, that is not the case here. Moody and atmospheric film-noir (albeit full-colour-film-noir) lighting of the street and pipe scenes makes for one of the best looking Doctor Who stories ever made. One of the scenes to benefit vastly is the cliff-hanger to episode two. From a shot of a member of the happiness painting 'RIP' (in pink) onto an execution poster, the camera slowly pans to focus on the Doctor, eyes in shadow, looking part-anxious, part-highly-dangerous toppler of evil regimes; the shot is held for a second or two, and then the music surges in. A cliff-hanger to beat all cliff-hangers. 

Watching 'The Happiness Patrol' now, almost 15 years after it was originally broadcast, what stands out is the cleverness of it all. The evidence indicates that a lot of work, on several levels, went into constructing a story often accused of being poorly made and tacky. It may have had a low budget, but it doesn't suffer from it; and any 'tackiness' is clearly ironic, working within the context of the narrative. There are occasional moments when a detail of the production makes you wonder if they couldn't have thought things through a bit more, and occasionally the editing is over-zealous, cutting a scene a little too short, and lessening the effect of a punchline or a dramatic speech. But these are minor problems, and they do little to spoil the enjoyment of a thoroughly ambitious and engaging Doctor Who serial.