Doctor Who: The Happiness Patrol (part three)

There’s a moment in this episode where Helen A calls the Kandyman. He picks up an old-fashioned telephone and says “Kandyman!” That slays me every time. It’s so perfect.

For a long time, I would have gladly told you this was one of my favorite stories without even paying any attention to what was happening when the Kandyman was offscreen. See, there was a good chunk of time there when… well, I had a long-running association with a certain illegal hallucinogen. And when you’re in that incense-and-peppermints / listen-to-the-color-of-your-dreams state of mind, an amazing visual like the Kandyman kind of pops out a bit and lingers.

A couple of years later, I actually paid attention to the rest of the story. It struggles with many of the things Doctor Who always struggled with: there are nowhere close to enough extras, the sets don’t convey the scale and scope of the city, the microphones are never in the right place to clearly catch Sophie Aldred’s wonderful dialogue and delivery. But the ideas at work here are fascinating. This is a story about empires toppling, about this Doctor getting furious enough to flex his muscles and overthrow a totalitarian government in a single night. David Tennant’s Doctor owes a great deal to the Seventh. “Don’t you think she looks tired?” is something this incarnation would have come up with.

It’s a fabulous story full of great performances by John Normington, Harold Innocent, and especially Sheila Hancock, who gets one of the best climaxes any Who villain ever gets. It is bring-a-tear-to-my-eye good, every time. Part of me wishes the budget could have given the story a little more visual depth, but part of me likes it just fine the way it is. “The Happiness Patrol” transcends its low budget limitations and remains one of my five or so favorite Who stories. It’s a simmering, angry masterpiece.

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